Down a Lazy River

October 26, 2006
Filed under Travel

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Because of the interminable rain, I had mostly stayed indoors for two days, settling into the poker room at the Colorado Belle in Laughlin, Nevada, as though hiding from the law. After I had lost enough money to buy the chair I had been sitting in, I ventured out into the drizzle to wander across the street to the simple RV park in the Ramada Express parking lot and to check out the extremely large, complete Riverside Resort RV Park nearby. Both were fine places to set up camp, and snowbirds by the hundreds had either set up their winter homesteads in these locations or were spending a few days in Laughlin before continuing south to Yuma.

Those Laughlin casinos that do not have specific sites for self-contained rigs (though most of them do) generally don’t hassle RVers who park away from the casinos, needing a place to sleep off their gambling losses. I was in Laughlin as much for the town’s proximity to the Colorado River as for its gambling. The casinos overlook the river, and as I walked the boardwalk, glancing down at the carp and the tourist boats, I wondered whether I was crazy. Now, my friends and family will gladly provide evidence upon request that traditional definitions of sanity and I don’t generally appear in the same sentence. I prefer the terms “iconoclast” and “eccentric” to “nut job” and “whacko,” but for the sake of this column, let’s simply go with “freelance writer.” It was not, however, my societal image or my paltry contribution to the GNP that made me contemplate my stability as I gazed into the murky Colorado. It was, in fact, the stability of the craft I intended to ply these waters in — if the rain ever subsided.

The next day arrived bright and clear, and the blue sky taunted me. I had no more excuses. I would float the mighty Colorado in a new inflatable canoe, a boat I had never been in, and I would pursue this aquatic adventure alone. Okay, it’s neither as dumb nor as adventurous as it sounds. The famous stretch of the Colorado that features mile after mile of gut-wrenching rapids bounding through the Grand Canyon is far north of the water I intended to run. Or is that walk? The Colorado that meanders past Laughlin flows between two dams, Davis — holding back Lake Mohave, just north of town — and Parker–holding back Lake Havasu to the south. I hoped that canoeing down this calm patch of water would be as close to “running the Grand Canyon” as parking outside the Old Brickyard is to racing in the Indy 500.

I walked the boardwalk once again, looking for trouble spots, and saw none. I drove across the river to the Arizona side and explored Davis Camp State Park in Bullhead City. A sign below the dam warned that enough water could suddenly be released from the dam to create an 8-foot wall of water. This was something to think about. I asked a guy with a kayak on his truck’s roof if he’d ever run this stretch of water. “Why bother?” was his reply. I asked a Highway Patrol officer if I needed any kind of permit to float this section. His look made me wonder if I even needed a boat. Which made me feel OK, since the craft I intended to use will fit in a large suitcase. Literally. I noticed that the bag that the Stearns IC140 comes in would squeeze into a rolling suitcase, allowing me to wheel it instead of muscling it.

Not that the boat is all that heavy. The company claims the two-person inflatable canoe weighs only 35 pounds, but the press release also claims that the IC140′s weight capacity is 500 pounds — a fact contradicted by the 425-pound limit posted on the boat itself. Suffice to say that the canoe, when deflated, can easily be hauled by the average person. I plugged the selectric pump into my Explorer’s lighter, and I had the canoe’s two side bladders, separate floor chamber and two inflatable seats filled in 10 minutes. I liked the look of the IC140, its deep-green color, built-in lash-lines, multiple D-rings and waterproof valuables pocket all meeting my approval.

Whether its Boston valves held air and its heavy-duty outer shell proved durable enough to withstand the rigors of a river novice had yet to be seen. I HAD A FELLOW RVER WATCH the boat in the Riverside Resort parking lot as I drove the Explorer to a park about two miles downriver on the Arizona side. I rode my bike back, locked it up and slipped into my personal flotation device (PFD). I grabbed a double-bladed kayak paddle, took along a two-piece Stearns canoe paddle as backup, hoisted the 11-1/2-foot-long canoe onto my shoulder, then lowered the boat from the nearby dock into the water. I shoved off, and the gentle current eased me downriver.

Momentarily I regretted not having tried out the boat — tested its maneuverability, ensured that it was air-tight — in flat water. But within seconds I felt comfortable enough to venture away from shore. Of course, this comfort was partly attributed to the fact that the river was extremely shallow. It looked like I could wade across, though I had no intention of testing this hypothesis. “Dry is good” became my mantra as I paddled gently past the Flamingo and the Edgewater. When I pulled abreast of the Colorado Belle, the casino built to resemble a giant riverboat, I waved at my money. I felt great, and the boat performed beautifully. I didn’t like the tourist boats that raced by, their wakes bouncing the inflatable around a bit. But I made it to the take-out safely and smiling, in about 40 minutes. The mud I stepped into changed my disposition. As I tried desperately to extract my feet from the stinky glue-like bog, I wondered how often that 8-foot wall of water came rushing downriver.

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