The Art of the Shuttle
By Darren Bush
Language is an interesting thing. Most people know most words, so communication is usually straightforward. When I say I love coconut creme pie, all my friends understand and agree that pie is a good thing, but might dispute my flavor choice.
A tribe also has its own language, and forget that others outside the group may not understand this language. A friend was giving a talk about photography to a large group and was discussing how he liked to do double portages because it allowed him time with a camera walking back to get his other gear. A person raised his hand and asked, “What’s a portage?” My friend explained that portaging is just carrying stuff from one lake to another. Something we all take for granted, of course.
Portage, chine, boof, huck, eddy, keeper… all these words we use without thinking. One of the ones I forget about a lot is shuttle. Yeah, it’s a thing that slides back and forth in a loom to make cloth, but it’s also a way to figure out the way to paddle a river without a long walk at the end.
A shuttle is a simple concept. You go down a river, you stop, and you need to get back to where you started. There are quite a few ways to do this.
Fall rivers are usually languorous creatures, their strength waning from lack of rain, and this is also the time that I often want to hit the river solo. If I can’t find a shuttle, I have to paddle upstream for a while and then float back down to the take-out.
Paddling upstream plays havoc with your sense of perception. You paddle for fifteen or twenty minutes and take a casual glance over your shoulder and notice to your horror and amazement that you’ve paddled a few hundred yards. The water moving past you gives you an illusion of speed, and relative to the river, you’re moving along at a good clip. Times like this recall the math problems of middle school:
Darren is paddling his canoe upstream at 3.5 miles per hour, and the current is moving at 3.2 miles per hour.
What is Darren’s actual speed relative to the shoreline?
If Darren paddles for two hours, how far will he actually travel?
How long will it take Darren to paddle back downstream to his truck?
Will Darren’s truck start when he returns, because he left the headlights on?
.3 miles per hour, or 26.5 feet per minute, less than a foot every two seconds.
.6 miles, or a little over 3,000 feet.
You can paddle upstream and float back down, and when there is no other option, it’s better than not paddling.
The Friend Shuttle
These are awesome.
1) Meet a good friend at the take-out, drop your vehicle.
2) Put your stuff on or in friend’s car.
3) Drive to put-in.
4) Give friend bribe (liquid or cash).
5) Launch, knowing your trusty transportation is waiting for you.
The perils of a friend shuttle are few, but there are some to consider. Continual reliance on a particular friend without reciprocity will lead to resentment, no matter how many bribes are offered. Be a shuttler, too, not just a shuttlee.
This is a good one when you are alone, where the river follows the road somewhat, and the traffic counts are low.
1) Drive to put in. Drop gear.
2) Drive to take-out. Drop vehicle, get on bike.
3) Ride back to put-in, lock bike.
4) Paddle down to vehicle.
5) Pick up bike on the way home.
Upside is that you are entirely self-sufficient. The downsides are that it can take a lot of time, but you might actually enjoy the ride as well.
The biggest downside is that you have to leave your gear alone for the duration of your ride. In some places, that’s no big deal, but it’s a total bummer to return to find your paddle gone. If there’s a store or private property at the put-in, I find asking nicely for a watchful eye is a good thing.
There’s another version of the bike shuttle:
1) Drive to take-out.
2) Hide bike.
3) Drive to put-in.
4) Paddle to take-out.
5) Ride bike back to get car.
6) Pick up gear at take-out.
It all depends where you want to stash your paddling gear. Either way, you leave it exposed, either at the put-in or the take-out. I guess if you do it the second way, if someone “borrows” something, you still had a good paddle.
1) Take everyone to the put-in. Drop everything there, leaving as many people there as you can.
2) Drive all the vehicles to the take out.
3) Pile all the drivers into the smallest car and drive back to the put-in.
4) Paddle down to your vehicles.
5) Return to pick up the Step 3 driver’s car.
This only works if you have a group going.
The key is to make sure the cars at the take-out can carry all the boats or you have to go back and forth, including the boat that might have been on Step 3 driver’s vehicle. You need one extra spot for a boat.
1) Drop all your stuff at the put-in except your paddle.
2) Drive to the take-out.
3) Start walking back to the put-in, holding your paddle.
4) When you see a car, turn around, smile, and stick out your thumb.
5) If you are doing this on a road that parallels a river, you will get a ride fairly quickly. People know why you’re there. The blue-haired ladies in Buick Regals will not make eye contact; it’s not personal. Farm trucks always stop. Be gracious, offer gas money (they usually take it). Be a good ambassador for the paddling community. And listen to your gut. You don’t have to take a ride.
At any rate, don’t let transportation be a barrier to paddling a new river.