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

4.42  ·  Rating details ·  7,246 ratings  ·  1,024 reviews
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
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published May 7th 2013 by Scribner
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Start your review of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon
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 ...more
Jul 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Mar 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Daniel Brown
Dec 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is terrific narrative nonfiction. One of the best I've seen lately. ...more
May 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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 ...more
Phil Breidenbach
Jan 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
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
Sep 24, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
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.

William Goss
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Sep 26, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Christine Boyer
Aug 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: River rafters
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
Sep 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Todd Martin
Sep 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, outdoors
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 ...more
Nov 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Nov 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Dec 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
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. ...more
Jan 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
North Pinkley
Feb 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book, it is rich with history as well as a great and grand tale of adventure and exploration.
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic combination of storytelling and research. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in the outdoors or natural history.
Cory Reese
Oct 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Adam Ricks
Nov 02, 2020 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Dan Oko
May 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
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 ...more
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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Play Book Tag: Emerald Mile, by Kevin Fedarko, 4 stars 1 5 Nov 01, 2020 12:39PM  
LDS Earth Steward...: The Emerald Mile 1 6 Feb 27, 2020 05:26AM  
Mountain & Prairi...: September-October Selection 2 30 Oct 22, 2018 05:09PM  

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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 ...more

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21 likes · 3 comments
“if there is a point to being in the canyon, it is not to rush but to linger, suspended in a blue-and-amber haze of in-between-ness, for as long as one possibly can. To float, to drift, savoring the pulse of the river on its odyssey through the canyon, and above all, to postpone the unwelcome and distinctly unpleasant moment when one is forced to reemerge and reenter the world beyond the rim-that is the paramount goal.” 8 likes
“But they have preserved an aspect of the American persona that is uniquely vital to the health of this republic. Among many other things, those dirtbag river runners uphold the virtue of disobedience: the principle that in a free society, defiance for its own sake sometimes carries value and meaning, if only because power in all of its forms—commercial, governmental, and moral—should not always and without question be handed what it demands.” 4 likes
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