Sunday, August 7, 2011

Death Wave

Words by Greg
Photos by Greg and Trina and Mike

Dirty Water and Dogs?

Our local rivers are filled with enough dirt to justly be included in this blog. And silt is not the only thing floating in the water. There's also, well, us.

One fine evening, Trina in her inflatable kayak, Mike and I with bikes on our little packrafts, we floated a stretch of river that became rather wilder than we expected. Trina, in her big boat paddled through the churning waves ahead of us. As I attempted to maneuver through the big waves, I paddled harder than I had expected to, and SNAP! One end of my light-but-not-strong paddle came out of the water minus the blade. Instead of maneuvering, I stared at the stubby end and then smashed into the biggest wave, which smashed into me even harder and flipped the raft over. Mike, just behind, was also fascinated by the stump-end of my paddle waving around in the air. The wave caught him, too, and flipped him over. Both of us and our bikes took a swim and Trina helped fish us out below the rapid.

My one-ended paddle lasted the rest of the float and then snapped off as we were taking out. Trina threw me her paddle from shore and I didn't have to try to beat the water with my stick to make it let me go.

We've been trimming the fat from our float set-up. Here, my raft and life jacket is the little bundle on the rear rack of my bike, with everything else I needed in my pack. Trina's inflatable kayak took up the whole trailer, and the rest of her gear filled her baskets.

But lo, there suddenly appeared in the mail a beacon of smaller-ness in the form of a shiny new packraft that Trina could call her own. Or could have, if Sprocket hadn't claimed it before it was even inflated.

Being flipped over on the rough stretch of river did not urge us toward caution. Rather, we wanted to try it again, to see what we could learn from it. Mike and I headed back one day (without bikes onboard) and Trina, Mike and I headed back another two days. It's a new wave, the product of this spring's high floodwater that changed the river channel and modified something on the bottom. There are two wave trains of seems-like-big-to-us waves. The second set of waves happens where the river hits the bank and takes a sharp bend to the right -- adding reflection waves to the mix. Churning, frothing, and maybe 3-4 feet from trough to crest on the biggest wave. We named it the Death Wave, just to try to bolster ourselves for its challenge.

Photos below tell the story. Lots of splashing. Lots of flipping and swimming. Lots of learning what to do and not do and maybe even a little bit of learning to know which is which. Not obvious in these photos are the streams of other river floaters, most on inner-tubes or dime-store rafts carrying coolers of beer and not wearing life jackets. These people have probably blissfully floated the gentle river in past years and are immediately surprised to find this new rapid in the midst of it. Many end up being flipped by the Death Wave and their many belongings scattered along the gravel bank or floating downstream.

I would like to urge them to use more caution and to know what they are getting into and to be properly equipped. Except that I'm not sure that hitting a rapid of any kind in a blistering old packraft gives me a very high platform from which to speak. My little platform, bouncing along in the waves, does, however, seem to to make me smile.

Mike got smacked in this sequence.

Trina Paddled by Mike's boat which was caught in the hole and ghost surfing.

Walked back up to do it again.

Mike photo of Trina

Bulging in three or four places, but not bursting. More glue!

Mike has been shooting pics and video on a bunch of his and our local floaty adventures. He put together a great video. Take a look!


  1. Wow! Great pics as usual I have been watching the interest in packrafting/bikerafting grow via the internets and am feeling the urge to join up. You are flying through the rapids on Mike's video pretty impressive. I guess if you are lucky Trina may let you borrow her nice new packraft one day.
    I would love to see how you manage to right the packraft and do a wet re-entry with bike attached.

  2. "I would love to see how you manage to right the packraft and do a wet re-entry with bike attached."

    I would like to see that, too. So far the only flip with a bike required that I swim, drink lots of river water, drag everything to where I could stand up, and THEN flip it over and get back in. But I'd like to think the wet-with-bike-re-entry would be possible. At least with the raft flipped, it's empty of water and much lighter than the bike. Should be more like flipping the bike over. I'm sure I'll try it soon enough.

    And Trina did let me try her raft for a couple runs. Nice! Join up!


  3. Your boat resuscitation skills are amazing!