Paddler Agonistes

Kayaking is one of my favorite activities, so I thought I should share the agonies and ecstasies of our kayaking experience so far.

I have always wanted to kayak in the western states.  So, in the months leading up to our trip, I was calculating how we could spend some of our time on the water. One would think that renting a kayak or canoe could work for us, but it hasn’t been an option in most of the places I have enjoyed paddling. I started lobbying early on to bring kayaks with us.

We already owned three nice sea kayaks and a canoe, each designed for different paddling conditions.  But we didn’t want to have boats on the roof of our truck all the time, especially if we’d be leaving it at a trailhead for a few days while backpacking. We decided to go instead with inflatable kayaks that could be stored in duffel bags in the back of the truck.

Many inflatable kayaks are actually more like rubber rafts than kayaks. They’re not sleek by any means, making them difficult to paddle in a straight line for any distance. This is a huge come-down if you’re used to paddling a streamlined touring kayak and you like to cover some miles.  So, I was excited to find an inflatable kayak that mimics the design of a touring kayak—the AirFusion Elite kayak by Advanced Elements. They make a tandem that converts to a (long) single, but we settled on two singles as the most versatile solution.

But after our first two months of traveling, I was increasingly anxious about the kayaks. Their big duffel bags took up a lot of room in the back of the truck, and we had hardly used them at all. We had one beautiful and satisfying paddle on Lake Powell in mid-May, exploring inlets and canyons, but high winds kept us off the water on the following days.  Everywhere we went, I was on the lookout for a good place to paddle, and I was striking out.  The rivers were raging with spring snow melt (too scary!) and most of the lakes were reservoirs rather than natural lakes (boring!).   Six weeks passed before we used the kayaks again, on North Catamount Reservoir, near Pike’s Peak outside Colorado Springs.  It was a perfectly nice paddle, nothing special, but we were discouraged by the ratio of assembly/disassembly time to paddle time. Aargh!  Not good for a casual paddle! And, it was a drag having the back of the truck so full.

I felt like we had spent good money on a Lorrie Fantasy that was not actually a workable concept.  I guiltily began to contemplate surrendering to reality and shipping the boats home. Then Bob pointed out that we had mostly been traveling in the desert, and there we were, fretting about not using our kayaks! It was as if we’d bought skis and then worried all summer about not using them. So, we decided to cut ourselves some slack and bought a roof rack with a gear basket for the truck, essentially spending MORE money to accommodate our idle kayaks.  We weren’t giving up yet, but we’d ratcheted up the stakes!

Gentle reader, I’m sure you are now on the edge of your seat!  How did Lorrie and Bob solve this difficult conundrum? Will the inflatable kayaks remain a proverbial thorn in the sides of our heroes?

You will be relieved to hear that we broke through the kayaking barrier in Wyoming (The Cowboy State). We camped for several nights on the shores of Half Moon Lake, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, near the Wind River Mountains.  There we enjoyed a lovely day circumnavigating a pristine mountain lake.  With the exception of two other solo kayakers, we had the entire lake all to ourselves!   Then we moved on to Grand Teton National Park, where we were fortunate to score a campsite in the highly coveted tent-only Jenny Lake campground.  We had a beautiful view of the Tetons from our site and were walking distance to the lake.

We loved Grand Teton National Park for its incredible beauty and the variety of activities you can enjoy there.  Everything we did was outstanding, including three great paddles. For our first, we set off on foot from our campsite, kayaks in hand, paddling Jenny Lake, portaging to String Lake and then again to Leigh Lake.  Another day we paddled 10 miles on the amazing Snake River from Deadman’s Bar to Moose Junction. It was a bit more technical than we’re used to, with some whitewater, but we had lots of fun and the backdrop of the mountains along the river was stunning (a view captured in some of Ansel Adams’ most iconic photographs). I loved the Snake so much that I squeezed in another paddle on our last day in the Tetons, covering the 10-mile stretch above Deadman’s while Bob took an afternoon bike ride.

Paddling the Snake River was a peak experience for me—exactly the kind of experience I imagined when in those months of trip planning. I have enjoyed our many beautiful hikes and often feel a sense of euphoria when we’re hiking. But when I’m paddling a beautiful lake or river, I feel bliss.  I hope to return to Grand Teton someday, paddle more stretches of the Snake, and spend time on those mountain lakes. I am also excited about the prospect of more great paddling days to come on this trip as we spend the next few months in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California—all states with great paddling opportunities!  Bring on the suggestions!

And: it’s really nice to have more room in the back of our truck!


5 thoughts on “Paddler Agonistes”

  1. Wonderful post Lorrie. I admit I kept wondering why carrying non-inflatable bikes all over the country wasn’t as problematic as carrying inflatable kayaks! Hope Bob is finding bike rides for him or both of you that are bringing him bliss….! Cheers to both of you, Nancy

    1. You’re right Nancy. I didn’t ride for the first few weeks and I too was beginning to feel that the bike stuff was taking up too much space. Then I did a 50 mile ride from Moab that brought the joy rushing back. Since then, I’ve been able to ride once or twice a week, including some terrific climbs in Colorado, and we’ve done some short rides together. So we’re keeping the bikes and the kayaks! Off to Glacier next week, thinking of you and David biking there next summer.

  2. Lorrie,

    Loved your paddling blog entry. I’m happy you found a good paddling place and I’m sure there will be more. I hope the fires and heat haven’t found you yet. I miss you at the puzzle table and think of our good puzzling times!

  3. So happy for you. We are enjoying our city life while thinking of you enjoying something completely different.

  4. Fantastic!! I know you love kyacking and are DELIGHTED that you found such wonderful places to spend a lot of time on the water. You mingt want to kyack on “our little lake” one day!! Not much scenery of mountains but you can watch a golfer or two. Love you guys.

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