From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):
U.S Rafting Team is back with a new raft design and veteran guides in mission to row 277 miles in less than 34 hours.
In January 2017, the U.S. Men’s Whitewater Rafting Team’s speed-record dream died in the Colorado River’s stout Lava Falls rapid.
They had been rowing for more than 20 hours and were on pace to set a record for the fastest descent of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon when their customized cataraft failed in the roiling rapid. After four hours of repairs in the dark, they limped to the take-out more than five hours past the 34-hour, two-minute record set in 2016 by kayaker Ben Orkin.
Three years later, the Colorado-based team is back with a slightly different boat design and a trio of veteran Grand Canyon guides onboard. They plan to launch from Lees Ferry on Jan. 9 and row their custom-made raft through 130 rapids over 277 miles, rowing six at a time to reach Grand Wash Cliffs in less than 34 hours.
“Everything is going to have to be perfect,” said Edwards-based team captain John Mark Seelig. “The weather has got to be right and water has got to be right where we need it and we are going to have to hit our lines perfectly. We’re feeling good.”
The team, which competes in four-man and six-man whitewater races around the world, kept their heads down as they planned the last attempt, trying not to attract too much attention. They didn’t want to seem presumptuous, dropping in from Colorado for their first speed attempt and possibly irk the tight-knit Grand Canyon rafting community. And while they weren’t breaking rules, they did have sandal-maker Chaco helping with support. The National Park Service doesn’t smile on promotional campaigns in their parks…
[The USA Rafting Team has never won a world championship. With full-time jobs, families, and responsibilities, these scrappy 30-40-year olds use their free time and vacation days to train, travel the world, and race against competitors sometimes half their age. They’ve been close, but never the best. On January 13, 2017, they set their sights on making history, attempting to break a legendary speed record down 277 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Their goal was 34 hours. In a custom-built 48 foot raft and with ultramarathon effort, “The Time Travelers” is the story of ordinary people attempting something extraordinary on one of the world’s most breathtaking stages. 34 hours – just a blip in the scope of geological history – could be both their defining moment and the ride of their lives.
A Gnarly Bay Production and a Forest Woodward + Brendan Leonard Collaboration.
Special Thanks: NRS, Yeti Coolers, Jack’s Plastic Molding, and Cataract Oars]
This time the team is self-funding its mission and using the record-setting attempt to raise money for Grand Canyon Youth, a nonprofit in the Southwest that gets kids on rivers. They want to raise $10,000 for the group.
The U.S. Rafting Team’s Seelig, Robbie Prechtl, Jeremiah Williams, Matt Norfleet and Kurt Kincel have enlisted experienced Grand Canyon raft guides and endurance athletes Lyndsay Hupp, Omar Eli Martinez and Justin Salamon for the 2020 attempt.
“The first attempt, we didn’t really talk about it. The narrative of the story has changed this time. It’s something more meaningful to us,” Seelig said. “We feel more supported by the Grand Canyon community this time and we are leaning on them for their knowledge.”
Seelig said the expert guides, while maybe not as familiar with the raft, have decades of experience rowing the canyon and can provide critical navigational help as they line up daunting rapids in the dark. Each of them has logged dozens of descents of the canyon, mostly shepherding guests, and they are pining for a speed descent, Seelig said.