Words, photos, and video by Deane Parker
Bikerafting was my introduction to packrafting. I’d only paddled a packraft for about four hours prior to loading a bike on a boat above a technical grade 3 run that was part of the expedition that made the short film Waiau Toa Odyssey.
Nearly four years later, it seemed crazy that there were folks out there who wanted to learn how to participate in this niche genre of packrafting. Nonetheless, my good friend Muel and I drove south to Queenstown to meet the owner of Packrafting Queenstown, Huw Miles, for New Zealand’s first-ever bikerafting instructional course.
I’d never met Helen but we had exchanged messages here and there. Helen lives in a little settlement called Bealey Spur, very close to the alpine village of Arthur’s Pass on the main divide of the South Island. She works for the Department of Conservation at their visitors centre there.
Helen’s journey into bikerafting started when she and her husband discovered a book by Roman Dial and contemplated how many of their backcountry trips could be morphed into boating trips. Unfortunately, Helen’s husband passed away before their plan could be put into action.
For a time, the idea of packrafting wilted until a friend invited Helen to Colorado where she purchased a boat from Alpacka Raft and returned home to New Zealand with it. The brand new boat gathered dust in the garage until another invite to the United States for some packrafting in Idaho. Maybe due to crazy or dodgy friends, but Helen’s first experience packrafting was on the Main and Middle Salmon Rivers. Obviously, carnage ensued, and Helen’s journey was almost over before it really got started.
Upon returning to New Zealand from that trip, Helen noticed a post about the first packrafting meet organised by Alpacka Raft ambassador Dulkara Martig. This ideal learning environment grew Helen’s confidence but a niggly arthritic knee put paid to her plans for multi-day hike-to-boat trips.
Having seen some online videos about bikerafting, and biking being more comfortable on the joints, Helen was called to action by the promotional video for the bikerafting course with Packrafting Queenstown. In fact, she was the first person to book on the course.
The film here paints a picture of how she got on. To summarise, Helen is one of the most courageous and inspiring people I’ve met in some time. She’s not scared at all of mixing it up with folks who are half her age on the bike or on the packraft. We gave the participants the choice to leave the bikes behind on the second day, but Helen was the first to agree to continue with the bikerafting and successfully negotiated all the rapids encountered.
Don’t be the old dog. Be like Helen, learn new tricks!
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