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From one of Outside magazine’s “Literary All-Stars” comes the thrilling true tale of the fastest boat ride ever, down the entire length of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, during the legendary flood of 1983. 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 From one of Outside magazine’s “Literary All-Stars” comes the thrilling true tale of the fastest boat ride ever, down the entire length of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, during the legendary flood of 1983. 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.


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From one of Outside magazine’s “Literary All-Stars” comes the thrilling true tale of the fastest boat ride ever, down the entire length of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, during the legendary flood of 1983. 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 From one of Outside magazine’s “Literary All-Stars” comes the thrilling true tale of the fastest boat ride ever, down the entire length of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, during the legendary flood of 1983. 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.

30 review for The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

  1. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    This past August 2018, I had the great privilege to take a 5 day journey down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. It was truly spectacular! The night sky is so much better than anything I could have imagined. This was a trip of a lifetime for this decidedly no camping, I need to sleep in a bed at night, no discomfort, but adventurous soul, middle-aged lady. Slept under the stars every night and cruised, swam and hiked during the day. I was not roughing it, I was experiencing life!! It was an This past August 2018, I had the great privilege to take a 5 day journey down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. It was truly spectacular! The night sky is so much better than anything I could have imagined. This was a trip of a lifetime for this decidedly no camping, I need to sleep in a bed at night, no discomfort, but adventurous soul, middle-aged lady. Slept under the stars every night and cruised, swam and hiked during the day. I was not roughing it, I was experiencing life!! It was an amazing trip that I hope everyone has an opportunity to experience. I had envisioned a rafting adventure, but what I purchased was a trip on a Dorey boat. This was a case of stumbling into happiness because experience has shown me that I wouldn't want to experience the Grand Canyon any other way. A Dorey is a 4 person (+1 guide) boat that is used on many rivers and is far more dynamic than a raft. It travels approximately 4 mph with the current of the Colorado. It is powered by oars. The Colorado river has some of the most dangerous and exciting rapids in the world (depending on the water level). This is the best way to connect with the Canyon. Most of the rafts were motorized on the Colorado (4 mph is too slow to process the thousands of people who take this trip every year). We covered roughly 25 miles a day. The motorized rafts were doing 50 or more miles per day. Anyways, this book! This book is about a specific Dorey called The Emerald Mile. The Emerald Mile holds the record for traversing the entirety of the Grand Canyon (some 225 miles) in 18 hours. Obviously there are specific conditions that would enable a boat to travel this rapidly without a motor. The book looks at the history of the Grand Canyon and its water sources to set the scene for this "amazing" (and highly illegal) race. As one would expect, this is a vicious, violent, callous, history of conquerors and Native Americans, and corporate greed, and ignorant, greedy government. It's also a tale of explorers and scientists, and thrill seekers and environmentalists. The story is long and fascinating and as with most history, it is filled with brave and thoughtful people as well as ignorant and callous. The story of the Emerald Mile is to me the story of thrill seeking stupidity, but it is also a view into the minds of these obsessed, brilliant people. There is a science to nature and to understanding physics (fluid dynamics), geology, topology, geography, astrophysics and weather. Understanding the water sources and the flows of rivers, boat architecture, engineering etc. So much science and appreciation of nature goes into this foolhardy adventure. The book is extremely well written and there is so much more to the Grand Canyon and the water politics of the Southwest than people will recognize. Fedarko is a dorey guide and also a writer for Outside magazine. As such, this man knows his way around this story. It's an excellent book. Obvious spoiler, The Emerald Mile to this date still holds the record and WOW what a story!! 4+ Stars Listened to this on audio narrated well by Paul Michael Garcia. I suspect had I read the book, it would have a higher rating. Too many details to keep track of that I wasn't able to retain. This book is on my purchase list.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Shafjac

    Best book I've read in a long time. At first it just seems like it's about some dudes trying to break a speed record for running a river, but it turns out to be a history of the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon, the Glen Canyon dam, conservation ... and then the adventure aspect of running the Colorado in flood stage. Impressively well-researched and very well-written. Any of my peeps that are into the outdoors or history -- read this. Best book I've read in a long time. At first it just seems like it's about some dudes trying to break a speed record for running a river, but it turns out to be a history of the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon, the Glen Canyon dam, conservation ... and then the adventure aspect of running the Colorado in flood stage. Impressively well-researched and very well-written. Any of my peeps that are into the outdoors or history -- read this.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    A really brilliant work that encompasses both the natural and man-made history on the Colorado river. The first few chapters stumble a bit but once you get to the beginning of Powell's adventure, Fedarko has found his stride. Fedarko weaves an intricate, fast-paced narrative with beautiful language and an zeal for his topic. I particularly appreciated Fedarko's fairness in covering the dam, the park rangers, and the river rats. I found it impossible to not be awed because at its core this is a b A really brilliant work that encompasses both the natural and man-made history on the Colorado river. The first few chapters stumble a bit but once you get to the beginning of Powell's adventure, Fedarko has found his stride. Fedarko weaves an intricate, fast-paced narrative with beautiful language and an zeal for his topic. I particularly appreciated Fedarko's fairness in covering the dam, the park rangers, and the river rats. I found it impossible to not be awed because at its core this is a book of feats- geological, architectural, and daring. Its as easy to get wrapped up in the story as it is to be carried down the river, and along the way you are going to learn about so much. Its quite astonishing the amount of geology, river and white water knowledge, and conservation history in here. I think that this work is particularly important now. Our national parks are always defending themselves against outside forces and they are our heritage. We must continue to appreciate and fight for our heritage and it is our time to do the due diligence the Litton and others have done before us.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Casey

    Ok, if you have an issue with whitewater, don't read this before going on a Colorado River trip. Granted, the waters were coming out of the dam at 94,000 cfs rather than 6-8,000 cfs but can't you drown in a bathtub? Other than scaring the shit out of me before my Grand Canyon trip, it is a great history of the Grand Canyon and how it was changed by Glen canyon dam, the conservation fight to save it from more dams (when the Sierra Club was told by Martin Litton to grow a pair and fight for it ins Ok, if you have an issue with whitewater, don't read this before going on a Colorado River trip. Granted, the waters were coming out of the dam at 94,000 cfs rather than 6-8,000 cfs but can't you drown in a bathtub? Other than scaring the shit out of me before my Grand Canyon trip, it is a great history of the Grand Canyon and how it was changed by Glen canyon dam, the conservation fight to save it from more dams (when the Sierra Club was told by Martin Litton to grow a pair and fight for it instead of horse-trading with the Feds and almost ruining one of our national treasures), and the 1983 spring runoff that almost overwhelmed the dam and led to the speed run down the Colorado in a wooden dory, setting the record forever. Fedarko knows how to dramatize details, seeming to write with exclamation marks at some points - everything can be the worst, the most, the hardest, etc but generally an interesting account. If you can make an engineering problem dramatic, you know how to write.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Brown

    This is terrific narrative nonfiction. One of the best I've seen lately. This is terrific narrative nonfiction. One of the best I've seen lately.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    Unlike the record-chasing canyon run recounted in The Emerald Mile, I did not race through this work. That is not to say it dragged. The book was engrossing and often quite intense. Author Kevin Fedarko captures the high stakes nature of this historic time in the Grand Canyon's history. He ably pulls together a wide variety of sources to accurately convey the story. The task is challenging given that many incidents happened amid chaos and tend to be scantily documented and skewed by legend lovin Unlike the record-chasing canyon run recounted in The Emerald Mile, I did not race through this work. That is not to say it dragged. The book was engrossing and often quite intense. Author Kevin Fedarko captures the high stakes nature of this historic time in the Grand Canyon's history. He ably pulls together a wide variety of sources to accurately convey the story. The task is challenging given that many incidents happened amid chaos and tend to be scantily documented and skewed by legend loving. My only gripe is the effusive nature of Fedarko's prose. Restatement gives way to overstatement, and his unmistakable love for the subject matter sometimes runs wild like the rapids in the canyon. His musings on the wooden boats preferred by elite river guides for example, or any of several aria-like passages of reflection. Such unbridled romanticism captures the sentiments of the players; however, it also sometimes gums up otherwise efficiently engineered reportage. Here is one example from the Epilogue, not the most verbose, but certainly characteristic of the author getting carried away: "As this new generation ran the river together, the ferocious clashes of the past--motors versus oars, rubber versus wood--fell away and were forgotten, and everyone became friends."I could forgive every word up to and including "forgotten" as common positivism laced with hyperbole. But when Fedarko asserts universal friendship, he claims the unlikely existence of a utopia. Nevertheless, one of the things which The Emerald Mile effectively relates is the tension between various groups who are inextricably tied to the Grand Canyon. In particular, the book recounts volatility between the free-spirited river culture and the bureaucratic--though similarly idealistic--society of Glen Canyon Dam. And it is in exploring these tensions that the novel achieves true depth from which every reader can draw meaning and appreciation. Selling Point: The Emerald Mile comes with a great deal of bibliographic material sure to be helpful for readers who want to pursue further reading about the Grand Canyon.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Phil Breidenbach

    WOW, best book I've read this year (Of course, it is only Jan. 12th) The book tells the story of the fasted ride through the Grand Canyon. Since the river had been dammed, the flow has been regulated and it never reaches the peaks that it once achieved in its pre-blocked years. We all have heard of Major John Wesley Powell's trip through the canyon, this 1987 ride rivaled that. Due to large snow falls and an extreme amount of rain, the water levels at the Glen Canyon Dam were getting closer and c WOW, best book I've read this year (Of course, it is only Jan. 12th) The book tells the story of the fasted ride through the Grand Canyon. Since the river had been dammed, the flow has been regulated and it never reaches the peaks that it once achieved in its pre-blocked years. We all have heard of Major John Wesley Powell's trip through the canyon, this 1987 ride rivaled that. Due to large snow falls and an extreme amount of rain, the water levels at the Glen Canyon Dam were getting closer and closer to the rim of the dam. The spillways were opened to allow more water past the dam. One of the technicians noticed some strange noises and after an investigation, they found that the excess water was deteriorating the walls of the spillway tunnels. By closing them off to protect the tunnels, they risked a cataclysmic failure of the dam itself. The tunnels were opened up further to avoid a breach of the dam. Since the dam was built, there had never been this much water going down the Colorado River. Seizing the opportunity, a trio of river guides decided to attempt to break the record for the fastest trip through the canyon. I won't tell you how it worked out, but I will say I was glued to the book until I finished it! It is more than just the story of the run, it is the story of the three men who did the run, it is also about the history of the Grand Canyon. It is about how the dams work and how they were built and it also deals with conservancy and how it affects the area and how people are trying to preserve this beautiful natural gift. It is all put together in a story that grabs you from the very beginning without being preachy. Whether you are a white water fan or not, chances are you'll enjoy this book!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jacque

    I almost didn't finish this book. My expectation based on the title, the cover and the synopsis I read was that it would be an exciting, adventure read. That is not at all accurate. There is a section of the book toward the end that is, but the majority of it is quite the opposite. The entire first half is more of a history and geology lesson about the Grand Canyon and river rafting. There is also a lot of information about dams and the environmental aspect of building them. Because of my expecta I almost didn't finish this book. My expectation based on the title, the cover and the synopsis I read was that it would be an exciting, adventure read. That is not at all accurate. There is a section of the book toward the end that is, but the majority of it is quite the opposite. The entire first half is more of a history and geology lesson about the Grand Canyon and river rafting. There is also a lot of information about dams and the environmental aspect of building them. Because of my expectations, I nearly didn't finish the book. But because it was a book club read, I soldiered on and was only a little more than half finished at the meeting - and no one else there had gotten that far. But by that point, I was interested and figured that it just HAD to get more exciting, so I did finish it. If you haven't seen the Grand Canyon in person - GO! Words and pictures can not begin to do it justice. I think that having seen it added to my enjoyment of the book because I could create mental pictures of some of the scenes. If you're interested in the Canyon, river rafting, geology or dams, I think you'll enjoy the book. If not, you may be bored to tears. The writing is good, but the author likes to flaunt his vocabulary (or his ability to use a thesaurus) as well as describe, both physically and historically, nearly everyone he mentions in the book. Or maybe it just seemed that way. It did add a lot of depth to the story, but is also made a long book seem even longer. It sounds like I didn't care much for the book, but I did. But not as much as if I'd gone into it with more realistic expectations. So hopefully my review will help someone else enjoy it more.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gus

    I also would like to rate this higher. Having (met many of the characters as a part of my river family and) grown up hearing these legends and histories told while gathered around the Dories at cocktail hour, I enjoyed reliving this in my imagination. For the son of a dory boatman from the Golden Age of Guiding it was a joy and vindication to read of the superheroes of my childhood in print. Fedarko captures the magic and eloquence of these boats in a way only a person who has come in close conta I also would like to rate this higher. Having (met many of the characters as a part of my river family and) grown up hearing these legends and histories told while gathered around the Dories at cocktail hour, I enjoyed reliving this in my imagination. For the son of a dory boatman from the Golden Age of Guiding it was a joy and vindication to read of the superheroes of my childhood in print. Fedarko captures the magic and eloquence of these boats in a way only a person who has come in close contact with them is able to. The real struggle in this story is to blend myth and history in a way that feels natural and not overwrought. It is undoubtably non-fiction, but legend and oral story-telling is so much a part of this era of boating culture that it would be unwise to tell this story without an element of magic and mythos. For this reason (the attempt to capture a mythos of the culture) the characters end up reading as intertwining epic heroes (Powell, Litton, Grua, the dam, and Crystal Rapid itself. All with a bit of agency upon each other) and at times the connections feel stretched. I particularly felt the Cardenas discovery story to be a symptom of an author placing thoughts into the head of a historical figure. Overall, I feel lucky to have something tangible and exciting to hand someone to explain how I feel about the Colorado with its complex issues regarding dam management and recreation and environmentalism and the people who "run" rivers.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Annk

    This is a great story interrupted for most of the book by endless meandering. The author violates the Chekhov rule (if you put a gun on the mantelpiece, it should go off by the second act) vs giving us the action (or at least a summary of it) before launching into the back story. He also really needed an editor. The language was a circuitous, double- negative- ridden style reminiscent of 19th English prose. It didn’t seem appropriate for the subject matter — instead it came off as affected. The This is a great story interrupted for most of the book by endless meandering. The author violates the Chekhov rule (if you put a gun on the mantelpiece, it should go off by the second act) vs giving us the action (or at least a summary of it) before launching into the back story. He also really needed an editor. The language was a circuitous, double- negative- ridden style reminiscent of 19th English prose. It didn’t seem appropriate for the subject matter — instead it came off as affected. The story itself is great. The back stories were mostly great (although come on, we did t need to know what every explorer was wearing and. How they grew up — cut down the flourish!). The geology was interesting and the Sierra Club piece was compelling as a stand-alone story. Instead I felt thebauthor had me hooked mid- action, at which point he threw 2-3 other novels at me.

  11. 4 out of 5

    William Goss

    An informative, compelling, amusing, lyrical and, yes, even spiritual narrative on the magnetic attraction of one of the most perfectly beautiful works of nature on this planet...and a cautionary warning of the risks to which it is even now, more perhaps than ever, exposed. Lose this wild place America, and you will lose a big chunk of your soul. I paddled a kayak down this river in 1989, six years after the events that form the core of this book. Mr. Fedarko has captured all of the emotions of t An informative, compelling, amusing, lyrical and, yes, even spiritual narrative on the magnetic attraction of one of the most perfectly beautiful works of nature on this planet...and a cautionary warning of the risks to which it is even now, more perhaps than ever, exposed. Lose this wild place America, and you will lose a big chunk of your soul. I paddled a kayak down this river in 1989, six years after the events that form the core of this book. Mr. Fedarko has captured all of the emotions of that experience and brought them roaring back as if it were yesterday. He gets the atmospherics of that mystical canyon and river, exactly right. If you don't have the time and/or the money to go yourself, read this book! It will put you there, in the canyon, on the river, in the water, under the dome of countless stars, heart beating wildly, a face-splitting grin that won't go away, and fully, completely, alive.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    This book started out slowly, and I found some of the flowery prose to be ponderous, but the second half was much better than the first. It appealed to two of my interests: engineering, with its descriptions of how the personnel at the Glen Canyon Dam dealt with the huge water inflows from the El Nino event and the damage caused to the spillways, and whitewater rafting, with its descriptions of the fastest ride and how rafting companies, their customers, and the river rangers dealt with the dang This book started out slowly, and I found some of the flowery prose to be ponderous, but the second half was much better than the first. It appealed to two of my interests: engineering, with its descriptions of how the personnel at the Glen Canyon Dam dealt with the huge water inflows from the El Nino event and the damage caused to the spillways, and whitewater rafting, with its descriptions of the fastest ride and how rafting companies, their customers, and the river rangers dealt with the danger of the increased water flows and changes to rapids through the Grand Canyon. It's not really a story just about the fastest ride, which is a small part of the book. It's a story about how the El Nino event and the inherent wildness of the Colorado River fought against man's attempts to tame the river and almost won, almost causing a huge disaster.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Wilson

    I want to rate this book higher - the subject matter is exactly what I want to be reading... all the time, but I had a couple issues with the book. For me personally, much of the history (first 2/3s of the book) was stuff that I was already familiar with. That would not be a problem in and of itself, but it is not footnoted well enough to stand strongly as a work of history (ex Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner). Nor does the prose stand on its own like writing by John McPhee. My other main issue, m I want to rate this book higher - the subject matter is exactly what I want to be reading... all the time, but I had a couple issues with the book. For me personally, much of the history (first 2/3s of the book) was stuff that I was already familiar with. That would not be a problem in and of itself, but it is not footnoted well enough to stand strongly as a work of history (ex Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner). Nor does the prose stand on its own like writing by John McPhee. My other main issue, maybe I'm being too picky, was Fedarko's tendency to describe what characters saw and how they felt about it (I would cite a passage, but don't have my copy on hand). It felt right in the section about the ride itself, but forced, invented, and out of place in a historical context.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christine Boyer

    First, high praise for Kevin Fedarko! Where did you come from? I think this is his first, and only, book. His writing style was just beautiful! Even though the whole thing is very detailed, he wrote it in a lovely, almost kind of sentimental, reverent style. However, I don't think this book is for everyone. It isn't JUST about the 1983 trip of these three boatmen. Fedarko goes into the history of the Grand Canyon, rivers, damns, politics, etc. And what was extra refreshing is that although we can First, high praise for Kevin Fedarko! Where did you come from? I think this is his first, and only, book. His writing style was just beautiful! Even though the whole thing is very detailed, he wrote it in a lovely, almost kind of sentimental, reverent style. However, I don't think this book is for everyone. It isn't JUST about the 1983 trip of these three boatmen. Fedarko goes into the history of the Grand Canyon, rivers, damns, politics, etc. And what was extra refreshing is that although we can probably guess that Fedarko is certainly more in support of rivers, he is balanced in his representation of the damns and the organizations affiliated with hydroelectric energy. I loved it! Growing up in Florida, I barely knew what a river was. When I moved out to Idaho, I married a man who had been a river guide himself in the 1970's and had the same passion as all the players in this incredible story. I still can't use the oars to save my life, but I've learned so much through so many trips about "reading the water", and understanding the unique passion these river rats have about dories, boats, rapids, and life on the water and in the canyons. A must-read for that crowd!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    This book is full of adventure, chronicling the fastest journey through the Grand Canyon on a watercraft. I would have rated it higher except for the fact that the first 100 pages were a struggle. The author’s writing style was very cumbersome and he seemed to take two or three sentences to say what could have been said more simply with one. The book provided the exploration history of the Grand Canyon, and while interesting, was a struggle to read through. Once the book was talking about presen This book is full of adventure, chronicling the fastest journey through the Grand Canyon on a watercraft. I would have rated it higher except for the fact that the first 100 pages were a struggle. The author’s writing style was very cumbersome and he seemed to take two or three sentences to say what could have been said more simply with one. The book provided the exploration history of the Grand Canyon, and while interesting, was a struggle to read through. Once the book was talking about present day activities the pace picked up and the writing style became more casual. Overall I really enjoyed the book. I would have rated it higher if the first part of the book weren’t so slow.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Todd Martin

    The Emerald Mile is ostensibly a book about Kenton Grua’s illicit speed run through Grand Canyon in a dory when record levels of water were being released from the dam in 1983, but it’s actually quite a bit more. For those that don’t know, the southwest experienced record rainfalls in the El Nino year of 1983. The rain, coupled with warming and snowmelt, caused Lake Powell to rise to the point where Glen Canyon Dam was at risk of being breached. To stave off this disaster the dam’s spillways wer The Emerald Mile is ostensibly a book about Kenton Grua’s illicit speed run through Grand Canyon in a dory when record levels of water were being released from the dam in 1983, but it’s actually quite a bit more. For those that don’t know, the southwest experienced record rainfalls in the El Nino year of 1983. The rain, coupled with warming and snowmelt, caused Lake Powell to rise to the point where Glen Canyon Dam was at risk of being breached. To stave off this disaster the dam’s spillways were opened, releasing record amounts of water that ultimately peaked at 97,300 cubic feet per second at Lee’s Ferry (compared to average flows of 11,350 cfs). It was at this moment that Kenton Grua took the opportunity to attempt to break the record for the fastest boat ride down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park. The first thing you might think about this topic is that, compared with, say, the effort to stave off the dam breach, that a fast boat run is rather a minor historical footnote. In fact, it’s rather the type of inside baseball kind of story you often find in various small tightly bound groups centered around a particular niche activity (in this case the Grand Canyon river running set). There are the various personalities, specialized gear, challenges and noteworthy events that those within the in-group discuss endlessly and mythologize amongst themselves, but which register about an 0.1 on a scale between zero and a billion on the public consciousness. All of which is to say that this could have been a rather dull subject for the general reader who wasn’t immersed in the subtle nuances of Grand Canyon rafting culture of the 1970s and early 1980s. But it’s not at all, thanks to the deft ability of Kevin Fedarko to craft an interesting tale and because he chose to expand the subject to include a broader history of man’s interaction with the Canyon. Fedarko is a surprisingly good writer for this genre, and he does a nice job tying together the sweeping history of the Canyon and the Colorado River with the individuals who have dedicated their lives to its exploration. He also has the ability to generate drama and interest in his subject matter, even for those not inherently fascinated by things such as dories, Glen Canyon Dam, Grua’s exploits or river running. Although I found some of his writing flourishes to be a bit florid at times, these can largely be excused since they are put to use to generate excitement and a sense of danger in the reader and to bring color to the characters. Not being a river runner, and knowing virtually nothing about dories, I’m not really sure whether Grua’s speed run was a big deal or not. Some rapids are made easier when there’s more water, but the higher flows give rapids more energy with which to capsize a boat. I’m also not sure whether there were dangerous consequences to rafting the river at such levels, or whether the most likely outcome of a catastrophic upset would have just meant that the boaters simply suffered a dunking (as occurred at Crystal Rapid). But, given that river flows are highly controlled from Glen Canyon Dam, one can confidently say that Grua’s record is likely to stand for some time (which is just as well, these types of competitive records really have no place in Grand Canyon other than in the minds of the vainglorious). Regardless of the real danger, the story is a good one and Fedarko tells it well. Kenton "Factor" Grua died Sunday, Aug. 25, 2002 while on a mountain bike ride along the lower Schultz Creek Trail in Flagstaff. He was 52.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    Almost five million people visit Grand Canyon National Park annually. While some visitors undertake back-country hikes, most people are content to enjoy the views from the South Rim, and do not venture much below the rim. Kevin Fedarko’s superb book presents the Grand Canyon in a way most people will never see it – from the bottom up, with a strong emphasis on the river that carved the Canyon’s unique features and which provides the most accessible route for the much smaller number of tourists l Almost five million people visit Grand Canyon National Park annually. While some visitors undertake back-country hikes, most people are content to enjoy the views from the South Rim, and do not venture much below the rim. Kevin Fedarko’s superb book presents the Grand Canyon in a way most people will never see it – from the bottom up, with a strong emphasis on the river that carved the Canyon’s unique features and which provides the most accessible route for the much smaller number of tourists lucky enough to experience the beautiful natural and geologic features of the lower Canyon. Although the subtitle of The Emerald Mile announces that this is the “Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon,” the book is much more than that. Fedarko prepares a solid foundation, explaining the history of the Canyon and the taming of the Colorado River through a series of dams built in the 20th century by the US Bureau of Reclamation. He traces the development of commercial river guiding and the environmental battles that occurred over development on the Colorado, focusing in particular on Martin Litton, whose company Grand Canyon Dories provided a human-powered wooden alternative to the rubber rafts (motorized and oar-powered) commonly used by other outfitters. As we arrive at the events at the heart of the book, Fedarko describes in detail the conditions prevailing in the winter and spring of 1982-83, including freakish weather (spawned by a powerful El Niño), bureaucratic mismanagement of the reservoirs of the upper Colorado, and the failure of the little-tested spillways at Glen Canyon Dam. These events resulted in unanticipated water flows in the Grand Canyon in the first days of summer in June 1983. Fedarko gives a gripping description of the havoc wreaked by the wild whitewater on unsuspecting tourists and guides. Simultaneously, the water levels offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a small group of eccentrics led by Kenton Grua, a dory guide determined to break his own speed record for a river run through the Grand Canyon. Fedarko tells a tale of unlikely adventure that manages to be both suspenseful and surprising, even though we know the ending as we commence the journey. His book captures the spirit of the Grand Canyon, and touches on the joy that can come to even the most uninformed of visitors. I speak from experience, having been invited by a good college buddy to join her on a 21-day dory trip through Grand Canyon in 1984, the year after the events documented in this book. I’m not the kind of person who would normally have taken a trip of that type, but I can attest to Fedarko having captured the magic and wonder of the Canyon experienced mile after mile, traveling its full length along the river that created it. This book is a great opportunity for armchair travelers to enjoy the fantastic journey, meet some amazing people, and perhaps be inspired to get out and experience (or re-experience) one of Earth's greatest wonders for themselves.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lynette

    This is almost a perfect book... it combines the story of an event (a speed-run through the Grand Canyon in a dory) and backstory, both near and old in an extremely readable way. Kevin Fedarko is a painter - he just uses words instead of paint. His descriptions brought every scene to life for me - even when (or especially when) he goes off on a lyrical tangent - e.g., "... And peeking over the cliffs like a Chinese lantern was a swollen, yellow globe that draped the folds of the surrounding plat This is almost a perfect book... it combines the story of an event (a speed-run through the Grand Canyon in a dory) and backstory, both near and old in an extremely readable way. Kevin Fedarko is a painter - he just uses words instead of paint. His descriptions brought every scene to life for me - even when (or especially when) he goes off on a lyrical tangent - e.g., "... And peeking over the cliffs like a Chinese lantern was a swollen, yellow globe that draped the folds of the surrounding plateau in moonbeams..." sigh. The work is obviously painstakingly researched (and he spends a good deal of time explaining all that (at the end - where it belongs!) but doesn't get bogged down in justifying its research, which is one of my huge complaints about most "histories". Of course, it helps that I'm endlessly fascinated by the subject matter (Grand Canyon, Major Powell, the murder of Glen Canyon, people doing seemingly impossible things - with a little civil disobedience thrown in for color). Really excellent.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    The Emerald Mile is so much more than the epic tale of the 1983 dory speed run through the Grand Canyon, though that adventure is brilliantly told. Fedarko is a great writer (I've enjoyed his pieces in Outside for years), and he puts the speed run in context with the Grand Canyon's history, geology and hydrology, river-running culture, and the dam-building era. He juxtaposes the Glen Canyon Dam engineers' race to avoid catastrophic failures during the huge 1983 spring runoff with what was happen The Emerald Mile is so much more than the epic tale of the 1983 dory speed run through the Grand Canyon, though that adventure is brilliantly told. Fedarko is a great writer (I've enjoyed his pieces in Outside for years), and he puts the speed run in context with the Grand Canyon's history, geology and hydrology, river-running culture, and the dam-building era. He juxtaposes the Glen Canyon Dam engineers' race to avoid catastrophic failures during the huge 1983 spring runoff with what was happening on the river with the many commercial trips caught in big water. He brings alive the Canyon, the Colorado River, and the people who are drawn to protect it or dam it. Clearly he interviewed everyone from river guides to Bureau of Reclamation and National Park Service officials, but he never really seems to take sides. The Emerald Mile is the best combination of journalistic reporting and eloquent storytelling. Highly recommend it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dr.

    The book was well-written, informative, well-structured, and interesting, but it was not as advertised. Less than a sixth of the book told the "epic story" while the remainder described the grand canyon, its history, its dams, the politics behind the dams, and a variety of stories of other river rafters. I was in the mood for a fast-paced, non-fiction, tale of daring-do, and instead got a masterwork in conservation-minded natural history ending in a quick tale of individuals engaged in an illega The book was well-written, informative, well-structured, and interesting, but it was not as advertised. Less than a sixth of the book told the "epic story" while the remainder described the grand canyon, its history, its dams, the politics behind the dams, and a variety of stories of other river rafters. I was in the mood for a fast-paced, non-fiction, tale of daring-do, and instead got a masterwork in conservation-minded natural history ending in a quick tale of individuals engaged in an illegal rafting trip. Two stars for false advertising. 4.5 stars for those who want a sweeping tale of the grand canyon's river tour history.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    In the tradition of Kon Tiki or Touching the Void, The Emerald Mile is a story of adventure that transcends most writing of extreme exploits. What makes the book so compelling is the broader narrative - this is not so much a book about a rafting trip it is a book about the Grand Canyon and America's relationship to wilderness. Eloquently written and well researched the boom covers many facets of the Grand Canyon all focused through the lens of the "speed run." Highly recommend. In the tradition of Kon Tiki or Touching the Void, The Emerald Mile is a story of adventure that transcends most writing of extreme exploits. What makes the book so compelling is the broader narrative - this is not so much a book about a rafting trip it is a book about the Grand Canyon and America's relationship to wilderness. Eloquently written and well researched the boom covers many facets of the Grand Canyon all focused through the lens of the "speed run." Highly recommend.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jared

    This is my first book ever listening to, and I think listening to some of the names rather than being able to see them on paper might have helped keep track of some of the names, but that's largely unimportant. This was a book that told the story of an incredible 36 hours by backing up and providing as much context as humanly possible to make it into the length of a novel. Some of it, like the struggle for protection of the grand canyon itself and how it almost got turned into a reservoir, was v This is my first book ever listening to, and I think listening to some of the names rather than being able to see them on paper might have helped keep track of some of the names, but that's largely unimportant. This was a book that told the story of an incredible 36 hours by backing up and providing as much context as humanly possible to make it into the length of a novel. Some of it, like the struggle for protection of the grand canyon itself and how it almost got turned into a reservoir, was very cool and helped provide context for the attitude of the people who were sort of the spiritual forefathers to the rafting guides. Some of the information about the specifics of how the dam works I could've done without. However, an understanding of the political context behind the significance of what Kenton Grua and those other guys did on that boat, especially right after a fatality occured on the water, was a wild and entertaining read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Expecting a mild adventure read, I ordered this book based on some comments in the Outside book club Facebook group. I didn’t expect it to be so dense looking! But once I started reading I was enamored by the stories of the history of the canyon and those that experienced and changed it over the years. I knew almost nothing about the Grand Canyon or the Colorado River watershed when I picked up this book, now I’m swimming in information and loving it! Well-told, deeply-researched, engaging to re Expecting a mild adventure read, I ordered this book based on some comments in the Outside book club Facebook group. I didn’t expect it to be so dense looking! But once I started reading I was enamored by the stories of the history of the canyon and those that experienced and changed it over the years. I knew almost nothing about the Grand Canyon or the Colorado River watershed when I picked up this book, now I’m swimming in information and loving it! Well-told, deeply-researched, engaging to read book. Recommended!

  24. 5 out of 5

    North Pinkley

    This is a great book, it is rich with history as well as a great and grand tale of adventure and exploration.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tara

    This is a fantastic combination of storytelling and research. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the outdoors or natural history.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Cory Reese

    Despite lots of friends recommending this book, it took me a while to get to it. The topic of river rafting in the Grand Canyon just didn't seem too interesting to me. Much to my surprise, The Emerald Mile became one of the best books I've ever listened to. There is such rich character development, such a fascinating dive into the history of the area, and such suspense that I didn't want to turn the audio book off. I loved every minute of the book. Despite lots of friends recommending this book, it took me a while to get to it. The topic of river rafting in the Grand Canyon just didn't seem too interesting to me. Much to my surprise, The Emerald Mile became one of the best books I've ever listened to. There is such rich character development, such a fascinating dive into the history of the area, and such suspense that I didn't want to turn the audio book off. I loved every minute of the book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Adam Ricks

    A historian's love of the Grand Canyon. Fascinating story. Many more details than I personally cared to read. But - still a fascinating story. Definitely makes me want to go ride in the Grand Canyon in one of the dories. Some really amazing feats described in this book. A historian's love of the Grand Canyon. Fascinating story. Many more details than I personally cared to read. But - still a fascinating story. Definitely makes me want to go ride in the Grand Canyon in one of the dories. Some really amazing feats described in this book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dan Oko

    Damn, I wanted to love this book. The excerpt I read in Outside was so terrific -- and the subject matter, wild nature, American history, river rafting and the promise and peril of hydroelectric dams are all of deep interest. Moreover, I know the author Kevin Fedarko because when he was an editor at Outside, I had the pleasure to work with him, and it's always heartening to see a colleague crack the big time. Too bad that the so much of the writing suffers from being dumbed down, a redundancy in Damn, I wanted to love this book. The excerpt I read in Outside was so terrific -- and the subject matter, wild nature, American history, river rafting and the promise and peril of hydroelectric dams are all of deep interest. Moreover, I know the author Kevin Fedarko because when he was an editor at Outside, I had the pleasure to work with him, and it's always heartening to see a colleague crack the big time. Too bad that the so much of the writing suffers from being dumbed down, a redundancy in the storytelling, and an infusion of over-the-top claims that would have suited a magazine article but maybe not a full-length manuscript, where their repetition begins to grate. Fedarko himself has worked as a river guide but instead of personalizing the story with his own anecdotes he keeps everything strictly objective. I would argue he should have written with the attitude and self-regard that he admires in the likes of Ed Abbey, David Brower and the other environmental rabble rousers he admires. Without piling on the criticism, I felt like K-Fed did not trust readers to find the book based simply on the stellar material he turned up; in turn he threw a bunch of inessential background and red-herring drama to make the story appeal to a more general audience. That was a mistake, because the tale of three river rafters who in 1983 set the record for the fastest descent ever by anybody down the Colorado River is adventure gold. Oh well, I'm sure the movie version will be epic.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte Fostey

    If only there were more than 5 stars to give... This was one of the most beautifully written books I've read in a long time. The depictions of The Grand Canyon and the river running experience are stunning. Not only does the book cover the fastest ride through the Grand Canyon, it also brings to life the explorers who visited and challenged the Canyon over the centuries. It paints a picture of the complicated feats of engineering that are the dams and of the powerful geologic forces that created If only there were more than 5 stars to give... This was one of the most beautifully written books I've read in a long time. The depictions of The Grand Canyon and the river running experience are stunning. Not only does the book cover the fastest ride through the Grand Canyon, it also brings to life the explorers who visited and challenged the Canyon over the centuries. It paints a picture of the complicated feats of engineering that are the dams and of the powerful geologic forces that created the canyon itself. The book also touches on the beginnings of conservationism in America. All in all, expect not just an epic story about a group of flamboyent dorymen, but an extensive history of all things 'Grand Canyon.'

  30. 4 out of 5

    Payson

    I have spent two years reading the Donald Worster A RIVVER RUNNING WEST, the Live of John Wesley Powell and am just now half-way through. On the other hand,I got THE EMERALD MILE for Father's Day and finished it yesterday! It was a most fascinating story of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado with lots of side stories about the Glen Canyon Dam, the whole ecology and hydrology of the Colorado River plus a compelling adventure epic as well. It sure took me back to the day when I was lucky enough to ta I have spent two years reading the Donald Worster A RIVVER RUNNING WEST, the Live of John Wesley Powell and am just now half-way through. On the other hand,I got THE EMERALD MILE for Father's Day and finished it yesterday! It was a most fascinating story of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado with lots of side stories about the Glen Canyon Dam, the whole ecology and hydrology of the Colorado River plus a compelling adventure epic as well. It sure took me back to the day when I was lucky enough to take a four-day float from the Phantom Ranch downstream to the headwaters of Lake Meade. This is a read that I highly recommend.

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