The Emerald Mile
The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Though the Heart of the Grand Canyon
By Kevin Fedarko
(Scribner, Hardcover, 9781439159859, 432pp.)
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
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IN THE TRADITION OF THE PERFECT STORM AND SEABISCUIT, THE ENGROSSING TALE OF THE FASTEST BOAT RIDE EVER DOWN THE COLORADO RIVER THROUGH THE GRAND CANYON
IN THE WINTER OF 1983, the largest El Niño event on record—a chain of “superstorms” that swept in from the Pacific Ocean—battered the entire West. That spring, a massive snowmelt sent runoff racing down the Colorado River toward the Glen Canyon Dam, a 710-foot-high wall of concrete that sat at the head of the most iconic landscape feature in America, the Grand Canyon. As the water clawed toward the parapet of the dam, worried federal officials desperately scrambled to avoid a worst-case scenario: one of the most dramatic dam failures in history.
In the midst of this crisis, beneath the light of a full moon, a trio of river guides secretly launched a small, hand-built wooden boat, a dory named the Emerald Mile, into the Colorado just below the dam’s base and rocketed toward the dark chasm downstream, where the torrents of water released by the dam engineers had created a rock-walled maelstrom so powerful it shifted giant boulders and created bizarre hydraulic features never previously seen. The river was already choked with the wreckage of commercial rafting trips: injured passengers clung to the remnants of three-ton motorboats that had been turned upside down and torn to pieces. The chaos had claimed its first fatality, further launches were forbidden, and rangers were conducting the largest helicopter evacuation in the history of Grand Canyon National Park.
An insurgent river run under such conditions seemed to border on the suicidal, but Kenton Grua, the captain of that dory, was on an unusual mission: a gesture of defiance unlike anything the river world had ever seen. His aim was to use the flood as a hydraulic slingshot that would hurl him and two companions through 277 miles of some of the most ferocious white water in North America and, if everything went as planned, catapult the Emerald Mile into legend as the fastest boat ever propelled—by oar, by motor, or by the grace of God—through the heart of the Grand Canyon.
Grua himself was already something of a mythic figure, a fearless boatman obsessed with the mysteries of the canyon. His quest embraced not only the trials of the speed run itself but also the larger story of his predecessors: the men who had first discovered the canyon and pioneered its exploration, as well as those who waged a landmark battle to prevent it from being hog-tied by a series of massive hydroelectric dams—a conflict that continues to this day.
A writer who has worked as a river guide himself and is intimately familiar with the canyon’s many secrets, Kevin Fedarko is the ideal narrator for this American epic. The saga of the Emerald Mile is a thrilling adventure, as well as a magisterial portrait of the hidden kingdom of white water at the bottom of the greatest river canyon on earth. This book announces Fedarko as a major writing talent and at last sets forth the full story of an American legend—the legend of the Emerald Mile.
Kevin Fedarko lives in northern New Mexico and works as a part-time river guide in Grand Canyon National Park. In addition to his travel narratives in Outside, where he worked as a senior editor, Fedarko’s work has appeared in Esquire, National Geographic Adventure, and other publications, and has been anthologized in The Best American Travel Writing in 2004 and 2006. Fedarko was a staff writer at Time magazine from 1991 to 1997, where his work helped garner an Overseas Press Club Award for a story on the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Fedarko earned a Masters of Philosophy in Russian history at Oxford in 1990.
Host Rachel Martin talks to writer Kevin Fedarko about his new book, The Emerald Mile, which tells the harrowing story of three men who ride the flooded Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. More at NPR.org
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"The Emerald Mile is the rarest of creations?e"a magical convergence of words and paper, wood?and water, rock and sky, human character and cosmic caprice. Can an adventure story be as?beautiful as it is heart-stopping and exciting? This one is, and Fedarko?e(TM)s book is as?inspiring as a?dory itself, flying down a wild river. I have no doubt it will become an instant?classic, a timeless?chronicle of what can still be legitimately called the American spirit."
From the bottom of our planet's most awesome landscape,?Kevin Fedarko has found and rescued?a great American tallt ale that just happens to be true. As a boatman, Fedarko knows this world intimately. As a writer, he'll make you understand it, savor it, and ultimately love it as you never have before. Here is an instant classic of adventure literature?e"a story shot through with bravura but also touched by the rarest kind of grandeur.?