Dick Griffith had, since the 1950s, been using an Air Force survival raft for his solo expeditions through the Copper Canyon and other locations. Not until the Wilderness Classic Race did the light finally come on for other adventurers confronting impossible water crossings.
These days almost no Alaska summer wilderness adventurer leaves home without a sub-six pound Alpacka Packraft and a four-piece breakdown kayak paddle. Add a wilderness bicycle into the mix and the world opens up anew, and the possibilities for adventure become immeasurable.
There are several types of water conditions packrafts are suitable for. Some require almost no skill or paddling background. Others can be wildly dangerous and even fatal. The first steps to becoming a packrafter are to get training from a competent instructor, find a mentor and read Roman Dial’s book, ‘Packrafting’.
There are many brands of packable one-person rafts on the market, but Alpacka Packrafts, in my opinion, stand head and shoulders above the rest. For bike/raft adventures in remote settings, Alpacka rafts perform exceptionally well and are rarely damaged beyond field-reparability.
Bikes carry rafts and rafts carry bikes, but it’s important to consider which bike and raft are most suitable if you are buying new. If the goal is to run whitewater, then buying a packraft that fits your height makes the most sense. If the goal is to do wilderness traverses with a bike it will help to have a slightly longer raft.
I use an Alpacka Denali Llama, which is a tall person whitewater raft. This raft is still in the sub-six pound class of boat but is long enough that with the bike attached to the bow I can still get a full forward stroke with my paddle. Hull speed on flat-water is 2.5 miles an hour, at best, so it’s important to be as efficient as possible.
Transitioning between modes takes some practice and establishing a routine is a helpful strategy to improve efficiency. I typically have three modes of travel on summer bike/raft trips: biking, with as much gear/weight attached to the bike as possible, hike-a-bike, where most of the gear is off the bike and in a large, lightweight backpack, and packrafting with all the gear and bike stowed on and in the raft.
There are two modes of packing the bike on the raft that I employ. For short, flat-water crossings I remove just the non-drive side pedal, flop the bike drive side up with wheels forward and strap it down. For longer or more serious water conditions I remove the pedals and wheels, set the frame down on the bow with the wheels atop, then securely strap it all down with three ladder locking straps. This is the most safe and secure way to raft with a bike but it takes some experimentation to find the best positioning.
Alpacka Rafts offer a “Cargo Fly” option for their boats, which is a waterproof zipper located on the stern of the raft. This allows the user the option to store gear within the raft before inflation. My rafts do not have this feature so I often strap one bag to the stern of the boat and place my backpack between my knees. Again, experimentation before heading out is recommended.
Although packrafts are very forgiving and hard to tip over, it is always wise to have a game plan for the worst-case scenario. Flipping a raft back upright with a bike or pack attached to the bow, while in the water, is nearly impossible. A buddy system and good communication before hitting the water is paramount.
71% of the world is covered in water and much of it is between you and your next amazing ride. Incorporating a raft into bike adventures is both liberating and exciting. With enough time and experience, the boundaries for your wilderness forays can expand exponentially, and you too can bid ado to the terrestrial bound folks.
Bjorns top 8 items you need to get started
Since birth, South Central Alaska has been the home and proving grounds of Bjørn Olson, who began life in an abandoned trappers cabin in the Wrangell Mountains his family squatted. In his late teens Bjørn was inspired by the legendary Alaskan outdoorsmen and women, whose adventures were what most defined and consumed them. Since then he has been following his own life of adventure, from mountaineering and climbing, to kayaking, packrafting and cycling. Salsa Cycles, Mountain Laurel Designs, Ground Truth Trekking and Revelate Designs are supporting sponsors of Bjørn, and he owes a huge debt of gratitude to these companies for their support.