It's typical of these new toys that they are invented and developed in North America, where they seem to have enough folk ready to buy and build them for exploring remote parts. Imagine my delight then at finding out we have our own small Bikerafting community here in Scotland, with the guys at Back Country Biking, based in Aviemore.
Through a series of contacts, I found out that they were going to run an Introductory course, so I found myself heading up the A9 to Aviemore in some blazing sunshine, bike in van and all prepared for a new challenge. Andy from BCB met us all outside the Old Bridge Inn and went over the itinerary for the weekend, but he'd also brought one of the rafts with him. Frankly, I was rather taken aback. Packed onto a padded rucksack harness, the complete set of kit weighed a lot less than I'd imagined and was very compact, both factors influencing how much one would actually be able to travel with it.
Saturday morning was very warm, even at the 9:00 start time. After a bit of kit juggling, me strapping some additional gear onto the Jones handlebars, we set off in convoy up to Loch Morlich where we were taught how to inflate the raft. The technique (involving a large nylon bag) was pretty effective, even in the still air, and it didn't take much topping up with the blow tube to get the raft ready.
After a short break on-shore, we were taught how to load the bikes onto the raft. It all looked very unstable, especially with all of the weight concentrated onto the bow. However, once afloat, it all made more sense. The weight of the bike seemed to help tracking as it offset my weight in the stern.
Sundays itinerary was to be a little different. Again, we'd not be going far, but with a ride up the Spey valley and then a paddle down, it would have the flavour of a true expedition. Andy and Rob took us round some fascinating sections of singletrack, mostly in the woods, of which I'd often seen an end of and wondered how and where they went. That kept us busy all morning until it was time to visit the nursery and cake shop at Inshriach.
In summary, a fantastic weekend. Even though it was their first attempt at running this course, Andy and Rob got it spot on. Everyone was full of smiles, we all seemed relaxed, if suitably aware of the inherent dangers in water sports. The days were about the right amount of education and enjoyment and their obvious enthusiasm for Bikerafting was somewhat contagious.
As an activity, I'm convinced it has its place for my type of travel. A brief look at a map of Scotland shows lots of linear water features and I can already think of some great routes - some walking, some riding - which would be made possible or simpler with a packraft.