In terms of physical hazards, perhaps the next thing to going over Niagara Falls in a barrel is running the torrential Colorado. There the similarity between the two exploits ends. For the first is a stunt as purposeless as walking blindfolded into a den of lions; the other is a feat demanding the utmost in human skill against almost demonic natural forces. It offers as reward not notoriety but a sense of triumph and a vista of some of the world's finest and most fearful scenery.
The lore of the Colorado River run, moreover, is a noble chapter in the winning of the West. The first complete run, led by the dauntless one-armed Major John Wesley Powell, began at Green River, Utah in May 1869. After more than 1,000 miles of unknown and unforeseeable water, the expedition ended at the mouth of the Virgin River in Nevada. Conquering the Grand Canyon, it conquered our final frontier, was the last important exploration within the continental U.S.
Although run many times since then, the Colorado remains an ultimate challenge in white water boating. Equipment has changed, but the river's rapids, as fierce as ever, have not.
In next week's issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Joel Sayre begins a two-part account of runs through the Colorado's two most formidable sections—the Grand Canyon and Cataract Canyon in Utah. An Indiana-born writer and reporter, the author of several bestsellers, including Rackety Rax and Persian Gulf Command, Sayre is a naturally venturesome spirit. At 17, for instance, he volunteered for the Canadian-Siberian Expeditionary Force in World War I. (According to his friend James Thurber, he recalls "Vladivostok the way most people think back on Paris.") Then he took a bachelor's degree at Oxford.
Sayre's first encounter with the Colorado came when he was 9 years old: a lecturer's pictures of a trip down it terrified him. Forty-five years later he was terrified again. But this time, through the "vagaries of journalism," he was on it.
What happened, and how, are the text of Sayre's articles. They tell, too, of Georgie White, former cigaret girl, present vegetarian, who once crossed the continent on a bicycle—and is the only woman ever to become a professional boatman on "the most dangerous river in the world."
SAYRE AND THE COLORADO