Don’t Let This 80-Year-Old Call You A Wimp

Oct 11, 2012

Don’t Let This 80-Year-Old Call You A Wimp

Actually, he wouldn’t. He’s a nice guy.

In fact, all his words amount to encouragement if you’re on the fence considering whether or not you’ll like a wilderness rafting trip.

You might be worried about this or that, but you needn’t worry at all, says Michael Lanning.

“The main reason is, in rafting, there are a number of options,” Lanning says. “You can really make it your trip.”

Mr. Lanning knows what he’s talking about. Last summer, he ran the Tuolumne River with his family. Shortly thereafter, he celebrated his 80th birthday.

“I even took my wife along,” he explains. “She’s 83.”

Lanning took his first whitewater river trip in 1966, in old Navy “crash” boats down the Salmon River. He’s kept at it ever since, ticking off rivers throughout the West.

He’s organized trips for church youth groups and Boy Scouts, introducing thousands of people to the joys of river travel and camping.

It doesn’t have to be crazy, he assures.

“One can really exert oneself, be in a paddle boat and be in on the action and thrill,” Lanning says. “Or you can be in an oar boat and be a tourist, taking pictures.”

The 4 other areas of concern that Lanning has heard over the years? He’s got thoughts on each:

 

Getting out of the boat

For older travelers, he says, footing is the biggest concern. “You’re not as sure of yourself,” he says. But, that’s what guides are there for, to help. They expect to do it. And, for the most part, the sandy beaches where raft trips stop are pretty easy to get around.

 

Staying clean

“You’re clean all the time — it’s not like camping,” Lanning says. “You’re constantly clean, because you’re on the river.” He also believes people are pleasantly surprised by bathroom etiquette on river trips. “I tell them the restrooms are extremely clean and very handy,” he says. “They get a kick out of it.”

 

Tuolumne Riverside Camp 

Sleeping

On this most recent trip, Lanning learned that two twenty-somethings had never slept in a sleeping bag. “Some folks have no experience getting a little primitive, and this can be a worry,” he says. “Usually, they find they sleep better than they do at home.” For himself, Lanning even prefers to shun the tent in favor of a night’s rest beneath the stars, noting there are few insects to be found along the sandy beaches.

 

The food

You don’t get to the age of 80 without being health-conscious, and that goes for diet, too. Lanning says people are shocked at what fare is possible on a river trip. “You’re eating fresh food the whole time,” he says. “It’s very nutritious, and there’s amazing variety, including the desserts. It’s one of the things the guides are proudest of.”

If that’s still not enough to persuade a would-be river traveler, Lanning appeals to your sense of exclusivity and history. How would you like to stand where no one’s stood since Native Americans passed through? How about a hike that only a couple dozen people see in any year? How about camping on a sandy beach reserved just for your group?

“And just the sound of the water,” he says, “and the sound of the trees, and the clear, clear skies.”

 

What keeps you from venturing out on a wilderness river trip? Got advice from your own rafting experiences? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Reid Williams
Reid has guided whitewater and taught swiftwater rescue in the U.S. and Central America on 13 different rivers, after brief turns as a chemistry teacher and a newspaper journalist. These days, he tries to turn people on to active, outdoor lifestyles as an executive at WELD.