Dude’s Trip 2016 Part 1

Our 4th Annual Dude’s Trip 2016 is officially in the books, and it’s back to real life now. Extremely busy real life. It’s taken me a while to get everything together, but finally have our trip report nearly finished.

We started planning this trip shortly after our last one in November. We had talked of snowy mountain tops or ocean views or even the Boundary Waters way up north. But things took a turn. Not a wrong turn, just a different turn.  This year’s trip was going to be a little different, but yet very familiar.

With Nicholas starting becoming a sophomore this year, he decided to give up the private school life and head to a public school. First time back since first grade. There were more opportunities for him there as opposed to private in the direction he wants to go, so he made the decision. Only problem was…public schools aren’t nearly as forgiving in regards to absenteeism as some private schools. Well, that causes a dilemma when in comes down to our annual Dude’s Trip in November. No way they’ll let him go for 5-6 days and allow him to make it all up without a whole lot of problems. So in order to keep our Dude’s Trip, we had to move up the date to summer. Hmmm, summer huh?

I don’t like summer. It’s hot. It’s hot at night. Not fun when camping on the ground, and there’s always so many more people everywhere. And they’re hot. And loud. And too many of them.

That was turn #1. Turn #2 came about during the re-planning process. The question was asked…”what if we invited one of my best friend’s Kyle and his son?” They’re father and son, we’re father and son, and this IS a father/son trip. Plus, we’re all dudes, which works out with the title of the trip. A few seconds of thought was put into it and the decision was made pretty easy. Absolutely, let’s ask them. I wrote more about all that and our test run in a previous post here… http://www.flyrivermedia.com/the-test-run/  so check it out for the full story.

We had decided on another Pecos River adventure, but with a twist. We’re heading upriver from Highbridge (40 miles west of Del Rio) as opposed to dropping in at Pandale and doing a full 60 mile trip. It was given the name, “The Pecos Boomerang” by my buddy Bert Rodriguez a few years earlier when he and his crew did it. Paddle up however many miles, camp out however many days, then turn around and come back. Part of that decision was because I didn’t feel my son was quite ready for the 60 mile river trip, at least not yet. He’s had years of experience in kayaks, and with fishing, camping, and all things outdoors, but they were mostly slow moving rivers or lakes. I’m not going to throw him into the lion’s den without a little more experience with running Class II-III, and up to Class IV, rapids like this river has. I may get a bit crazy with our adventures, but i’m a “somewhat” responsible Dad first, and like the idea of not being the reason for my son’s demise. Plus, my wife would kill me. Enough said. The other reason was because of time. I will never do that big trip again without at least…at least…7 days. If you know me and my story, then you’ll understand the Pecos and I have have a long history, and one of those trips didn’t have a happy ending. Well, we did make it out alive so that’s a pretty happy ending to most stories. 🙂

On with the trip…

After many a month of getting ready and doing all the leg work, we were getting close. I think we had every possible scenario planned out, both good and bad. Our checklists were long and gone over frequently. Many a night was spent in my buddy Kyle’s shop working on the canoe or just going over what needs to be done next. Would we go through all this trouble if it were just me and him going? I doubt it. This isn’t our first rodeo and can get it done pretty fast. Gun, check. Fishing gear, check. Jerky, check…let’s roll. But we have our boys to think about. That puts everything in a different perspective. From food, to lodging, to safety, and everything in between. It’s a bit more in depth than the usual trip, especially since it’s the Pecos. But I have to admit, i’m a bit of a planner on trips like this, and to me, half the fun is in the planning itself.

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The Night Before…

We met after work on Monday for final preparation and to get loaded up. We’d spent the last few weekends building a custom yak rack for his truck to eliminate the need to bring my yak trailer. Thank goodness he’s a welder. If it was up to me, there would have been much more duct tape and hundreds of yards of rope. It would’ve had the look of a wicker chair rolling down the highway to make sure everything was secure. I still won’t acknowledge my middle name as being “we need more rope”, no matter what my friends will tell you.

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The excitement is felt all around. Months of planning are finally at an end and within 12 hours, we will be on the road. We packed all our gear and got everything secured, then threw a tarp over the payload to prevent any cat “markings”, and called it a night.

Day 1

Nick and I arrived at Kyle’s house a little before 7am. We finished up the final tying down, and after a farewell yeehaw, we were off.

Our next stop would be at Uncle Jerry’s house, close to Box Canyon, west of Del Rio. There we would give him the keys to the truck so he could come get it from the boat ramp that afternoon, sometime, and park it at his house for the duration of our trip. The original plan was to use Emilio in Comstock, but Uncle Jerry readily agreed to take on the responsibility. I’m not sure if Jerry is actual kin to any of the team or just a close friend, but that didn’t matter, we all called him Uncle Jerry anyway because he’s such an awesome dude. 🙂

After one last pit stop for breakfast, we were at the Pecos River boat ramp at 10am.

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It took us a while to get everything unloaded and repacked into the yaks and canoe. It was already hot. Sweating hot. It was almost an hour before we were ready to shove off and begin our journey north. Everyone was in high spirits, even though we were already digging into to out water supply before we ever left the bank.

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Our Father/Son Team

The decision was already made I would be riding shotgun (bow) in the canoe for the first 8 miles we used the motor. The boys would be in the kayaks that were connected with ropes. This was to help with weight and get the maximum speed out of the 2 horse power motor as we had done in the test run before.

We were ready. It was time.

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We made good progress and averaged 5 mph with light winds to start off with. Our goal was a camp spot at mile 10.5 upriver from the ramp, so we knew we had time to explore and take our time. In the previous test run post, I discussed the reasoning behind the motor. One, I know this river and how the wind can be nasty. So having the motor on the return would be vital in making good time and not having to hire a tow out, or just having to paddle back in that horrible wind tunnel. And two, that would mean more time on the part of the river that most folks never get to see, unless you’re doing the big trip from Pandale. For an extra 45 pounds of weight, this would cut a half days paddle in easy winds, or a full days paddle in bad winds. Pretty easy decision for us.

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The Pecos Highbridge. Tallest railroad bridge in Texas.

I have to admit, I did have my reservations about bringing a motor on a paddling trip, but once we got going, I knew it was the right decision. It was nice to be able to take in all the grand scenery without my body telling me it’s time to stop and rest. That meant I can postpone the soreness a day. I’m good with that.

We came to our first stop after about an hour. It was a place I first visited back in 1993. A shelter high on the canyon wall, still in the park boundaries, it’s opening obstructed by dense vegetation and extremely hard to get to. Back in ’93, our boat motor broke down and we got up in a cove so we could figure out the problem. It didn’t take long for a non-mechanic like myself to get bored, and within a few minutes I had already wandered off leaving my two companions to remedy the situation. It’s a common flaw of mine they had grown accustomed too. I knew they had the tools, they had the talent, all I would do was get in the way and pester them with my never ending supply of bathroom humor.

After about 20 minutes I reached the shelter and once inside, I stood in absolute awe. I yelled back at my buddies and they came a runnin’ thinking something was wrong. But everything was right. That moment started my decades long journey and fascination with the great Pecos River. I’ve been back to this shelter many times. My son has visited this site with me, and now I could share this amazing experience with my best friend and his son.  It’s not often to stumble upon a shelter adorned with 5,000 year old rock art. It’s a feeling that can’t be described. It’s like going back in time. I stand there and just stare in amazement every time. It never gets old.

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I’m glad it’s so hard to get to. Still signs of graffiti, which is expected being so close to the water, and i’ve packed up trash almost every time we visited in the years past, but this visit was perfect. I guess so many years of drought and low water have kept the yahoos from being able to reach this area in their party barges. Thank goodness.

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The boys. Nick, Kyle, and Austin.

After about an hour, he headed back down to the boats and powered north. The wind was picking up, but fortunately to our backs. Within about 20 minutes, we passed by Deadman’s Canyon and gave it a wave, knowing we would stop on our way back.

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The water was starting to turn colors at this point. We started out with thick muddy water, and as we kept going it turned a yellowish white turkey gravy color, before finally clearing up a bit more.

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It was about mile 8 when we sheared our first pin signaling the last continuous use of the motor. We had plenty of pins, but we could tell it was getting more shallow and harder to see the rocks coming up in time. We got out to change the pin, and what looked like a gravel bottom to stand on, quickly turned into deep silt that acted more like quicksand with a nasty stink to it.

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But soon, we were starting to see the signs of the old river. Emerald green pools with visibility of 8-10 feet.

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When we made the hard turn at mile 9, we could see everything was changing. The lake had disappeared and now we were back to the real Pecos River. Long stretches of shallows, swift moving, and gin clear water. We got out at our first rocky shallows for some fishing and relaxing in the water. It was hot, and the cool water was a refreshing reward.

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My boy.

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I tried to fly fish this stretch, but it seems the San Angelo winds follow me where ever I go. Even worse when I whip out the ol’ fly rod. So, not willing to get any unwanted piercings, I put it up and grabbed my regular rod. Besides the shelter, this was the first time we really got out and enjoyed everything the river had to offer.

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Austin and Kyle.

It wasn’t a difficult day yet, but we knew we had some work ahead of us. The rapids were starting to get deeper and swifter, making it harder and more strenuous to make good time.

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It was amazing, the beauty of this place. The high canyon walls, the swift running river, and the whole time being able to share it with the boys.

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It was getting later in the day and we were very close to our first night’s camp. I was still riding shotgun in the canoe, since my son refused to give up my kayak, and Austin was paddling his. I was fine with that, since Kyle and I were making good time in our boat. Plus, if there was a section of deep water, he’d hit the motor and we’d fly by the paddlin’ boys…and just smile and wave. lol. That game of leap frog happened a lot throughout the trip.

We arrived at our camp around 6pm. The sun was behind the canyon walls and gave us a break from the constant heat. Our first order of business was to scout an escape route. After one was found, albeit difficult, we assured ourselves it would be a good getaway in case of flood waters. After that, we got set up very quickly so we could make good use of our remaining daylight to fish.

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This was one of the best camping spots i’ve been to on this river. Very flat rock and plenty of clear water to fish up and down stream. So far this day, the river didn’t beat us down, but the sun did. So it was nice to have a breeze straight off the water and plenty of shade for the evening.

The colors of the sunset on the canyon walls were amazing. We all caught ourselves just sitting and watching instead of doing much of anything else. I think all sunsets have their own level of beauty, but down here, in the middle of nowhere, between these high walls, it captured every reason I am who I am. And again…all with my son, my best friend, and his son.

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After a full belly of jalapeno deer sausage for supper, made by Kyle’s Dad before the trip, we positioned our chairs for the spectacular view of the night sky. Outside of Woodward Ranch, south of Alpine, Tx, i’ve never seen so many stars. I set up the camera and started to try and capture the inspiring view given to us by our creator.

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We stayed up late that first night, with much talk of peace, love, and good happiness stuff. Our first day was behind us, and what an amazing day it had been. But we knew the challenges that lay ahead. This was the easy part. We still had 7 full miles of unforgiving river ahead of us, and all against the current. The rapids were bigger, and more dangers await. But that’s part of the draw of this river.

Even with such an amazing day, none of us slept great that night.

It’s summer.

It’s hot.

It’s hot at night.

to be continued…

Scott Gartman

Scott Gartman

Scott Gartman is a photographer and filmmaker. He is also an avid fisherman, kayaker, backpacker, and overall outdoorsman. His accolades are too many to list, as with the many streets and towns named after him. He's a legend in his own mind. Check out his home page at www.flyrivermedia.com

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