We are a group of women who love the outdoors. And sometimes, that doesn’t involve hiking. Ambassador Madelene writes about find a new love in outdoor recreation. Who else loves to packraft or kayak? 

Recently I have gotten into rafting – packrafting to be specific. This is a recent development but is built on years of loving being on the water. I grew up paddling canoes on the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland where my parents taught me the very basics of reading rivers, but that stretch of water was pretty much flat with just a few rocks sticking up here and there.

After college I worked on a trail crew in the Adirondacks and often we had to canoe supplies in over beautiful, placid lakes. Those were my favorite assignments I got to paddle, and it’s a way easier method of transporting lumber than slung over a shoulder.

Fast forward to my first-time whitewater kayaking: it was a disaster!!! I was put in a kayak meant for someone with experience and on top of that, the spray skirt was extremely tight so every time I flipped (which was every time there was a rapid) I had to struggle to get free of my kayak. Soon, I was bruised and shivering. At some point, we pulled over and ran the same rapid a few times by portaging our odd collection of rafts and kayaks up and down.

After once again ending upside down with a nose full of water, I tried a friend’s packraft and stayed afloat. I was ecstatic-just maybe given a different vessel I could survive whitewater.

This was the beginning of something new for me.

The next summer I was living on the east side of Washington’s Cascades and I bought a cheap packraft. My perfect day off started with throwing my raft, paddle, a sandwich, beer and sketchbook or flyrod into a daypack and heading off to a high alpine lake. There I could float around and get a whole different perspective on the mountains surrounding me. The middle of October found me paddling above the snowline in a lake surrounded my yellow larches.

Well, I have moved a lot. Eventually, I found myself living in Eastern Oregon with a community of avid rafters as friends. Few people think of that part of the state as a mecca for rafting because the big-name rivers and rapids are farther west but when you are just learning it’s perfect. There’s whitewater but it isn’t too scary and most of it is close to road systems if things go wrong. I got in several day trips and started to fall for river trips. My little packraft was hardly designed for whitewater but I made it through and with a massive grin on my face.

A year ago, I moved to Colorado and by chance, it was to where one of the premier packraft companies manufactures and I scored a slightly used prototype of theirs. Finally, I had a craft I could really learn to paddle whitewater on but my people were a few states over, so I jumped at the invitation for a 4-day trip down the Owyhee last month.

The Owyhee River is very remote with only one abandoned ranch house as any sign of recent settlement along the 50-mile stretch we floated. The put-in we chose starts with what looks like mellow water meandering through a cow pasture but quickly you leave that all behind. It was a thrilling trip – high water made rapids where there weren’t any on the map and smoothed out other rapids.

I paddled my first class IV rapid and survived but flipped on two smaller un-named rapids. I learned something powerful in those two flips – that it was okay, and I could survive unexpected swims. We paddled through canyons cut deep into the desert and camped near hot springs. I got the same feeling as I do when I backpack and busyness of the frontcountry starts to fade away and you can slow down to take in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. Rafting is just another way of seeing a landscape – often ones that are hard to access on foot.

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