Good idea, not always possible. For active people on two wheels or four, on snow or water, hiking, hunting or whatever — something or somebody can whack you. I have been lucky in around a quarter-million miles on a motorcycle and now closing in on 1000 miles on a bicycle (plus skiing, hiking, kayaking) — often alone — to not have been hurt along the way.
My friend John Chalmers was wearing a RoadID the other day when we rode together — an item about which I had thought before — and that spurred me to get one. Not expensive and it makes medical and contact info immediately available to first responders. I plan to wear mine 24/7 as soon as it comes in the mail. If you are active, think about it. Click the logo for more info.
My sterling kayaking companion, Robert Henley, should have had a counseling session with us both before setting out on this adventure. Recent rains made it seem like a good idea to paddle the Llano. Reports were that the water was good. We had previously done the Highway 87 bridge (near Mason) to Castell so taking a different route was in order as we finally made our schedules coincide.
Castell to “Scott Slab” (a/k/a Llano CR 102) would be a good 10 mile paddle. Then, as we passed the Llano City Park, and each of us having day-long kitchen passes and being filled with visions of flowing waters (and probably sugar plum fairies as well) dancing in our heads, we dropped his truck there — at the park — which would add an estimated five miles to the trek. No step for a stepped as they say. After all with my “Couch to 5k” training program I was in great shape. It seemed like a good idea.
On to Castell and unload the “yaks” and away we go.
On the water by about 8:30 with an overcast sky to limit the heat (but, of course, not the UV rays!), fishing gear on board, the estimated 15 miles would be nothing.
Right away we started fishing but all day we would have little luck. Robert caught a few perch on his fly rig but I was skunked. I did not have the right lures, having left them in Jones Valley because I did not expect a fishing opportunity prior to getting back up there.
The Llano is a beautiful river.
There are many scenes such as this one where calm waters can be found for a rest or a chance at sneaking up on a bass. We know the fish are there, but today would not be the day to do anything about it. Some of the trick of floating this section of the Llano is to determine whether to go left or right when approaching these rock clusters which often divide the lazy river into multiple routes through what can become a maze of granite.
Robert paddles a bit faster than I do and then fishes while I catch up. Here he ties on a fly, ever changing the bait with which to entice an unsuspecting fish. He ties a lot of his own flies and has an endless array of what should have been tantalizing treats.
Shortly after this photo was taken we decided that we should pass some water under the keel and not spend quite so much time fishing. Hey, we were “fishing,” not “catching.” So putting down the fishing poles for the most part and picking up the paddles we started covering some ground, er, water. That photo was taken about 9:15 after we had been on the water only 45 minutes. With 15 miles (we guessed) to cover, we needed to paddle. It seemed like a good idea.
Now remember that I said those rock formations could divide the river. Like Yogi Berra said, “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” The same idea applies on the river as well.
We had come to one of those “forks” and took it. It seemed like a good idea. But it wasn’t. Wrong turn and the result was dragging the kayaks through shallows. This was not too bad but we would later give up on this “channel” and drag the yaks across a wide sandbar and over a sand spit of about four feet feet in height to gain access to the main river channel. Such are the foibles of attempting to float an unknown section of river. Imagine what Lewis and Clark encountered!
We would up doing 10.2 miles. More later on just how that happened. Here is the track on a topo map.
After we began paddling in earnest we had a bit of a surprise when a breeze came up. OK, paddling in the breeze is nice, except when it’s against you! We had a steadily increasing wind (15 mph and gusting) and were facing that with the thought of “gee, why did we add five miles to this trek?” It would eventually abate, but we had nearly two hours of a relentless wind that would occasionally try to rip the hat off of my head — and as I had already (last year) sacrificed one nice hat to the Llano River gods, I had the chin strap down on this one.
There were some nice rapids even with the water flow not being what we had hoped. On one really nice chute that had the most drastic drop we encountered, it required a hard right and immediate left — both of which were impossible. So I took the alternative route (and later learned that Robert did as well) which amounted to taking the huge boulder head-on, riding up on it to the point where I thought surely I was shooting over it — and understand, from the water level this boulder rose a good three feet — when the boat slid off to the right and the current took me on around followed immediately by a blood-curdling scream. Oops, that came out of me!
As I said at the beginning, the river’s basin had gotten heavy rains just two weeks prior and the reports were that the water was good. A primo opportunity to get on the Llano. It seemed like a good idea.
But the rest of the story is that the water had already dropped to a level that would present more than a few “opportunities to excel.” On rapid after rapid we would hang up on a rock and have to “hump” the yak off the rock or, on more than a few occasions, dismounting and dislodging would be in order. Those hangs plus the wind was making this trip not the fun back when it was conceived as being … a good idea.
That is what led to Robert calling Janet, who was already in the Llano area, to come-a-runnin’ and bring the truck to the Scott Slab Road. Praises to Verizon for good cell coverage in the area! She surely looked like an angel when she drove up. As a bonus I got to meet her dad. I’ve known Janet for way over 20 years but never knew her dad. Nice fellow and he allowed as how our decision was a good one as the next segment, Scott Slab to Llano City Park, got rougher than what we had been on. Turns out he’s been all up and down that river.
So, slightly chagrined at stopping short, but with aching arms and shoulders we loaded up the yaks and headed on our way.
It seemed like a good idea.
Here is the river gauge data that shows why we were faced with the conditions leading to dragging and hanging. (click to enlarge)
In preparation for the June 6 Great Castell Kayak Race it seemed like a good idea to float it once to get the lay of the land … so to speak. So Robert Henley, his son Jared, and I embarked with Jennifer along to shuttle us. She opted not to paddle and would hang out in the camper and read while we paddled.
Into the Llano River we went where U.S. 87 crossed the river and immediately we were struck by the beauty of the largely pristine landscape. The river is wide there and it had a nice flow so we were pumped! We had dutifully checked the river gauges, both the one right there at the highway river crossing which showed a stage of about 1.2 feet, and the one at Llano which showed about 1.4 feet. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife article on Texas Rivers “…when the river is on a 1 to 2 foot rise, excellent conditions exist for recreational usage.” So we were good to go!
It’s a beautiful river with many wide spots, sometimes narrowing down to as little as 30 feet wide. But for the main part it is a shallow and wide river, heavily punctuated with rocks and boulders of granite and dolomite. Did I mention rocks and boulders? Oh yes, plenty of those.
The bridge to Castell is 12 miles. The TPWD site mentioned above indicates recreational quality flow if 1-2 feet of flood stage exists. We were looking at a stage about in the middle of that bracket so were anticipating no problem. Boy were we ever wrong!
First of all, as has now become clear to be a trend with me, we did too much fishing at first. Every fishy spot drew us in like a black hole draws in light! This put us behind the time curve and eventually we needed to make up some time. I would correct the TPWD assessment. The river better be a a 2 foot stage before getting on it for real fun. We would up paddling, and paddling, and …. Oh, and did I mention rocks? There were some nice rapids that we ran right through. A couple of them caused the bow of my Manta Ray 12 to dip in but it plowed right on. There were many that we could pick a line through and shoot right on. But there was a LOT of paddling. And rocks, did I mention rocks?
Most of the rapids just did not have a clean line through them. We all hung up frequently on a rock, sometimes just for a moment and could “hump” the boat over and go, some that required a bit of dragging off the rocks, and then there was …
… the dump! I got sideways on a couple of rocks with a low gunnel upstream and the kayak totally flipped. That was my first capsize in the ‘yak in about 30-40 miles of paddling it so far. There I am, standing in the rushing stream, fully dunked to the chest. Boat is upside down now and all my tethered stuff is “flapping in the breeze” uh, that would be in the water. Luckily, I have everything tethered. Two fishing rigs, paddle, GPS, tackle box, anchor, various ditty bags, the FRS radio, etc.
Did I mention the boat is now upside down in the rushing current? Luckily I had my genuine Cabela’s felt-sole boots on because the current was trying to knock me down and carry the boat away. OK, now it’s time to turn this sucker right side up, so, grabbing the gunnel I lift to flip it back and … ugh, no way. On the stern is my plastic milk crate full of (tethered) stuff and it makes for quite a drag and shift of weight. After several fruitless attempts to flip it I finally went to the stern, lifted it over my head, and just rotated the kayak with little more than the bow in the water. Never mind it weighs 62 pounds empty — which it was not.
I finally got underway, minus the sunscreen, Jennifer’s fancy water bottle she had loaned me, and my favorite hat. I don’t know when or why it departed as I never noticed it gone until I was again “in the saddle” and underway again. Refreshed after my quick baptism, I paddled hard to catch up to Robert and Jared. Now cruising along with a steady stroke, and glad to be in calm water for a short bit, about 1/4 mile from the scene of the crime I spotted something floating in the water and was relieved to find Jennifer’s special water bottle happily bobbing along.
In conclusion (yes, finally) we were on the water exactly seven hours — lot’s of stopping to fish and my tump did not help the time. Of the 12 miles, we paddled 11.8 of it! Only a few of the rapids allowed us to just steer through and let the current carry us. It was a long day but everyone stuck with it (hell, there’s no way out once you start!) and even Jared who quit having fun about two hours into the trip made a real hand.
But here’s the deal: this “race” is designed as a “survival style” event. It’s a fund-raiser which, according to the organizers, is actively providing services for folks in our hill country who are undergoing chemo without insurance, family or financial support. Paddling down the “survivor style race” might be considered a metaphor to the persons struggling with a much greater challenge. It also aligns with Livestrong attitude of survivorship and challenge and meets some otherwise unmet needs for survivors in our wonderful, rural Highland Lakes/Hill Country place.