The most inspiring among us don’t seek accolades or recognition; they simply follow their passion for paddling.
STORY BY LARRY RICE
Upon first meeting Douglas Green, and beholding his middling skills when running Class III rapids near his home in Boulder, Colorado, you might be forgiven for wondering why this stout 58-year-old fine woodworker with a bald pate, ponytail and scruffy gray beard—and who struggles with a long list of physical afflictions including multiple ruptured discs, a half-dozen shoulder surgeries, torn biceps and a couple of knee operations—would consider paddling the length of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, a 280-mile river trip punctuated with big, boiling rapids.
And then, upon learning that Green plans to accomplish this feat completely by himself, with no outside support, and in, of all things, an open canoe, you would be forgiven for thinking this man is not merely eccentric; he’s a fool.
That is precisely why Douglas Green never shared his long-held dream with anyone outside his small circle of paddling friends.
“My quest to canoe the Grand Canyon, in the manner that I wanted to do it, has always been a very personal and private thing for me,” Green says with an air of solemnity.
“Since the age of 13, when I was first introduced to wilderness canoe tripping at Camp Kooch-I-Ching in northern Minnesota, I knew it was something I had to do,” he says.
“Consequently, I’ve planned and prepared most of my life for this journey, and I wasn’t about to let anything, or anyone, get in my way.” On October 17, 2012, with the river running at a steady 8,000 cubic feet per second, Green set off from Lees Ferry in his 14-foot, 4-inch Bell Nexus river-tripper. The shiny yellow canoe was jammed to the gunwales with 110 pounds of gear and food, including one case of beer. He had no idea whether anyone had ever done what he was about to do, nor did he care. After a choked-up goodbye to Betsy, his wife of many years, Green peeled out into the current. He felt as if he were paddling off the edge of the Earth. “I knew that I was as ready as I possibly could be,” he recalls. “But at the same time I had been so stressed out that I was literally shitting blood five or six times a day for the previous two weeks.”
To prepare for this undertaking, in the previous decade Green had solo-canoed every permitted river in the Southwest. In 2008 he made a fully loaded multi week trip through Desolation and Gray canyons on the Green River, continuing past the confluence with the Colorado into Cataract Canyon. That famed whitewater gauntlet, which includes 10 miles of nearly continuous big-water rapids, stretched the outer limits of Green’s boating skills. The Colorado was flowing at a pounding 12,500 cfs.
“The monster holes and waves I had to deal with in Cataract were, in many ways, more difficult than anything I expected to face in the Grand,” he says. While camping in Cataract, he was bitten by a brown recluse spider, enduring a malaria-like nightmare of fever, chills, and psychedelic like tremors.
Green spent 26 nights and 27 days within the awesome vastness of the Grand Canyon. Some days—when scouting the “lesser of evils” lines through iconic rapids such as Lava, Crystal, and Granite, or recovering from an upset and swim, or dealing with four days of gale-force headwinds—he covered barely more than a mile. Other days, pushing to make up for lost time, he ticked off as much as 20-25 miles.
Even after eight capsizes and self rescues, and not seeing another soul for days at a time, Green says he was never frightened.
“On these long solo canoe trips I’m in a constant state of heightened awareness, humility, and an astounding sense of peace. I totally accept that I’m responsible for my own ass.
“When I stepped on shore at Pearce Ferry, you might say it was anticlimactic,” he laughs. The remote launch ramp was empty, not a single person to pat him on the back.
Like a drunken sailor, Green staggered around the beach for awhile, trying to get his sea legs to function after having just paddled 25 miles. He took a couple of selfies with his camera, then glancing back upriver, the realization of what he had just accomplished suddenly and forcefully hit home. “‘I did it!’ I thought. ‘I canoed the Grand Canyon!’”
EXTRA ORDINARY PADDLERS CONTINUED
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