January 1 Tim took me out to the local creek of his youth: the Cartecay River here in Northern Georgia.
He paddled Sheri Tingey's latest creation, the "Orca" and I paddled my ten pound packraft. The Orca, like the 2012 Alpackas, has a cowling that holds -- wait for it -- a kayak style spray skirt! While the stock Llamas and Yaks have a thin, tent pole like oval aluminum rim to hold fast the spray skirt, the Orca has one-inch tubing and padded aluminum thigh braces that are adjustable. It also has a Teflon skid plate on the bottom for sliding over rocks while reducing wear.
It was New Year's Day and a local tubing/kayak outfitter was running shuttle to a chili feed and back to the put-in. It sure didn't feel like New Year's. It was a balmy 60 degrees and sunny.
With all the foam and my seat fully inflated I sat high and tipped over immediately, but rolled up easily. Tim followed suit,
"Oh man. This thing rolls so easily. It's not even a packraft anymore." With its narrow profile and 10 inch tubes, its long stern, pointy bow and trimmer, no rocker bow, it rolled easily. For my part the addition of the foot pad at the feet for bracing made all the difference.
We paddled easily off the Class II+ ledges, surfing waves and chatting up other paddlers.
"What is that thing?"
"We call it a soft-shell kayak."
Others asked, "Who makes that?"
"Alpacka Rafts," we answered.
"Wow," one guy said, "I haven't seen them for real. Just in videos of guys up in Alaska walking in and running the snow melt."
We got down to the last "falls" and joined a pack of kayakers surfing the last wave. We surfed and rolled to cheers and hoots. Most were beginner boaters, still working on their own rolls and skills. Indeed almost 15 years ago, Tim had been one of them: a novice local.
Because the water is warm and the air was, too, I enjoyed every opportunity to roll and worked on different foam combinations for riding slides.
That night we picked Luc up in Atlanta and drove back to Tim's family home in the mountains, spent the night outfitting our boats to fit as well as possible and drove north to Tennessee and the Appalachian jewel, Ledges of the Tellico.
The warm weather had been pushed away by a cold front. With frozen ground, ice on the boats, and cold hands it felt more like Alaska in October than the South. Still the half dozen ledges were super fun and we lapped the Baby Falls looking to get it right.
The highlight was the catwalk adventure out to the lower Bald River Falls and its steep slide and Jerrod's Knee, a very Alaskan creek style boulder garden that, as Luc said, "Is like the best of all we have back home."