Two weeks after the Texas Water Safari, I got back in a canoe – but this time I didn’t care how fast I paddled or how far I went.
I didn’t see any alligators, I didn’t hallucinate, I didn’t even have to crawl over giant bobbing mats of logs, branches, dead farm animals and palm-sized spiders, either.
My husband Chris and I just lazily paddled our wide, roomy aluminum canoe 12 easy miles down the Llano River, from Highway 87 to Castell. We flopped in the water to cool off, admired the birds (cardinals, blue herons, hawks and blue jays) and paused on gravel bars to snack on fresh cherries and drink lemonade. We finished by eating a smoked chicken on a picnic table outside the Castell General Store.
It felt great.
The river spooled out like a greenish-gray ribbon, wide and languid at times, twisted and churning at others. Sections reminded us of minefields, with so many boulders, many of them hidden just beneath the surface (at cfs 161) that we couldn’t see them until we slammed into them. Our canoe now boasts dimples and crinkles, like a smiling old man who spent his life in the beating sun.
The most challenging portion of the run came just before Castell. We had to walk our canoe through a series of rocky rapids. I smashed my shins nicely, and the water threatened to drag us downstream.
Looking for a leisurely paddle trip? The Llano River might fit the bill, but if you go, I’ve got some recommendations.
- Consider paddling plastic kayaks instead of a canoe. The river is rocky and braided in this stretch, and we put some impressive dings in our metal canoe.
- Bring lots of water. This stretch of river will take you longer to paddle than you think. I’m used to a 5 mile per hour pace on the San Marcos; here we averaged closer to 2.5 to 3 miles per hour, because we had to get out and drag a lot. Plus, we were in no rush.
- Use dry bags. You might flip your boat. Seriously. Secure cell phones, cameras, food – anything you don’t want doused in river water – inside a watertight bag.
- Relax! Sit back and enjoy the scenery. It’s beautiful, and even on a Sunday we saw just one other boat.
- Arrange a shuttle. We left our truck at the Highway 87 underpass at the river, then arranged to have someone drive us back to pick it up when we finished.
- Bring personal flotation devices. You’ll encounter rapids and fast moving water, and you never know when you could knock your head on a rock or get caught by a tree branch.
- Don’t trash the river. Carry out what you brought in. Even better, carry out trash you find along the way and leave the river cleaner than when you found it.
- Want chicken at the finish? Call Randy at The Castell General Store in the morning and ask him to reserve one, otherwise they’ll probably be sold out.