You know it’s hot when the temperature is the same as your three-digit troop number. And if you’re from Troop 128 in Ventura, California, that’s really saying something.
On a summertime kayaking trip down the Colorado River, one Scout’s thermometer read 128 degrees on one day.
“That was pretty cool,” 13-year-old Josh Harrison says.
And by “cool,” we think he might mean the opposite: It was hot.
“When it’s that hot, the wind feels like it’s heated,” says Conner Tidwell, 12. “It was, like, no joke.”
Fortunately, the waters of the Colorado are plenty cool year-round. And with the proper clothing, plenty of sunscreen and lots of breaks for swimming and splashing, the guys kayaked 52.3 miles down a calm section of the river with no serious problems.
Oh, and by the way, they did it in kayaks they made themselves.
“I felt very accomplished that I could make something that floated and worked so well that I could take a long distance on the river,” 12-year-old Charles Davis says.
Preparation for every trek should start months in advance. When you’re building your own boats, you definitely don’t want to wait until the last minute.
Under close supervision from experienced adults, the guys spent several weeks building foldable kayaks out of plywood, canvas and glue.
They spent several hours over the course of several meetings making sure every seam was sealed and waterproofed. Then they finished each kayak with a customized paint job.
“Mine was black on the outside with a stencil of the fleur-de-lis on the back,” says Ronnie Holbert, 13. “On the inside, it was orange-green so it would help with the inside not getting so hot.”
Once the kayaks were done, the guys tested them in the waters near Ventura.
“It was pretty easy to paddle,” Josh says. “It floated fine and moved pretty quickly.”
Once their vessels proved themselves seaworthy, the guys were ready for the Colorado.
They drove about five hours to a marina in Needles, Calif., which would become their base of operations for the next three days.
In an effort to beat the heat, they’d get up early each morning and start paddling. In the heat of the day, they’d splash each other.
During the day, even their water bottles got hot.
“I tied mine to a rope and just let it drag along in the river,” says Conner. “It kept it really cold.”
At night, though the temperatures did drop a little, it didn’t always cool off as much as the guys would have liked.
“That’s what the river is for,” says Andrew Johnson, 13.
The first two days featured calm water and little wind. On Day Three, however, the guys finished their trek paddling against the wind and current.
The fact that they were able to kayak 50 miles was pretty cool.
The fact that they did it in their own homemade kayaks was even cooler.
Even if it was really hot.
“The hot weather,” says Andrew, “and all of the challenges … it really made it worth it.”
BUILDING YOUR OWN KAYAKS
The kayaks built by Troop 128 are partially based on plans originally published in Popular Mechanics magazine in 1963. In the half-century since then, the original plans have been adapted and modified to ensure the highest level of safety, as have the glue, canvas and plywood used in their construction.
Each Troop 128 boat is built under the supervision of a team of adults with 60 years of combined experience in the construction field and 20 years of experience building kayaks.
Each kayak is tested on the water before it is deemed ready for a trek, and boats that are reused require careful upkeep.
Although the kayaks are very sturdy, they are not appropriate for whitewater conditions. The guys purposefully chose a portion of the Colorado known for its slow-moving water.
If you’re not ready to build a boat from scratch like Troop 128 does, there are kits available that use special precut plywood and require hand assembly. Just Be Prepared to do plenty of work to keep them safe.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
What: The Colorado River
Where: The 1,450-mile-long river starts in Colorado and runs southwest to Mexico, where it empties into the Gulf of California. Troop 128 kayaked more than 50 miles of the river from a recreation area near Laughlin, Nevada, to a park near Parker, Arizona.
River With a Purpose: In addition to being a great river for recreation, the Colorado provides water to 30 million people in the Southwest portion of the United States. It is also a major source of hydroelectric power, thanks to the Hoover Dam and other dams built to take advantage of the river’s large flow.