The Emerald Mile

The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

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About The Book

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.

About The Author

Kurt Marcus

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.

Raves and Reviews

"The Emerald Mile is the rarest of creations–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’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."

– Bob Shacochis, author of Swimming in the Volcano and Easy in the Islands

"From the bottom of our planet's most awesome landscape, Kevin Fedarko has found and rescued a great American tall tale 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—a story shot through with bravura but also touched by the rarest kind of grandeur."

– Hampton Sides, editor-at-large at Outside magazine and author of Blood and Thunder and Ghost Soldiers

“Kevin Fedarko’s new brilliant work... is the story about wilderness and the American mind, albeit an American mind juiced on Class V adrenaline... Perhaps because we sympathize so strongly with the characters of The Emerald Mile—thanks in no small part to Fedarko’s flowing proseyou'll feel yourself lurching along with them on wooden boats, in ocher-hued canyons, beneath cobalt skies, into the frenzied thrashings of the Colorado River as the very landscape of the West attempts to choke it.”

– Mountain magazine

The Emerald Mile re-creates an incredible voyage through the flood-swollen Grand Canyon in such heart-pounding detail that you need to pause every few pages to catch your breath... He writes so vividly that your favorite reading chair becomes a spray-soaked perch on a bucking boat hit hard by a river running high and fast.”

– Dallas Morning News

“It would not be overblown to say The Emerald Mile deserves a spot on the bookshelf alongside such enduring classics as Cadillac Desert, Desert Solitaire and Encounters with the Archdruid. It's that good.”

– Durango Telegraph

“At its heart an engrossing meditation on the eternal struggle between man and nature.”

– Pittsburg Post-Gazette

“Powerful and poetic passages put readers inside the adventurers’ boats, even if they have only ever imagined the Grand Canyon or seen it in pictures... Each piece of the story is assembled as lyrically as the epoch-spanning walls of canyon itself… an epic-sized true-life adventure tale that appeals to both the heart and the head.”

– Kirkus

“His poetic and descriptive writing should only brighten his accolades and helps his non-fiction book read like a fast-paced fiction adventure... It isn’t necessary to be a history buff or whitewater expert to enjoy this story...With meticulous research, notes and epilogue, Fedarko tells a satisfying story that is quite an entertaining ride.”

– Deseret News

“Fedarko’s effortlessly engaging narrative... is a labor of passion from an adventurous journalist who still calls the Grand Canyon home.”

– Boulder Weekly

“Kevin Fedarko's magnificent book covers a lot of ground – and water... So it is a great boon of Fedarko’s book that he tells the story of the dam, and of the engineers and technicians who built it... with as much respect and homage as he gives to the dorymen.”

– Cleveland Plain-Dealer

“Grua’s wild ride on the Colorado, how it mirrored his mercurial personality, is just one part of Fedarko’s story; however, the ride, which runs through seven states, and the canyon, rich in both geological and political history, prove to be the real protagonists.”

– Publisher’s Weekly

“Grua’s wild ride on the Colorado, how it mirrored his mercurial personality, is just one part of Fedarko’s story; however, the ride, which runs through seven states, and the canyon, rich in both geological and political history, prove to be the real protagonists.”

– Publisher’s Weekly

"Fedarko's first book is a masterpiece of literary nonfiction, a method of writing that uses the techniques of novelists and short story writers to tell true stories in a compelling manner. Think Into Thin Air or The Perfect Storm. Fedarko spent years as an editor at Outside magazine, working with some of the best writers in the world; with The Emerald Mile, he has joined them as a thoughtful, thorough researcher and superb storyteller."

– The Oklahoman

"Journalist and part-time river guide Kevin Fedarko has produced a work of jaw-dropping scope and page-turning action in this account of a speed record of rowing the length of the Grand Canyon that remains unmatched.... An unforgettable read, rendered in vivid, sometimes majestic, prose."

– Christine Wald-Hopkins, Pima County Public Library (Arizona), “S

"This spellbinding true story leaps from the inner workings of Glen Canyon Dam and the psyches of river guides to boat-eating whirlpools and a wooden river dory named the Emerald Mile. Kevin Fedarko’s prodigious research and breathtaking narrative transcend the Southwest. It’s a roaring adventure with wave after wave of spills and thrills. Let’s hope Fedarko owns the movie rights."

– Bill Broyles, Pima County Public Library (Arizona), "Sout

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