A year has passed since six members of the USA men's rafting team shoved a self-designed 50-foot boat into the Colorado River, setting off on an effort to break the speed record through the Grand Canyon. The goal was to oar 277 river miles in 34 hours, but the mission was also to reinvigorate their lives with challenge and push back against the advance of time and its remarkable abilities to compress hopes.
Instead of accepting the steady drumbeat of work, parenting and working out, they choose an audacious and difficult project that stretched their skills, promised more physical pain than they'd ever before endured, and saw them facing off with the possibility of failure. The 23-minute film The Time Travelers captures the story, and shows in Santa Fe on Friday Feb. 2 as part of the Telluride Mountainfilm tour in a lineup that celebrates outdoor pursuits and wild places.
Dan Riordan, a partner with Gnarly Bay Productions, says the project was a natural extension from a previous film they'd made with Forest Woodward and Brendan Leonard called The Important Places. That film, also a Mountainfilm selection, followed Woodward rafting the Grand Canyon with his father four decades after the elder's last trip there, searching for ways to know and connect with his father as a younger man. Once again, this film hit the themes of family and a life well-spent—in that it was largely spent outdoors.
As the rafters' team advisor, veteran Grand Canyon boatman Brian Dierker, who some years spent 250 days on the river, quips in the film: "The older you get, the more freaked out about how short your time is, and some of these people have no clue as to how much time they've wasted."
Shots fade from roar of rapids to that of a vacuum cleaner, from kids and wives to the hours on rowing machines, training for more than half the day in hopes or prepping for their overnight push, and talking about the need for "a good dose of inspiration."
They'd concurred on a "why not the Grand?" plan, and together undertook what none could have achieved alone.
"People do adventurous things, people push themselves, they do crazy outdoor adventures—that's not new," says raft team member John Mark Seelig. "But I don't know anybody doing who does it as a group of six guys."
In an era when we are more in touch but less connected, he says, that matters. Outdoor sports trend toward solo ventures rather than team endeavors. Individuals hike, climb, ski, ride and compete one-on-one. In some ways, he says, it's easier to go it alone—it would certainly spare those moments of quibbling over the plan, what's broken and how to fix it. But the struggle also yields rewards.
"There's strength when you all have to be in sync and you're working on a communal goal," Seelig says. "There's a difference when you cross the finish line and you go, 'I did that,' versus 'We did that.' … You can't move the boat by yourself."
It's a sentiment Riordan echoes from his Rhode Island-based office.
"I play on a soccer team on Tuesday nights, and we have 15 guys on the team and it's really hard to get seven of them to show up," he says. "To have that common goal is an impressive thing. As you move through your 30s into your 40s, and you have a family and all that sort of stuff, it's so much easier to get a Netflix account and chill."
Though admittedly, a fair amount of Netflix went into the 15-hour training sessions on the rowing machines.
Twelve months on, the team has their sights set on a new project: how a mostly Colorado-based crew of river rafters will take to the sea and compete in an outrigger race among the Hawaiian Islands.
"We've done a lot of different things and it's one of the only things we haven't done that involves a boat and a paddle," Seelig says.
It hadn't taken long for the scheming to begin, Riordan recalls.
"When they got back to shore and they got a chance to hug their family and crack a beer, they're sitting around looking at the boat going, 'We should do this, this and this next.' That's just cool. It wasn't the final chapter in their story," he says. "This is the type of people we're dealing with—these people who want to go to the next frontier of everything."
With, or without, a time machine.
Mountainfilm on Tour
7 pm Friday Feb. 2. $17.
Lensic Performing Arts Center,
211 W San Francisco St.,