Aging gracefully behind the paddle, your thoughts?

The driftboat intrigues me. I’m with you the kayak simply isn’t comfortable, and I’d like to find an alternative to the canoe, particularly in whitewater.

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You can look up driftboats easily and see some in videos. They are made for rivers, and can handle rough water, but are not as forgiving as rafts. I think they are beautiful and they row like a sports car compared to a loaded raft which rows like a barge.

Most weigh around 250-275 pounds. They can be lined but not portaged unless you have a trailer.

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How to get started? My wife and I had a trip of a lifetime on a week long trip in the Grand Canyon in a whitewater dory. But, that was as a passenger and my experience with rafts is here on the east coast in paddle rafts.

I’ve actually rowed a lot of rowboats even those of my own construction, but I know that rowing a drift boat is a whole different technique.

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Is a river dory the same as a drift boat? I don’t yet know that answer, but can certainly recommend the book “Emerald Mile” with enthusiasm!

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I’m no expert, but as I understand it they’re different because the whitewater dory has a self-bailing capability and watertight compartments, and the driftboat is open. @ppine probably has a better answer.

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I saw a gentleman with a child on the lake in a drift boat last year. It had a small outboard on it and I was really surprised by how well it moved across the water. I’ve seen hundreds of them on the river and know folks who own them, but that was the first time I’ve seen one used in that manner. I can absolutely see how it could be a good option!

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Emerald Mile is a classic! Here’s sort of a follow up - the Emerald Mile author is on it as is one of the participants, unless I’m mistaken.

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Thanks to PJC for this classic video. I have read the “Emerald Mile” twice and highly recommend it.

The Grand Canyon is a specialized type of whitewater with huge hydraulics, holes, and life threatening rapids. Martin and his contempories popularized dories on the GC, but they admit they really did not know much about what they were doing. Dories are large drift type boats in the 18-20 foot range, usually made of fiberglass with a wood frame. They sustain damage from collisions with rocks and are known to be sustain major repairs on the beaches of the GC. They have sealed compartments for flotation to account for the huge waves in the Canyon.

Modern drift boats evolved in the PNW around the McKenzie River of Oregon and pre-date GC dories. They were built to imitate the dories used for fishing in the salt water off the East Coast. The first drift boats were made of wood, but now fiberglass and aluminum boats are most popular. They are around 16 feet, some are smaller or larger. They have modern amenities like rod storage, comfortable seats, anchor systems, cup holders, fish finders and even propane heaters and pizza ovens.

A drift boat has a flat bottom and lots of rocker making them highly manueverable. They are rowed facing downstream much like a raft. Back ferrying is the main technque to learn. Its helps to have an experienced person in the boat to learn to row. DBs are becoming popular in the Rockies and the Midwest, not just the PNW.


Wow, that is fantastic!! Did you build/modify that yourself? From plans? Looks like my dream vehicle!

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No, not built by me – it was the creation of a guy in Salt Lake City who tricks them out for himself, drives each one for a few years and then sells it to finance building the next one with new features. His site is – main business is renovating and renting and selling vintage tow-behind trailers. He uses whichever conversion cargo truck he has at the time to deliver the little trailers to customers.

All the fleet companies regularly sell off their trucks (for tax reasons) and you can get them in virtually every state for far less than you would pay for a Ford Transit van or any other stock van you might think of customizing. Just google “Box truck cargo van for sale” and you will find dozens.

The box portion is fiberglass sheathed wood so cutting holes for windows and such is WAY easier than in a metal van. (All the windows slide open with screens so it has been quite comfortable without having to use the AC so far. ) Tight as a drum and not a single leak despite enduring some monsoon like rains.

Much more workable volume too than stock metal shell vans-- you can see how spacious the living space is compared to the claustrophobia of most Class B and Class C campers of similar size (overall length on this one is only 22’ so I have little trouble parking it anywhere I need to.)

I had been looking for several years for a compact camper and did not want a factory one, since they are designed to leak within a few years and are overpriced and a pain to modify or repair (been there, done that.) I had almost given up and was considering how to build my own when I stumbled across this one for sale. The overhead door being intact was ideal for hauling boats (and for utility use when I do homeowner projects) and I love that everything is accessible for maintenance and upgrades. At my age traveling with my own bathroom is a luxury I do not want to live without again.

The luxury of being able to pull over into any highway rest stop and eat, shower and sleep self-contained has really helped facilitate my solo travels.

I think his YouTube video tour of it may still be up. For someone wanting to build their own it gives some information on what components he used. He has a friend who works for Penske and lets him know when units in good shape are being sold by them. I think this was his third build and he sold it to build a larger one. I figure he had about $25 K into it (about what I paid for it) – you can’t get a factory camper with those amenities that isn’t already leaking like a sieve or has other issues for twice that these days. I know, because I was on the hunt for a while and Covid has driven the prices up even more.

I told him he could make a lot of money selling these but he does not want the bother – says he is getting too old to want to fold himself into a pretzel to get the stuff installed, I then suggested he make a video and/or print instruction manual on how to build one and sell it, but he did not seem interested.


All too true!


What I find most unappealing is getting gear together (didnt follow my prep so I left my phone, GPS, and velco strap to stabilize my VHF to the PFD at home) I hate loading and unloading, getting in and out of the boat, sponging water out of the boat, loading and unloading again, then cleaning gear when I get home.

I never really think twice about the pain of endurance. It’s not much different than when I was younger. Just takes longer to stop hurting, and some things never stop hurting. Part of life.

I’m battling back lost two inches on my belt holes. My 38" Carhartts are loose no longer sucking it in to button. Great feeling biggest help is thinking before eating so I’m happy after I ate. I’m happy 4 hours later not just 15 minutes then sad. I’m 6’ 69 in two months. No snacks in the house.


For some people the organization becomes overwhelming. I have been on a canoe trip with a guy that was OCD about his equipment. We had to wait for him every morning to pull out all of his equipment and organzie it.

A friend just cancelled a salmon fishing trip in the drift boat, because he cannot handle getting his equipment together. I would much rather organize boat equipment, than any other kind.

One of the secrets to a happy life, is to learn to appreciate the chores of life. Chop wood, carry water, do the dishes. Relish the rhythm of daily life, and then appreciate trips when you can deviate from it.


Remember when you bitch be glad your not looking at a hospital ceiling.

Years ago guy on coffee truck was bitching. It was cold, dark, and rainy. I said I bet many in a hospital bed would swap places. He said I won’t complain anymore.

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That’s funny, but sad at the same time. I’m systematic, but I do it so I don’t forget things. I usually store my boats at my parents house. I left my boat at my daughter’s house and changed my routine. It shouldn’t have mattered, but I left my GPS, my phone and couldn’t find my sun screen. I still can’t find my new vest. Fortunately had my old Transport PDF, but didn’t have the velcro strap that stabilizes it on the shoulder strap. Made me want to weep. Didn’t even have a watch to tell the start and finish time (I paddled an often traveled trip, so I knew the distance). I haven’t paddled without a speedometer in 15 years, so it was strange.

I’m so systematic, I just tapped into the muscle perception and had a good trip. As I launched, the NOAA station announced 1103. I switched back to the station about every mile to hear the time, and had a great time estimating my progress.

I usually go solo I would be great to have waterfront, with all my gear in one spot. Nothing worse than getting to the launch point and seeing things missing. That could be bad. I’m thinking, there’s nothing to keep me from going out right now. Got things to do. Be back in five hours.

I got in the habit of organizing during my years as an outfitter guide (when I had to assure that not just I, but each of my clients, had every bit of gear they needed for a backpacking or XC ski outing.) And also during my subsequent years as a construction electrician, when I needed to make sure I had the proper set of tools with me for whichever assignment I had – there were too many specific tools for a wide range of installations to haul them all with me so I needed to keep the inventory straight. Lots of checklists, standardized routines and locations to store items and then training myself to always return anything I used promptly to its designated location for next ready access.

I have always had multiple boats and am often equipping as many as 6 other people with my own gear for outings where they join me (yes, I know, I am guilty of enabling too many friends to avoid buying their own boats and kit – I have threatened to charge them daily rental for using my stuff but have not enacted that yet.) To simplify outfitting I bought a bunch of those tall “Swiss cheese plastic” perforated laundry totes with the handle at the top. In each one I store a breakdown paddle, a PFD with whistle and light, a bilge pump, a small dry bag or pelican box and a spray skirt for a specific one of my boats. I’ve even added a beach towel in recent years and thrown in a large emptied water bottle, mostly to remind me to fill up for day trips. I also have a “bug out” bag that has an old pair of sneakers, some running tights, a poly longsleeved top, one of my OR brimmed hats, sunglasses, small first aid kit, paddling gloves and a goretex splash top in it. Whenever I have downloaded any photos from my WP camera I return it to its pouch with spare charged batteries and put that in the “bug out” bag.

If I want to paddle I just grab a boat for each person, the plastic hampers with the matching spray skirts for each boat, my personal “bug out” bag and I am good to go.

I am blessed with a pair of huge covered porches, one open and one screened in, upon which I can deposit all gear miscellany when I return from paddling. I leave it all out there to dry and air out (after rinsing with the hose in the front yard if that is called for) and then sort and restore each item to its assigned carrier before stashing the sets in the basement.

Since I got the “toy hauler” motor home, when I do trips in that I just stash the hampers in the shower stall and the boats slide in the rear door and are strapped to the eyebolts in the floor if the Murphy bed is folded up, or lashed to the bed itself (which I cover with a cargo quilt) if the bed is deployed.

Since the motorhome functions as a mobile garage, for most of this past summer I just kept one or two boats stashed in it and would just bring in the gear totes after an outing, wash the stuff, dry on the porch and return the refilled tote to the camper. If I wanted to paddle I just grabbed the “bug out” bag and jumped in the camper to head for the water. No loading or unloading of boats necessary to get on the road.

I do keep a stash of quick portable snacks for day trips too – always have oranges and apples, granola bars, Baby Bel waxed cheeselets, crackers, etc.

Basically I am lazy. I hate having to remember where I might have left stuff and having to waste time pulling it together. So having it all ready to roll simplifies life and reduces my physical and mental effort. Same reason I never lie. Not because I am some paragon of virtuous honesty, but because the truth is way easier to remember and I am too lazy (and absent-minded) to keep track of confabulations.


I think organization is the key. Pack the same. Keep the items you need in the same place hopefully in the same bag. We keep all our small accoutrements in a mesh dive bag…bailers tow belt pumps compass…etc. Periodically I try …( try) to remember that we have not airheaded something. Todays air head maneuver is trying to find the phone dry bag if I want to take a pic on the water. Its not where it belongs !( wah). Spent two hours trying to find the appropriate chart this am…sigh, found charts to everywhere else before deep in the cabinet, voila.

The other stuff unloading me and boats and him and boats just takes more time. We have that time as long as we are not under dirt or wafting ashes in the breeze.

Willowleaf I applaud you for organizing for up to six. At 76, two is enough for me

And this graceful bit. At my age there is nothing I do that is graceful. I just try and do.

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:smile: As I get older I’ve noticed that what I once thought of as organizational became at some point habitual - until something changes; Going from packing a pick-up to packing a trailer, for instance. What was once habitual reverts to the disorganizational. Autopilot habitual is a wonderful thing…

I take some comfort in recalling that there is no trip I’ve ever been on when there wasn’t a moment of wishful thinking, around a campfire perhaps, when I didn’t think of something that would be nice but that I didn’t have at the moment. And there’s never been a trip when I didn’t bring something I didn’t use, some stuff that I just brought along and took out for a paddle around the block. Knowing when to call a job done and accepting that there will always be some “winging it” involved might even be some flavor of the wisdom that’s supposed to come with age.

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Read between the lines. My phone was sitting on the table. The GPS was sitting on the table. I didn’t pick them up. That’s life. I still don’t like prepping and breaking down. Around 10:15 i decided to go on the water. I did a 1 hr 57 minute paddle and finished clean up. Enjoyed the paddle, didn’t enjoy the three additional.hours. it the way life is.