Thunder in the distance
Here at Team Virtus HQ, we’re counting down the moments until this year’s “The Thunder Rolls” Adventure Race. I can’t speak for the other guys, but every time I even think about this race I get more excited than Boy George at a shoe sale. This thing is going to be life-changing.
A major part of being ready for an event like this is being comfortable using the required gear. As if biking, hiking, paddling, rock climbing, rappeling, orienteering and rock climbing weren’t complicated enough, The Thunder Rolls promoters have presented us with a new challenge: The Pack raft.
Packrafts are inflatable “boats” designed to be used on-the-fly. They’re kept in your pack or strapped to your bike until a section of impassable water is reached. At that time, the boat is inflated and paddled to the other side. Once across, the boat is deflated and re-packed. It’s a great concept, as virtually noone wants to drag a kayak through the woods “just in case”.
Luke took the liberty of being the first to purchase a packraft. He bought the Sevylor Trail Boat, seen below.
The Trail Boat is fairly inexpensive, but many of the product reviews portray it as being inadequate in terms of toughness. Product testing is a big deal when most of your team is comprised of men over 200 pounds, so preparations were made and I was dispatched to evalaute the sea-worthiness of our new toy.
I couldn’t wait. I had been hearing tall tales of a fabled access point to a “certain” piece of swift water in Boone county. The spot was less than 20 minutes from my house, and when I hear stories like that I tend to think they’re bullsh*t.
When I finally found it I couldn’t believe my eyes:
Nice view of the water too.
I loaded up my gear and started hiking. Since I was alone and had no way to stage a vehicle, I decided to hike upstream a few miles and then float back. I found a deer trail and followed it through the woods. It was a good hike with minimal thorns, and after a while I found this:
I think this is supposed to be called a “natural arch” since you can see all the way through it. The thing that impressed me the most was that I found no graffiti or garbage. Maybe it’s because the arch was positioned at the very top of a vertical cliff?
Awesome stuff, and I found a few more rock formations similar to the first one. I saw a few eagles along the way and had a great time. Despite all this, I couldn’t wait any longer to get on the water, so I climbed down off the ridge and made my way toward the water.
That’s when the real learning began. The closer I got to the water, the thicker the vegetation got and the looser the ground became. It wasn’t exactly dangerous, but it was definitely a pain in the ass. I guess when the water recedes, the soil is rich and promotes rapid growth of thorns and scrub-brush.
- PFD –check
- Golite pack –check
- Wallet and camera in the drybag –check
- Helmet –check
- Fresh cheekload of Redman –check
- Sense of adventure –CHECK!!
Next thing ya know I’m in the water and cruising downstram. I was using a single blade collapsible canoe paddle–don’t ever do that. Almost immediately I stowed the paddle and piloted the boat with my hands. What a great time! The water was moving fast, the scenery was awesome and it was all over before it started. It only made sense to do it again, right?
The second hike upriver, I went along the other side of the bank. I will never do that again. I went through some Stinging Nettles or something, and my legs hurt so bad I couldn’t believe it. Lesson learned, tromping through the brush wearing shorts is a fool’s game.
Hiking along, I came to one of the fingers that feeds into the creek. It was about 30 feet across with no sign of being crossable on foot.
Hmm, Good thing I’ve got a pack raft.
I put it in the water and made it across with no problems. After slashing my way through what seemed like an eternity of thorns and nettles, I decided this little hike needed to be overwith. The stinging in my legs was too much to ignore, so I made a bee-line for the water to float back…. That’s when I stumbled across this:
WHAT THE (insert profanity here)?!?!?
I’ve been tromping through razor wire for an hour right next to a manicured trail?? Man, I-was-pissed….but glad to find a trail. I followed it until it ended and then bushwacked to the water. I made my way into another of the creek’s fingers and followed it to the actual creek. Along the way it got a bit…..brushy.
After that it was all smooth sailing. A great day in the woods and on the water, no “real” injuries and a very positive experience. I hadn’t truly tested the “Trail Boat” yet, but preliminary testing had shown this vessel to at least be entertaining. My second trip in the boat will be detailed later, and as a precursor to that experience I’ll just go ahead and say we are currently exploring other options for the Team Virtus packraft of choice.