We’ve just hauled our boats around Lima Dam and are flying down the Red Rock River on spring snowmelt.  We rush around a bend and find a barbed wire fence strung taut across the water- the highest lines well above our heads in kayaks, the lowest two are dragging and shredding anything on top of the water that draws near.

Blackwater Drifters kayak approaches barbed wire in the Red Rock River
Approaching barbed wire, never a fun feeling your boat is in a swiftly moving river.

Immediately we start back-paddling, but the current is too strong.  As the river hurls us toward ripped dry-bags, damaged boats and tetanus the dash begins for the shoreline and try to grab anything that will slow our assault.

Just before we make contact we’re able to latch on to some willows and jump out of our boats.  As my feet hit the river bottom, the current grabs a hold of the front of my boat and whips it out, now parallel to the fence.  My boat and the fence are on a collision course.

When boat meets cheese grater…

There’s only one choice left to make, so I intentionally flip my boat upside down so the barbs only scrape plastic.  With a last gulp of air I plunge myself underwater as we make contact with the fence to keep the boat from disappearing downstream.

As I surfaced on the other side, there were only a few scratches on the plastic boat, and my dry top was torn at the sleeve, but everything else was okay.  We regrouped and set off downstream not knowing that 30 more fences of myriad designs and ingenuity awaited us ahead.  We both had recurring dreams of unexpected fences rushing towards us for many nights to follow…

The Welcome Party

And this was our introduction to kayaking the longest waterway in North America.  Three months ago we were sitting in Denver trying to envision what our adventure would look like- I at my comfortable banking job and Nick working on corporate commercials.  We had spent countless hours preparing, trying to mitigate the hazards as much as possible, but the daydreams I had back at the corporate office weren’t even close to reality.  We’ve all had those “Wouldn’t it be nice to…” train of thoughts, and this is an example of what happens when you follow that notion.

But the unexpected isn’t always negative- we couldn’t imagine some of the incredible campsites we’ve slept at with our Mountainsmith Mountain Dome tents and Arapaho sleeping bags(editor’s note, models available January ’15).  The point is that while you’re having that office daydream part of you realizes it won’t play out exactly how you’re thinking for better and for worse.  But I would argue that if everything goes to plan you aren’t really on an adventure at all, and it’s those moments when you have to deal with the unexpected that make the trip memorable and worthwhile.

Follow along with the Blackwater Drifters this summer as they challenge themselves to kayak the longest waterway in North America. from Montana to the Gulf of Mexico… 

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Joe Zimmerman and Nick Caizazza of the Blackwater Drifters stand among their gear from Mountainsmith and Hobie.
Joe and Nick’s friendship is largely to thank for their successful progress thus far. In the foreground we see the Parallax camera pack that will help Nick turn this journey into a documentary film. The yellow Scream pack serves as a handy pack for trips to town for supplies(it weighs less than a pound!).

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