Bikerafting the Shenandoah

…continued from Weekend 2: Return to the New River Gorge

It was my third weekend to do something adventurous, and I wanted to get in at least one good packrafting trip on a local Virginia river. In my area there are three: the Shenandoah, the Maury, and the James. Having grown up in the same watershed, as both streams from my family’s farm eventually get there, nowhere felt closer to home than the Shenandoah.

I decided to paddle the section between the towns of Elkton and Shenandoah, since both had accessible launch points. At first, I thought I could lock my bike somewhere near the takeout at Shenandoah, drive back to Elkton, float downriver to it, and then ride back. Then I changed my mind, broke the bike down, and strapped it to the bow of my raft along with my day cargo, and brought it with me on the river.

I had done a lot of trips with the bike or the raft, but this was the first time that I combined them. I had seen trip reports of other guys doing this in more remote places, and figured it was time to test the whole bikerafting idea myself. I pushed my bike-heavy raft out into calm water and paddled by a herd of cattle from a nearby farm. It was a bit awkward at first, as everything wasn’t entirely secure, but I managed. I didn’t have a full paddle range and needed to push the bike out further to paddle comfortably. That aside, it was fairly easy to get around in the water. And Alpacka rafts are more than capable of supporting that kind of gear.

As for the river, it was about what I expected. Most of the rivers in the valley are pretty tame, with Class I-II rapids spread out between big stretches of flatwater. The Shenandoah and the James don’t really pick up until they cut through the Blue Ridge Mountains, giving way to bigger Class III rapids and rock gardens. At the end of the summer, the levels were low, and navigating the rapids really had more to do with finding the deepest channels so I wouldn’t scrape over the riverbed. I had to get out a couple times to drag my boat over shallow areas. I went fairly swiftly on a gradient for the first five miles, which was great. The end stretch had a long, boring pool of two miles to the dam at Shenandoah.

I made it to the exit ramp after a couple hours, reassembled my bike, packed up my raft, and rode back to Elkton. Cause after all, I am nothing if not portable.

Packrafts can bring more options to your cycling expedition. Like me, you don’t have to let water stop you. They are rugged enough to get you and your bike across rivers, lakes, and even fjords. And they open up even more options, if like me, you like to run big rivers. You can ride out somewhere remote, stash your bike, and paddle down a whitewater run without the hassle of coordinating shuttles.

The biggest consideration I learned right away was that paddling with my bike and cargo greatly reduces its maneuverability. It is more than capable as a standalone boat in technical swiftwater, but I don’t recommend paddling with your bike and gear on anything higher than Class II rapids.

That, and touring with one will take some trial and error. My packraft and river gear add about ten pounds to my bike cargo, which I hate carrying on my back for very long. The top of the front or back pannier racks would be ideal for storage. Definitely be as ultralight as you can with the rest of your stuff, and keep in mind that a trailer won’t work unless you’re willing to go back and forth over a river, and that’s probably overkill. It may be worth it to ship the raft somewhere ahead of you, as I’ve done before.

Further information on the technique of bikerafting can be found here.

On my way back home, I pulled off the road for some good diner food at Thunderbird Cafe, solely because of the name. It didn’t disappoint.

Weekend 4: Gauley Season!