Sunday, March 18, 2012

My First Packrafting Trip

The packraft arrived earlier this week which was a nice break in what was otherwise pure insanity at work. We were able to take it into the back yard and give it a good once-over since we've been blessed with 70F degree weather and sun all week. I've been itching to take it for a paddle since Tuesday.

I drove out to Gibson's Mill Pond to give the boat a first paddle yesterday. My first impressions were positive.

First off, I should mention that its very easy to inflate. There isn't much information on the process online so I didn't know what to expect going in. I'll try to remember to post a short video with more detail on the process later.

 I spent a LOT of time determining if I wanted the 2012 or 2011 style spray deck. Obviously, I went with the 2012 style and I'm glad for it. My concerns included ventilation when paddling as a open boat, weigh & complication. There's a good thread on the topic over at You can follow the discussion here: Alpacka's New Spray Deck. Based on my limited time with the boat I can confirm that the cockpit is open enough that ventilation is not a problem. The only area covered that would be open with the 2011 deck  is the last 1/3 of my shins and my feet.

If you're used to paddling a sea kayak like I am, get ready for a pirouette party! The flat bottom of the boat let's it spin on a time and paddling across flat water in a straight line takes concentration. I'm looking forward to giving it a whirl on moving water to see how it behaves there. Stability is massive, obviously. The boat is wide (compared to a kayak) there is no chine and you're sitting way below the CG of the boat. I climbed all over it playing with the GoPro. There's no chance of flipping it on flat water. You might fall out but you won't flip the boat unless you try.

First impressions were great. Next up? I'll go see how it plays in moving water with a few day trips on the Saluda & Broad Rivers. After that I have my eye on a 50 mile float combined with about 30 miles of riding the Black Sheep... good things to come!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Palmetto Trail - Awendaw to Monck's Corner

I'm a sprinter at heart. I've been trying to fix it for years now but the going is slow. I blame it on the BMX racing. Its 45 seconds of full tilt go. I built up a single speed cruiser for getting around town in Clemson way before it was hip to SS anything. It was a rusty heap that I literally bought out of a pile of rusting bikes for $5 or $10 and brought back from the dead. I bring it up because this bike was designed and restored to be a chill machine. What did I do? Sprints between my apartment and class. It jumped sidewalk ramps like a dream. I took off from a light so hard in town that I blew a chain and crumpled into a bloody lump in the middle of the street. Honestly, I didn't regret it. I'm a sprinter at heart.

Why do I bring that up? I have a passion for long distance adventure and being a sprinter makes that really hard. No matter how fit you are if you don't pace yourself smartly, you blow up. It doesn't help if you have a (as yet undiagnosed) lung problem that leaves you face up on the side of the trail content to sleep with ants and mosquitoes taking their fair share of you.

I decided to take a swing at the Palmetto Trail back late in 2011. Its taken this long to post anything about it because... well, it aggravated me. Looking back on it I definitely had Type II fun (fun to remember - not as fun to do). The original plan was to drop off in Awendaw and pedal my way up to home in Lexington, SC. That's a couple hundred miles on singletrack, jeep trail, pavement and urban sprawl. I ended up biting off 50 miles of it from Awendaw to Monck's Corner, SC. Here are a few photos from the trip...

With a full time job and two kids there really isn't a ton of time to get packed and ready before trips like this. I do get all of my gear together in a pile, plan meals, routes, etc. but it seems like the last minute preparation always suffers. That's OK, I can take care of it in the hotel room, right?

The other thing that I don't do enough is thank my wife for being pretty rad. She tolerates me taking off on silly solo adventures when most other wives would tell me to go read a book. In this particular instance, she loaded up Kate & Mason and drove down to Charleston to drop me off.

Mason doesn't know that he isn't in a luxury crib.

Kate needed to set up a campsite next to the actual bed.
 She's going to be an adventure princess!
Lots of waffles in the morning before hitting the trail.

Palmetto Trail trailhead. I can't describe the mosquito
density here... brutal.

A view of the marsh along the trail out of Awendaw.

Its gorgeous trail and easy going.

I never get used to seeing palm growing wild in the woods.

Don't mount your Spot this close to your GPS.
They don't play nice together.

A view of the 'trail' along the way. This trail doesn't see much use
so the markings and trail maintenance are lacking in certain areas.
Keep a keen eye out for 90 degree turns and disappearing track.

There was a lot of sandy gravel jeep trail in the lowcountry.
Not particularly exciting but you make great time on it.
Hard-packed and fast.

This is Turkey Creek. I filtered water here because it can be a little
difficult to find along the way. This tannin rich black water is pretty
common in the lowcountry and gives filters a fit. I used my
MSR Hyperflow on this trip with decent luck.

A nice bridge shot over the creek. I tested a Brooks on this trip.
Yeah, I know its moronic to test a new seat on a long ride like this
and I knew that going in. It worked out fine but I
did learn that I prefer my Selle Italia Flite.

There was a long run of this built up trail out in the middle of
nowhere, SC. I can't muster a guess of why you'd do this but
it was a welcome change to the hidden pot holes I'd been
grinding through for the previous 20 miles.

I must have wiped out 1,000 spiders on this ride. They were particularly
bad in the first 10 to 15 miles of the trip. These guys were the most
common and have an impressively large and strong web. The front of
the Black Sheep (and me) were caked in web to the point that I didn't
bother even cleaning it off after awhile. The worst was when the spider
either hitched a ride like this and suddenly climbed onto your arm.
Worse than that was the two occasions that I managed to snag the spider
on my face. Yes, twice.I'm skittish about bugs but I pretty much freak out
when large spiders are on my face. For the record, this guy was safely
removed from the bike and relocated to a nearby tree.
No, the face spiders didn't meet as lucky a fate.

Sand sloppy enough that 2.4" tires aren't enough.
It probably was only a couple of miles but it felt like 30.

There was a lot of overgrown brush in the trail as well.
Funny enough I was glad that it still had dew on it and it was
relatively stiff brush. It did a fantastic job cleaning the spider
web crud off of me and the bike. Its the little things.

Taking a break along the way. The elevated walkway was
in rough shape and in some cases completely rotted.

Lots & lots & lots of jeep trail.

At one point I had ridden miles and miles of fire break cut that had hole after hole from rotted out pine stumps. When I got to the road near the ranger station I just laid down for a long time and took the day in. I was tired and cranky so I took a picture from the grass. It didn't take long to relax and enjoy the moment.

I remember thinking how pretty these clouds were.

Slight change of plans... no more pothole trails. I grabbed the map and picked some secondary roads.

Miles and miles of secondary roads as it turns out.

I stumbled on the ruins of an old church and the cemetery along the way. Beautiful & peaceful site.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Adventure is inevitable...

I finally pulled the trigger on a packraft from Alpacka. Nancy at Alpacka is just fantastic and was nice enough to send a few photos of my boat in progress yesterday. I'm pumped! (pun intended)

Its interesting that my friends that limit their adventures to shopping malls and golf courses seem to think this is by far the craziest piece of gear that I've picked up to date. I guess its the alien element of moving water combined with the 'pool toy' perception. My last few pieces of gear are going to make new trips with less boundaries possible. I can't wait!