Navigating The Tricky Waters Of A Successful Whitewater Shuttle | Rapid Magazine | Rapid Media
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A car loaded with kayaks on a remote mountain road. Photo: Ryan Creary

Neil Schulman on the constant challenges of executing a successful shuttle mission

Dave glares at me. Chris rolls his eyes. My sprayskirt is at the take-out, Dave’s gear is piled on the ground and I just locked his keys and phone in his car. The three of us are instructors, but we can’t get our act together for a short run down the White Salmon River. At least no students are witnessing our incompetence.

Shuttles are my Achilles heel and I know I’m not alone. Keys get left in cars. Take-out vehicles have no straps. Gear gets lost. Adults squash into kids’ car seats. No amount of paddling experience or number of graduate degrees seems to help.

Even technology has hung us out to dry. For decades I simply hid a spare key on my car and tossed my keys in the trunk. But in the era of electronic smart keys, I’ve got an expensive gizmo that automatically unlocks my car if I do that. And if it gets wet I won’t be able to drive home.

Shuttles put human nature’s flaws on public display. Machiavellian freeloaders concoct plans that somehow always place themselves riverside and drinking beer while others drive (assuming the beer ended up in the correct vehicle). Inattentive paddlers plop soaking posteriors onto nice leather seats, or, conversely, OCD new car owners fret over each grain of sand in their trunk. Some people take an hour to change clothes. Others offend locals by stripping down in the parking lot. Every once in a while a Lord-of-the-Flies- type shocks us all and simply heads for home from the take-out.

Even exotic shuttles are fraught. Anyone who’s run Utah’s Stillwater Canyon knows that the only way out is a jetboat up the Colorado. Jetbacks beat driving, but it’s disconcerting to ascend a river in two hours that took a week to descend with the current. Bush-plane shuttles, a staple of the far north, require extra rations in case weather delays your flight out. One friend, eager to see his dear wife after a long solo trip in the Arctic, spent an entire week waiting for weather to clear.

Truly the worst are the really long drives. Shuttles on Idaho’s Salmon River take 12 hours. It’s one thing to spend quality time on the river with someone. Being wedged next to them in a van, unshowered and inhaling the fragrance of their neoprene booties for the same amount of time it takes to fly to China is another thing entirely. Groups that act like Nobel Peace Prize winners through weeks of stressful whitewater can fall to bickering on long shuttles home.

For relief from the perpetual shuttle scourge, I look to Google. All this brouhaha will be rendered moot when our self-driving cars can drop us off at the put-in and drive themselves to the take-out. They’ll scan our retinas or recognize our voices and we won’t ever have to worry about lost or waterlogged keys. Heck, after the car automatically fires up the butt warmers and turns towards the Interstate, we can nap all the way home.

Neil Schulman lives in Portland, Oregon, where he’s impatiently awaiting the self-driving shuttle revolution. www.neilschulman.com.

This article was originally published in Rapid, Volume 18 • Issue 3. Read this issue.

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