Advice on preparing for trip

What has always drawn me to water is the connectedness - that with the right skill and boat, I could paddle from my local river to anywhere in the world. This was my first year as a kayak owner, so both my skill and boat are not up to the task . . . yet. I have set a goal for Spring 2008 to paddle my home river (Rivanna) to the confluence with the James River and down to the Chesapeake Bay, perhaps a brief trip past the mouth of the bay just to have technically made it to the Ocean.

So far my paddling experience consists of frequent trips on mellow rivers (Class 1 w/ some isolated Class 2), paddling on my local lake, and a few paddles in tidal estuaries - Lynnhaven Inlet, Murrell’s Inlet, etc. I have tried to challenge myself by going out in adverse weather, heavier volume, etc. My solo camping experience is even skimpier than my paddling.

This will be about a seven day trip with one area of whitewater for which I will probably hire a guide (and rent an appropriate boat) - the rest begins as a mellow river and gradually widens into a wide tidal river then bay.

I would like your advice about how to:

  1. Get my paddling and outdoor skills up to par. What are the essential skills that I will need to master.
  2. What type of boat should I look to use. My Perception Montour 11.0 is friendly, but not up to the task for space or potential conditions.
  3. What types of paddling experiences should I gain next year to be ready?
  4. What are the best resources for river maps, guides, etc.

    It is important to me to make this paddle solo and to do it safely. Thanks for helping me begin thinking about this trip.

Background stuff

– Last Updated: Oct-19-06 6:10 PM EST –

You ask a great question. Just to get a little more info - are you within reasonable reach of something like a paddle club or organization that holds winter pool/training sessions, what kind of time are you interested in putting into your own skills work, have you thought about boats at all or are you open to the hoards of suggestions that'll come your way (for 16' and up sea kayaks), how big are you (height/weight)?

Thanks in advance for wading back in.

More Info

– Last Updated: Oct-20-06 12:44 AM EST –

I'm 6'0 about 200 lbs so a somewhat roomier boat may be better. I am not sure about winter classes around here - I have not come across any, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. If anyone has suggestions in Central VA, please speak up. :-)

As far as boats go, my experience is limited. Obviously it will need sufficient storage capacity for tent, sleeping bag and some supplies. This trip is down a fairly populated route, so I will not need to provision for the entire trip. I would prefer a boat that I can continue to grow into after this trip - I envision less need for expedition capacity, but definitely want something that could also handle bigger water. Realistic budget for this boat is up to $1500 or so.

I have been doing flatwater training runs of about 6 miles from 1 to 3 times per week, trying to focus on form (hopefully I am not reinforcing bad habits) and stamina - being able to do the run without breaks in paddling. As the days have grown shorter, I am only getting out about once a week. I try to get out on the river as well, but again limited by daylight and life.

My wife has suggested paddling all sections of the trip individually in '07, but that seems somehow anti-climatic to me once the '08 trip comes around. Your thoughts?

planning and camping
i’m not familiar with your area so i don’t know how far the trip is, but the fact that you’ve already set 7 days to finish the trip should mean you’ve carefully studied the map and derived that time frame based on what you can comfortably cover each day on that particular body of water, not based on the total distance divided by the numbers of days you have available.

what i mean is if you know you can comfortably travel 8 hours a day, going about 4 miles/hour, then, in theory, you can cover about 32 miles a day. however, when you actually get on the water, your travel distance may change greatly. for example, will you be going against, or with, the current on some of the rivers? depends on how fast that river is moving, those 32 miles will either be a breeze or a struggle. take the portages, if any, into consideration, too.

then, having a very rough idea of how far you can travel each day, are there actual camp sites/hostels/hotels along the route that will fit in with your plan? if not, be prepared for those tough days.

as for camping, if you have the gear you’re going to use on the trip, you should go camping a couple of times and get an idea of just how long it’ll take you to set up camp, cook your meals, and, the next morning, break camp. this way, you can get an idea of when you should stop for the day (this will tell you about how many hours you can be on the water each day.)

some of the more important items you’ll need for camping are the tent and the stove. being in a kayak, you don’t have as much of a weight constrain as that of a hiker so your tent choices can be broader, however, make absolutely sure you have a leak proof tent. get comfortable putting it up and taking it down. unless you have a large tent, having a vestibule is essential if rain is even a remote possibility.

unless you don’t mind eatting cold food for a week, you must know how your stove works!

learn to read a map and use a compass to navigate. know the magnetic declination for your area. despite what i said about average paddling speed and how that can change based on the river conditions, you can still use it for dead reckoning. just try to keep the river condition in mind when estimating.

i don’t know how developed most of the area you’ll be traveling is but having a topo map can help you locate where you are.

all the above suggestions are what works for me. it’s not for everyone. i’m not by any stretch of the imagination the “planning” type who needs to make a iron clad schedule for everything, but i have found it necessary to properly and carefully plan for extended trips, especially when some major elements are out of you hands (weather and river condition.) proper planning doesn’t mean you can’t deviate from it, it just helps you get as realistic an idea of what to expect as you can. even after all that work, know that once you get on the water, some things will still be beyond your control and you need to have the flexability to adjust.

First thoughts
Gotta scoot to work but a couple of thoughts.

First, at your size you have a lot of expedition length - 16 to 17 and a half ft - boats that’ll fit you fine, plastic as well as fiberglass. You are in a pretty sweet spot for that. And don’t make any judgements about roominess until you’ve had a chance to get some instructions in kayaking. With your present experience, it is unlikely that you’ll have the physical experience to understand why so many kayakers seem to like feeling like sardines in their boat. It is for practical reasons.

This is my real quick run-down of basic skills that I’d say you need to paddle alone. Frankly all of this will probably be best handled if you look around for pool sessions, WW would be fine.

  1. Proficiency in at least two or three ways of re-entering your boat in the case of a capsize.
  2. Solid basic strokes to manage a boat in some current - practice and some comfort in edging, good sweep strokes and a mix of a few bow and stern control stokes like draw and rudder strokes.
  3. Ability to manage a skeg or rudder repair in the field, also very basic hull repair. (mostly extensive use of duct tape for the latter)
  4. Basic first aid.
  5. Good understanding of and the correct clothing to handle dressing for immersion - usually means to dress for the water temps rather than the air.

    Just a start. The equipment list is a loong list - but gotta go and there are people on this board who are a lot more practiced at this kind of trip than I am.

Get yourself into good physical
condition. You can have all the right stuff and reasonable skills, but if you don’t have the strength and stamina to save your hide at the end of a tiring day you may be risking your life. This is particularly important because you will be solo. Even in a populated area, don’t rely on other people to notice that you’re in need of help.

Do a two to three day test trip with the equipment you plan to use. Make adjustments as necessary.

Relax and enjoy the trip!

I have a question.
You said that you have been doing “6 mile training trips”, and you also said that this is a “seven day trip”

What is the total length of the trip in miles?

I am assuming that it is a lot longer than forty two miles, and if it is such that you will be needing to paddle eighteen to twenty miles a day, then the six mile training paddles won’t help you very much.

Just like training for a marathon, what you should be doing is LSD (long slow distance).

This will toughen up your hands, (think blisters), as well as your entire body.

I also think it would be advisable to do a two or three day overnighter where you would have to cover more than fifteen miles per day.

I for one think that you should be in the proper shape where you can enjoy every minute of the paddle, and it not be a suffering experience.

Also keep giving more info here and asking more specific questions from time to time.



Conditioning Thoughts
I hadn’t thought of this earlier, but one thing that is heard too often is that paddlers go out on long trips and come back with wrist or shoulder damage from a poor forward stroke that takes months to heal. At least for the 45 plus yr olds on this board.

The conditioning advice here is great. I’d add getting coaching for an efficient, non-wearing forward stroke to my list to dovetail with that.

Also, a trip of a couple of nights camping would give you a chance to make some dry runs with your equipment. If you got to a campsite and the skies open just as you had the first tent pole out, you’ll need to know without much thought how to get the tent up quickly and exactly how your gear was stowed so that you could can get the most critical stuff under shelter.

What kind of budget do you have for boat, clothing and gear? With just the kayak and what is physically attached to it or you - boat, PFD, skirt, main and spare set of paddles, paddle float, pump, hat, gloves, cell phone or radio, flares, lights and/or foghorn or other such warning devices - it’s getting to be a lot of stuff. And the kayak is really the only thing that you want to get used.

Learn from others first
My suggestion is to join up with others on paddling trips of several days to gain experience and to learn what equipment, tripping skills, and camping skills work for others first. Check into local paddling clubs or maybe the get-together board for opportunites near you. Then go out solo on shorter trips to refine your gear and your skills.

My take, which as ususal is different
I agree on getting fit. Now, find out who is a serious expedition paddler or ex-Olympian, pro paddler etc., and take one on one lessons. You’ll do in a week what could take years in a club. Clubs can be fine, but I think you’ll fast track far better away from them.

Next, learn to go light. Most folk here don’t know what I’m talking about, and few have done any long trips it seems. E-mail me directly and I’ll see if it’s appropriate to hook you up with some serious paddlers…they are out there.

Private v Clubs
If you can find someone to work with you one on one, I’d tend to agree that you’ll end up making faster progress than going thru most local clubs for skills. But there is also the matter of spending sheer time in the seat to condition up for the trip, and some people find that easier if they hook up with a club so there are regular paddles to join in. Or some do better at going it alone to get the miles in - only you can judge which of these personalities you are.

There is also the matter of practicing things, many of which are simply easier at first with other people so that you can ask someone to be ready with a bow if your brace doesn’t work, that kind of thing. Even with good coaching, it isn’t going to stick unless you spend some time working away from that support system to develop real confidence.

a guide to your troubles
Here you…all you need to know about starting off kayaking. Depending if its leisure or racing


IT provides you with guides, tips and informations on kayak sprinting, marathon, recreational. Sharing also, paddleing & rowing techniques, training plans, buying tips.

About the Boat

You might want to try a valley kayak. You would probably want to go with a plastic one because of your budget. They run around $1500. These boat can handle rough water and you will not gorw out of them. The only thing is that they are expedition kayaks and range from 16 to 18 feet. I’m not sure this is what your looking for. However, if it is I might suggest the Aqunaut, which is about 17 feet (I think) or the Arguanaut which is about the same thing but has a larger voulme resulting in a larger cockpit. Both these boats are relatively fast and don’t have bad manueverability for a sea kayak, especially once you learn to edge them. Just keep in mind that as your skills improve you will probably start leaning towards have a tighter fitting cockpit. Make sure you paddle them before you buy one.

More info
Posted this as a reply to a reply, so re-posting here so everyone sees it. Novice at this message board stuff too.


Thanks to everyone for your suggestions. Keep them coming. I have done several river paddles in the 25 mile range and each time have felt like I could have paddled another couple hours comfortably. All of these were with good water flow following some rain, but looking at average flow rates I think I should have good water for the first half of the trip - after that there will be tidal currents at work as well. I will definitely have to work on conditioning - a lot!

There is an outdoor adventure club here in town - guess I need to start making friends and getting active with them for outdoor as well as kayaking opportunities.

The trip will consist of about 25 miles of small river (40 feet wide) with frequent ripples and some scattered class 1 rapids. Once I join with the James it is a much wider river with more volume - from there to Richmond is about 70 river miles. Richmond is where there is bigger white water and falls that will have to be portaged. I really think for this section I will get a guide and rent a whitewater kayak, just to say I paddled it - or at least most of it. From Richmond to Hampton, near the mouth of the James appears to be another 95 river miles. The river gets significantly wider nearning 5 miles across near the mouth. Depending on time and where I finally decide I want to end the trip I could have another days paddle from the mouth of the James at the Chesapeake Bay.

I read an account of a canoe trip that followed most of this same route and it took him about 7 days. I will have some time to play with, so hopefully will not have to cut the trip short if progress is slower than expected.

Sounds like
you’re pretty fit already. Long days are a combination of fitness and technique. Don’t worry about a boat just yet!! I’m gonna plug one of my long time paddlin buds, George Gronseth, in Seattle as a possible coach. Take a one week one-on-one from him, and THEN, think about a boat. George offers superb instruction not only in paddling skills, but all the additional skills required to travel safely. He does the best job I’ve seen of navigation, Rules, minimum impact etc. Very thorough. Next, do some week long trips etc., with experienced paddlers. If out my way we’ll take you surfing. Time in the surf will make you are far better rough water paddler.

None of this is hard, and there’s no reason you cannot become a skilled smart, long journey ready paddler in a year of focused effort.

Some will argue that, but I think it’s very doeable.

Also, don’t listen to weekenders regarding capacity, gear etc. Talk to those who DO long journeys and you’ll get useful info. The gear you decide on is vital. Keep it light , simple, and leave the damn folding seat at home! Take care, and have fun with your prep.

Work yourself up to comfortably doing 15-20 miles on flat water a day . Take a couple classes from skilled whitewater guys so you know what to do in current. Pick your gear wisely,get comfy with what youre bringing,a good night’s sleep is priceless over a week long trip.To each their own in this aspect, some like a big 2 person tent to sleep in alone, i am the opposite and feel much comfier in a bivy.whatever makes you comfiest.

Boat-i am very tempted to suggest a Current Designs Sirocco because it should fit your size pretty good and is tough,manouverable and has lots of room for gear-but pick yourself,AFTER you develop the skills,not before. sounds like should be a fun trip.

Trying Boats
I suggest that you really follow up on that local adventure club, see if they have winter pool sessions, and use that connection to get some freebie tries of boats. Most paddlers are more than happy to let you try their boat - it gives them a chance to talk your ears off about it afterwards. Paddles too - you will care a lot about your paddle on that long a trip and it is usually a bear to find places that’ll let you try out paddles.

“Bigger WW” ??
What class?

If it is II and below you don’t need a white water boat or a guide.

If it is more than II and you will need a WW boat, where are you going to put your camping gear?

With the river trips that you have already paddled, it sounds to me like you are good to go, but you need a few prior overnight trips just for the camping experience and to get rid of the novice camping bugs.

Make sure you have a GPS and charts of the river and a good supply of batteries so you will know your mileage.

Your kayak should be a 17 footer, plastic, and about 22 or 23" wide, with a rudder, (even if you don’t use it). You will be glad you have it when you get down to the real wide sections and get in some strong quartering winds.



Another question
Some of the whitewater in Richmond is supposedly Class 3 and 4 - too big for expedition yak. Good question about what to do with boat and gear - it is not too far from home so I could probably talk my wife or a friend to come babysit for me.

Another question - I don’t know how long the portages (and carrying to camp) will be, but I was looking at a 16’ kayak in a local store and well - these suckers are BIG. I’m a relatively strong guy, but the length alone seems daunting to me to carry on riverside trails. On a trip like this, would y’all suggest some type of wheel system or is there another trick to ground transport?

No luck on local pool classes yet, but I’m going to keep trying. I am also considering one on one with a distance paddler as Salty suggested. Any suggestions - particularly anyone in or willing to come to the Mid-Atlantic? Someone that would only charge an arm, not arm and leg would be great. :slight_smile:

Portage cart

– Last Updated: Oct-28-06 7:11 AM EST –


I made this from a old baby jogger. this is the second one I made.
I got one at a thrift shop for $10 and the other one was given to me.
You just strip all the crap off it, cut the front wheel off, duct tape some pool noodles to it, and attach a couple of cam lock buckle straps to it.
We used it on the Adarondak 90 miler a few years back for our canoe, and one of the portages was a mile long, and a couple of them were just goat paths. It works as good or better than anything you can buy due to the 16 inch wheels.
It folds down flat, so you can strap it to the back deck of your kayak

Why waste time and/or money on a "trainer" .
You said that you have had several long trips.
Just see if you can get another paddler who is adventuresome to join you.
Put a post on the "Getting together and going paddling" forum.