Plan, pack light, travel, hike, raft… a gap year rehearsal

Since our last trip into Sarek it has been quite hectic, to say the least. It’s hardly possible reaching the kitchen from the bedroom. Maps, gear, boxes and dust scatter the house. Our cat is roaming around the house, but seem not to find her peace. There is a growing suspicion towards the 2-legged-ones. What the heck are you guys doing? Are you moving out? Or you going to leave me behind? This leads to more scratches after the usual evening coddling.

Packing for a general rehearsal on hiking and packrafting in the Alps - click for more details

Packing for a general rehearsal on hiking and packrafting in the Alps – click for more details

This isn’t preparing for a regular trip. This swallows every second of free time. We’re 6 weeks away from a gap year of a packraft-thruhiking adventure on 3 continents. With legs hanging we shoveled to our bosses for an aproval letter for a career interuption. You enter the office and close the door behind you. They already know how late it is. We’ve been there before. It’s times like these, when unknown facial expressions uncover. Thank you Els and Tim, loving bosses, for aproving us to live our dream.

Climbing up to the snowy pass, on a quest for the Lech River.

Climbing up to the snowy pass, on a quest for the Lech River.

We are in an unceasing quest of organising, checking, testing, evaluating, discussing our gear. Yeah I have been spending hours, days, weeks, months bent over maps. That’s fun and quite easy. Mapping, planning and organizing is 1. But gear considerations is the uttermost important part of the preperation. And small 3-4 day mini-adventures to keep the quest and finetuning going. i have been promising gear reviews here. They will appear. Deadlines, I hate them.

Scouting for a packraft put-in along the Lech River

Scouting for a packraft put-in along the Lech River

Since 2 years we made a complete switch from classical backpacking to lightweight. Pack light. The key issue for the plans we have in mind for the gappy year. Previous backpacking trips in wilderness areas made us realize we need something to overcome that frustrating problem. Besides that we didn’t want rivers, lakes or fjords to be an obstacle anymore. During 2 months Arctic Scandinavia and 5 months Patagonia, we will haul our Unrigged Explorer Packraft. Volume, weight, durability, funcionality. Always a discussion. We’ll need a framed pack for the mentioned packrafting destinations. There going to be streches of hiking/rafting on which we will need to carry gear and food for 14 days without resupply. For the 3-month thru-hiking of the Nepalese part of the Great Himalaya Trail we’ll exchange the packraft and framed pack, for a frameless pack, filled with crampons and ice axe, and a multifuel stove.

To river or not to river... packraft considerations

To river or not to river… packraft considerations

We are proud to anounce that 2 cottage manufacturarers have taken partnership with us, by providing us significant discount on their gear and food. We are not active on a search for sponsors or partners, but if you feel like 2 fools living outside for a year on some remote parts of the world is a good test case for checking functionality/durability of your cottage gear in development, just shout. We’ll glad to be a field rabbit.

Sean at Oookworks is finishing a nest for our Twing Tarp, which we will use as the only shelter for the whole upcoming year. When it arrives in the coming week you may expect an update on the blog for a first review.

The nice Dutch people at Globetrotter Outdoor Foods are helping and providing us discount on huge amounts of home-made dehydrated food for the Arctic and Patagonian part of the year. Our food drying machine just can’t handle the job alone.

In the coming 6 weeks there will be maps apearing on the site, giving you some insight on what we have planned. Please come back and have a look. If you are familiar with the areas, please give feedback.
Just like in the past we look forward on meeting new people on the way. Fresh ideas will spark alternatives. Beside that weather conditions will determine our plans. That’s for sure. Thank you weather for being bad at times. It will force us to change intentions and provide us with memorable experiences in the other option. Flexibility. You bet!

Bivaouc along the banks of the Lech River

Bivaouc along the banks of the Lech River

We look forward to a physical and mental challenge. A battle. Sometimes it’s going to be tough. Pffff what’s tough. Tough is battling to survive. Like millions of people do every day. Spoiled Western tourists. Do something extra-ordinary with your life. Hike, pack, raft… but take time for the people too. We are investigating local volunteer options in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia. That’s where we hope to end our trip between May and August 2013.

The trip report from our last general rehearsal 4-day trip has been put in video. It somewhere summarises what you might expect us doing for the upcoming year, when it’s gonna be quiet on the blog, but a little bit louder out there. That’s what you get when I get out. I can be loud. Necessary for trying to overrule them wild silences. Please push play. And have a look in the album.

Overnight trippin’ with a packraft

After weeks of paddling in our living room, struggling with lines, straps and bulky fake packs we finally found some sort of configuration to fit it all in and around the packraft. Yes, we are kind off ready to pull out the “2 person – full gear – 1 boat” – packrafting theme. For upcoming backpacking – packrafting expeditions we not only have to learn how to comfortable fit it all in the raft, we also have to have the skill to do a fluid change-over from backpacker to packrafter and back, because the get in and get out theme could be quite some hassle if you don’t figure out a good procedure. A lot of cursing would follow during the next 48 hours. Wicked! Our first float on a real river, with packs on the go.

GoLite Pinnacles strapped on the Packraft

GoLite Pinnacles strapped on the Packraft

A misty weekend at the end of february. The serpentine Semois River winds its way on a slow pace trough the thawing Belgian Ardennes. Winter is the best time to go paddling in the Ardennes, because over spring and summer water levels drop dramaticly, which would do no good to a packraft, rubbing the rocky river bed.

It’s amazing how stable the Unrigged Explorer floats the water. We have a 4-piece kayak paddle, which we split over the 2 of us, each paddling a part canoe style, with an added T-piece to the tail. Thanks to the techniques described in Roman’s bible we quickly get the hang of it. You have no idea on how fast this beast can make a turn. On one strong stroke you’re turned perpendicular against the current if you want to.

Lightning fast water navigation, that’s what a packraft can do for you, even if you’re 2 in 1 boat and loaded with 2 packs! There’s not much space left in the boat, so Katrijn sits between my legs, with her knees bend in front. The Kamasutra of Packrafing calls this the Honeymoon Position. Word! Katrijn does the scouting for rocks, potholes, trees,… shouting all kind of strange noises to atract my attention on quickly action – reaction. With 2 in 1 packraft, you can not add a spray deck, so we’ll have water in the boat when we reach the PR2-3 class. That’s gonna mean a lot of in and outs.

Bivouac along the Semois

Bivouac along the Semois

Did you know that swans do not like (yellow) packrafts? They fly over in herds just 30cms above our heads almost picking our caps. Heart pounding. They are extremely aggressive if you come too close by. And the comfort zone is easy reached. One moment I really tought a swan would slaughter our beast, wich gave the sleepy valley an early wake up call when I openend my panic throat.

The nice thing with the meandering Semois, is that we can test out a bunch of times the backpacking – packrafting change-over. Floating some curves. Get out. Hiking over the hills and put the boat back in the river. We had quite some attention from the locals in the small villages. Are you walking around with paddles? So you kayak? No we packraft. Look at my back. An inflatable boat? You guys are nuts! It’s winter! Kayak season is summer. Probably.

A pit stop at the local pub of Alle - refilling on La Chouffe

A pit stop at the local pub of Alle - refilling on La Chouffe

We had quite some new gear to field test out, like Katrijn’s fresh pair of Inov 8 Terroc’s and our new RAB Photon Jackets. But I’ll put that in a future blog. The packraft may take a rest now, coming up is the Marathon of Rome and a 16-day Sarek winter trip.

More pics of our trip you will find here in our online album.

Packrafts are now official for sale in Europe in the Packrafting Store through Sven and Marc from packrafting.de.

Packrafting Store

Packrafting Store

Walk on water – Packrafting

Half-way January… childishly eagerly awaiting the mailman… The beast is arriving! Ding-dong! Hi mailman. Big box. Yeah. Boats in there. Boats? Yeah, never mind. Bye. Unwrapping. 2 boats. Yeah, one small boat for Joery, one big boat for us. Yellow blinking. Unfolding. Wooooow. How to inflate this thing? Oh, a bellow bag. Handy. That’s fast. Heart pounding. This is exciting. When can we go out to tame the beast!

Baptising the beast

Baptising the beast

Lazy sunday… Forecast predicts freezer temperatures for the coming week. Just before the water loozes its fluidity for a week or more, we go out for a couple of kms from our house and find a perfect spot for baptising the beast in an old cut-off meander of the mighty Schelde. Sunday joggers and passing mountainbikers put up a crazy frown. No it’s not E.T. phoning home, it’s 2 crazy Belgians going for a first float.

Why the hell an inflating boat? For us it’s a natural continuation of our wilderness travels. While backpacking in remote areas, we always are most afraid of crossing hurling waters. This is the safe answer. In stead of walking for days around the fjord, we can now cut it off… Backpacking is not only hiking, it does not stop on fluid boundaries. This is walking on waters. Float. Be free.

Katrijn is walking on water

Katrijn is walking on water

2.6kg for a 2-person boat. That’s 1.3kg per person. For the weight of a tent, we become amphibians. 1 kayak paddle. 4-piece. 2 pieces makes a blade for each of us. Paddling canoe style, that’s where we are going. A big thumb for Sven, from Packrafting.de. He did an excellent job in handling all business with Alpacka Rafts, clearing customs and providing us with all necessary advice in how to start with this thingy. Finishing Roman’s bible. It’s a splash. The unrigged explorer. It’s on. The ice is broken. Now we have to load our beast with our gear. Stay tuned.