The Wild & Scenic River Act is having its 50th anniversary, so Susan and Adam Elliot loaded up their ’91 Coachman RV and set out to paddle, float, and experience 50 of these pristine rivers. After two years and 19 states, they ticked off 47. Now they are off the road full-time, but still roaming to tick off those final three – and they won’t stop there. “Oh, we’re eager to paddle more and more Wild and Scenic all over the country,” says Susan. “We have yet to visit the Northeast, the Delaware, Westfield, Mississiquoi, and Allagash Rivers, for example. Or Alaska. Those are both high on the list for us.”
Two years on the road roaming from river to river sounds romantic, but it can be a ton of work. “We just didn’t schedule enough downtime between trips and got exhausted from jumping from one trip straight into another,” says Adam.
And sometimes some things turn out easier than expected. “One aspect of our trip that we thought would be hard but ended up working out great was having a kid,” says Susan. “Yup, paddling and traveling while pregnant wasn’t bad at all. Even getting on rivers with a baby in tow has worked out. Our pace may have slowed, but our experience only got richer with our Juniper (eight months old now) joining us!”
And Yakima makes their life easier, too. “Loading and unloading kayaks and rafts from our rig could have been much more of a struggle,” says Adam. “Having two sets of BigStacks on CoreBars made our lives much easier. It feels great to know that your load is secure with just a minute of rigging. We also haul two mountain bikes on FrontLoaders, and store our camping gear in a SkyBox 16. Everything has the same SKS lock core, so we only need a single key to lock all of the towers, including the built-in FrontLoader cable lock for our bikes.”
There are so many ways to enjoy a river, and Adam, Susan, and Juniper love them all. “We run everything from mellow Class I canoe trips to big-water Class V rafting trips,” says Susan. “Now that we have Juniper joining us on the river, multi-day class II camping/rafting trips are really our favorite.” Adam says they still get out to run whitewater with friends, but the family trips are really special. “Waking up in your sleeping bag, cooking breakfast by the water, rigging the raft and pushing off to explore new river miles will never, ever, ever get old.”
Rivers are fun, but they can be dangerous. Adam and Susan are huge advocates of Know Before You Go. “It is really important to know what inherent dangers exist with moving water,” says Susan. “We do know many safe boaters that are self-taught, but the good ones all have taken whitewater safety classes. You’ll learn about carrying the appropriate safety equipment, maintain great group communication, and more. Stay curious and cautious, and know what you are getting yourself into by doing your research ahead of time.”
To keep our rivers open for fun, Adam and Susan advocate becoming a member or volunteer for American Whitewater. “This organization protects rivers for boaters, which in turn protects them for everyone,” says Adam. “They are a powerhouse team that is committed to free-flowing water.” And Susan adds a hands-on suggestion: “Go paddle! Getting to know a river transforms that place into something you will care about more. Spend time in the nearby communities, camp along the riverbanks, and enjoy yourself. If it becomes necessary, you’ll find yourself standing up for it.”
Six tips for successful wild river living:
- Wear a life jacket. Simple and obvious, but life saving.
- Cultivate a Crew. With a community of paddling buds, you can share gear, safety and logistics. The community of river runners is massive and supportive.
- Do a Multi-Day Trip. Spending several days on a river allows you to explore a watershed in depth. The river weaves its way into your routine unlike any other form of outdoor travel.
- Dry Your Gear. Especially in the wet seasons, gear will acquire a permanent level of stink if not dried out and washed regularly.
- Don’t Leave Gear Out In The Hot Sun Too Long. The UV rays will deteriorate the fabric and straps, especially on life jackets, really quick.
- Take a Paddling Course. As instructors and guides, we’ve seen how quickly someone can learn to paddle – as well as how quickly they can quit if introduced to paddling in scary or unsafe ways. Even a short weekend course will get you off on the right foot for a lifetime of paddling.