Alumnus travels far, wide for deceased brother
While most people take trips for leisure, a UH alumnus recently went on a journey that was not only inspired by someone close to him, but will inevitably inspire many others around him as well.
Bryan Brown, 57, finished the first solo continuous descent kayaking down the Colorado River in American history as a tribute to his younger brother, Bruce, who died in 2012 of muscular dystrophy.
Brown spent 100 days completing his voyage, which came to a rough total of 2,400 nautical miles. The first leg of the trip began at the source of the Green River and traveled from the Colorado River to the Mexican border at Yuma. The second leg started from the source of the Colorado River proper at Rocky Mountain National Park and carried him to the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers near Moab, Utah. Brown’s journey took place from June 1 to Sept. 8, 2013.
“The journey was a tribute to my beloved younger brother, Bruce, who died of muscular dystrophy in late 2012,” Brown said. “(But) I am also engaged in writing a book that deals with overarching natural history and ecology issues pertinent to the embattled primary Colorado River watershed, which includes both what we now know as the Colorado River and the Green River.”
As Brown spent a fairly large amount of time on the water, his entire trip included eight permit venues, required twelve complex permits, and dealt with four agencies — National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and the state of Utah — with rules differing for each agency. Throughout his voyage, Brown was able to carefully document what was occurring between parkland jurisdictions.
“While the Colorado and Green rivers are obviously monolithic entities, parkland jurisdictions are not,” Brown said. “Parkland mission statements pay lip service to ecosystem continuity, but the undeniable fact of the matter is that oversight starts at upstream borders and stops at downstream borders.
“Part of this mindset is budget-related,” Brown said. “Part of it is related to the immense distances this watershed covers. Part of it is a simple lack of organizational continuity. The parkland jurisdictions in this watershed are hopelessly fragmented. This fragmented management system is clearly outmoded.”
Brown, who received his master’s degree in English literature from UH in 1981, now resides in Beverly Hills with his wife. The preparation for his trek fell into two categories: logistical and physical.
“Logistically, the trip was a nightmare. The permitting system is outmoded, and the safety and equipment requirements are not codified,” Brown said. “For this reason, it is very difficult to transit these regions. The logistics took 8 months and were really not finished when I launched.
“Physically, I did what most people would call hybrid cardiovascular workouts here in the Santa Monica Mountains. I already had the boating skills required to undertake this journey.”
As Brown completed his trip alone, he had virtually no cellphone coverage and covered roughly 400 rapids that were Class III or higher, known as serious whitewater. This experience taught Brown that while American parkland managers are clearly trying to protect our precious natural resources, more urgency is needed. Most importantly, Brown said he learned that outrageous human kindness is alive and well and living happily in the American outback.
“Generally speaking, I did not tell people what I was doing,” Brown said. “That said, they seemed to know that I was engaged in something unique, and they absolutely knocked themselves out to try to help.
“Because I purposefully traveled with the season, with a paddle and with the current, I saw what presented itself in the order in which the seasons dictated.”