We continue a series of conversations with authors whose books are featured on our UPR Book List. Today: Kevin Fedarko talks about his new book, “The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.” Here’s how the publisher, Simon & Schuster, describes the book: “In the spring of 1983, a massive snowmelt sent runoff racing down the Colorado River toward the Glen Canyon 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, 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. 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. The captain of the dory, Kenton Grua, aimed 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.” The King’s English adds, “In addition to chronicling the trials of the three river guides ... the story also follows a team of beleaguered engineers who were tasked with saving the Glen Canyon Dam. In essence, it's an adventure tale that lays out the history of the river and the canyon while opening a window on the violent and sublime world of whitewater and wooden boats on the Colorado. Kevin Fedarko lives in northern New Mexico and has worked as a part-time river guide in Grand Canyon National Park. He has written for Outside, Esquire, National Geographic, Adventure, and other publications.