Adventurers run river through Glenwood Canyon to greet 2017
A Colorado family that’s forsaken the stationary life joined a long-running New Year’s Day tradition in Glenwood Canyon and braved the icy waters for a few winter runs down Shoshone.
A fluctuating group of boaters has been running Shoshone on New Year’s Day for decades, and this year’s might have been the biggest group yet. Big years have seen up to 70 paddlers, and other years there have been as few as a dozen.
It was difficult to say exactly how many boaters were on the water Sunday, but one count had the number at a record-breaking 86. Most went in kayaks, though a few stand-up paddle boarders and rafters joined the crowd.
The Holcombes — Peter, Kathy and their 12-year-old daughter Abby — are avid kayakers. But even among the hard-core boaters on the water Sunday, this family is a special kind of dedicated.
Coming up on three years now, the Holcombes have been Winnebago nomads. In the summer of 2014 they got a crazy idea to sell their house in Boulder, condense their lives into an RV and live constantly on the road between adventures.
Peter’s work as a photographer, usually set in mountainous and dramatic settings, already kept the family on the road to shoot locations.
“At one point we were only going home to mow the lawn and do laundry,” said Kathy, who is a writer.
On one such trip Kathy joked that they should just skip that step of going home and move directly from one job or adventure to another.
“And though that seemed impossible at the time,” said Peter, “that idea was a planted seed that we kept coming back to. And at one point, it didn’t seem so crazy anymore.
“The more we thought about it, the more we started testing things in our business, how would this or that work from the road, how would we work on these problems.”
Eventually they worked out a solution to each hurdle, planned to try RV living for one year and put their house on the market. They held an open house and got an offer in about two-and-a-half hours.
“Originally it was only going to be one year,” said Peter. “But after the first year, we saw there was so much more we wanted to do. And we were just getting the hang of RV life.”
Then after the second year, the family decided they just couldn’t put a time limit on this lifestyle.
“And it’s working for our business, so why quit doing it if it’s working and we’re loving it?” said Peter.
In that time, they’ve taken their daughter Abby to 49 states — just Hawaii shy of the full set. This year they spent two months in Alaska.
“You’d think after three years we’d just have a couple places left to visit, but our bucket list just keeps growing,” said Kathy.
Their RV pulls a trailer that the family refers to as “the garage.” And inside is packed with much more than just paddle gear. They go after the full mountain recreation package and stay decked out with mountain bikes, rock and ice climbing gear, long boards, stand-up paddle boards and a dirt bike.
“We spend most of our time outside,” said Kathy. “A good day is work for five to seven hours, play for an equal amount of time. And rest and repeat.”
The biggest thing is don’t let anyone tell you that what you want to do is impossible, said Peter. “Don’t fall into the canned American dream, or whatever you think is expected of you. Listen to yourself and make it happen.”
Throughout all that travel the Holcombes have made friends across the country, and they frequently go back to their favorite communities and rivers: the American River in California, the Ottawa River in Canada, the Payette River in Idaho, the Nantahala in North Carolina and the Ocoee River in Tennessee.
“As a paddler, I’ve changed so much over the past few years, because I’ve gotten to paddle almost year-round,” said Abby. “I couldn’t imagine living in a house and never traveling because I just love it so much.”
Sunday was her first time doing the New Year’s Day run on Shoshone, where she was also reconnecting with some Colorado friends.
And their extended friend circle includes the upper Colorado River. Peter said they have paddler friends that they see only once a year: on the New Year’s Day run on Shoshone.
Peter has been doing this New Year’s Day run for about 10 years.
In the fall, most rivers in Colorado dry up, but the Colorado River, especially Shoshone, is a staple, he said. “You can always come here and paddle year-round.”
“This whole event, if you can even call it that, is just a grass-roots gathering of the most passionate paddlers in Colorado,” he said. “Some of these guys will do one run and be good. Others will do half a dozen.”
At low water this section is still a class III run, but with some additional hazards from the cold temperatures, said Peter and Kathy.
“Ice mushrooms” expand off the boulders and form little ice shelves. Ice shelves also form off the banks of the river.
But forecast at about 38 degrees, the day was relatively warm, so boaters had less ice to deal with.
Riley Frank, a family friend of the Holcombes from Boulder, was doing the New Year’s Day run for his second year. Frank said all the paddlers seemed to be able to stay warm, even though a couple went for a swim out of their boats.
Tyler Stinson from Salida was taking his first New Year’s run on Shoshone, though he’s no stranger to the tradition. Typically he and his friends paddle a class IV section of the Arkansas River on New Year’s Day.
“There was a little carnage, but everyone is dressed for success,” he said of the swimmers.
Though many people might think of kayaking as a summer-only sport, Stinson is going on 24 months straight of kayaking at least once per month.
“I never thought I would actually go on Jan. 1 because kayaking is normally a sport I like to do in the springtime,” said Shawna Henderson, who also writes on adventure sports for the Post Independent’s sister publication, the Summit Daily.
And she was putting in extra research time Sunday as she’d already skinned up for a ski run that morning and was planning to get more turns in at Sunlight before the day was over.
“I was a little worried at how cold I’d be, but surprisingly we’re super lucky with the weather today. There’s an exhilarating feeling when the cold water splashes you in the face; it wakes you up quickly.”
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