Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What Size Raft?

Hi All,

Bill Strong Denver Here!

I received an email over the weekend asking what size raft I recommend for family day-trips and short multi-day trips.  You'd think that would be an easy question to answer, but for me it isn't.   Obviously it all depends on the size of your family and what your needs really are.   I consider a "short" multi-day trip anything under 7 days.  If you go longer than that, some considerations on gear etc are in order (particularly the grade of cooler you use).  More on that later...

We started with a 14' raft and it has served us well for over 8 years.  When we started with that "family-raft" my kiddos were 2 and 4 years of age.  Yes, we did some rafting with our kids that age...mostly the Pumphouse run of the Colorado.  In general the 14' raft worked well for day trips down the Colorado, Browns Canyon on the Arkansas, the Roaring Fork and other fun class III type runs.  It also ran some fun class IV's as well.

We also ran it for many multi-day trips down the San Juan, Lodore Canyon of the Green, and other multi-day trips.  It served us well on trips up to 6 days.  Longer trips require a bit more gear...and I've been accused of being somewhat of a gear-hound.  The 14'er worked fine for those trips.   That said, as my kids get older, and they want to bring friends, we will move up to a 16' raft.

If you're just getting started I'd probably suggest a 14' raft like the above.  As time goes on, you might find yourself moving up after your kids reach an age where they want to bring their friends on longer trips.  More than 2 adults/2 kids on a 14' raft is pretty tight if you're also hauling all the gear my kiddos like to have along.  Squirt guns and water cannons alone take up a lot of room.  WATER FIGHT!!!

Have Fun!

The Family That Rafts Together, Laughs Together!

Bill Strong Denver

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ok, so now what?

So let's say you bought your raft.  It's a 14' self-bailing boat (not an "bucket-boat" that you have to bail every-time you take on some water).  Now..back to the frame.   I posted a pic of the NRS frame that I like.  Everyone has their preference on frames and seats (the Captain's Chair).

Below is the Captain's Chair that I find the most comfortable.  And you want a comfortable seat to row from, and to sit in as you float.  I've had two back surgeries, so the seat I sit in is very important.  If my back were to go out during a multi-day trip, it would be major trouble.  Not only due to the need to get the boat and my family through the canyon to the "take-out"...but all the work involved in setting up camp, unloading gear at camp, reloading in the morning for the next day of floating...a bad back would really be a problem.  So, I'm a believer in having a seat that works.  Below is a pic of the seat I like, go hear to read more: NRS High-Back Seat 

I have found the high back Captain's Chair to be the best in providing comfort and lumbar support.  I don't think anything is lost as far as performance.  Below is the low-back, which some people feel provides better performance in that you can lean back more as you row. 

I've used both and highly recommend the high-back.  I'm sure there are times during hard-core rowing that the low-back has it's uses.  That said, I've rowed some long days and down some pretty technical runs and have never had the higher-back get in the way. 

Above is a pic of a different type of seat and frame.  Many rafters like this type of high-back seat that has a mesh fabric (that can be replaced).  I don't find these seats as comfortable, but many rafters love them.  If you're in the Denver area go to AAA Inflatables or Down River Equipment to sit in one.  As I said earlier, Mark at AAA does amazing work and is a great resource!  This pic also shows a different type of frame than the NRS one I have.  It has nice diamond plate decking and pretty much rocks!  Below is a better pic of this type of seat.  It's made from 1 1/4" pipe.  

Regardless  of what type of Captain's Chair you end up with, you'll want to make sure it is both comfortable, and allows you to row effectively.  I've spent a lot of time in both types of Captain's Chairs, and find the high back NRS to be the by far the most comfortable for long days in the seat. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ok, so now you want to get a raft!

Let's just assume that you and your kiddos have done a day trip rafting or enough rafting to know that you want your own rig...(Yes, I know it's not that time of year...but what the heck, I love talking about rafting)..it's time to become a private boater!  What kind of raft is best for your and your family?

There are lots of opinions on this topic.  And again, since I'm not trying to be an "expert" on this blog, I'll just give you mine, "your mileage may vary".  ;)

You'll likely want and oar rig...instead of just a paddle boat.  So you'll be getting the raft, and a frame, oars etc.  You can always use your raft without the frame as a paddle boat when you want. 

We started out with a 14' PVC boat.  I bought a package, including the frame and oars etc.  This was a good start for us, and served us well for our first 5 years.  We now have a 16' boat because we do a lot of multi-day trips, my kids are older and bring their friends etc. and we like the extra room for gear and comfort.

Expect to spend between $3,500 and up to get started.  If you want to start with a boat that is in the upper end in quality, you might be looking at spending over $4,000 "just for the rubber" as they say (meaning just the raft, even though they aren't made of rubber) and another $750+ for the frame, then we have oars, straps, coolers, Life vests, Paco Pads (don't ask, just open your wallet) etc.  The above pic is of an 14' NRS Otter, which will run you $3750.00 new.

I'll speak more in the future about the different types of boats, PVC vs. other materials like Hypalon, seams (glued and welded).  Just a heads up, I really like my friend's new 16' Maravia.  This is the one I'd get if I were looking for a new boat to spend some serious cash on.

Above is the frame that I like as it's reasonably priced and you can adjust it depending on the trip's needs.  Go here to look at different NRS frames. 

The initial investment can get pricy, so make sure you and your family are into it.  Owning your own raft is a life-style.  There's nothing wrong with doing occasional commercial trips.  Me?  I like doing my own thing and rowing my own down the river!  I have a neighbor who only does commercial trips with his family and has no interest in learning to row, or owning a raft.  I also think he also feels safer on commercial trips.  I'm the opposite as I like having my kids in my raft with me.     Different strokes....

To support rafting, please become a member of American Whitewater.  Go here to learn more about this important and helpful organization:  

If you are in Denver, AAA Inflatables  or Down River Equipment are great places to start.  Talk to Mark at AAA to get great advice on how you want your rig to go, the best way to save some money, or general questions.  Mark makes some amazing frames and give great advice...go into AAA to take a look!

Here is a great site to also look over options.  NRS Rafting

I am also a member of OutdoorPlay and save 15% on products with no shipping.  Go here:  Outdoor Play

A great site to become a member and to ask questions is Mountain Buzz.  I get great information from this site.  It's edgy at times, but the members are welcoming and great for "newbies".

Mountain Buzz has a great classified section for used boats, which is a good way to go.  Boats hold their value, so it's even used ones aren't cheap.  Go for quality in your outdoor gear!

That's all for now...more later!

Bill Strong Denver

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rafting Ideas From Bill Strong Denver

Hi All,

I've received some great emails with potential new rafters who want to get their families into it.   The question of "Just Where Do I Start" seems to be the most common question.  I know it's ski season, but it's not too early to look to the spring of 2012 as the time you become a "rafting family".

So where to start?  Once again it's important to for you to start small.  I'd like you to look in your area for rafting companies who do day trips.  I live in Colorado, so I'd suggest the Upper Colorado River (We like Pumphouse to Ranch del Rio), or you can keep going all the way to State Bridge.

The Arkansas River near Salida has a lot of great water to float...from Class II-Class V.  There are all kinds of rafting companies in the Salida area so call and find out what your getting into.  Browns Canyon is a fantastic float, but might be a bit much if you have some members in your family who are weary about rafting.  Bighorn Sheep Canyon is a good choice for them, or the Parkdale area.  River Runners is a good rafting company.  Here are a few more suggestions.

Colorado River (Little Gore Canyon)

Timberline Tours
Wilderness Aware Rafting
GEO Tours
Gore Range Expeditions

Arkansas River

Echo Canyon River Expeditions
River Runners
Dvorak Expeditions  

Call these companies and find out what they offer.  I'll be writing more about your first trip, and then branching out to how you can end up doing your own trips with your family.

Have fun and stay safe!  Oh, and on moving water ALWAYS wear your life vest!!!

Bill Strong Denver

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Family that Rafts Together, Laughs Together!

Hi All,

If you've ever considered taking your family rafting, this might be the place for you.  I've decided to start this blog due to the joy and fun my family has experienced in our rafting trips over the years.   I have a fantastic wife, and two outstanding children ages 10 and 7 (they can set up a tent in no time!).  We go rafting a lot, be it for a simple day trip on the Colorado River or the Arkansas, Roaring Fork, Blue.... or for a longer multi-day trips on the Green, or San Juan...we are hoping for a trip on the Rouge someday soon.  In doing so we have a wonderful family experience that is exciting, involves team work, and makes us a closer team!  It also creates family memories that will last a life time. Shared experiences, fun and memories...what more could you want with your family?

So, if you've ever thought of getting into rafting with your family, I hope this blog helps you get started!

First off...there are all types of rafting trips for families.  You can enjoy everything from a day or extended trip with a commercial company, or float trips that families do on their own as "private boaters" (we like to do it ourselves!). I'll address my thoughts on all of these types of trips, and give some tips that may help the beginner.  Intermediate and Expert boaters don't need my advice.  ;)

II don't consider myself an "Expert" at rafting so please don't take the content of this blog as such.  That said, I've been rafting for over 20 years and have gone though the growing pains of learning how to make rafting fun for my family!  I don't have the time to be an expert, but we sure have done some fun stuff as a family!!!!

The Stigma Of Taking Kids Rafting!

One of the things I sometimes hear when I tell someone that I'm taking my family rafting is "Oh My, aren't you worried something might happen?"  On rare occations it can even be implied that I'm somehow a "bad parent" for doing raft trips with my kids.  For these people, I have to remind them that there are all kinds of rivers.  There are rivers with simple "Class I" rapids (A "Lazy River")... and of course rivers that involve more difficult, technical and dangerous runs.  You never want to go on a river beyond your skills, particularly with kids.  I "dial it down" whenever I have kids on a trip.   Never get cocky!  Be Smart And Safe! 

River Classifications.

Please read these classifications.  The phrase "swimmer" means someone that ends up out of your boat, for whatever reason.  

Class I: (Easy) Moving water with small disturbances on the surface and a few small waves. There is little to no danger to swimmers.

Class II: (Novice/Beginner) Faster moving water with easily avoided rocks, holes, and waves. Danger to swimmers is still slight but care must be taken.

Class III: (Intermediate) Fast moving water containing various rocks, holes, currents, and waves that require skillful maneuvering to avoid. Swimmers could be at risk and may require help.

Class IV: (Advanced) Strong rapids, large waves, big holes, unpredictable currents, and dangerous obstructions requiring multiple maneuvers to get through or around. Swimmers are at risk and will require help to be rescued.

Class V: (Expert) All of the characteristics of Class IV with the added danger of being longer and containing more continuous features that may not be avoided. There is serious risk to swimmers and others may be of no help.

Class VI: (Unrunnable) Only a team of experts who carefully plan every aspect of this expedition would have hope of surviving these rivers and rapids.

Getting Kids on the River!

Ok, so now that we have classifications covered, let's get back to taking about taking kids rafting.  Look above and think about what sounds fun, assuming you've never run a river before.  If you say "Class IV or V"...think again!  I have a friend who will never get in my raft because of a bad experience he had on his first river trip.  His buddy suggested that they go on a commercial trip, and signed them up to run upper Gore Canyon on the Colorado River.   Go here to read about Upper Gore Canyon. Ok...so needless to say, my friend had no idea what he was getting into and basically, the trip scared the sh*t out of him.  Even though the commercial company did a great job, it was just too much for him.  For my friend, a "Lazy River" Experience would have been much better!

I'll always remember my first time running the Eagle River in Colorado at high water.  There is a run called Dowd Chute which is pictured above.  It scared the crap out of me because it's the type of water that if you end up swimming, there aren't many places to "eddy out" (more on that later) so you could have a long and dangerous swim.   This is personally the type of water that I would NEVER take my kiddos on.  But that's just me and is not intended to criticize those who would. 

So, don't make the assumption when someone says they are taking their kids rafting, that it necessarly involves some irresponsible  decision.  I've taken my 1 year old daughter and my 81 year old mother down the Colorado!   A fun Class I to Class III trip can be done safely and with minimal risk!

Ok, now that we go that out of the way, let's discuss the difference between a "Commercial Trip" and a trip by "Private Boaters".

Commercial Rafting Trips

Starting it all on a commercial trip is a great idea!!!  As it sounds, taking your family on a commercial trip involves hiring a company to float you down the river. There are many great rafting companies who are experianced, safe, and who take great care of thier customers.  Be it day trips, or multi-day trips, commercial companies are geared towards fun and excitement.  You can do everything from a half-day trip to a trip that involves river-side camping.

There are some great companies out there.  Most day trips will involve paddle boats as it's fun to be part of the crew.  River Runners on the Arkansas River in Colorado would be a good place for your family to start.  Here's link to them:  Bill Strong Denver suggests River Runners.  River Runners is just one of many great commercial rafting companies.  Do a search and find the best area and company for you and your family.  Call them and tell them what your looking for.  Again, I say start easy, see if your family likes it.  Starting with something too scary just turns it into a situation where someone will "hate" rafting. 

 Types of Rafts

To keep things simple, let's discuss the two most common types of rafts...paddle rigs and oar rigs.   A paddle rig looks the pic above.  Everyone has a paddle and the "guide" or "captain" is in the back (Stern in boat-speak).  The guide instructs the crew (after some practice) to go right, left, forward and has a lot of control from the back with his/her paddle as a rudder.  It's great fun for families, particularly on day-trips.  You'll usually get a little wet, and your kiddos will have a blast as they are part of the crew!

Here is a picture of an oar rig.  As you can see it's a different set up with the "Captain" doing the work.  You'll also see in this pic all the gear that can be loaded up...so you can use this for long "Multi-Day" trips.  The longest trip I've done so far with my family is 6 days. We had all we needed for 6 days of great meals and luxury camping (I'm not sure my wife would agree with the term "luxury"...but it's pretty darn good).   You can also give your kids paddles so they can feel like part of the crew, and sometime they can really help.

Private Boating

Ok, so here is where I need to be careful in not saying something that makes an inexperienced boater go out with the family and do a float on their own.  If you've never rafted, PLEASE start with a commercial company or with a good friend who knows what they are doing!  The above is a pic of what a typical private boater looks like.  Tons of fun, tons of gear and smiling faces.  The guy "in the seat" needs to know what he is doing (or she of course!!!!...there are plenty of great female rafters!)

Doesn't that look fun?  So how do you get started?  Well, you need to take your time, or spend "time in the seat" as we say so that you become competent in managing the raft.  You NEVER want to get into water above your ability.  In fact, you can find yourself in sticky situations in a run that's below your ability.  I'll address more of this as I write...but just know that it takes time to get competent.   It's very fun once you can comfortably run some moving water.  I'll also address gear and other topics for beginners.

I'll be adding as much helpful information as I can as time allows.  For now let me suggest  this book Bill Strong Denver Suggested Rafting Book and add a few pics. 

More Pics

How's this for a nice kitchen!!!!

Lodore Canyon...my favorite family river trip!

Your Kids Can Kiss A Rock!  Good Times!!!!

Who knows...once you really get into it, maybe someday you'll find yourselves hiking up to some cool Indian Pictographs !!!

I'll be back with more!

Bill Strong Denver on Family Rafting