Memorial Day kicks off the official paddling season on the Illinois River, but so much warm weather has the outfitters opening up on weekends. With this weekend's rain The Illinois River rose to a high, but safe, level with excellent current. When Sunday's forecast called for plenty of sun, we dashed east with little more than our camera and some sunscreen.
Of course, you don't need much more than that to have a great time on Oklahoma's most popular paddling river. Outfitters line the road on scenic Hwy 10 from just outside of Tahlequah to Kansas, Oklahoma. You can rent canoes, kayaks or rafts and take float trips in a wide variety of sizes. No water falls or significant rapids are there to worry the novices, so most Okies paddle this river at some point. In fact, during the heat of the summer vacation the river can be downright crowded.
War Eagle Floats was the first outfitter that we found open for business. Two kayaks and shuttling cost us around $40. Since the amount of paddlers was so small, the shuttle was immediately ready to put us on the water. This was unexpected. We normally sit around waiting for 20 to 30 minutes for an outfitters shuttle bus.
In fact, their speed was such a surprise that I rushed through gathering up my cargo and changing my clothes. When I started to step into my kayak, now miles from our car, I realized that I had forgotten to leave my dry shorts and wallet in the car. Even worse, I had left with one river shoe on and one street shoe on. My shoes didn't match and I am wearing both a swimsuit and shorts! Oh well, I figured that if I kept my butt in the boat, few people should notice.
The two Old Town Otter kayaks we rented were pretty beat up and mine leaked a lot, but it was worth it to be able to get on and off the water quickly with no planning. Since we arrived right after the biggest rain shower of the year, the river was as swift as the shuttle bus. You could literally float down the river, paddling only to steer.
The usual cranes, squirrels and turtles were abundant, but we didn't see as much fish action as on our recent trip down the Spring River. I assumed this was due to the high water, but my Dad said that the Mayflies were hatching the day we paddled the Spring River. The one day feast makes the fish go crazy. You can see pictures from both trips on my Flickr Pics page.
This Sunday, we were blessed to have the Illinois River to ourselves. Instead of seeing wild living, we enjoyed wildlife like I have never seen on that river. Dianne and I spent about 20 minutes watching and taking pictures of a Bald Eagle! It was the first one I had gotten to observe in person, and it seemed proud to give us a long look. I think all raptors possess a uniquely fierce beauty, but that Bald Eagle just left me speechless. You could practically hear the National Anthem in the background when he chose to fly away.
As usual, we paddled about 10 miles and got some good sunshine and exercise. About halfway along the trip we had to stop and dump the water out of my kayak and I was reminded why we decided to buy our own boats.
Top Ten Reasons to Buy Your Own Kayak
1. Local outfitter boats tend to be bottom-of-the-line Old Town Otters, and we like better boats.
2. Local outfitter boats tend to be worn out or nearly worn out, even in the off season.
3. Most outfitter supplied kayaks lack features like fishing rod holders, storage and tie downs.
4. You don't have to rent very many kayaks to cover the price of owning one.
5. Many times the outfitters only have canoes to rent and no kayaks, and we both like to drive!
6. Most Oklahoma rivers have no canoe and kayak outfitters.
7. Many kayaks are designed for a weight limit of 225 lbs and some of us Okies are bigger than that!
8. Tulsa Stores like Sun & Ski and Academy Sports offer a variety of kayaks to choose from, outfitter don't.
9. Canoe and kayak rental businesses tend to be closed for at least half the year.
10. Doesn't our Geo Metro look cool with a kayak strapped to the roof?
Of course, there are also many good reasons NOT to buy your own kayak.
Top Ten Reasons to NOT Buy Your Own Kayak
1. Shuttling is not included in the purchase price of your boat, this can mean a lot of paddling upstream.
2. Many outfitters don't like shuttling private boats and others refuse completely.
3. Some outfitters charge nearly as much for shuttling your boat as for renting AND shuttling theirs!
4. You need a way to haul your nearly 10 foot yaks: car top, trailer, roof racks, truck bed, etc.
5. Sunshine can kill your kayak. You will need a place to store your plastic boats OUT of the sun.
6. Maybe you cannot decide what kind of kayak to buy: touring, fishing, recreational or whitewater.
7. Buying a trailer, trailer hitch, chain, lock and about 50 bungees to haul our two yaks was costly.
8. Outfitters offer more services than boat rental, such as river reports, advice and safety tips.
9. After a long, hot and somewhat exhausting paddle trip, leaving your boats at the shore rocks!
10. Maybe you get free rentals from an outfitter for managing their website or something.
When we did the math, it was worth it to buy our own kayaks to serve our new addiction. Had we not chosen to be the last American family to NOT buy an SUV, the hauling might have been cheaper.
If you choose to get yourself some kayaks, make sure to rent a few from time to time. A little reminder of how it feels to have a wet butt for 10 miles, really helps you accept the cost of buying yourself that 9.5 foot Perception Swifty.
Kayak and Canoe Paddlers Apparel Technorati Tags: Illinois River, Kayaking , Oklahoma Rivers