Twenty-four hours to Moab… in a raft
EAGLE COUNTY – Some people try to set world records for things like blowing the biggest bubble with chewing gum, or being the one to stand on their head the longest.
Seven world-class rafters from Vail want to see how far they can row down the Colorado River in 24 hours.
There will be high-powered spotlights brought along in order to see fast-approaching bridges and unexpected debris, specially rigged Camelbacks so the team can stay hydrated while paddling constantly, and, of course, a rotation through the spotlight-holding and steering positions, so those that are so inclined can rest for a few minutes.
“I thought it would be kind of cool,” said Mike Reid, part of the six-man team, Behind the Eight Ball, that finished on the podium in last year’s world sprint rafting championships in Ecuador and that has also won the Teva Games Paddlecross event multiple times.
“This,” Reid said, “has never been done before.”
Seasoned rafter and adventure racer Billy Mattison came up with the idea to go for the Guinness world record of miles rafted in 24 hours after his friend and fellow adventure racer, Ian Adamson, achieved a similar world record, paddling from the Upper Colorado River to Moab, Utah, in a kayak some years ago.
“He had asked me to come with him in a kayak,” Mattison said. “I’ve done the kayak. I’ve never done it in a raft. I thought it would be a good way to get Chris Reeder’s (Behind the Eight Ball) team some recognition and sponsors.”
After competing in the May 31 Teva Games event, Behind the Eight Ball has set a tentative launch date of June 10 from the Pumphouse on the Upper Colorado, aiming for a finish line in Moab some 250 miles downriver.
“We’re trying to coincide it with a full moon,” Mattison said. “I don’t think rapids will be the issue – the river is at its mellowest at night. The hazards aren’t rapids. The hazards are big logs floating down the river and bridge abutments.”
The team will use a pontoon-style Cataraft boat for the journey. The Colorado River is expected to peak the first or second week of June, and the group is hoping for the water to be as fast as possible, calculating that the team will average 10 mph.
There are a few sections of Class IV rapids along the way, none of which the team expects to encounter in the dark. The group will portage in Glenwood Canyon before the dam and put in again near Grizzly Creek.
Per Guinness record rules, an official must be along for the journey, so the team found a Colorado-based representative from the International Rafting Federation and will also have a support crew doing the journey by van.
As there is no standing record for rafting of this sort, Behind the Eight Ball will be setting the benchmark.
“We’re mostly just looking at this as something to achieve,” Reid said. “Not many people row for 24 hours, except the transatlantic rowers. You’ve got to set a reasonable pace. You don’t want to burn out 10 hours into it. With our calculations, we’re going to be somewhere around Moab in 24 hours. We might come up short. We might go way past it.”
Each crew member will have pockets stuffed with food and will wear multiple layers and waterproof rain pants and jackets to fight the night-time chill.
“We won’t wear wet suits,” Mattison said. “After 24 hours, you’d wrinkle up pretty good in one of those.”
Mattison views unexpected night-time obstacles as the biggest challenge on the trip. Because of his adventure-racing experience that has included the Eco Challenge, and with it multiple days of sleep deprivation, going without sleep for 24 hours doesn’t worry him as much as just the bodily discomfort and irritation of rowing on a bench for that length of time. Reid, on the other hand, is not in the habit of keeping his eyes open for such a stretch.
The last leg of the trip, he said, will be the best part.
“I’m pretty good at sitting,” Reid said. “It’s staying awake for 24 hours that will be the challenge. But whenever you do any kind of endurance thing – when you’re hiking a fourteener or whatever – it’s getting to the end and looking back that is the best part. It’s making that achievement. You look back and laugh with your buddies.”
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