Summer Whitewater Road Trip 2020

When all my summer hiking plans fell apart due to COVID-19, I decided, along with some nutty paddling friends, that it was time for a summer road trip west to take on some big whitewater paddling fun. Our plan was to basically play on all the rivers we could hit, starting in Colorado and moving on up towards Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Knowing that lodging and other amenities may be difficult to find, our plan was to rough it along the way camping on the river banks or in nearby National Forest campgrounds. The only required stops needed would be for gas, groceries, beer and ice. Everything else we knew we could live without for a couple of weeks.

WHITEWATER HOME COMPANION – Southeastern Rivers Volume I (1981) by William Nealy

Saturday, July 11th – The big plan headed south right from the start. This day was originally set aside for packing and getting the boats loaded on the trailer for our early Sunday morning departure. However, after some limited thought process, we decided unanimously that we should just begin our whitewater adventure by doing a quick lap down our home river here on the Ocoee to get this trip started. We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to dry out our gear and pack it up for the road trip west.

Sunday, July 12th – We finally hit the road around 9:00 a.m. and drove straight through to Buena Vista, Colorado and the Arkansas River, making only one stop along the way to pick up Larry in Ocoee, TN. That worked out well as Larry took the wheel all the way from Nashville to Buena Vista.

Monday, July 13th – We arrived in Buena Vista in time for morning coffee, so we all decided to purchase a cup from the Buena Vista Roastery Cafe. We paid at the front entrance and walked around to the rear entrance door to pick it up. I wish I could have said it was delicious coffee after driving all night, but unfortunately, noone in our group was very excited about it. In my opinion, McDonald’s has much better tasting coffee for a lot less money. We continued to walk around town for a bit, but quickly realized that due to COVID restrictions doing anything in town was a bit weird to say the least. We decided to head out of town and set up camp for the next several nights on the banks of the Arkansas River at the Railroad Bridge Campground. We met up with Crissy and Jimmy, a kayaking friend who was already in Colorado, later that afternoon to do a lap on the Fractions section to town. It was a super way to end our day.  After the long drive and couple of beers, we were all ready to hit our tents for a good nights’ sleep. 

Tuesday, July 14th – We got a late start, but after breakfast we decided to drive south into Salida, Colorado. I was excited to visit this town since my new Katabatic Gear sleeping quilt, purchased for my CDT hike this year, was made in Salida. I was hoping they would have a small store to visit, but learned after stopping by that they only manufacture the bags there in Salida and have no storefront area to speak of. It was a little disappointing since I think their bags and quilts are top quality for ultralight backpacking gear and would have liked for my friends to see them.

We walked around town for a few minutes and shared a few chuckles and comments over some of the signage we were seeing around town. Obviously, by what we were noticing, the town of Salida really seemed to support Black Lives Matter. (From my point of view, all lives matter and I’m not a supporter of what the BLM organization stands for at all.) A little later we made our way to the Moonlight Pizza & Brewery. It was around noon time so we hung around on the patio there and enjoyed a couple of local brews. They were all excellent beers! As the conversation progressed, we were puzzled by what we’ve noticed in town. We hadn’t seen a single person of color anywhere. We actually spent the next hour and a half in search of anyone who wasn’t white. We had basically given up, until on our way back to Buena Vista, we noticed a black man sitting along the side of the highway with two shopping carts filled with his personal belongings in front of the local Walmart. We all asked ourselves, how does the only African American that we’ve seen become homeless in this town that is filled with BLM signs? Just wow…

By the way, the racial make up for Salida, which is also the largest city in Chaffee County, Colorado is: 92.66% White, 0.05% African American (which may be 2 people), 1.44% Native American, 0.38% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 3.29% from other races, and 2.16% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 10.76%. Wikipedia~

That afternoon we headed back to our base camp, picked up our kayaks and headed up the Arkansas River to tackle the Numbers section. What a fun and beautiful section of river that was! A great time was had by all! We finished our day with a great gang at the Eddyline Brewery in Buena Vista.

Wednesday, July 15th – It was a busy whitewater day for sure. Jimmy and Larry wanted to do a morning lap on the Numbers section and that afternoon the three of us kayaked Browns Canyon while Clay, Crissy and Kevin enjoyed some wild whitewater rafting.

Thursday, July 16th – This was a travel day north to Pinedale, Wyoming. While camping along the Arkansas River, we noticed that my Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter had been damaged by the strong winds in Colorado. So, on our way up to Wyoming, we stopped by the Big Agnes store in Steamboat Springs to drop off my shelter for some badly needed repair work. 🙂

Friday, July 17th – We enjoyed a good breakfast in Pinedale and continued north hoping that we would arrive at the East Table Campground on the banks of the Snake River in time to grab a campsite as folks were leaving. We lucked out and found the last available site and claimed it for the next three nights. We set up camp quickly and were able to get two laps through the canyon completed by late afternoon. What a great feeling to be back on one of my favorite rivers!

Saturday, July 18th – This was a bit of a slow moving day. After breakfast at camp, we drove into Jackson and messed around for a bit in town. However, with the COVID pandemic going on, the town was not a very appealing place to spend any time. We decided to drive out and take a look at the water level in the Gros Ventre River and to my surprise, it had plenty of water to kayak. It wouldn’t be super exciting like the early springs flows, but it would be fun and a beautiful paddle. So we made plans to run the Gros Ventre on Sunday morning. We returned to camp that afternoon, grabbed our gear, and took another fun lap down the Snake River.

Sunday, July 19th – We met up with Bob “Bernie”, Paul and Sheryl in Kelly, Wyoming to run two laps down the Gros Ventre River just outside of Grand Teton National Park. It’s an awesome run with great view of the Tetons. Afterwards we stopped in Jackson for some BBQ at Bubba’s and then headed back south to the Snake River for another late afternoon paddle through the canyon.

Monday, July 20th – We left the East Table Campground and headed north through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks site seeing for the day. It was all going great until Paul and Sheryl’s rental car decided to give out. They called my old park employer, YPSS, and got a wrecker to the Fishing Bridge Repair Shop. After a couple of hours, we were on our way again. The car’s computer just simply needed a reboot. Basically they turned it off, disconnected the battery, reconnected the battery, turned the ignition and it was ready to go. That evening we decided to stop for pizza at one of my old hangouts, the K-Bar in Gardiner, before heading on to Bozeman, Montana for the night.

Tuesday, July 21st – After dropping Kevin off at the airport, we stopped by for a quick visit with Dawn and Les, some old friends from my younger years working in Yellowstone. We had a great visit with them even with the COVID pandemic going on. After our visit, we drove out to the Gallatin River, found an open campsite, set up camp, grabbed our kayaking gear and headed towards the river putting in just behind where we set up our tents. It was a great afternoon on the water. Afterwards, we drove to Big Sky for some dinner and drinks. Another awesome day!

Wednesday, July 22nd – We spent a large part of the day traveling back through Yellowstone and out of the North gate to the Gardiner area and the Yellowstone River. We put on late in the day, but accomplished a beautiful 20 mile sunset paddle through the Gallatin National Forest and Yankee Jim’s Canyon. I took no photos that day, but I managed to steal this one from Sheryl’s Facebook page.

Thursday, July 23rd – Clay and I decided that we would pack up and begin our journey home by way of the Beartooth Highway. We figured just getting across the pass would take up most of the day, so our plan was to have some fun and find a couple of local breweries along the way. Red Lodge was a great place to just hang out and take a break that afternoon. Our stops included Red Lodge Ales, Snow Creek Saloon and the Lost Cabin Beer Co. After staying in Billings, Montana for the night, we hit the road for home the next morning.

Friday, July 24th thru Saturday, July 25th – Clay and I drove straight through the day and night from Billings, Montana in time for happy hour on Saturday evening with our friends at Buck Bald Brewing in Copperhill, Tennessee. Those double IPA’s “As the Cro’s Fly” were deadly for two tired travelers!

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