First, this is another PNG river trip - I post it under Australia / NZ as it seems a closer link than under Asia (and more chance of pack rafters approaching from Australia than Asia).
Having been a bit lazy over the last couple of weeks I decided to go for a longer day trip than usual and so on the Sunday morning I headed off on the first stage which was a pretty easy 10Km walk along what was mainly a non-sealed but graded road. I always enjoy the walk as people are happy and friendly and you see so much more than from a speeding car. Its not that white people are unknown as there are plenty in town but I don’t think many walk and so people are genuinely pleased to see you. It’s a constant exchange of Good Morning and for the very old or those who appear to hold a position of respect a handshake and all the while you hear ‘WhitemanWhiteman’, BossMan’ and, from the smaller kids, my faourite ‘MastaMan’ which they use like it’s your actual name (they wont say ‘hello Whiteman’ or ‘hello BossMan’ but they will come up and say hello ‘MastaMan’). Ever so often there will be scattered playing cards along the road and kerbside, often just outside one of the frequent mini or informal bars – not sure if it’s the winner or looser throwing them but great for the card sellers. Then, after a gift of passion fruit from an old lady and a quick detour to see some kids singing at Sunday School and its down to the river and out with the packraft (Supai Flatwater Canyon). It’s a quiet stretch I have chosen to launch from so I just have four or five kids yelling out to me and then I’m off.
My backpack for the walking is 10 litres capacity so I constantly try different combinations of equipment and this time I have gone with still wearing my runners while on the river and ditching the rash shirt for a light jacket for wearing afterwards (as the weather has turned a bit colder). I still have the bulky Garmin 64s (it will get satellite reception where nothing else will but if its anything like my previous 60 & 62 models not even slightly waterproof whatever Garmin might say). Recent strong rains have changed the river and some large tree trunks have been washed away and others have taken their place. Combined with quite low waters it requires constant attention to avoid rocks and branches. There are a couple of patches where I doubt I would have stayed upright on an inner tube and having a paddle certainly helped navigate past the larger obstructions. At one time I got caught between the current and a quite strong eddy which nearly toppled me over and after that I learnt not to fight in those situations and just let the boat turn around before paddling out. As for the water in the boat, well I just had to accept it and the mini rough parts were frequent enough to make stopping to empty the boat a waste of time.
All was going well and I was about 2/3rds through the river section when I felt a slight bump or maybe it was that the boat felt slightly different – hard to tell as I was concentrating on an upcoming tree in the middle of the river and deciding which side to go. Well I messed the tree decision up and by the time I decided I wanted to go right the current was taking me left. Luckily it took me past a shallow gravel patch where I rolled out and grabbing the boat found safety. I also discovered the floor of the raft had a tear from one side to the other immediately under where I was sitting. No choice but to continue and around the next bend there was a bridge and road access so a good point to finish my rivers section. A slightly ungainly final leg with my body flattish and supported on the tube wall but the raft handled a series of standing waves and drops superbly (no way an inner tube could have handled them) but by the time I landed the flooring had now torn lengthways as well. River distance: 17km.
Then after a quick pack-up, to an interested crowd, and it was time to get a minibus back to town. Except it was a Sunday and they were all full so I ended up with a 7Km walk which had my pace dropping right down by the end. There are a lot of bad drivers on the road and so compared with being a passenger the choice didn’t seem so bad.
Some thoughts: Weight is a real issue when you combine the walking with the rivers side and I will be looking to get a GPS watch and super lightweight windproof shell. The failure of my raft floor is a bit of a mystery to me as the initial tear is from one side to the other with no sign of an initial impact of tear point. It is sold as a flatwater raft yet I have been using it on rivers and in conditions well beyond its specification where it has had its share of stresses and impacts so I can’t complain. Could it be the additional weight of the water in the boat – I wouldn’t have thought so since its mainly water floating on water. Maybe its just my arse is too powerful. Anyhow, its a good piece of equipment and its light weight is a huge plus and as mentioned its more than able to handle at least lower order waves so if you are thinking of getting one please don’t be put off!
I have in any case ordered a BAKraft which hopefully I will have by end of June and in the meantime it will be back to the inner tube (and maybe modify the Supai to use without a floor by tying the two side closer together or (consigning it to flatwater use) by taping up the floor. Knowing how well it handled the difficult waves compared with an inner tube I’m pretty sure I will be converting it into a floorless torpedo tube or, as they call them here, ‘racing tube’. It may be a dream but if I can get it right I should be able to paddle with hands (like an inner tube), have the better wave handling of the raft AND (unlike an inner tube which requires high pressure air) be able to carry and inflate it anywhere. I don’t think I will try the surfmat again as after the last trip I had to call out to the kids on the beach for a couple of sticks to stop my exhausted and cramped legs from collapsing under me … but then when the river calls it can be hard to say no.