In 1994 I bought a Perception creek boat. What is a creek boat? Well, at that time whitewater kayaking was benefitting from changes in technology. Plastics were replacing the traditional fiberglass materials used to construct old school whitewater kayaks. Boats were getting shorter, stronger, and cheaper. I think I still paid around $800 for my boat and all the accessories.
When I walked into Phillip Gall’s in Lexington I had in mind a short sea kayak. I wasn’t looking to get into whitewater boating. I wanted to explore rivers but not necessarily Class V nightmare runs. The salesman sold me a whitewater boat.
I’ve since learned that I’m my own best salesman and tend to completely ignore the “advice” of in store retailers. If I have questions I’ll seek you out. What clinched it was the time I went to the same store to buy climbing shoes and could not identify a single employee in the store. Finally I sat down in front of the climbing shoe section and started trying them on. About three minutes into my fitting session a hip young man came quickly up beside me and asked in a perturbed voice: “Can I help you?”
“Nope,” I replied, and kept trying on shoes.
Anyway, I ended up with a boat I didn’t want. But I tried to make the best of it. Unfortunately most people I knew at the time either weren’t interested in whitewater paddling or couldn’t afford the boat and gear. I tried diligently for a year or so but the realities of paddling rough water with myopia and the fact that Kentucky is a seasonal whitewater state finally drove me to sell my boat at considerable financial loss.
Fast forward twenty-some-odd years…
For Mother’s/Father’s Day this year Mandy and I got each other kayaks. We had also forgone big Christmas gifts for each other anticipating boats later in the year. We added a couple of cheapo ‘yaks from Rural King a little while later, so we have boats for the family now.
What has changed both for us and in general with boating in the area is that now you can get these flatwater recreational kayaks on the cheap. The Rural King boats were only $179 each, and while they are definitely a step or two below our first boats in quality they’re really not that much cheapo. They do the job. For only slightly more than I paid for my first whitewater boat we took home four kayaks and gear.
This has also changed the local paddling scene. There was no local whitewater scene in the mid-nineties. There were maybe half a dozen people in the county who had dedicated whitewater boats, and even then they were mostly older fiberglass jobs. Obviously more people had canoes, but the Red River is finicky and very seasonal meaning it’s hardly worth it to keep a boat around just to paddle the Red.
When my family rented boats it was fantasy that we were able to operate a livery like most people are used to seeing in other places. People would rent our boats, but they didn’t always get to paddle them down the river. A lot of time people paid us for the privilege of taking our canoes and kayaks for a hike.
With the wider appeal of modern rec kayaks and their lower cost there has been a surge in local kayak ownership and a lot of individuals and even families are taking to the water in the low cost boats. And because kayaks have a shallower draft (how deep they sit in the water) the paddling season is much longer than when canoes were the boat of choice for most Red River goers.
These days I see kayaks everywhere and all the time.
Saturday afternoon Boone and I paddled the three-ish miles around Clay City. Recent rains raised water levels. I was concerned too much, and my backup plan was to go over to Beech Fork Reservoir if the river was too high. But when we got to this river at Clay City Park we found it to be at a good and comfortable level.
While it wasn't a totally clean run (we hit bottom a few times) it was a mostly enjoyable jaunt with little hassle. We were about two hours door to door from home. You just can't beat that.
I've submitted permits to the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Division of Water for construction of two access points in Clay City. Funny enough, we were talking to some friends while out and about and heard the rumor that we were getting new boat access in Clay City. They were unaware that I was involved in the process. I had to chuckle.
Mandy and I have been seeing interesting photos coming back from Grayson Lake. We're thinking its time to go check it out.
|Boone approaching a private takeout in Clay City|