Book Review: Never Boat Alone, by Bruce Cline

Never Boat Alone - A Guide to Solo Boating the Colorado River Through Grand Canyon

Reviewed by Rich Phillips

Well, for all those folks who secretly harbor a desire to do a solo Grand Canyon trip (this reviewer included) there finally is a collection of useful and well-written information to direct us in our planning.  Or at least, to direct us in our dreaming.

In this new book, Bruce Cline has done a fine job distilling experience from his own seven solo GC trips and other solitary travel he's engaged in.  But he also draws on the experience of numerous others who have done trips of this type.

The book impresses well from the start with a nice clean typeface, using a font size that contributes to its manageable 82 page length.  Livened with the occasional photo, the book is enhanced with tabular and
reference material, and occasional footnoting.Starting with a highly appropriate section on personal motivations for making an extended solo trip, Cline provides a number of fine reasons not to solo boat.  Things like, "I plan to stay inebriated most of the way", and, "A guy in a bar said I couldn't do it."  But he also discusses the other side of the topic, covering positive reasons as well as the situational factors that can put someone in a solo trip situation, such as, "You planned a group trip and all your prospective boat mates bailed out on you."

The discussion on safety is of particular relevance, and addresses a central concern for anyone on the river.  It's of extra importance to those on the river alone, and thus dependent on their own experience and the
equipment they have brought with them.  Survival, self-rescue, rescue gear and knowledge, redundancy - all are treated in separate chapters relating to the overall safe completion of a solo trip.As any book of this type could be expected to do, Cline provides quite a bit of content on equipment.  His take on what to bring along is somewhat shaded in the direction of cold weather travel, and in fact he devotes a brief chapter to this topic alone.  That's because of his preference for winter trips, the time of year when it's easiest for a boater to get a permit on the Grand.

As a bonus, there is a very nice collection of brief trip reports by others who have done solo GC trip in varying types of craft.  This chapter offers an additional, personalized perspective on solo travel on a wilderness river like the Grand.

Cline isn't reluctant to use his own mistakes and on-river problems to illustrate points he wants to make.  For instance, he tells of being stranded at Mile 107, his raft having flipped and floated away from him while on a winter trip.  He describes in frigid detail how he used his on-person gear to survive until another party came along to help him and reunite him with his raft.  This incident alone should inspire every solitary boater to examine what they carry with them, and how it would help them survive until help arrives.


He also spices things up with occasional wry asides and relevant sidebars that accompany the main text.  "If your trip is a long one, bring enough batteries to power your flashlights, headlamps, cameras, signaling devices, electric toothbrushes, massage chairs, vibrators, etc.  Be sure your rechargeable batteries, are, in fact, recharged."

In discussing his winter trips, he makes quick work of the controversy around cooler draining (referencing GCPBA's listserv), noting that on his trips he has a different ice problem, which he solves by thawing his frozen water jugs in the river.

The appendices provide a useful starting point for individual accumulation of information about these kinds of trips.  They include the NPS major first aid kit list, emergency fanny pack contents, pin kit, tool and repair kits, a complete packing list, and further reading.

His separate section on the oft-ignored need for good luck charms (his preference being a rubber ducky and stuffed alligator) once again shows his comprehensive mastery of the subject.

This reviewer has a friend who is planning a 90 day Yukon River raft excursion next season, and he's already received a strong recommendation to buy this book as part of his trip preparation.

All told, Never Boat Alone is a helpful addition to the array of resources available to GC boaters specifically, and to other potential big trip solo boaters as well.

It is available here:  for $15 plus $3.99 shipping.

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