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Rekindling A Friendship: An Unexpected Conversation

Credit StoryCorps/Utah Public Radio

Keith Bowman came to St. George to support a friend competing in the IronMan competition. While in town he looked up his buddy from a much earlier chapter in his life.  The StoryCorps recording booth was located just a few hundred yards from the finish line of the IronMan competition.  Both men are public radio listeners and were familiar with StoryCorps but when they walked up to the recording Booth that day, neither were planning to participate in an interview.  One thing led to another and within minutes they impulsively jumped into the booth and had an unexpected conversation. 

Keith Bowman: I'm here with my college roommate and best friend from 40 years ago. Our lives were intimately entwined for so many years and then they just sort-of  went separate directions. My name is Keith Bowman and I'm 63 years of age.     

Peter Mills: I'm trying to recall what our first meeting might have been. I think we joined the Sigma Chi Fraternity at the same time. This was in UC Santa Barbara so we would have been in the same pledge class. My name is Peter Mills. We're both children of the 60's you might say. I grew up in the Bay area right in the midst of the whole Hippie movement. I was never actively a part of that but when you grow up with that around you and you see your friends getting drafted to go to Vietnam and having drug crises and you know you've got the Jefferson Airplane playing at your high scho0l prom. Those were some historic times in some ways. What was happening in California there was riots going on in Berkeley and the years we happened to be in Santa Barbara, ' 68 through about '72, some of that had migrated onto those campuses. We had some interesting experiences like being tear gassed, by being innocent bystanders out on the sidewalk wondering what the heck was going on. Having the National Guard marching down the street.

Keith Bowman:  But the first two and half years were like a paradise and then the last year and a half were confounded and very complex due to the political arena. What we ended up doing was spending more time out of Santa Barbara.  We had both been sort-of interested in river trips and the outdoors and the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. 

Peter Mills: The River running activity was really a whole new chapter for both of us in a lot of different ways. What I recall was I know you had gotten hooked up with this river company, Grand Canyon Expeditions, and you were working for them kind of on a full time seasonal basis and that opened the door for me to contact the owner Ron Smith. So I booked up to run a trip. It was in August I think of ' 71.

Keith Bowman: Really lobbied Ron Smith, the boss at the time and said, "hey, you'd be crazy not to hire this guy." And he did! Take it to the next step we did this trip and then you drove with me to Washington D.C., am I correct?"

Peter Mills: Right.

River guides Peter Mills and Keith Boman in 1971 enjoying their work on the Colorado River.

Keith Bowman: And what I remember about that trip is it was a huge sense of loss I felt when I dropped you off at Dulles Airport to fly back home. I never felt so alone in my whole life. It was the worst, maybe the best, but the worst feeling. And I remember watching that plane and I said, "here I am, I hate being on the East Coast. I'm getting ready to go to medical school, the whole thing is scaring me to death what I really want to do is just go back and have memories with Pete." And I'll never forget that thinking,  "what have I got myself into." 

Peter Mills: Yeah, I remember that, too. A lot of people would look at you with admiration, you know, someone who's been successful. Got into medical school. I mean, certainly an end in a chapter in your life and a start of new chapter. And that's where our lives really kind-of diverged in a couple of different directions. That turned out to be a 20 year venture for me...just knocking around the whole river running industry. And being involved in it at a time that it went through a lot of changes. 

Keith Bowman: In a way I was jealous because you know you were able to stay and do something you really loved. And at that time I wasn't sure I loved going to medical school. I almost quite twice. Not in a negative sort-of way but I said, "I wish I could've done what Pete was doing." You ended up with a twenty year career and I never got back to the Grand Canyon until two years ago. Here it is 40 years later and we're just communicating like it was yesterday. I mean, were talking about we never had a chance to do that. This is kind-of cool.     

Faciliator: Is there a moment when uh, or like a memory that you have specifically when Peter came back into your life that was like happy that you got your friend back,  finally?

Keith Bowman: I think this is the moment.

Peter Mills: Yeah. Yeah, really its, its...

Keith Bowman: This, this...this is the moment.