Stoner rarely knows in advance who will join him on a rafting trip. He gets to meet people from all parts of the country and the world, and some of his trips put him in contact with professionals of his own caliber. That was the case in February 2005 when he guided a National Geographic senior staff photographer and a world-renowned landscape painter on a 30-day winter trip in the Grand Canyon.
“Due to the extended length and nature of the trip, I was able to experience areas of the canyon that are usually not visited during a regular commercial trip,” he says. “It was also rewarding to get to know these talented people and view the canyon through their artistic perspective.”
Initiating Old Friends
Last year Stoner achieved a nearly 30-year goal: to get his fellow BU swim team alumni to come west. “This river trip was definitely the highlight of my career,” he says. “I got to spend quality time with people that I met at Bloomsburg and with whom I forged lifetime friendships. I also was able to share my love and extensive knowledge of the Grand Canyon with them.”
It was a trip that elicited comments he hears often.
“During the trip several of them said, ‘We should have done this river adventure with you years ago instead of waiting so long.’ That always makes me feel good.”
On each river trip, Stoner gets a bird’s-eye view of transformation — whether it is observing changes in the natural environment he has come to love, or how that environment changes his passengers.
“Many clients may be first-time campers and rafters, but they come with a sense of adventure. Others are initially distracted by their responsibilities in everyday life, or by concerns for safety in tackling something new,” he says. “Usually three to four days into the trip there is a notable change and passengers begin to blossom. The wilderness provides a wonderful setting for personal transformation, an inner world where passengers can tap into river time and relax, reflect and enjoy.”
Less of a job and more of a lifestyle, river running has proven to be a great match for Stoner, who intends to continue the adventure for as long as he is physically able.
“I have truly been blessed by a lifetime of adventure and exploration. I could not write a better story of personal satisfaction and fulfillment,” he says.
Today, Stoner’s full-time responsibilities with Arizona River Runners is as the warehouse operations manager, making sure other river guides and their passengers have everything necessary for a safe and comfortable river trip. But he still runs two river trips each season.
“Each time that I pack out a trip and journey to the river put-in at Lees Ferry, I return to the place that I feel most at home,” he says. “Grand Canyon is where I met my wife, Ruthie, and where some of my most memorable experiences have happened. You see, Grand Canyon isn’t just a place to me; it is a way of life and one that I’ll really never leave.” •
Amy Biemiller is a writer with the LightStream Group.