Innova Kayaks | Your Summer Adventure, Inflated

Summer is coming on hard here in the Southwest and with the heat comes a focus on water adventures. When the sun is beating down and the trails become unbearably hot, it’s time to break out the kayaks.

A while back I started thinking about inflatable kayaks.  I grew up on the river and spent many a summer paddling or rowing all sorts of water across the Pacific Northwest. I loved the water and missed it terribly when I moved out to Arizona. My wife and I have made an effort to include river and lake activities into our travel, but that involves either hauling a big, heavy kayak around or renting something wherever we end up. Those aren’t always great options, so I started looking for something more convenient.

Dave on the Rogue River

Space is always at a premium when we travel, so looking for a solution that would be compact, easy to use, reliable and lightweight-ish would be key. I remember having an inflatable kayak as a kid. It was one of the cheaper plastic models from the early 80’s and didn’t hold up well to abuse. My brother and I destroyed it after only a couple summers of river trips. Cheap inflatables are everywhere, you can usually grab something inexpensive at Walmart but I’d be lucky to get a single season out of it. That’s just not going to work for me.

What I was looking for was something that could travel well, but put up with some abuse. My days rafting big rivers in big boats made me very aware of how easy it is for inflatable rafts to break down or tear apart in rough terrain. So aside from packability and lightweight, I wanted to make sure I found a durable boat that could handle regular abuse. I wanted something that could handle whitewater as well as it could handle flatwater. Finding the right solution would mean maximizing our summer outdoor fun no matter where we go.

During my search, I was introduced to Innova Kayaks.

Innova Kayaks are one of the first inflatables I’ve seen that have all the high-end production options as the big, expensive professional inflatables but without the price tag. All their kayak hulls are made of Nitrylon Lite™ (NL), a rip-stop polyester fabric, rubber-coated on the interior for air-retention, and Teflon®-treated on the outside for water repellency and stain resistance. This offers durability similar to what you get from the big commercial boats. I was also really impressed to see a commercial-grade valve system on these boats. This is pretty key, considering valve failure is one of the most common problems with inflatables. I have the Innova Swing I single-person kayak which retails right around $600. That’s a pretty good price for any kayak, let alone an inflatable with this level of quality construction (compare that to the NRS inflatables that range from $1000-$2000). Most of the Innova Kayaks also have a heavy-duty rip-stop urethane-coated deck material with zippered access to close in the boat deck. This allows for some good protection that a lot of other inflatables don’t have as well the ability to add a spray skirt ($50) for whitewater kayaking. Another feature of the Swing I is the removable tracking fin for greater stability and control in flat water.

The Innova Swing I is a nice-sized, single-person inflatable kayak. It’s versatile enough to take on just about any kind of water and small enough to be packed into any location. The Swing I rolls up into about 18″x10″ and weighs around 25lbs. Innova makes a drybag backpack to make carrying your inflatable easier.

Inflating the Innova Kayak

Innova valve system

Having an Inflatable Kayak opened up some really cool opportunities for me. A friend reached out to me last Fall about a possible trip, but it would require packing our raft gear several miles down a side canyon to the Colorado River below Lake Mead. This would not have been possible without an inflatable kayak. We met at the take-out and drove to the trailhead that would lead to our put-in. After a moderate hike down to the river, we were able to toss out our gear, pump up both of the boats, and head down the river in less than an hour. We spent two days paddling the easy flatwater of the Colorado River, camping on a spit of sand attached to the deep rocky canyons. The Swing I performed beautifully on the river and even made for a decent bed at camp that night.

Innova River Trip B-1

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Lower Salt Paddle-7

Since getting the inflatable kayak, I have found fewer reasons to pull out the old, heavy, plastic kayak I used to paddle around. Now, trips down the Lower Salt River, Verde River, or paddling around the local lake reservoirs is easier and more comfortable. The Swing I is lighter, more manageable in the water, and packs smaller than any other kayak I’ve had.

If like me, your summer trips revolve around water you need to look into Innova Kayaks. For the price, they are one of the best options on the market for inflatable kayaks. I’ve been really impressed with the overall quality and durability of the Swing I. Check out the full boat selection from Innova Kayaks on their website.

 

Disclosure: I was provided the Swing I in order to test and review the kayak for performance and reliability. I have done my due diligence testing this product extensively in various environments, conditions, and purposes. The above information is my own opinion of Innova products and inflatable kayaks in general based on my own experiences.

First Time Down the Rogue River…Again…

On our first anniversary my wife and I flew to Hawaii and spent some time in Honolulu before hoping over to the Big Island. I was in the middle of a huge knee problem and could barely walk, which was just as well since all the NPS managed sites were closed. Still, not being able to get around very well, or sleep well, really put a damper on our trip. So as our second anniversary grew closer and I was once again plagued with some ridiculous recurring injury I knew I was going to be frustrated with the trip. But I’ll be damned if we’re not going to go. Suck it up, Buttercup…we got adventuring to do!

Merelyn carrying large dry bag

This time around our plane dropped us off in less-than-sunny Oregon, Portland to be exact. A good drive from where I wanted us to be and, I imagine, a longer drive from where my wife wished we were headed. You see, a few years ago I joined Dave Wherry in Zion for a sweet day of hiking and while we were there he imparted a piece of married-guy wisdom on me that I took to heart. Dave shared a strategy that he and his wife had found successful when it came to deciding how to spend their anniversary. Each year, one of them would take the lead and plan the trip, the next year they would swap. This struck me as a brilliant idea and a sure way to insure that each half of the couple gets their fair share of their preferred type of anniversary trip.

Our first anniversary was to Hawaii. My wife planned that one, and it was awesome. Our second anniversary was my trip to plan and I really, really wanted to get her on some whitewater. I proposed the trip and she agreed…we would spend our second anniversary on the Rogue River.

We spent the first night in Portland after getting into town and meeting my sister-in-law for dinner. By freak chance she happened to be passing through Portland the same night we got into town. The next morning we tried to work out an opportunity to visit the Columbia Sportswear HQ, as all good Omniten do when in Portland, but it didn’t work out and we had a river to catch. So we headed south to drive the length of the state of Oregon and meet up with the rest of our salty crew in Northern California.

We made a quick stop for essentials in Grants Pass before driving the last leg into California before dark. Driving down the narrow and twisty curves of 199 I couldn’t help but notice how shallow the Middle Fork of the Smith looked. The canyon was boney with more rock than water, a clear indication of a dry summer season. As we swerved through the narrowest part of the canyon along the highway my wife spied a dog hiding in the brush along the narrow shoulder of the road. It was a bad spot, trapped between a curvy road on a blind corner on one side and a nearly sheer mountain cliff on the other. Either way you cut it, that dog was in trouble and neither one of us could let it stand.

We circled back and pulled into a turnout just up the road from where the dog was trapped. We waited in the car, getting a look at the dog without drawing too much of it’s attention. We didn’t want it to bolt into the road while cars where still whizzing by around the blind curve. We thought about what to do, how to approach the situation, but all prospects seemed to end badly when taken to their ultimate conclusion. Then I spotted a lull in traffic, at least I hoped it was, and I hopped out of the drivers seat hoping I could coax the dog to me easily since I was in no shape to chase it down. Luckily, the dog had similar thoughts as soon as it saw me open the door and was halfway across the road by the time I was standing by the car. She made it to us and we got her in the back seat without a fuss. Dog saved. Sighs of relief all the way around.

But now we have a dog. In a rental car. In the middle of a lonely road in Oregon. After dark. And we are running late to meet our crew to be able to get on the river the next morning. Great.

The reaction when we showed up at my buddy Scott’s house with a dog in the back seat was about what I expected, “What the fuck is that?”

A stray dog was a bad thing to have on your hands the night before a 5 day trip into the middle of nowhere. So I started making some calls. I used to live in the area and still know a few people here and there that live in Northern California. Luckily, a close friend of the family was willing to come pick up the puppy and take over the responsibility of figuring out what to do with her. We were in the clear! We had a quick dinner, got to visit a little with old river friends and meet the couple of folks I hadn’t rafted with before, and then got some sleep.

Loading up for the trip

Morning on the Rogue River

Early the next morning, just before first light, we got out of bed and started the process of packing for the trip. Most of the heavy lifting had been done the day before by the local segment of the crew and we were left to sort out our own personal gear and extra supplies. Then we were off, back up 199 and toward the put in at Grave Creek. The long drive up was uneventful as usual and putting on the river was the same carefully orchestrated chaos it always was and soon we were on the water. Happily. Thankfully. Blissfully.

Morning on the Rogue River

In my early years on the Rogue River we would complete the 34 mile trip from Grave Creek to Foster Bar in 3 days, pushing through pretty quickly. Later, with my dad learning to enjoy the river as a whole more than just the whitewater, we stretched the trip to 4 days. The guys I raft with had stretched the trip again since the last time I had rowed the Rogue to a luxurious 5 day trip. Running 34 miles of water in 5 days is a very relaxed pace, especially on the Rogue. We would get up, have breakfast, hit the water and by lunch time we were breaking out snacks and making camp. It was a lot less time in the boat that I am used to and a lot more time to think about Blossom Bar, the technical class IV toward the end of the trip. This was played up quite a bit, as usual, as we all talked about all the things that could go wrong at Blossom if we didn’t make “the move” at the top. This went on unnecessarily for 4 days before it was actually time to run Blossom.

Rogue River whitewater

The up side of such short water days was the additional time at camp casually sipping a cold beer, snacking on various goodies, visiting with old friends and telling stories. For Merelyn this was what I had hoped for, some time to get to know these people who shaped much of how I perceive the world and view adventure. River friends become so much more than just friends, they’re family. And even though I don’t see them nearly as often as I like, when we all come back to the river it connects us deeply. These were also people deeply connected to my father and there was a piece of me that really wanted Merelyn to get to know him a little better, through them. I know she felt the same way and took every opportunity to listen, sometimes requiring effort, to their wild and winding stories about my father on the river.

Rogue River camp

Important as the people were to this river trip, I also wanted Merelyn to get to know the river. I suffer from an unquenchable love of rivers and the primal feeling of running it’s current. I have wanted to share that experience with the woman I fell in love with for a long time. It’s only fair to bring my two loves together so they can acquaint themselves with each other and come to an understanding. I think I was successful. The river was beautiful and generous with us, the low water and the slow pace of the trip made it an easier run for a first timer and even though I’m sure Merelyn would rather have been on a pristine sandy beach in Hawaii, I know she came to enjoy the river as well. The river is a relentless seductress and it is impossible, given enough time, to resist it’s sensuous melody. Toward the end of the trip Merelyn turned to me, possibly begrudgingly, and admitted that the Rogue River made for a good anniversary trip. Good enough that it could be repeated whenever it was my turn to plan our anniversary.

That’s good enough for me!

Merelyn on the Rogue River

Dave on the Rogue River

Dave on the Rogue River

It was absolutely impossible to run the Rogue River again without thinking about my #Omniten friends. Our guided trip together last year down this same stretch of river was a memorable trip and I miss those people tremendously. As much as I really love running a private trip, in control of my own raft and my own oars, I still had an amazing time with Columbia and the whole crew in Oregon last year. Maybe some day I’ll be able to get some of them out on this river under a private trip. That would be incredible. As it was, this trip seemed like it was half-sponsored by Columbia Sportswear anyway since a ton of their gear made it down the river with us. My wife was head-to-toe Columbia most times at camp with Omnifreeze shirts for the day and Omniheat baselayers at night, Drainmaker Shoes, and a puffy. I also had my Drainmakers, various Omniheat gear and the killer new Turbodown puffy jacket. Killer gear makes it on all the trips and Columbia stuff is always with us.

Rogue River Columbia Drainmakers

It’s always hard to say goodbye to old friends knowing that you’ll likely not see them again for a long time. Especially when a river, a few boats and a handful of campfires are involved. I’m glad that Merelyn got to get to know them on the river where they are most purely themselves. That’s the funny thing about river people, you don’t really ever get to know them until you know them on the river. They aren’t the same when they’re not on the water. After our 5 days on the Rogue we were running out of time and had to make quick work out of our goodbyes and hit the road. With handshakes, hugs and heart promises to do it again soon, we drove our dusty little rental care out of the takeout and up over the mountain toward Grants Pass. We grabbed some dinner in town and hammered through a week’s worth of missed emails and messages and high-tailed it up to Portland again where we spent WAY too much money on a hotel room and crashed for the night.

The next day we woke up and headed downstairs just as the Portland Marathon was wrapping up. That explained why our hotel room was so expensive. I headed down to the parking garage to grab the rental car and discovered it had a dead battery. It took nearly 4 hours for us to finally get a new vehicle so we missed out on a lot of sight seeing that morning around Portland but we did manage to make arrangements to meet a friend from Columbia for a late lunch. Daniel Green carved out some time on our last afternoon in Oregon to meet us for some food and beer at Base Camp Brewery. Brew was pretty good (I sampled just about everything they made) and Daniel was great company. Even if we didn’t get to make it to the Columbia HQ while we were in town, getting to see Daniel almost made up for it.

Tastings at Base Camp Brewery

On our way to the airport we had another freak coincidence as we noticed a couple of very close friends of ours checked-in on Facebook at a restaurant in Portland. They had come into town to celebrate their anniversary as well and were flying out the same afternoon. We managed to meet them for a few minutes at the airport before we had to head through security. It’s small world, especially when one travels often. It’s fun to know that we have friends everywhere and there’s always a pretty good chance we’ll run into someone. For me that’s especially true in Oregon.

It turned out to be a great trip, even if I was partially laid up and in pain. I have a hard time finding any way to complain when I get to be on the river. Merelyn had a great time too and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to get her out on some whitewater. Hopefully next time I’ll be able to get around a little better and she won’t have to work so hard. No matter what, we’re definitely doing this again.

Blossom Bar-

For those of you who have not run much water, class IV rapids can get ugly pretty fast. We talked about it a little on our Columbia trip, how technical Blossom Bar could get and what we needed to do to avoid a bad day. Not long before this trip, someone had had a bad day at Blossom Bar and the evidence was still there as we went through. Just to show you (especially YOU, Omniten), this is what a bad day looks like at Blossom Bar if you don’t make “the move” at the top.

 

Rogue River Blossom Bar

…About that Dog-

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After we had left, our good friends Pam and Steve contacted a local that had expressed some interest in the dog. They left the puppy with her on the condition she’d follow through with the vet, check for a microchip and, if all came back clear, take care of her. Later that first day after getting the dog, someone recognized her from posters that had been left around town. It turns out the dog was in Northern California getting specialized training. She was a Belgian Malinois, a prized pure bred related to a German Shepherd and just as trainable. A Canadian family had bought her from a special breeder and had spent a decent amount of money to have her trained in the states. They had flown in to pick up the dog, her name is Aspen, and drive her home to Canada. Somewhere along 199 before Grants Pass she somehow got out of her crate and was either thrown or jumped from the back of their truck. She had been out there at least a few days before we found her.

Once the local woman who had taken her realized what she had, she made a phone call and Aspen’s family was on the next flight out to come get her and bring her home. Aspen is now at home with her family.

Gotta love a happy ending.

Crossing paths on the Rogue River…

Rogue River Rafting Trip

“We don’t meet people by accident.  Each and every person that crosses our path does so for a reason.” –

I’ve never been a believer in the deterministic universe, that everything happens for a reason, but sometimes it’s hard to dismiss.

When Columbia announced that our #OmniTen trip would be on the Rogue River I laughed.  I’ve only been on the Rogue a couple of times since my dad passed away but when I was younger we did regular trips down the Rogue and I know the river well.  Columbia was going to take us to my old stomping grounds and I knew it would be emotional for me.

Then the fires started.

The fires closed down the river.  Some friends of mine put in on the last day they allowed anyone on the river and they pushed to get off the river as soon as possible because parts of the valley were so choked with smoke you couldn’t breathe.  This was 2 weeks before our trip and every report estimated the river would be closed for at least 3 weeks as fire crews struggled to get the Big Windy fire under control.  Columbia was scrambling to come up with plan B.

Several days before we were to converge on Oregon for our adventure, the word got out that the river was going to open back up.  Plan A was back on schedule and we would be floating the Rogue.  At the same time, this meant a scramble for the outfitter, Rogue Wilderness Adventures, to grab some last minute guides for the trip.  Aaron DeSilva was one of those guides, setting our paths on a collision course.

I wasn’t planning to be on Aaron’s raft.  I had intended to grab a spot on the other boat, but ultimately ended up in Aaron’s crew and as others traded spots throughout the trip I stayed put.

Aaron is a local guy and grew up running the Rogue, and other rivers, with his dad.  Even though I moved away from the area to pursue a career, we shared similar stories.  We both grew up playing in the larger than life shadows of adventurous fathers, learning to live a life of actions not talk.  We both grew up on the river, developing an appreciation and respect for the river and the outdoors.  We both developed close friendships with our fathers in our adult lives, something that doesn’t seem to happen as often as it should.

So when I found out that Aaron had lost his father I understood, all too well, what kind of impact that had.  It was later, when I accidentally walked across him having a private moment with the river, that I started feeling that our meeting was intentional.  Walking back from the river’s edge he smiled and shared that he was scattering a handful of his father’s ashes in the water, something he had been doing on all his trips since losing his dad.  This hit home hard and I mentioned that I had done the same with my father.

Aaron DeSilva on the Rogue River

This was right above Blossom Bar, one of the most technical runs we would deal with on the three day trip.  Blossom can be tricky, and if you don’t nail it the consequences can be severe.  Aaron had been looking for his good luck charm, the Bald Eagle, all day.  He was nerved up as we float toward Blossom.  Only a couple hundred yards away from the top of the rapid he spotted a Bald Eagle resting in tree leaning out from the canyon wall.  We quietly floated past, Aaron never took his eyes off the bird and it returned his gaze until we had passed it by.  Aaron’s mood changed, nerves seemed gone and Blossom went by without incident.  Good luck charm indeed.

Later that afternoon we ended our river trip and piled into the shuttle vans.  Everyone randomly grabbed a seat and Aaron and I ended up in the same vehicle.  Due to road closures because of the fire, we had to take the long way back to Grants Pass which meant a long detour south into California…right along 197 and the Smith River.  This had already been an emotional trip for me, but it was going to get worse.  Not only would we be driving right by my parents’ old house, but the accident that took my dad happened along highway 197.

An eight year old scab was quickly torn open as we drove along 197.  Knowing Aaron would understand I mentioned what I was feeling and shared the significance of where we were.  It was then that I learned just how raw and recent things were for Aaron.  While I had lost my dad almost 9 years ago, he had lost his only 9 months ago.  It came together, Aaron is the same age I was when I lost my dad and the closeness of their relationship had left him adrift.  No one understood the depth of what he had lost and he couldn’t communicate it even to his wife.  And here I was, eight years ahead of his position and understanding exactly what he was going through.

We had an emotional exchange as we drove along 197, the rest of the bus quietly gave us the space to talk (either out of respect of awkwardness).  I offered understanding, I offered advice, but most importantly I offered proof of the healing nature of time.  Strangely enough, this exchange brought me a measure of closure.  I really, really hope it brought Aaron a measure of relief as well.  I remember that first year and I would have given anything for some true understanding.  It was a very lonely time.

The Rogue River was fantastic and Columbia puts on a hell of trip.  Rogue Wilderness Adventures and their guides do a bang up job providing way more comfort than most of us are used to outdoors.  And having Ninkasi Brewing along was some seriously tasty icing on the cake.  All in all an unforgettable trip with some really genuine and amazing people.

After the trip I received a message from Aaron, he had found me on Facebook and reached out.  He had found some of the articles I had written about my early adventures with my dad.  He mentioned he had enjoyed our talk and asked if I had written more stories about my dad, so I sent him some links.  I told him that writing had eventually helped me work through some of the loss.  For Aaron, the river is where he finds peace.

In chatting back and forth after the trip I learned a lot.  His father, Tom, had been running the Rogue River since the 70s.  Everything Aaron knows about rafting and the history of the Rogue (which is extensive) he learned from his dad.  They also shared a love of flying and sky diving.  Aaron’s description of his dad reminded me of my own, “The rogue is one of his favorite places in the world. On day two you could always find him sitting in a lawn chair in the middle of mule creek with his feet in the water and a cold one in his hand. My dad was always my best friend, father, mentor, roommate, coach and most of all my true hero.”

Blossom Bar in particular holds a lot of significance, and dusting the river with his father’s ashes upstream of the rapid Aaron had been looking for guidance.  I’ve done the same thing myself.  Aaron and his father, with their love of flying, have always told each other that if they came back they would want to come back as a bird.  Aaron looks for a Bald Eagle on every trip now, thinking of it as his father watching out for him.  To Aaron it was no coincidence that the Bald Eagle appeared as we approached Blossom Bar and he felt the strong, reassuring gaze of his father that morning.

Hopefully I’ll get to see Aaron again one of these days, maybe share another trip on our favorite river.  But I can’t shake the feeling that so many events came together for us to cross paths.  I just can’t help but think it was not an accident.  Even if we never cross paths again, we connected at a pivotal time that made big ripples in our own little ponds.

Well played, Universe….well played…

The #OmniTen effect…

Columbia OmniTEN

I’ve followed the Columbia #Omniten from the beginning.

I remember reading blog posts from original #Omniten about their trip together, how it changed them…brought them all closer together.  It was the kind of trip that inspired life long friendships.  The unique experience of that trip changed the careers, lives and relationships of those who were there.

I wondered if our group would develop that bond.  I wondered if I would be changed by the experience.  I wondered if the first #Omniten was unique.

I’m not the type of person who makes friends easily.  As an introvert, I will tell jokes and make superficial conversation to avoid making true connections with people.  Usually.  The outdoor community is different, the people are different.  Meeting people from the outdoor community face to face for the first time is a lot like visiting old friends you haven’t seen in a while.  Easy, comfortable, comforting, exciting, fun and mixed with a lot of laughter.  Meeting my #Omniten family for the first time was like this.

I will write more in the next couple of weeks about the trip and share some photos.  This was “the adventure of a lifetime”, as Eric put it.  For me personally it was a homecoming, it was emotional.  I’ve always dreamed of being able to take a group of good friends on a whitewater trip and show them why I love the river so much.  Even if I wasn’t the one guiding the trip, this really felt like the trip I’ve dreamed of.  I give credit to Columbia for putting together a stellar group of people and not just the #Omniten.  The people from Columbia that joined our adventure were all truly great people and added tremendously to the enjoyment of the trip.

Columbia OmniTEN

I haven’t floated the swirling currents of the river in over 5 years.  It felt good to drift along in the fickle current, to ride the eddie lines, to slide down the broad green tongue at the top of a rapid and bounce along the frothing, white-capped wave train.  I’d almost forgotten how much I love the sounds of the river – the trickling of waterfalls, the roaring of whitewater, the creak of the oarlocks and soft dip of the oar blades into the quiet, flat water.

I miss the river already, but I just might miss my new friends a little bit more.  I now know first-hand how the other group felt when they had to say goodbye at the end of their trip.  It’s bitter-sweet and filled with adventurous opportunity.

I hope to see you all again soon!