This week my home base has been Moab, Utah, as Brian has been teaching a Wilderness First Responder course here. Since I can run my business from anywhere, I’m “working” this week from the desert, my “office” overlooking the Colorado River and giant, red cliffs.
It’s been an awesome week – I’ve gotten a couple of solid days in of doing creative work and fulfilling customer orders, but we’ve also been getting after it big time, adventuring just about every day. I’ve been mountain biking and/or paddle boarding as much as possible, and the weather has been absolutely spectacular, with beautiful blue skies and 80-degree days.
Yesterday Brian had a scheduled day off, so we got to sneak away for an all-day adventure. We decided to try a completely new sport: packrafting.
I had never even heard of packrafting until a few months ago, but it sounded fantastic. Packrafting allows you to paddle remote sections of river that otherwise would be inaccessible, or would require multiple days of paddling, a ton of supplies, and extensive planning.
A packraft is basically a single-person raft that folds down to the size of a tent and fits into a small stuff sack. It weighs all of five pounds, so it’s a lot easier to throw in your backpack and go places where it would be difficult or impossible to take a normal raft, kayak, or paddle board.
To make our trip even more interesting, we decided to throw our bikes into the mix. Why not combine two of our favorite things – mountain biking and paddling??
The night before we rented the packrafts and a bike for our friend Helen. We got all the gear we needed from Desert Highlights in Moab, and guides Herb and Melissa got us dialed in on everything we needed to know.
We rose at 4:30 am Wednesday and left Red Cliffs Lodge (where we’re currently staying) at 5:15. Running the shuttle to the take-out was one of the most time consuming parts of the day, but it gave us a chance to get ourselves caffeinated and for the weather to warm up (nighttime temps are typically in the 40s this time of year).
We left one vehicle at the Mineral Bottom Boat Ramp on the Green River. The sun was just starting to come up and and hit the tops of the canyon above the river. The colors were breathtaking and they lit up the cliffs and reflected on the water.
We then drove over an hour to the top of Spring Canyon, where we left our van. We spent nearly another hour getting our bikes and gear ready to go. Since none of the three of us has ever packrafted before, we had to make sure we had all of our ducks in a row and weren’t forgetting any essential items.
Once we were geared up, we posed for a quick pic and then headed down into Spring Canyon. We left the van at 9:15.
The road down to the river was a smooth 4×4 road and the views were incredible. We of course had a lot more gear than we’re used to biking with, so we took it relatively slow, which also allowed us to soak in the scenery.
The trip to the canyon floor was about three miles, followed by about two more miles of easy, flat pedaling to our put-in point.
We spent about 15 minutes searching for the easiest place to access the river. Since we’d be dealing with rafts AND bikes, we wanted to make sure we found the flattest spot possible.
Once we found a good spot, we spent about 45 minutes inflating our rafts and loading our gear on them. We were pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to inflate the rafts – basically they come with this bag-like thing that attaches to a valve. You waive the bag around and “catch” air in it, then force the air into the raft. This sounds like it could be challenging, but it actually only took 5-10 minutes per raft.
We put into the river at 11:30. The sun was blazing and high in the sky. The rafts were good and loaded down – it took some experimentation to figure out the most comfortable position to sit and to paddle.
As much as I trust Brian’s rigging skills, I have to admit I was mildly nervous about floating with my bike. My Juliana is my baby, and I wanted to keep her afloat for sure!
The scenery along the river was amazing. We only saw about 3 or 4 other groups of paddlers all day, so we really had the water to ourselves. There are no rapids at all on this section, so sunbathing and snoozing were my priorities for the first part of the paddle.
Eventually we figured out that due to the bikes taking up so much space, it was easier to turn around backwards and paddle at the stern of the boat. When paddling facing forward, out paddles would sometimes hit our bike tires, so paddling the opposite direction was actually easier.
All in all we paddled about 11 miles in 4.5 hours. In late April the flow was up pretty high and kept us moving along fairly well for such flat water.
We’d planned to paddle all the way to the Mineral Bottom boat ramp, but after hours of intense sun we hopped out onto another 4WD road as soon as we had the chance.
Biking was a lot faster of course than rafting, and we welcomed the breeze that came with pedaling. We biked about 3 miles back to Mineral Bottom and the truck.
We got back to the truck at 4:45 PM. From trailhead to trailhead, the trip took 7.5 hours, not including the shuttles on either end. The whole trip was about 19 miles including pedaling, paddling, and pedaling. We got back into Moab at about 6:45; sweaty, dirty, and happy.
There’s no question this was a unique adventure! It was super cool to get to combine two sports that aren’t usually associated with one another. Brian and I agreed we would’ve enjoyed a few rapids, as we’re both adventure junkies and like some excitement. However, I’m not sure we’d want to tackle any whitewater with our bikes, so this was perfect! We also agreed in the future it would be worth paying for a shuttle so we didn’t spend 4 hours driving. It made for a long (but satisfying!) day.
Packrafting is definitely a cool concept, and I’m sure we’ll be doing it again soon in some capacity. Maybe we’ll combine it with some backpacking or hiking this summer! I love that it allows you to see such remote places that are difficult to access otherwise. I feel so lucky to have spent the day on a section of river that not a lot of others get to see! And it was just a daytrip!