I turn into Meeman-Shelby State Forest on the outskirts of Memphis, TN, the rain begins to pick up. We Banjo 3 is playing on Bluegrass Junction via XM radio, and the bars on my cell phone are dropping to zero. In the bed of the truck I have my new Alpacka Denali Packraft, only it’s not completely new. I had bought it used from a gentleman in Idaho, like new from a Packraft society board online.
I’ve had it for 4 days now and haven’t had it in the water. I’ve inflated, deflated, and practiced packing it up. But finally the day has come where I have a day off of work and I am caught up on my honey-dos. The only issue, is tropical depression Cindy has arrived, and it’s raining: constantly. Since I started my college career studying meteorology I have had experience desyphering weather radar feeds, and pride myself in timing them pretty well.
Earlier in the morning I had studied the radar, packed my stuff, and planned on the rain finishing up as I parked my truck near the boat ramp. Of coarse, with a tropical depression you can’t exactly plan accurately: especially since my cell-reception is now waiting for me 20 minutes down the road.
After 30 more minutes waiting in my truck, the rain subsides. I unpack my packraft, lay everything out, inflate the raft, the floor, and as I start inflating the seat, rain… again. So I set everything aside and sit in the truck until the worst of it is over.
I’ve kayaked in the rain bedore. When I lived in Maryland I had a 17′ Current Design Storm. It was meant to be on open water, and handle perfectly in, well, storms. So I had put that to the test multiple times. I don’t mind the rain, I actually like it. But this being my first time on an inflatable raft, with not many people around because of the storm, had me deciding to wait until conditions improved (you’re welcome, Emilee)
The rain lingered a while; nothing more than a light rain, nothing less than a light drizzle. After 10 minutes I got anxious, and decided my boats maiden voyage would be in the tropical depression, rain and all. Afterall, I’ve been backpacking through two tropical storms (both in the same trip… sorry Luke), sailing in the Keys as a waterspount got too close for comfort, and surfing through countless tropical storms (didn’t end too well), so what could go wrong?!
So I complete my setup, and as I start to walk towards the water a park ranger comes up to me and asks if my boat is Coast Guard certified. I tell him, sure! After much inspection, questions, and some doubt, he finally agrees that it is most likely certified, and while it is not displayed, it had a previous spot where the certification would have been displayed, so he let’s me go.
I walk towards the water and hear a lady’s voice ask if I have a boating permit. I stop, turn around, and see that the lady was talking to me. I had no idea I needed to pay $2 to boat in this state park. I told her I would go get my card, but after she told me it was cash only, and she decided to let me go, I was on my way to the water.
The boat was inflated enough that I barely noticed it was an inflatable. It was comfortable, relatively spacious (I’ll have to fine-tune it some more), but most of all, it floated! With a grin on my face, and rain falling down, I began my maiden voyage.
In the past I’ve mainly used long ocean kayaks, and have never paddled a boat as small and flat as this. Each stroke turned the boat from side to side, and it took a while to get used to the steering. Once I was comfortable with the steering I started to play around. I tried some sweep strokes, draw strokes, and reverse forward strokes and felt pretty good! No water had entered the raft, other from the rain, and my legs still hasn’t fallen asleep!
The only issue I’ve noticed, is that when I stop paddling the weight of me in the raft turns the boat backwards almost instantly. This is actually fine, because the main reason I bought this boat is to take fly-fishing, and I’ll want to face upstream to do that, anyway. Infact, the whole reason I bought the packraft is to take it bike-rafting with fly-fishing mixed in. I have a handlebar system to strap it to my mountain bike, and have started planning some routes in Arkansas on the Little Red River for some brown trout.
As I finish up my paddling I start heading back to the ramp I departed from. The lady I had talked to earlier requesting money watches me make my approach. I make a slight sweep stroke with a small J-hook at the end and I slide perfectly parallel to the shore (a little shameless bragging, sorry).
I step out of the lake, take everything to my truck, and am all packed up within 10 minutes. As I start my truck and begin to drive out the rain completely stops. I laugh a little, turn up Bluegrass Junction, and drive off through the beautiful hills of Meeman-Shelby as I reflect on how much fun this raft is going to be.