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All the way to the sea, with a cracked oar

The Rogue River's unofficial "Pram Man" expects to wake up this morning at Whitehorse Park covered in frost from another night of both chilly and chili, ready to test his mettle in the metal for one more day.

Casey Roland is six days and 65 miles into what is roundly believed to be the first Rogue trip in a metal boat from Lost Creek Dam to the sea since this fall's removal of Gold Ray Dam put such a journey on the bucket list for river-rats.

Already Roland's 8-foot metal pram with 12-inch gunnels has dodged way more debris in the Rogue than he expected, he's had to portage around two impassable falls and has endured the coldest nights so far this winter.

And all the while fueled by energy bars, canned chili and dehydrated potatoes.

Consider the 46-year-old Ashland tree-trimmer as crazy as ever, especially when you realize he's doing it all with a cracked wooden oar.

But don't for a second, girlfriend Anne Day says, think Roland won't taste the salt of the sea before this long, strange trip is done 157 river miles from where it began.

"His boat's dented and scratched, and do you realize how freakin' cold it is out there?" says Day, after joining Roland Wednesday night at Valley of the Rogue State Park. "But he's having fun. And convinced he's going to make it, for sure."

But first he'll have to get through the Rogue's rugged Wild and Scenic Section before hitting Agness, where he'll be home free for the final 34 miles of relatively flat water.

He figures to paddle past the Grave Creek boat ramp and into the Wild Rogue Sunday morning, and Day hopes someone — anyone — shows up to shadow him along the way.

"For piece of mind," Day says. "Did you see just how small that boat really is?"

A handful of kayakers and rafters have run the 157 miles of free-flowing Rogue from Cole Rivers Hatchery at the base of Lost Creek Dam to the sea. But until this fall, they all have had to carry or trailer their crafts around Gold Ray Dam.

When the 106-year-old dam disappeared and boating through the former dam site opened Oct. 15, Roland set his sights on conquering the river in unorthodox fashion. He figures he's the first to do it in a metal boat, because anyone who would have done it would have said something, and no one's come forward to claim that feat.

So Roland bought the 20-year-old pram, got a bunch of sponsors and waited for just the right water flows to get him safely through the Wild and Scenic Section, commonly called "The Canyon."

That right flow came Saturday, so he launched what he was hoping to be a trip of nine days to two weeks.

He's carrying a global-positioning system transmitter so Day can trace his trek and plot his stops.

On the first day, he made it down to the Modoc area just upstream of TouVelle State Park.

On the second day, he made it through the old Gold Ray site and the now-infamous "Pucker Rapid," named because that's what happens behind your back pockets when you approach this gnarly and snarly rapid.

"He said he was shaking-scared going through Gold Ray," Day says.

The third day saw him spend six hours in the dark hauling his boat through brush and over rocks because Dowden Falls downstream of Gold Ray Dam was impassable, Day says.

Ditto with Powerhouse Rapid and Nugget Falls, which this week appeared impassable to any boats thanks to logs and root-wads washed in from the old Gold Ray Reservoir.

"The log jams are crazy-huge," Day says.

Wednesday night he landed at Valley of the Rogue State Park and its welcomed hot showers — "he really stunk from adrenaline and sweat," Day says — putting him 113 miles from his goal.

Though the trip has taken much longer than he envisioned, Roland is by no means wearing down or less positive about the upcoming days.

If anything, Day says, he's more convinced now that he and his boat will reach Gold Beach together and upright some day soon.

"It's a huge test for him," Day says. "It's him saying, 'Who am I? What am I? What's my life journey?' I'm proud of him."

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