Hell Hike and Raft: The Beginning

In deciding how on earth I can share all of the facets of a truly epic adventure, I figured it comes down to starting at the beginning to set the stage for the bigger story of hiking, rafting, friendship, gear, and adventure. So let’s go back to March when I got a most interesting message.

The Backstory…

Adam of Hiking the Trail fame was inviting me on an epic adventure. Something called the Hell Hike and Raft, a six-day hiking and rafting trip through the backcountry of Idaho. My initial thoughts were of the “Hell, yeah!” variety followed quickly by the “Oh wait, can I handle this?” kind. And a little later it was “Really? Me? Does he realize what he’s in for by inviting me along?” I’m known to have a bit of a mouth on me, after all.

Somehow I got the notion to make hats for all the crew members so in the months preceding the trip, I was knitting like a madwoman.

With some time to soak in the idea, several things played out. First, I had to stop second-guessing my abilities. I am not an uber-explorer, trekking off into the wilds half the year. Most of my adventures in recent memory been car-based camping and day-hiking with Fred and George. It took some mental wrestling to headlock my feelings of not having enough outdoor cred into submission.

Second, other team members started to be announced… Scott Gauvin of Hiking Forward, Mike Restivo of Mike Off the Map, and Rozanne Cassone of Mountain Matron. At that point, I realized what an opportunity this was turning into… the trip of a lifetime with people I admire. I simply couldn’t pass this up. To be included in their ranks was both flattering and intimidating.

Third, I figured out that with some logistical gymnastics, it was workable schedule-wise. There was some calendar conflict with me taking the boys to Dragon*Con already set in stone as well as their first days of classes at their homeschool group for which I play chauffeur. Fortunately with some calendar shuffling and creativity, I managed to get my absence covered.

As you can see, this wasn’t a no-brainer. Like pretty much everyone else, I suffer from confidence issues. And it takes a lot of energy to make these things happen… with or without the boys along for the ride. I know people see me heading off on all sorts of adventures and that it might look easy but I assure you, it’s a juggling act.


I’ve fessed up that this trip was well outside of my comfort zone. I’ve only rafted a few times in my life, I hadn’t done any backpacking of note in many years, and I was completely out of shape. But there’s nothing like a challenge to light a fire under your ass, is there?

chattahoochee river national recreation area
I would not have normally been hitting the local trails so hard in Georgia’s summer heat if not for the need to prepare for the Hell Hike and Raft. But you gotta work with what you’ve got.

In the months leading up to the trip, my success in physically preparing was fleeting. The Pacific Northwest took it’s toll on me as did the hand injury I sustained on that trip. In fact, that injury ended up requiring surgery that I postponed until after the Hell Hike and Raft so that I could still go on the trip.

I did manage some physical improvements before getting on the plane to Idaho but I was not where I wanted to be. I knew I’d still get through the trip and not be a detriment to the team, but I also knew I was in for a really big challenge.

My surprise was that cardio-wise I wasn’t as bad off as I thought I’d be but the elevation and dry air proved to be a big adjustment. All of my training leading into the trip was in Atlanta which sits at about 1,000 feet and, in the summer, has the heat and humidity of a rainforest, for pete’s sake. Not even close to the conditions I’d be facing in Idaho. But it’s what I had to work with.


I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a gear junkie and between the items being provided by sponsors and what I already had on hand, I really didn’t need much for the trip. I did make a couple of small gear tweaks but overall it wasn’t a huge ordeal or expense to get geared up.

teton sports
The only gear I got to try out in advance was the Teton Sports pack. Everything else was going in blind.

One of the major changes I made for this trip that I put some effort into was how I dealt with water. With the addition of the Potable Aqua PURE device to my gear, I made significant adjustments in how I carried and treated.

As for my lack of experience with packing for a trip of this sort, I was very fortunate that my crewmates shared their impressive spreadsheets and gear lists so I didn’t have to recreate the wheel. Now, keep in mind I didn’t get nearly as detailed as they did in weighing everything down to the gram. I have a tendency to wing it on these things but I do make sure I have the essentials, of course.

The huge benefit to this trip was that, other than snacks, we didn’t have to worry about food since America’s Rafting Company was handling all of it. Gotta say, that was a really sweet deal. It was all kinds of groovy not to have to worry about stoves, fuel, and meals.

Sadly, in spite of that, my pack was still far too heavy for the journey ahead. Maybe I should have been a bit more diligent about weighing… but more details on food, water, gear, and all of that jazz later. Stay tuned for more Hell Hike and Raft adventures.

hell hike and raft
Riding the train to the airport the morning I left, I could hardly contain myself… or believe it was actually happening.
delta airlines
I’m not a fan of the flying process, but knowing what waited for me in Idaho made the hassle well worth it.

And now for your moment of green…

dry diggins idaho
The Hell Hike and Raft proved to be the trip of a lifetime.


  1. Great start to the story Val. Looking forward to Part 2! Sounds like an amazing opportunity. Wish I had more hiking comrades to join me, so if you’re ever in the UK…….

    1. It really was amazing. I feel quite honored to have been a part of it.

      I will certainly give you a buzz if I get over there!

  2. This is all very exciting! I look forward to reading your following posts on the Hell Hike and Raft. And it’s good to know that I’m not the only one out there who doubts my outdoor abilities and fitness from time to time 🙂

    1. Oh boy do I doubt my abilities. Often! Maybe that’s what keeps me safe?!?

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