Wet for 50

Boulder open water swimmer Matt Moseley looks to set a new record on the Colorado River

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Matt Moseley's 50-mile Colorado River solo swim is estimated to take 18 hours to complete — and Moseley plans to finish in a single day.
Courtesy of Matt Moseley

The river starts as nothing, just a trickle of snowmelt in the high Rockies, the wet drops of a winter’s precipitation falling off of lichen-covered rocks, streaking cliffs in dark zebra stripes of moisture. But it grows bigger quickly. The tributaries, both large and small, feed the monster, until the drops all flow together under the same name: The Colorado.

Flowing 1,450 miles from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California in Mexico, the Colorado drains over 246,000 square miles, providing water to 35 million people, while fueling a $1.4 trillion economy. Because of this, much has been written about the river. It’s the lifeblood of farmers and quenches the thirst of numerous cities. It’s been tamed by massive civil engineering projects such as the Hoover Dam, and it’s been fished, paddled and polluted.

Now part of it will be swum, nonstop, for close to 20 hours.

On July 29, Matthew Moseley — Boulder’s own open water swimmer (his solo crossing of New Orleans’ Lake Pontchartrain was profiled in Boulder Weekly’s “Gonzo swimming”) — will set off on a 50-mile solo swim on the Colorado. The route will take him through some of the most beautiful and remote country in North America — the canyons of the Utah desert — on part of the Colorado that hasn’t seen a continuous swimming attempt ever.

Scheduled for July 30, the effort will start at Potash Point outside of Moab, Utah and will finish at the confluence of the Colorado with the Green River. According to Moseley, it will be the first ever solo swim of the Colorado River using rules governed by the World Open Water Swimming Association and using English Channel Rules: No floatation, no touching a boat or another person, start and end independently. The estimated time for completion is approximately 18 hours.

Think about that for a minute. Eighteen hours in the water, constant swimming, no stopping, no getting out on shore to scarf down a burrito, just the endless Colorado, the canyons and the cliffs descending into darkness as the sun sets and you keep on swimming, swimming through the night until the sun comes up and you keep on swimming some more.

Moseley, of course, is no stranger to big solo swims. His Lake Pontchartrain swim covered 25 miles in 14 hours and 55 minutes. He’s coming to the Colorado from a May 27 solo effort in Puerto Rico, swimming from Culebra to Fajardo (24.5 miles) in 12 hours, 1 minute and 55 seconds. And he made the first swimming descent of the Colorado River through Canyonlands in 2006, a distance of 47.5 miles, which took 16 hours and 50 minutes. This latter was named one of the 10 Biggest Adventure Moments of 2006 by the Rocky Mountain News.

While Moseley admits that he does these swims for the adventure of it, all of his projects involve some form of consciousness-raising.

“What I hope to accomplish with the swims a little bit, is to get people to understand their connection with the water,” Moseley says. “You have to treat the water with care and respect, because when it goes, we go too.”

His Pontchartrain swim raised funds to benefit the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, which focuses on the restoration of the lake and surrounding waterways. The Costa Rica swim was done in the name of reef and fishery preservation and the latest effort, on the Colorado, will be done in conjunction with American Rivers, to raise awareness of the organization’s efforts to preserve and protect the Colorado, which has been named the most endangered river in America.

American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts and on-the-ground projects since 1973. That work has inspired and motivated Moseley.

“I have always found that doing one of these swimming projects for a cause rather than just a swim, makes it greater than itself,” Moseley says. “It’s an interesting way to pair athletics and adventure with something bigger that has greater meaning. It also serves as a great motivator for me, more than if it was just swimming to set a record or do a long swim. If it is something bigger, and there is something on the line, I don’t want to let them down.”

Part of not letting anyone down, including himself, is his training regime. The Costa Rican effort was, Moseley says, a “warm up” for the attempt on the Colorado. And along with that swim as well as plenty of pool time, he’s been mixing it up.

“I’ve been doing a lot of core work,” Moseley says. “Paddle boarding on Boulder Reservoir, and a lot of other stuff that’s kinda odd, stuff that’s making me stronger in general. “

While swimming nonstop for 50 miles down one of America’s greatest rivers would be a highlight for most athletes, Moseley has no plans to hang up his Speedo and remain on dry land.

“I was talking to a colleague today,” Moseley says with a laugh, “And he said, ‘Oh, I know of an island that we can swim out to and back,’ and then I have some other goals in mind. I love it — I will keep it up.”

But first he has to swim a 50-mile stretch of the Colorado River. Fifty miles of one of America’s most iconic rivers. Fifty miles of wet, with no stopping, no floating and no burritos.