“Isn’t that overkill?”
My friend, Phil, and I were discussing our upcoming weekend trip to Black Canyon, the stretch of the Colorado River below the Hoover Dam. He’d just listed off all the Hobie boats and boards he wanted to bring: three Mirage Tandem Islands, two Mirage Outback kayaks, two Mirage Eclipse pedalboards and one stand up paddleboard. With eight people in our group, we could dump at least two, or even three of those craft. Less is more, right?
“Nah,” said Phil. “We’ll be able to try all the different boats and boards, switch crafts back and forth, play on the river. It’ll be fun.”
The first night we arrived late to the boat launch at Willow Creek, which lies 12 miles downriver from the Hoover Dam. Our group included Phil and his wife, Hadley, our friends Jenny, Will, Julie, Javiera, my husband Kirk, and me. With no time to waste, we unloaded the boats from the trailer and proceeded to pack them full with three days of supplies. Drybags of clothes and food were stuffed in the hatches. Five-gallon jugs of water fit easily under the Bungee tie-downs. The Mirage Eclipses and paddleboard (that Phil said weren’t overkill) each found a home lying across the akas of a Tandem Island. All packed and geared up, we shoved off from the launch just before midnight.
Our destination, the campground at Arizona Hot Springs, was seven miles upriver.
The river’s surface was inky black, except the reflection of the moon, which occasionally showed its face between the shadowy canyon walls. The air was cool, the night still. We had the river to ourselves. All of our boats had MirageDrives, which meant two things: after a full day of work and travel before launching, we could tackle a 7-mile upriver journey with relative ease; and, we could eat snacks, keep hydrated and look up at the stars, all while pedaling onward.
The first morning, we slept late and took it easy. Our resident chef, Hadley, fried bacon and eggs for the whole crew. Many of us relaxed in Hobie Vantage CT seats that we’d removed from our boats and set up around the campfire. After the previous night’s three-hour journey upriver, my body was happy to do nothing but sip coffee and take in the smells of breakfast.
Later, we hiked up into the canyon to find hot springs. Rock walls towered on either side of the gravel trail. We scrambled up boulders and climbed rope ladders. Bubbling warm water periodically submerged the trail, hinting we were on the right path. The hike culminated at the top of a 20-foot ladder, which deposited us directly into the first of three successively warmer pools. I felt like Goldilocks in a swimsuit.
That afternoon, we got back on the river. With our supplies and gear stowed at our campsite, our boats floated lighter and so did our spirits. Hadley and Will hopped on the Mirage Eclipses, Jenny took the paddleboard and the rest of us jumped in Tandem Islands.
We headed upriver, straight into a swift section of current. “You ready for this?” I yelled to Kirk seated behind me in our Tandem Island. The strongest section, gurgling with rapids, was immediately ahead. “Full throttle!” he yelled back.
The boat hit the strong current and stalled. My feet still pumping, I looked over at the shore and saw we weren’t moving forward at all. “Give it all you’ve got!” yelled Kirk. I kicked my legs into overdrive.
Slowly, we inched past the shore, moving upriver. I whooped and hollered. “We got it, we got it!” After ten minutes of furious pedaling, we glided into a calm nook of the river fringed with sand. When our hulls hit the beach, Kirk and I grinned at each other, chests still heaving.
The next day, we headed upriver once more for the 4-mile trip to the Hoover Dam. It was my first time on a Mirage Eclipse. After sitting in kayaks, standing up was a new freedom. A few swift foot strokes sent me zipping along the surface of the river. From my elevated perspective, I could see deep into the clear water below. Underwater grasses waved in slow-motion with the current.
After rounding a large bend in the river, the bridge (built to reroute traffic off the dam) came into view, then finally, the Hoover Dam itself. It was awesome to see from water level.
The dam marked our turnaround; from there on out we headed downriver. I pedaled an Outback kayak, and enjoyed skirting the edges of the river, running my hand along the rock, observing the story the water had carved into the canyon walls.
Phil, who carries a map of Black Canyon in his head (the National Park Service map is here), took us to several interesting spots on our way back to camp. We sat in the steamy darkness of Sauna Cave, stood under warm waterfalls in Boy Scout Canyon, and jumped off cliffs into the river.
Our last day, we packed up camp, and made the 7-mile return trip to Willow Beach. We floated lazily with the current and played on the water. Tour boat riders swiveled their heads to get a better look at the Hobie water carnival. Hadley dove off her Outback and Jenny attempted inverted yoga poses on her Mirage Eclipse. We raced each other, pedaled at full speed on collision courses, and played musical chairs with our Hobie craft. I traded from a Tandem Island to an Outback, to a Mirage Eclipse, then back to a Tandem Island.
A few miles before the boat launch, an intermittent breeze funneled up through the canyon. Kirk, Hadley and I each solo-sailed a Tandem Island; back and forth our sails crisscrossed the river. When my boat slowed after a tack, I punched the MirageDrive pedals and was back up to speed in a matter of seconds. We raced each other all the way to the finish line.
Many thanks to our trip coordinator, Phil, for taking my ‘less is more’ theory and blowing it out of the water. More Hobie toys always equal more fun.