Q: My girlfriend has booked us on a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon for my 40th birthday. I’m not much of a water person: When I was 12, I nearly drowned. I’m not exactly phobic, but how do I make sure I don’t turn into a nervous wreck?
A. First off, your right brain should know that this is probably the most scenic and magical river trip on Earth. Your left brain will appreciate that 22,000 people raft down the Grand Canyon each year, and according to Mark Grisham of the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association, there hasn’t been a single commercial passenger death in his 12 years on the Colorado. It’s not uncommon for rafters to get dunked.
But your life vest will do its job by keeping you afloat, and your guides will do theirs by plucking you out downriver. Extreme whitewater can be frightening (see video of my antics on Utah’s Green River rapids—and listen for my bloodcurdling screams). But again, as river guide Grisham says, “statistically speaking, rafting the Grand Canyon is safer than playing golf.” Assuming you’ve never been hit by lightning on the putting green, this should be all the encouragement you need. And if by chance you find yourself shrieking every time the boat goes bump, do it with a smile: Your girlfriend will think you’re just enjoying the ride.