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'Pram Man' dreams of a race to the sea

Casey Roland, aka the Pram Man, believes his historic 157-mile Rogue River float last January from Lost Creek Dam to the sea was so elating and miserable that he'd like to share it every New Year's Day with 200 of his fellow river-rats.

The 44-year-old Ashland man is floating the concept of an annual race that would trace the route he conquered in an 8-foot pram, which he undertook to celebrate the removals of Savage Rapids Dam and Gold Ray Dam that returned the Rogue to a free-flowing river for the first time since 1904.

Imagine everything from plastic-shelled kayaks and prams to driftboats and multi-rower rafts all pushing off at once from the Cole Rivers Hatchery boat ramp on New Year's Day and racing toward the Pacific.

It would be a test of self-reliance. No outside assistance. No stashed provisions. If you don't want to run a rapid, then carry all your own stuff around it or tap out. No motors or sails and definitely no skullduggery. Just dudes and dudettes relying on what they can stash in their crafts, fighting the Rogue and the weather in hopes of seeing their watery jalopies become the first to hit the Highway 101 bridge in Gold Beach.

And everyone would pitch in $50 to sweeten the deal.

"It's run what you brung, and winner take all," Roland says. "With 200 (racers) at $50 a pop, you do the math. That's $10,000, and that's a pretty good-sized carrot."

Roland says he still has to work out the logistics, but he's already lined up more than 50 people who think his idea is so crazy that it's perfect.

"I look at it like a 2012 version of 'Cannonball Run' without Burt Reynolds," says Garth Sahli, a 41-year-old fellow Ashland river-runner.

Sahli considered Roland's lone trip last year in such a small boat "an act of lunacy," but he sees this planned race as the perfect mix of extreme boating and chance bonding among the river-running community.

"I'm all over it," Sahli says.

The concept is oddball enough that it could either disappear like a fart in the wind or develop a cult-like following like the Mount Ashland Hill Climb has done in the equally warped niche of extreme mountain-runners.

"It could flop completely, who knows?" says Chris Henry, a Phoenix rafter who shadowed Roland on part of his maiden voyage.

"Who would have guessed that people would want to run to the top of Mount Ashland in August, but people come from all over the country to do it," Henry says. "I don't know where it's going to go."

The race, however, could come with a 34-mile portage depending upon what kind of take the federalies have of Roland's plans.

Should the federal Bureau of Land Management consider the race as an official competition or a commercial venture, then it would likely be banned in the Wild Section of the Lower Rogue River Canyon.

Those activities would require the BLM to issue a special recreation permit, and the agency currently has a moratorium on issuing any new permits in the Wild Section, says David Ballenger, acting recreation leader for the BLM's Medford District.

"If he was to fall under that category, it just wouldn't work," Ballenger says.

It depends, he says, on how Roland pitches his plans to the agency.

"It really depends upon the specifics of what he's proposing to do," Ballenger says.

Roland says he just wants to create a fun and adventurous way of fostering more camaraderie among the Rogue's various floaters while highlighting what a special river the Rogue is.

And why not do so en masse by launching on the morning of New Year's Day in hopes of being the first to the sea — quite literally come hell or high water.

"I figured that everybody needs to go through the same pain I went through," Roland says. "It could be 18 degrees in your tent like I had. It could be in the middle of a storm. It's still going to happen.

"Nobody knows what that river is going to look like at 8 a.m. New Year's Day," he says.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

This file photo shows Casey Roland of Ashland last January on his trip from Lost Creek Dam to the ocean in a metal boat. - Photo by Jamie Lusch