After riding the abandoned railroad grade between Wadsworth and Nixon and returning via the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail I found myself thinking what about paddling the Truckee and biking back on the T-P Trail. My cautious brain was in conflict with my adventurous brain. There have been few outings where I found myself questioning whether or not this was a good idea as much with this outing.
I consider myself a strong paddler. I have had a few successful outings with bike and boat. For moving water, this section of the Truckee is probably the calmest. I studied the satellite images of the Truckee River and identified potential spots for needing to portage. But my biggest concern was a submerged rock or branch that could tear my boat.
Once I had mentally committed myself I thought back to some issues I had on my last bikeraft adventure. My Fourth of July trip on Walker Lake reminded me how important it is to have your bike properly stowed on the raft to be able to paddle for an extended period. Crossing a lake there is the commitment of leaving the shore while on a small river you can easily return to shore. A small packraft leaves a small margin for acceptable gear storage.
I had a launch spot in mind just beyond the second set of stairs over a fenceline. I got to ride a few miles as a warm up. It was a beautiful day. I wasn’t expecting much more than a breeze and a high in the 40’s. Are winter amphibious trips advisable? I was comforted by the brilliant desert sun. I wore quick drying Kuhl Destroyer pants, Kuhl long sleeve Airspeed shirt, and Patagonia’s Nano Puff jacket. All seemed like perfect choices for the day.
I spent 5 hours paddling about 12 miles of the Truckee River. The river was slow, often very shallow, and was an excellent teacher. As each hour passed I found myself improving at reading the river, staying in the current, avoiding the shallows, as well as submerged hazards along the way.
The sightseeing was fantastic! I have ridden the T-P Trail through here a handful of times but never have seen the waterfowl like I did this day. I will never take red-tail hawks for granted and I got to watch several in the leafless tree tops along the river. I spotted a hereon and ducks and geese were common. Surprisingly I didn’t see a single fish jump.
After an hour I took out on a rocky shore. I dumped out a little water that accumulated in the boat. I gave the boat a few puffs of air to top off the boat. It is good practice to add some air after a boat has been in the cold water a while. The boat floated higher after this. I am glad I took the time. I thought I might see spots on the east side of the river I would want to get out and bike but that was not the case. A strong breeze funneled upstream through the canyon slowing the downstream progress and made the trip colder than without.
There were two sections where I decided to take out and portage rather than boat. The first was early in the paddle. There was a tangle of trees and I was not confident I could navigate the branches without damaging the boat or having a branch snag my bike strapped to the bow. The second was a section of exposed rocks. With a little more experience and durable raft this would be negotiable.
Admittedly I was mentally spent after 5 hours on the river. My focus on reading the current, looking out for shallow water, avoiding hidden and obvious hazards took its toll. I knew there was a spot ahead where a road came down to the river from the Tahoe-Pyramid Trail. As it turns out the road was to service a gaging station just above Numana Dam. Go a little further? Nope, I was ready to ride.
Just as I took a little extra time to load my bike on the raft I did the same packing everything back onto the bike. The time also gave me time to dry out my damp clothes. Soon I was looking down on the river from the T-P Trail. I was in awe of what I just pulled off. Maybe the day will come when I have done so many bikeraft trips that I will just think, “yep, that was another one.” But not yet!
On the return I wanted to note the spots on the river with access to the Trail. Other than the gaging station service road there was not obvious access from the river. At Dead Ox Wash there are a couple of roads that come down to the river. Just before the fish hatchery there is a fantastic interpretive trail through a wetland with river access. Just a little further ahead there is river access where the power lines cross overhead.
The ride back was in brilliant sunshine through a sea of sagebrush. I got to relive my paddle as I road above the river. Remember that bend in the river? Remember that island? I am looking forward to finishing the paddle to Pyramid Lake. At the same time I am thinking about trips on the Carson, Walker, Humboldt, and Quinn Rivers. Great adventures ahead!
My Packraft Set Up, Tricks and Tips:
I paddle the Kokopelli Hornet-Lite packraft. It is a fantastic entry level, ultra light, and compact packraft. It is just right, balanced in price and features for getting into the sport. I pack it; boat, seat, inflation bag, inflation tube, inflatable PFD, and paddling shoes in a large dry bag. The Kokopelli Alpine Lake 4-piece paddle is strapped to the bag. This bundle is carried by the Salsa EXP Series Anything Cradle (I know I am exceeding Salsa’s recommended max load recommendation, but not by too much). It is fantastic to be able to carry the load on the bike.
I pedaled the KHS 4 Seasons 5000 carbon fat bike. The fat bike is a great choice for riding through the most diverse terrains. Lake shores, riparian tracks, and arroyos are often sandy and rocky so the fat tires are a great choice. The bike is equipped with the Salsa EXP Frame Bag (a good fit), Toptube Bag and Seat Pack. These bags are weather or water-resistant, but not -proof. The cockpit is also outfitted with a pair of Urchin Bags Stem Bags, super functional and stylish!
When breaking down the bike I have tried removing only the front wheel as well as both wheels before stacking everything on the bow. The benefits of single wheel removal, time savings, fewer things to loose or damage and protecting the rear derailleur. The benefits of removing both wheels, creating a more compact stack on the bow of the boat. At this point I favor removing both wheels. It is recommended to remove pedals, I have opted for nylon pedals with non-aggressive traction and I am super happy with their performance. I then stack the wheels with consideration to the disc rotors and cassette on top of the bike, drive train up. The bike is oriented saddle to the stern as far forward as possible. I flipped the seat bag to the center of the boat.
Anything I wanted to be sure to stay dry, electronics, shoes, clothes, and first aid kit went into the dry bag between my feet. As the bottom of the boat always collects some water and “dry” bags are only as dry as they are maintained (this bag is old and could use a little duct tape), double bagging is prudent.
The clothing chosen for this trip is fairly standard for any of my outdoor endeavors. Kuhl’s Destroyer pants and Airspeed shirt are fantastic light to mid weight pieces with great fast drying properties, abrasion, and solar protection. Patagonia’s synthetic insulation pieces are proven for warmth even when wet. I was comfortable moving from bike to boat, and back to boat. My neoprene paddling shoes were great for launching and portaging. The Destroyer pants have a great feature in their ankle elastic drawcords, on the bike my pant legs are safe from hungry chainrings and when hopping in and out of the boat I could secure high water pants.
I evaluate the trip as follows: secure the chain to the chainstay, keep brake levers clear, consider rain pants and jacket to counter spray, don’t wear padded shorts in the boat, sun hat for paddling, always wear sunscreen, lube the chain after any paddling segment and the boat is tougher than you think. Although I did not need it I should have had a backup dry layer of clothes. I had a few pieces but not a complete set. At some point I will upgrade my boat to the Kokopelli Rogue with spraydeck.