We’re finally getting winter. The nordic trails are in good shape (finally enough to cover the deadfall), an powwdah is happening in the mountains, but all I want to do is ride my Mukluk. Halfway through todays trip, while yardsaling gear and preparing to fire up the stove for a soup break, a wind blew upriver. Normally not welcome this time of year, as packrafting gets rather cold, but this wind brought the first hint of a warm day which melted off an impressive amount of snow, and bespoke the first hint of spring.
I’ve been having more fun on a bike than I’ve had in years exploring the meanders and floodplains of the main stem of the Flathead river lately. It is running at 3800 cfs these days, average, or a bit low for this time of year. By June it averages 25,000, and last year peaked at 40,000. Which means there are acres of gravel, cobble, and sand bars open to the air right now. And Montana’s stream access laws, which permit public use below the high water mark, means that such areas are open for fatbiking. After getting to know some places close to home, and getting a feel for the patterns of the place, I eschewed skiing in any form, instead resolving to descend the fatbikable meat of the river in its entirety, from the Kokanee Bend fishing access to Leisure Island.
As can be seen on the aforelinkedto map, the pattern of the river in this stretch is big meanders, with side channels and floodplains inside. These channels are consistently dry this time of year, and if fairly snow-free, very rideable. The problem is the outside of the bends, which run right up into trackless forest and often private property. Enter the packraft.
The challenge of today was to route find in a way which minimized transitions, and to make the many which were necessary efficient. I was only occasionally comfortable with disaster-style crossings, as most of the time I needed to float downriver a ways and cross a few eddy fences in the process. (Doom’s videos are the best bikerafting how-to yet.) There were certainly plenty of things I could have done better, but I had some fantastic riding, great boating, and a cool backyard adventure. One which I intend to repeat many times before the river rises.
Best of all, I’ve been so close to so many people on these rides; their roads, houses, and daily lives, but out of sight and mind in surprisingly wild spots. When trying to link up gravel bars through the woods following animal trails in the way to go, and the volume of deer and coyote traffic visible in the snow has been impressive. These two, along the squonking Canada Geese and Beaver (visible by their prolific willow cutting) seem to be the dominant critters able to make a living so close to people.
Its good to get to know the hidden corners of the world nearby.