The 1983 speed run record down the Grand Canyon set by Kenton Grua, Rudi Petschek and Steve Reynolds aboard a dory named The Emerald Mile, and documented in a book of the same name by Kevin Fedarko, is safe, for now. But two kayakers recently came just an hour and 10 minutes away from breaking it.
Paddling two 18.5-foot, carbon-fiber/Kevlar 18X Epic Performance kayaks known for their speed, friends Ben Orkin and Harrison Rea launched from Lee’s Ferry Tuesday night, Jan. 6, at 9:15 p.m. and completed the 277-mile trip to Grand Wash Cliffs around 10 a.m., Jan. 8, for a total of 37 hours, 48 minutes — just shy of the Emerald Mile’s 31-year-old record time of 36 hours, 38 minutes, 29 seconds. While Grua’s crew set their landmark record when the river flowing at 72,000 cfs, Orkin and Rea had faster boats but far less water speed, paddling it at 10,000 cfs.
For a while it looked like they were on pace to beat the record set by Grua and finish in under 36 hours. At least until a mishap at Crystal Rapid cost them 90 minutes fixing a damaged boat. While Orkin skirted the hole in Crystal, his partner Rea got clobbered by it and recirculated, forcing them to shore to repair his kayak’s cracked hull.
Coincidentally, The Emerald Mile capsized at the same spot during their speed run.
“We knew it (beating the speed record) was possible before trip,” Orkin told C&K magazine just after finishing their attempt. “We wanted a challenge. By the second night, we’d been up for 36 hours. We were stressed by trying to make up time from the boat repair. Energy levels were low.”
The two began planning their trip last March, Orkin, 24, having paddled the Grand seven times and Rea, 23, only once. Toward the end, they split up, with Orkin paddling ahead to try and beat the record, reaching Grand Wash Cliffs in 37 hours and 48 minutes, 70 minutes behind the mark set by The Emerald Mile.
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