Casey Roland of Ashland plans to be the first to row all 157 miles of the Rogue from Lost Creek dam to the ocean in a metal boat. - Jamie Lusch

'Because it's there'

Casey Roland sees the vast ribbon of the Rogue River now flowing freely from Lost Creek Dam to the sea, and he can't believe someone in a metal boat has yet to run it.

Or at least brag about it.

So the 46-year-old Ashland arborist says he wants to be the first to row all 157 miles of the Rogue in a metal boat, all for the same reason adventurers throughout history have undertaken quirky conquests.

"I'm doing it because it's there," Roland says.

It's there because the Rogue's last great artificial barrier — Gold Ray Dam — was removed last summer, making the Rogue a free-flowing stream without any concrete impediments between Trail and the Pacific for the first time in more than a century.

Such trips have already started showing up on the bucket lists of water rats like Roland.

Because no one has come forward yet claiming to be the first one to row something other than a raft or kayak the entire way, he figures that honor ought to go to him.

He'll do it in a modified 8-foot pram small enough to portage around two boat-eating rapids — Nugget and Powerhouse rapids near Gold Hill — yet just big enough to get through the rugged Lower Rogue Canyon.

It's got a canopy for rain and has enough sponsor logos on the gunnels to look like a NASCAR entry.

His family thinks he's nuts. His girlfriend's family thinks he has a death wish. And virtually all of his friends think he's crazy.

"It seems kind of crazy to me, too," Roland says.

Remember ... because it's there.

"I don't want to go to my grave thinking, damn, I wish I did it," Roland says. "That would suck."

But there's also a morsel of a moral to his story.

Roland says he wants his journey to remind everyone who lives in the Rogue basin that what they do impacts the river that runs through it.

"Whether it's transmission fluid leaking on the ground or toothpaste washed down the drain, everything people do will essentially make the same trip I'm making," he says.

This trip of Roland's started while standing outside waiting for The Black Bird Shopping Center to open one morning, when he struck up a conversation with a fellow early bird.

Talk turned to Roland's wish to get a pram, like the one he had years ago. The man said he had a pram, and two weeks and $1,100 later, the Pyramid custom pram was in Roland's garage.

As with most river-runners these days, Roland and a friend talked about how Gold Ray Dam's absence creates this special opportunity for a float from the boat ramp at Cole Rivers Hatchery near the base of Lost Creek Dam to the sea.

A few rafters and a handful of kayakers have done it, including a group of Medford rafters who ran the gauntlet last year after the removal of Savage Rapids Dam from the Rogue.

That group portaged around Gold Ray Dam then continued to the Rogue mouth at Gold Beach.

But no one apparently has had the mettle to take a metal boat that route since Gold Ray Dam's removal.

Roland figures he has to portage around Nugget and Powerhouse rapids, which are far too dangerous to run in such a small boat.

He does not consider that cheating.

"Going around a dam would be cheating," Roland says.

Roland had his pram spiced up, had the old oars restored and pasted decals from his various sponsors on the tiny gunnels.

He plans to stash supplies along his route, sleep on gravel bars or in his boat.

The craft has incredible maneuverability, likely allowing him to bob and weave his way around most rapids. An electric bilge pump will take care of what water splashes in.

Roland's biggest worry is navigating the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue, a remote area loaded with Class III rapids that could swamp and sink his pram before he has a chance to swear.

He will carry a GPS tracking device so friends and family can track his progress. He has an emergency beacon should his trip go wildly awry.

Roland figures the trip will take him anywhere from nine days to two weeks to pull off.

He refuses to think negatively.

"I'm not afraid of dying," he says. "I'm afraid of not living."

As for when he'll depart, Roland's not saying.

Winter flows have been high and somewhat erratic so far this year.

His greatest concern is having decent flows through the Wild and Scenic Section, so he's eyeing the water gauge at Agness to find the water-flow window that gives him the greatest chance of success.

"When the river flows hit that magic number, I'm going," he says.

Whatever that magic number is, Roland's not sharing.

"I don't want to say because I don't want anybody to beat me to it," he says. "Still, I seriously doubt anybody will take a pram from here to the ocean before I do.

"This thing's got to make it to Gold Beach one way or the other," he says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail

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