The Doing of the Thing
The Brief, Brilliant
Whitewater Career of
Buzz Holmstrom

by Vince Welch,
Cort Conley &
Brad Dimock

304 pages
3 maps, index
80 photographs
Trade paperback

Limited to 500 copies
Five Quail Books
Ken Sanders Rare Books

In 1937, Buzz Holmstrom, a filling station attendant from Coquille, Oregon, ran over one thousand rapid-filled miles of the Green and Colorado Rivers alone, in a small wooden boat he designed and built himself. After running Lava Cliff Rapid, the last major rapid on the Colorado, Holmstrom wrote:

...the last bad one above me--the Bad Rapid--Lava Cliff--that I had been looking for, nearly a thousand miles--I thought: once past there my reward will begin, but now everything ahead seems kind of empty and I find I have already had my reward, in the doing of the thing. The stars, the cliffs and canyons, the roar of the rapids, the moon, the uncertainty and worry, the relief when through each one the campfires at night, the real respect of the rivermen I met and others...

He did not plan a solo trip. His partner was unable to make it, and it was simply time to go. He hastened his own exit from the national eye by refusing to speak of "conquering" the rapids of the Colorado. Instead he spoke quietly of the unearthly beauty of the canyons, how he "listened to the river" to mark his runs, and took comfort in his friend, the moon, at night.

Holmstrom soloed three of the West's most difficult rivers. In the afterglow of these voyages, he eschewed what opportunities were offered, returning home to the small town of Coquille, Oregon, to work at the local gas station. There, in the basement of his mother's home, he would create the next boat, for the next trip.

How he came to have the boatbuilding or river running skills, or even the desire to do such a thing, was unclear.

Nine years and thousands of river miles later, Holmstrom's body was found beside the Grand Ronde River in Oregon. At 37, his story had ended in even greater mystery than it began.

This is a story about rivers and wooden boats, about heroes, humility, unbearable beauty, solitude and sudden death. Holmstrom straddled the old and the new West, and he ushered in the era of modern river running--not through his superb oarsmanship, though his rowing feats still stand today as singular achievements; nor with his evolution of boat design--but through his relationship to the River itself and the solace he sought there from an increasingly complex world.

Three veteran whitewater guides, Vince Welch, Cort Conley, and Brad Dimock, have extensively researched Holmstrom's life, adventures, and tragic end. They have run the same rapids, admired his boats, envied his brass and skill, and felt the same pull of the river. They have created this book to honor his legacy.


Welch, Conley and Dimock at the dedication of the Holmstrom monument in Coquille, Oregon, August 1998

Buzz Holmstrom was one of the great river runners of our time, and his solo journey down the Grand Canyon deserves this wonderful chronicling. There's something very appealing about Buzz Holmstrom to which the authors, experienced river runners themselves, respond and convey in their affectionate, literate, and detailed writing. Plus the book is well-designed and handsome to look at, a beautiful job, a real class act.

Ann Zwinger

Run, River, Run; Downcanyon

This is the kind of story people should be reading. The format is appealing, it reads well, and brings back a host of memories about the physical settings wherein Buzz accomplished so much before his tragic end.
What a triple-threat collaboration!

David Lavender

Western historian

We're centered not just in the same boat as Holmstrom, but in the same heart. He emerges as a hugely conscious man, expert in surviving in hard terrain and, more than anything, at steering his journey not against the river, but with it.


magazine of the Sierra Club

Welch, Dimock, Conley: boatmen, historians. They have the historical imagination and the river knowledge to vivify place and time, to judge in context, with expertise. Experts writing with precision and certainty (and where exacted by Holmstrom's death, with puzzlement and sorrow).

Earl Perry


I've read The Doing of the Thing, cover to cover, and have thoroughly enjoyed it. A thoroughly absorbing book.

Colin Fletcher
The Man Who Walked Through TIme, River

Readers of the Buzz Holmstrom biography will have their reward in the reading of the thing.

Verne Huser
Albuquerque Journal

Buzz's story is eternal in that it has the ability-like all great stories-to remind us of ourselves.

Roderick Nash

Wilderness in the American Mind,

The Big Drops

You have found for us a true American Hero. From dim obscurity to a detailed portrait, it is a story of a life we can be inspired by.

Steve Munsell Prescott College Outdoor Program