On a cool September evening, Mark Beckstrand ’77, Steve Curl ’75, Andy Gamble ’78, Neil Smith ’76, and Ray Yourd ’75 gathered around a campfire. Friends of more than 40 years, their conversation quite naturally turned to personal bucket lists, and in a moment of pure inspiration (some might say madness), they decided to take an epic journey down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
Obviously, this idea was too marvelous to keep to themselves. “We invited Peter and Charlotte (Reynolds) Merrell (both ’78), John Daly ’75, and Randy Howell ’78 to join us,” Gamble said. The coterie included roommates, soccer teammates, fraternity brothers, and college sweethearts. Most began their relationships at Denison more than 50 years ago. A smattering of non-Denisonian spouses and friends completed the contingent.
In April 2023, the adventurers launched their 17-day expedition at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, and pulled out at Diamond Creek, 10 miles upriver from Lake Mead. This legendary 226-mile run is what’s known as a “big water” trip, with rapids that range from a relatively gentle 1 and 2 to white-knuckle, heart-stopping, 9 and 10. One raft flipped during a wild ride down class 10 Lava Falls. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
Days typically began with a hot breakfast, packing up, and getting on the river for several hours. “We often stopped at a side canyon and hiked to a waterfall for a dip,” Gamble said. They camped in tents on sandbars. “Many of us slept under the stars.”
Before hitting their sleeping bags, a veritable talent smorgasbord provided evening entertainment. Several musical instruments — including a cello — came along for the ride. Strains of John Prine wafted up canyon walls, and “California Dreamin’” was repurposed into the trip’s theme song, “Colorado Raftin.” Artist Steve Curl produced impromptu masterpieces. The crew also enjoyed a staged reading of a one-act play, and Daly, in a nod to Hal Holbrook ’48, performed as Mark Twain.
It was a trip of a lifetime, Gamble said, and more importantly, “it bonded everyone together, and we realized that time spent with friends was the most important outcome.”