Thursday, December 19, 2013

On boating, gorges, friends, and you. Yep, you.

Until recently I wasn't a boater.  I'd canoed and sea kayaked sporadically as a kid and young adult, but my participation was roughly akin to playing badminton or volleyball at the family reunion or company picnic: Half-hearted in the moment and forgotten immediately after.

Just a few years ago I had no interest in it and would have much rather spent my time on dirt, or rock, riding and playing and exploring the world via two wheels.

That was then.

These days I'd wager I split riding and boating roughly 60/40.  If I lived in a boatier place that fraction would likely be reversed.

A big part of the reason I spend so much time in water is, quite simply, Fang.  In his younger years he loved to run trails, but he's getting on in age and being in/on/around water just agrees much more with his constitution.

But that's not the only reason.

I've been exploring the American West on wheels for over 2 decades.  I'm nowhere close to running out of new places to ride, but I have gotten to the point where I can see that what's left to explore is not truly new or different, merely variations on familiar themes.  Were we discussing chess we'd be talking in terms of 'end games': I've seen where the limits (my own, those of my equipment, and those of small-minded land managers) lie, and with that came the realization that it was time for a new way to look at and interface with my backyard.

My first few trips with packrafts *did* involve bikes, and were incredibly gratifying in their own unique ways.  Lately, I've been far more smitten with using the boats not just to cross bodies of water, but to follow the watercourses and see what lies within.

In many ways my chosen passions are the same--following a route through the landscape, and learning what that route has to teach.  But in both execution and commitment they seem to be completely different.

That difference can be summed up quickly: Bikes have brakes.  You interface a lot differently with a river when you can't stop on a dime to think things over.

As of this writing I have far, far more riding partners than boating partners.  No surprise given the length of time I've participated in each.  But look closer and you'll see that of my riding partners, at least half have taken up boating in the past 2 or 3 years.

And the half that remain?

A solid half of those already are boaters.

Why would that be?

When you winnow through the pile of answers, you realize that the only commonality is that people are diverse and they want to experience the world via as many avenues as they can.  Riding is inherently good, but it has many limitations.

From a certain perspective I started this post to share some media from a weekend trip I did last spring.  But when I sat down to add explanatory text I realized that the bigger picture is that I'd like to share the sport of boating, of packrafting, with more of you.

To help you diversify.

Why packrafting?

No answer to this question can be complete without touching on the size, weight, and portability of these amazing little crafts.  The boats in this post all come in at 7 to 8 pounds complete.  They roll down small enough to put in a daypack, on your bike rack, under your handlebars, or in your carry-on bag to fly somewhere else.

That part is easy enough to explain.

The rest of the answer involves how easy they are to inflate, paddle, and repair.  When taken in sum, those three attributes mean that rank beginners (like my longtime-riding-partners-turned-paddling-partners, pictured here) can hike their boats, food, and overnight gear into some remote place, then safely navigate their way down the river and 'out'.  The boats are easy to turn and spin, stable side to side, and light enough that you can dangle one off of your paddle or over your shoulder when portaging.

Why you?


Why not?

My intent is not to give the hard sell here:

What's it gonna take, eh?!  What's it gonna take to put you into this colorfully buoyant beauty today?!

I just wonder how many, like me, waited longer than necessary to try something, only to find out that it was what they were looking for all along?