Down the Great Unknown

from Chapter One: The Challenge

Noon, May 24, 1869

The few inhabitants of Green River Station, Wyoming Territory gather at the riverfront to cheer off a rowdy bunch of adventurers. Ten hardy men in four wooden boats have spent the morning checking their gear and their provisions one last time — bacon, flour, coffee, spare oars, sextants and barometers (their leader, the skinny, one-armed man in the Emma Dean, fancies himself a scientist). Their plan could hardly be simpler. They will follow the Green River downstream until it merges with the Grand to become the Colorado, and then they will stay with the Colorado wherever it takes them. They intend in particular to run the river through the fabled chasm variously called Big Canyon or Great Canyon or Grand Canyon, a region scarcely better known than Atlantis. No one has ever done it.

The men hope to make their fortunes; their leader plans to emblazon his name across the heavens. They are brave, they have new boats and supplies to last ten months, they are at home in the outdoors. Most important, they are ready to risk their lives.

At one o'clock, the Emma Dean, the Kitty Clyde's Sister, the Maid of the Cañon, and the No Name push themselves out into the current. A small American flag mounted on the Emma Dean flaps proudly in the breeze. Most of the crew are still a bit bleary-eyed. As a farewell to civilization, they have done their best to drink Green River's only saloon dry. Now they are suffering what one of them describes as "foggy ideas and snarly hair." The small crowd gives a cheer, the leader doffs his hat, and the four boats disappear around the river's first bend.


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