Prior to joining ACK, a group of friends were busy planning a 26-mile paddling/camping trip down the Colorado River in central Texas. I had already missed a week-long west Texas Pecos/Devil’s River trip so I made it a point to put this in one in my calendar with no intentions of deleting it. I was so excited about this trip that my wife actually gave me a free ticket to go despite the fact that it fell on our 11th anniversary weekend — high five.
Deciding on a Boat
Fast-forward to just a few weeks ago; I was trying to figure how I was going to get all of my gear into one of my sit on top kayaks. Most of the paddlers on this trip were taking canoes but I still preferred to use a kayak. Then it occurred to me that the best option would be a hybrid such as a Native Watercraft Ultimate 14 or a Wilderness Systems Commander 140. Because of their wide-open cockpit design, either would easily accommodate all of my gear while still providing an experience closer to my personal preferences. (Click here for a short article on hybrids I recently wrote.)
I Need Room
I’ve used the Native Watercraft Ultimate on many occasions so decided on the Commander this time and I didn’t regret it. From the moment that I set it down in my garage and started stuffing it with gear, I knew this one was going to be a hit. I was able to load it with a tent, sleeping bag, mattress pad, pillow, ice chest, camp chair, fishing rod, fishing gear, stove, food and drinks, 2 gallons of water, anchor, camera bag and clothing amongst many other camping related items and, as you can see in the picture to the right, it all fit! I must confess, one of the canoe paddlers was a chef (more on this later) and carried the camp food in his canoe, however, I could have easily fit a slightly taller ice chest to accommodate at least my own personal meals.
This Boat Better Not Tip
That’s a lot of stuff, I know — my thoughts too. At the time, I didn’t say anything to my friends but I must admit that I was a littler nervous at the launch point in Bastrop, Texas, when my boat was shoved into the water. I was concerned that it would sit too deep in the water but when I sat in the boat and took to the river — no problem. As with any kayak I paddle, my first reaction is to test its limitations. Of course, I should have done this without the gear but it was pretty secure and the clock was ticking. While sitting down, I pushed the boat side to side and not once did I feel like I was going to tip the boat. I also stood up and again, rock solid. I even cast a few jigs into the water and caught and released 3 small bass — yeah, not relevant but I had to throw that in somewhere. There was a consistent 8 inches of free-board all around the boat despite the cargo I was carrying (300-350lbs including myself). The Commander lists a carrying capacity of 475 lbs. Even though this was a flat-water stretch, it was comforting knowing that I probably wasn’t going to capsize this boat.
A Winding River With Long Straight Stretches
With mostly cloudy skies and a chance of severe thunderstorms in the forecast, we took off into the wild. Our first stretch was set for 16 miles. Good news is that aside from the occasional cooling shower, the storms stayed north of us and the overcast skies kept the temperatures mild. It’s not uncommon for us to experience 90-degree temperatures in this region in October. Anyway, back to the boat. It paddled straight…no really, like a freaking bullet straight. So straight that I would definitely consider one with a rudder to assist with steering the boat. I was truly impressed at the tracking capability of the Commander. I never, not once, felt like I had to correct my direction unless it was caused by intense headwinds which we had the pleasure of enjoying for a good 3-4 hours of the trip or the occasional small class 1 rapids.
This Wasn’t a Race
If you ready my previous article about “hybrids”, I mention that they are not speed demons. However, it simply performed much better than I had expected. I was able to keep up with the canoes, which were being powered by two paddlers. There was one paddler that was literally doing circles around us though — he was using a Wilderness Systems Tsunami. I did notice that the Commander would slow down rather quickly when I stopped paddling, I am not sure if this was due to the weight in the boat, headwinds or simply a characteristic of the Commander. Either way, we made it to camp by 5pm.
Long Trip + Bad Back = No Can Do
Comfort, ah, the holy grail of recreational kayaking. If you know me, you’ve probably heard me complain about my back. Long story short, I have a bulging disc, so comfort for me is key. Knowing that I would be sitting in a boat for 6+ hours, I knew that this boat would be perfect for me. Yeah, great seat but more importantly, dual sitting options. By simply sliding the seat under the molded in seat area, I was able to sit “on top” of the boat for a more natural sitting position. Further more, I occasionally stood up and paddled while standing to help stretch my legs. Yeah, I guess I was kind of showing off but nevertheless, it was fun.
A New Appreciation for the Colorado
While I have had the pleasure of paddling and fishing parts of the Colorado River, never have I experienced such a stretch. My favorite characteristic is that you see little to no signs of civilization. The river is lined with a few nicely manicured pastures, thick forests of oak, elms, sycamores and willows, sandstone cliffs and bluffs and a variety of wildlife. We even had a rare opportunity to see a couple of Bald Eagles. The water clarity was amazing with rock and sandy bottoms throughout.
The Perfect End to a Long Day of Paddling
After a long 16-mile stretch, we finally claimed our island for the night. It was a massive sand bar nestled between two small rapids with an open pasture peppered with oaks to one side and a thick old growth forest on the other. If you are not familiar with the Colorado River, most of it is privately owned so take great care when finding a camping spot. (Click here for more information) I was excited to setup my new Kelty Teton-2 Tent. This was the first time I was going to use it and from what I knew, I was supposed to be able to set it up in minutes. Sure enough, 5 minutes. It would have been less if I actually followed the instructions but either way it was quick. It’s a small backpacking tent but at 6’2”, I didn’t feel cramped.
My favorite part of any camping trip is cooking up a good meal. This time however, I didn’t have to cook a thing. One of the paddlers, a Chef, prepared an amazing dinner of grilled rib eye, homemade scalloped potatoes and salt and pepper buttered asparagus all cooked over an open wood fire. As the full moon eerily rose above the trees, we reminisced about our experiences throughout the day, enjoyed a few good laughs and eventually, one by one, made our way into the tents.
Slept Like a Champ
I like my pillow, so I needed something for this trip that I could easily compress into a small bag, which resulted in another new purchase, the Kelty Luxury Camp Pillow. It was a little flat at first, but by simply stuffing some (clean) clothing into the rear pocket, it was perfect! I would have slept well into the morning but one of the guys woke up early and was walking around the campsite playing the dueling banjos theme song from the 1972 movie “Deliverance”.
And The Story Continues…
As I woke to the sweet sound of banjo music, we slowly packed our gear and once again paddled the river to Smithville, Texas where we took out. This was a great trip and deciding to paddle the Wilderness Systems Commander 140 made it even better. Sure, it’s easy for me to rave about a product that we sell, so I invite you to give it a try for yourself. I know you’ll be pleased with its performance.
As for the route we covered, I highly recommend this stretch of the Colorado River for any paddler. Texas Parks and Wildlife together with community organizations have been doing great job of designated paddling trails. The Texas Paddling Trails is a program to develop public inland and coastal paddling trails throughout the state and support these trails with maps, signage and other information. These trails provide well-mapped accessible day trips in a variety of settings and for all levels of paddling experience.