When I was a Freshman at OU, I competed in a cardboard canoe regatta for a class. My team's boat, the Feral Badger, won the race but sank in the process. Ever since then, I wanted to take a stab at building a better, waterproof canoe.
A few months ago, I finally built the Feral Badger II. I took it out to the pond behind my Mom's house for its maiden voyage. It wasn't as waterproof as I thought. It sank after 5 minutes.
I put my engineering education to use and decided that the material properties of cardboard aren't suited to watercraft, and the time vs. payoff of 2 weeks of building for 5 minutes of boating just wasn't quite worth it. So since then, I've been on the lookout for a cheap, portable boating solution.
Enter the Explorer, a $25 inflatable toy raft. Let's call it the Feral Badger III. The reviews were surprisingly good, so I bought one and made it a part of last weekend's Microadventure. It was a two day, one night trip across a couple of central Oklahoma's lakes. I was surprised at how much action I managed to pack into this trip! From breaking in my raft, to an unexpected infiltration (and some great views), sleeping under the stars on an abandoned bridge, to relaxing and napping on the shores of Lake Eufala, I put some miles on my KLR and broke in the new 50/50 Kenda 270 tires I installed on my bike a few weeks ago.
This post is part 1 of 4, arranged by topic. This article is about my rafting on the lake. I have written also about 3 of the structures on this trip that have stuck with me, my overnight camping on an abandoned bridge, as well as some observations on Oklahoma towns.
The first stop on my trip is at Lake Konawa, about an hour and a half east of Norman. To get there, I followed the State Highway 39 east from Lexington. It was a relaxing, scenic drive- few stop signs and basically no traffic. Fresh air. Wonderful.
First off, what is great about this raft is how lightweight and packable it is. The whole thing fit inside a duffel bag, with plenty of room still to spare. I was able to strap the deflated raft, my rucksack, and a sleeping bag to the back of my KLR with 3 bungee cords. It's a pretty optimum travel arrangement! I would just have to make sure that I could always make it back to my motorcycle somehow. I once read a travel website where the author was experimenting with using an inflatable raft (surely one a little better than mine) and a folding bicycle as the ultimate packable travel combination. In his case, he wanted to explore the canals of China. A motorcycle and an inflatable boat should work great for the lakes of Oklahoma where I don't necessarily need to take my bike with me!
The pictures below should give you an idea of what this thing looks like as you inflate it. It comes with a tiny little plastic handpump, and two plastic oars. I had to pump for about 10 minutes or so to get it seaworthy, and at first I couldn't tell if the pump was working or not.
Once I had it inflated, it took me about 20 minutes to get the hang of rowing it. It came down to all arm strength- with how I had to sit in this tiny boat, there was no way I could put my back into it. I started by rowing backwards, the way I'd always seen it done in movies (I've personally only ever paddled in a canoe or a kayak). It was pretty slow goings to row across the lake, especially to fight the wind and the water current. I did get some pretty views as I went across the lake, though. At one point I did get concerned- the wind stirred up the water enough that a few waves crashed over the back of the boat, which was low in the water due to how I had to sit in the Explorer raft. I solved the problem by reversing my rowing so that the pert nose of the raft, high out of the water, was facing the waves instead.
I was on the water for at least a couple hours, which was enough to wear me out and in the meantime travel a rough circle in the area immediately around the boat ramp. So this definitely isn't a speedy way to get around the water. Probably better than swimming, though.
Across the lake, on the other side of the shore, I did come a disused, weed-choked boat ramp that looked like it hadn't been used in years. My curiosity got the better of me, and I paddled ashore. I felt vaguely sneaky, struggling to clamber out of my tiny rubber raft without spilling gallons of lake water inside and soaking my gear (I had everything in the ruck in dry-bags, just in case, but still). I pulled my boat up out of the water and took a peek. Indeed, a dirt path led up and through the woods. I was here already, wasn't I? I might as well take a look and see where it went. In case my raft wasn't sea-worthy (lake-worthy?) enough to make it back across to my motorcycle.
Ah, but to see where it goes you'll have to take a look at the next post in this series.
All in all, I'm impressed with how well the raft performed. I want to use it again, perhaps taking some camping gear with me so that I can spend a couple days exploring in it, to offset its slow speed. Another option I'm considering is using it to float down a river. That way, I can use the oars to steer but otherwise not have to worry about tiring myself out rowing. In that case, I would hitchhike back to where I started. Depending on how I enjoy those trips, I may consider getting a nicer inflatable watercraft. Once I have some disposable income, of course.
...sees much and knows much