How to Live the River Road Life

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We check off another river from our list and it’s time to hit the highway toward the next watershed. Did we put the dishes away? Is the propane off? Are the solar panels locked down and the boats tied tight? Did you shut the trailer?

Do we have Wallace?

This is our pre-departure ritual. We live like this. On the road. The permanent Van Life—in an RV. We call it the Road Life.

Living on the road means not being tethered to one location, ignoring the need to amass stuff to fill your home. Road Life leads to discovering new places you hadn’t even thought of; it means meeting new people and experiencing the daily moments of life in a deeper way. This can be accomplished because living a life on the road means living with less room. Less room means carefully considering which items are essential to maximizing our experiences as we travel and which stuff is frivolous to this goal. Less stuff means fewer distractions.

We navigate our Road Life using the thin blue lines on our maps—the rivers. Adam, my husband, and I have highlighted 50 Wild & Scenic Rivers to visit over two years with our Wild River Life tour. We’ve found that living the Road Life river-style is not as simple as merely seeking a good trail or a scenic place to park the rig. And so, as rafters and kayakers, how do we reconcile a minimalist road-tour while needing the variety of river gear for different types of trips?

We’ve highlighted our top five tips and insights for keeping the Road Life as simple as possible while also equipping your travels to be river-recreation-ready. The goal here is more time on the water and less time spent managing stuff.

Think “multi-use” when packing gear and layers.
Even though we’re in an RV, we don’t necessarily have more storage space. We reduced and simplified our gear collection for this trip more than we do for our average boating trips. To do this, we consciously chose gear and layers that doubled for multiple activities. Our casual “street wear,” for instance, satisfies everything from self-support kayaking trips to giving presentations at the annual River Management Society Symposium. Sometimes gear out-of-the-box isn’t multi-use, but with a little creative McGyverin’ you can easily turn one piece of gear into two or three.

For instance, my Watershed Ocoee bag is just a dry duffel, but with the addition of a six-foot NRS strap, it becomes my day-hike pack. Instead of wearing the NRS Crush barefoot, we slip on a pair of neoprene socks to prevent chafing when we embark on side hikes from the river or RV (read: one pair of shoes). A solid set of waders can double as splash pants on the raft and rain pants at camp. And the NRS H2Core Lightweight pants and hoodie are my go-to mid-weight layer under technical outerwear. They’re also my go-to outfit for early morning trail runs and late evening campfire chats. And of course, a raft can be used for multi-days, R2ing, fishing trips, etc.

Keep your kitchen accessible.
We travel with a multi-day rafting kitchen (dishes for 20, blaster stove and propane, good knives, spices, etc.), and a self-support kitchen (jet-boil, one extra pot, aeropress, sporks, fuel canisters, salt and pepper, etc.). We really like keeping these separate making the grab-and-go easier without digging deep into our trailer to “build” a kitchen each time. You’ll need to cook while you’re on the road between rivers, so pick which kitchen you’ll use for your day-to-day. Whatever rig you travel in—Vanagon, RV, Tacoma, Subie—be sure to pack only the essentials for each kitchen, and bonus points if you can use the same kitchen for all activities. We actually have a built-in kitchen in the RV, which means we can keep the other two set-ups packed away until we’re on the river. Refer to Tip One when packing your kitchen and try to stick to utensils and gadgets that can perform multiple jobs.

Think about how gear will dry.
Plan for days where you can spread out your gear and dry it using good-old fashioned sunshine. This may mean taking a day off paddling every once in awhile, but it’s worth it. Also, consider keeping the wet stuff separate from your daily living area. Our trailer drains out of the bottom, so we keep wet and dirty stuff in there. We stash gear we need to keep clean and dry in our Yakima Rocketbox. We hang the drysuits inside the RV to dry quicker, while being mindful of venting out that extra moisture.

Another tip is hitting a laundromat after your trip to dry your gear. Bonus points if you also take the opportunity to charge all your devices while your clothes are tumbling.

Declutter as you go.
We parted ways with many beloved river gear items before starting Road Life. It was hard, but quickly we felt even more weightless. We’ve kept this ethic and belief as we travel. If we don’t find ourselves using an item, then we find a way to get rid of it. For instance, extra sweatshirts, gloves, or backpacks have all found new homes. We’ll give things away, leave them at a family member’s house, or sell them at second-hand gear shops. The empty space created brings us far more joy than using the item once a month. There is no rule of thumb here because the items we don’t use are just more obvious. They sit around and do nothing.

Befriend locals.
While the extra gear for hitting rivers may make Road Life slightly more challenging, the river community makes it way easier. We try to connect with at least one local paddler before we reach a new river. Perhaps we have a mutual friend, or we reach out to an outfitter, or just stage ourselves at a launch point. While it certainly helps to have an idea of where we can park or fill up our water tank before we arrive, we’ve found that local boaters always have better ideas. Plus, often we need more than a bike for shuttle and more than a spouse for a paddling partner.

We like to give gratitude for these folks and love giving away small tastes of Road Life, such as a meal and round of beers by a campfire, wherever we go because we know that generosity always comes back around. It’s just a part of living on the road.

If you have other tips or tricks for living on the road in search of rivers, we would LOVE to hear. We learn new things every day—and find ourselves finding stuff we no longer need every day, too. Leave a comment here and we’ll chat!