Roads Rivers and Trails

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Monthly Archives: July 2020

Packrafting on the Red River

by: Ben Shaw

I don’t typically write about my weekend trips, especially not to Red River Gorge, but this one has a special place in my heart. It’s my first time going on a packrafting trip since Alaska. Not familiar with a packraft? Come by the shop to check them out!

I had been down to RRG the week before to trail run and the river looked particularly inviting. After a morning splash and a swim at Jump Rock, I knew what I wanted to do the following weekend, I was going to packraft the Red River. I had taken the boats out on day paddles but nothing real solid since Alaska. So, the idea was in my head and I was off.

I had a few challenges, the first of which was, I’ve never paddled the Red River in my life. I knew the upper Red in the Clifty Wilderness could be pretty dicey in lower water (technical Class II) and in high water it was a Class III-IV run, so I didn’t want to mess with that too much. I also needed a partner cause paddling alone isn’t safe (never done that before…). In all reality I wanted some good company and didn’t really want to try something new alone.

After a few days of asking around I found my friend Lindsey who was super willing and able for this journey, so we were off. The night before we went down it poured in The Red and I knew the trails were going to be a mud bath, but luckily this also meant the river was at a perfect 4.5’ which would be excellent for paddling.

On Friday, without much fuss, we met up in Cincinnati and made the short drive south. It was an uneventful drive, with a little traffic and a stop for some fried chicken (much needed). After about two and a half hours we were at the trail head, ready to go. Starting down Bison Way, it was a muddy, hot mess but we were both optimistic about the journey ahead. We didn’t run into many other backpackers as we headed out towards Lost Branch, a few groups looking for a home for the night, but for the most part the only noises were the birds, the river below and our occasional chatting. Eventually, after about an hour and a half of trudging through the afternoon heat, we arrived where we wanted to camp for the evening. Unfortunately, another backpacker had already setup his hammock and nabbed the spot I wanted by the river, so we settled for another spot hidden in a valley back along a tributary. We quickly setup camp and gathered some soggy sticks for a small fire as the darkness and a light fog settled in for the night.

I woke up around 3AM to a bright full moon, the temperature had dropped, and I was freezing my ass off (smart move camping by the water…). I listened to the trickle of water in the creek and let it lull me back to sleep.

When I woke up, the morning was already warm, our valley was shaded but I could tell how hot a day it was going to be by the stickiness in the air. We got up and moving early, about an hour before we planned (the nice thing about a small group). The day started with a creek crossing and then a decent sized river crossing, one after the other. We ran into some trail runners, who sounded like they were having a great time as they passed by, they were the last people we’d see for several hours. We changed into dry-ish socks and shoes and began the long slog up out of the valley onto the ridge. It was a 2 mile mud slide up 500’, a great way to start the day, luckily, the heat was still holding off.

It was a good hike; Lindsey was proving to be a great partner and we were crushing it with our pace. As we neared the end of the hike, we peeled off onto the Eagle’s Nest loop, an unmarked and unmaintained route in the Clifty Wilderness. The trail was overgrown, covered in downed trees and full of spider webs, just the kind of hike I enjoy. It took some route finding and a good bit of patience, but we bobbed and weaved our way along the forested ridge through dense pines and small creeks until we eventually arrived at a steep downhill. We almost kept going, but my curiosity luckily got the better of me. We dropped packs and hiked up a the faint trail few hundred feet to a spot I had never visited before, the Eagle’s Nest. It was an awesome overlook with views off deep into the Clifty Wilderness and a few exposed ridges that seemed ripe for exploration. Lindsey and I enjoyed the views along with a few other hikers we discovered up there before heading down the muddy and scree covered cliff towards the Red River.

We got to the river a little after noon and grabbed a quick snack before inflating the Kokopellis and getting on the water. We put in on a sandy beach about a mile upriver from the boundary of the Clifty Wilderness at the HWY 715 bridge. Having never paddled this river, I was a little nervous, I knew the section down river from the bridge was gentle and flat but everything that I had read about the section through the wilderness was that it was rocky, technical in low water and the steep gorge walls on either side of the river make it extremely difficult to bail out once you’re on the water. We were only taking all our gear down the river, what could go wrong?

About sixty seconds into being on the water I realized that Lindsey barely knew what she was doing with a kayak paddle and was probably somewhat scared of damaging my boat. We floated and went through the motions for a bit before I noticed a bit of noise on the water ahead. Turning around to look there was about a 5’ section of river between two tight boulders that looked very shootable but if you messed up there were some nasty strainers on the other side of the rapid. I made the smart call and portaged onto the rocky shore next to it, we walked the boats down river a bit and got back on the water. Better safe than sorry right?

The rest of the paddle went wonderfully, we passed by day paddlers and enjoyed a nice drink in the sun. We both got a little too tan and had a very relaxing afternoon compared to our muddy and sweaty morning of walking. All in, it took us about 2 and a half hours to go around 7 miles down river to the Sheltowee Suspension Bridge. I hauled our packs up from the river to one of my favorite hidden campsites and then we continued another 1/4 mile to Jump Rock. I’ll give you a warning, if you’re worried about COVID-19, don’t go to Jump Rock in the afternoon… The place was packed with locals and weekend warriors alike, it felt nice to swim in the water and jump off the 15’ cliff at the end of a very long and rewarding day. It felt especially great to be back, having thought up this trip in this very spot a week before. I yelled at everyone to pick up their damn trash, we relaxed on the sandy beach for a bit and then eventually packed up the boats and walked up to our camp. We spent a nice evening by the fire, this one much better than the first night. Eventually the night cooled down and we both wandered off to bed. I laid in my hammock and watched the few stars I could see through the trees as I drifted off to sleep. The next day we packed up and road walked back to the car, a very anticlimactic end to our journey. We drove the long way around leaving the Gorge and I showed Lindsey some of RRG she hadn’t seen before. It was a tiring and relaxing weekend. I came out of it with a small hole in my left heel, thanks to a blister I ignored, and a very relaxed demeanor.

I’ve spent the last few weeks feeling penned up, none of my big trips I planned so far this year have happened. My urge to travel continues to get crushed by various complications and I’ve been filling my time with nonstop local paddling instead. Even though it was “just” a trip to The Red, it filled that growing hole for now. It was also an amazing feeling to go packrafting again, I hadn’t had a chance for an over-nighter with the boats since Alaska. Having these things has truly changed the way I look at maps and led me to think about packrafting trips in Wyoming, Utah, and Hawaii, all with their own amazing possibilities. Luckily, I have some big things coming up for July and August, I can only hope that everything goes according to plan this time

Outdoors for All

by: Bryan Wolf

This September I will venture to Yosemite National Park. I’ve tallied over 3 dozen National Parks in my life and driven through Yosemite once already. This trip will count as more of a full tick on my checklist with a 5-night backpacking loop including a Half Dome summit. This trip had me thinking about what an amazing experience the park system has been for me. I thought about how lucky I am to have a life in the outdoors. As a child we had visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I had the luxury of taking breaks through college and taking cross country road trips that helped blossom my interest in travel. Then, later in life, friends that had grown up in the Boy Scout program had an even greater influence on my adventuring. I am thankful for all of this, but also privileged.

I am and was raised as a middle-class Caucasian in the Midwest. This is important because I realize that my circumstances allowed me to have these opportunities, and I feel like it is important to address those circumstances now. This post is to address inequalities in this country and most specifically in the outdoors. In understanding our past, we hope to make strides for a better future. It may be uncomfortable for some people to digest what I want to say, and as always, we welcome dialogue with all our community.

While there have been amazing strides to making the outdoors more inclusive, there is also a horrific past that delays progress. The following quotes and linked resources summarize this sentiment. There are plenty of people that have already said it better than I, so I will let their voice speak louder than mine. Please read through some of our country’s history below as it pertains to racism and other discrimination in the outdoors. I will then provide further links that outline where we go from here. Finally, I’ve provided info below for how you can make a very direct and immediate impact in your community. It is our goal that we all walk away with a better understanding of the problem and how to move forward.

First let’s recognize the physical barriers that long stood in the way. Researchers and outdoor advocates have identified several barriers to minority enjoyment of public lands. The list includes affordability and access, early childhood experience, cultural factors, discrimination, and historical trauma. Notably we should address that “Prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, African Americans were banned from, or segregated at, public recreation sites, including national and state parks.” (“Diversity in the Great Outdoors”) While scouting has been a successful program since the early 1900’s, some troops were not fully racially integrated until 1974 (“The Boy Scout Movement in Black America). Further discrimination included the BSA’s Declaration of Religious Principle that disallowed participation of homosexuals up till 2014. Please note that our intent is not to condemn these organizations, but to highlight the obvious barriers that have existed for many people and the strides taken to overcome those barriers.

Another barrier is one that is more emotional and psychological in nature. An article by Outside Online added, “African Americans don’t always go where white people do. Swimming? Pools used to be segregated in the South and other parts of the country, so it wasn’t easy to join a team and practice your freestyle kick. Skiing? Not in the cards if you’re poor and live in an inner city. Beaches? In many places, blacks were banned by law or custom.” (“We’re here you just don’t see us ) Put another way, “Though legal segregation no longer exists and hate crimes are rare, there remains a sometimes mysterious cultural barrier forged in social memory. While collectively we enjoy greater freedom to go wherever we wish, as individuals we might question whether or not we are all welcome when we arrive.” (Breaking the color barrier in the outdoors”) It would be unfair if we only looked at this as a distant historical problem as well. We still have work to do according to young author Joshua Walker; “Cue, white people calling the police on black people in the outdoors for daring to push their son in a stroller at a local park, pick up trash in their own yard, sell water, mow lawns in the neighborhood, use the pool at their condo, play golf, or barbecue in a local park. That was just 2018. Of course, when asked directly, the response is always that “Nature doesn’t see color” or “everyone is welcome in the outdoors.” Actions seem to indicate otherwise.” (Why Black People Should Take up Space in the Outdoors”) It is important to recognize the uphill battle we’re against as it only takes a few people to create a stigma for an entire group of people.

This is not isolated to any one activity but spreads across all travel.  An article in Rock and Ice this week includes conversations with climber Dominique Davis, “Climbing trips aren’t the carefree escapes from reality for me that they are for you,” said Davis. “I’m Black no matter where I go, and with that comes the reality that the towns many of these crags are located in are not as welcoming and accepting of people that look like me. When there’s a Confederate flag hanging in a gas station, I know I’m not going to risk my safety by stopping there. It has been scary to see the comments on social media and how many climbers are comfortable with keeping racist and oppressive language in our sport. It makes you think about who’s standing next to you at the crag.”

The statistics paint the same picture as you would think. In 2018, an Outdoor Industry Association report found that almost 74% of all outdoor participants were Caucasian. This is down from almost 83% in 2007. Looking at historical designations the Center for American Progress found in 2015, that “although the United States is home to more than 450 national parks and monuments, less than one-quarter have a primary focus on women, communities of color, or other traditionally underrepresented groups. Not a single unit of the National Park System has a primary focus on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, community, and until the recent designation of the Honouliuli National Monument, only two had a primary focus on Asian Americans.” We will see better diversity in our parks if we see an effort of diversity within our parks.

The outdoor community has not had a long history of inclusivity and that is not and cannot be fixed with a single action or in a single day. The truth is that we must face it, admit it and work to make it better. Many families have a love for the outdoors that is passed down for generations. For those that were not allowed access to these resources for generations, we must understand that we need to go to greater lengths to make the outdoors a welcoming place. We should also challenge what we think we know. Including any stereotypes, misconceptions, or fragmented history. Latria Graham writes about this in “We’re Here. You Just Don’t See us” writing “Later, when I had to complete a 50-yard swimming requirement for graduation, I was told that we don’t swim either, the way women were told we weren’t interested in STEM classes.  Many people of color have a rich heritage in the outdoors or very much so enjoy it but don’t feel welcome. I urge you to read the included link “This Land is Ours” to further elaborate this point.

We can further promote inclusivity within the outdoor industry through leadership, marketing, and imagery. In a 2018 address to the outdoor industry, Teresa Baker had this to say, “When I hear, over and over from CEO’s, marketing directors and social media managers, “We don’t know what to do,” or “We don’t want to do the wrong thing” or (my favorite), “We don’t want to appear inauthentic,” it makes me wonder how important this issue really is to the industry as a whole.” (“An Open Letter to the Outdoor Industry”)

To this point, our voice is long overdue, but will be silent no more. We hope to make strides in celebrating and sharing the outdoors with all people. That starts with a show of solidarity. July 7th is an “Economic Blackout” day intended to show both the economic power and strength of Black people, but also to put the focus on purchasing from Black-owned businesses. RRT will be closed for the entirety of this day. If you need to buy outdoor gear on this day, consider a purchase at, a Black-owned outdoors store in Stephenville, Texas.

Now, most importantly, what can we do? We can all play a role in righting the course. I found multiple sources that help us understand actionable steps we can take including, “Diversity, Equality & Inclusion: 26 Ways (& More) to be an Ally in the Outdoor Industry” and “Five ways to make the Outdoors more Inclusive“.  A story by ABC featuring Ambreen Tariq (@brownpeoplecamping) had some simple advice, “when you see someone, smile and say hi”.

Here is what you can do right now. Please, at whatever financial ability you are able, donate to the Adventure Crew. For 8 years now, the Adventure Crew has provided FREE outdoor experiences to inner city and often underprivileged kids. This is an organization that teaches children the confidence and acceptance they need in outdoor spaces. This year, with the loss of their largest fundraising event, Paddlefest, your donation will mean more than ever.

Donate Now:



“Five ways to make the Outdoors more Inclusive”

“We’re here you just don’t see us”

“Diversity in the Great Outdoors”

“The Boy Scout Movement in Black America”

“Breaking the color barrier in the outdoors”

“This Land is Ours”

“Why Black People Should Take up Space in the Outdoors”

“An Open Letter to the Outdoor Industry”

OIA 2019 Participation Report

Black Out Day 2020:

ABC story:

Rock and Ice, “An Apology From the Publisher”

“Diversity, Equality & Inclusion: 26 Ways (& More) to be an Ally in the Outdoor Industry”


Other Suggested Reading:

“My Immigrant Story”

“I Would but I’m the Only Person of Color“”

“The Green Book: The Black Travelers’ Guide to Jim Crow America”,they%20ventured%20outside%20their%20neighborhoods.