How to Return to Your Car When Kayaking Alone

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Kayaking provides a wonderful opportunity to spend time with friends and loved ones. It also provides a wonderful opportunity to spend time away from friends and loved ones. Kayakers that enjoy an occasional solo river-paddle often ask how to return to their car when kayaking alone.

Getting back to your car when kayaking alone takes a little planning and sometimes a little luck, as well. The methods that we’ll discuss today include the 1. Bicycle method, 2. Upstream/Downstream method, 3. Benevolent chauffeur method, 4. Shuttle-for-Pay method, 5. Mixed self-propulsion method, 6. Hitchhike method.

How to Return to Your Car When Kayaking Alone. PaddleGeek

How to return to your car on a bike

A bicycle is one of the quickest, greenest methods to shuttle yourself between points along a river.

(All the titles in this article read as if you are returning to your car. The reality is that often the shuttle process is more efficient if you travel away from your car on the road and use the river to deliver you back to your car. The process flows either way.)

A bicycle is a very effective and const-efficient mode of transport to satisfy your shuttling needs. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1. Drive to your put-in location and lock your kayak and gear securely to a tree or some other heavy, immovable object. Try and lock up your boat in an out-of-the-way spot. Fortunately, river kayaks tend to be the shortest of the kayaking family so, hiding them is less of an issue.

If you are kayaking a heavily-paddled location, then hiding your boat might be less of an issue. However, locking it up is still important.

Step 2. Drive to your take-out location. Lock your vehicle. Don’t leave your keys in the vehicle. Bring them with you.

Because most car keys are now FOBs, you’ll need a way to keep the keys dry as well as keep them from getting lost. Place your FOB in a zip-lock sandwich bag and stow it in the pocket of your personal flotation device (while you are paddling).

I prefer to keep my keys on my person rather than stowing them in the boat. Anything can happen on a river and I feel like I will break and/or lose everything else in my possession before I lose my PFD (with my keys in it).

Also, walk down to the riverside to survey your future take-out location. Identify landmarks that will help you recognize it again in a few of hours. Paddling past your take-out location is a bummer.

Step 3. Ride your bicycle back to the put-in location. Remember to wear your helmet. Use your paddling helmet because, well… why not?

You need a bicycle that is robust enough to handle the terrain between the put-in and take-out locations but not so nice that it becomes a target for thieves.

Step 4. Lock your bicycle. This sounds easy but can actually be a little complex if you are focused on keeping your bike from getting stolen.

You require not only, a thief-proof lock, but also the right natural (or man-made) object to which you can lock your bike.

Any bike lock can be cut if a thief is intentional. However, strong U-locks usually require an angle-grinder and offer you the best chance of thwarting an ill-equipped bike thief.

Two heavy U-locks and a heavy chain are usually sufficient to secure your bike to whatever objects nature provides, while still keeping it safe.

Remember to drop off the locks at the put-in location at the same time that you drop off and secure your kayak. An unintentional bike trip with two U-locks and a chain is a disappointing way to start the day.

Step 5. Put-in your kayak and enjoy a few hours on the water, paddling in solitude.

Step 6. Take-out your kayak at the appropriate location. Don’t overshoot your take-out spot. Because you have already surveyed the location, you know what natural identifiers exist to help you recognize it. Again, overshooting your take-out location sucks!

Step 7. Load your kayak and gear back onto your vehicle.

Step 8. Drive to your put-in location and collect your bicycle and collection of locks – all of which are still there because you were intentional about securing everything earlier in the day.

Step 9. Return home, or to your hotel, or wherever. Take the long cut because, you know… solitude really is nice.

Sometimes paddlers reverse the order of the driving and bicycling, choosing to park their vehicle at the put-in location and then bicycle from the take-out to the put-in location at the end of the day.

I don’t know about you, but I’m usually tired at the end of a kayaking trip – particularly if the trip involved white water. The last thing I want to do at the end of the day is go on a 10 mile bike ride to return back to my car after kayaking alone all day.

My preference is to complete the bike ride at the beginning of the day and then sink into my car seat.

How to return to your car and stay on the water

If your solo adventure is happening on a slow river, then you can often avoid the hassle of shuttling from location to location completely.

Make your put-in and take-out locations the same. Do this by paddling the first half of your trip upstream, away from your put-in location. Then, turn around and point the nose of your kayak back downstream, and return to your original put-in location, which now becomes your take-out spot.

If the river has rapids and rock formations, then this method of getting back to your car is a non-starter. But, if the river is slow and meandering, then the upstream/downstream method can save you significant time, hassle and even money.

Make use of a benevolent chauffer to return you to your car

Maybe you have a buddy that owes you a favor. Or perhaps you have a significant other, Facebook-official or otherwise, that is willing to dutifully wait at your take-out location between the hours of 3:00pm – 5:00pm.

If you can convince someone in your inner-circle to sacrifice half a day driving to the river, waiting at the river, and then running up and down, alongside the river, all because you needed some ‘me-time’ on a kayak, then more power to you.

It’s good to have friends willing to return you to your car after a day of kayaking alone.

If you want to be a really good friend in return, then request your benevolent chauffeur’s services first thing in the morning to shuttle you from your take-out spot back to your put-in spot, instead. Then your benevolent chauffeur will have a full day of their own ‘me-time’.

Kayak Shuttle. PaddleGeek

Pay a professional to shuttle you back to your car

If the river that you plan to paddle is popular, then it is likely that local businesses have emerged to service the needs of their paddling clientele.

One service that is quite common (and is the topic of this article) is the shuttling of paddlers up and down a river. Some paddlers are willing to pay someone to return them to their car when kayaking alone.

Here is how the service typically works:

Step 1. Drive your car to the put-in location and meet the employee from the outfitter there.

Step 2. Give a set of keys to the outfitter who then drives your vehicle to the designated take-out location.

Make sure that the outfitter locks your vehicle at the take-out spot and takes your keys with them back to their business location. You don’t want your keys to be left in your vehicle or in some other random, unsecure hiding place.

Bring an extra set of keys/FOB with you and store it in a zip-locked bag in the pocket of your PFD.

Step 3. Have a great day paddling. Alone.

Step 5. Take-out your kayak and pack your gear back onto your car.

Step 6. Drive back to the outfitter’s store to collect your other key/FOB. Don’t forget this step!

The price that an outfitter charges to shuttle your vehicle up and down a river obviously depends on the demand for the service as well as the supply of other outfitters offering it. It could cost you between $25-100, depending on the distance of travel you request. For context, this equals about the price of a full-day boat rental.

If you plan to be a heavy user of the river as well as the outfitter’s services, there is often scope to negotiate a season-pass price, which you would, of course, be required to pay up front.

Take a taxi or an Uber. Depending on where exactly you are paddling, you might have the option of sourcing transportation from a taxi service or even an Uber.

Be sure this service is available before you commit to it as a method of transport.

To play it safe, I recommend dropping your kayak and gear at the put-in location, driving your vehicle to the take-out location and then using a taxi/Uber service to shuttle you back to your put-in position.

This process might take a little longer, but it reduces the risk of finding yourself sitting beside the road at the end of a day of paddling, with no taxi or Uber in sight.

Step 1. Drop your kayak and gear off at your put-in location. Lock it securely.

Step 2. Call the taxi/Uber service and request a pick-up at the take-out location at your specified time.

Step 3. Drive to the take-out location. Get there on time. Remember to lock your vehicle and bring your keys/FOB with you.

Step 4. Use taxi/Uber to drive you back to put-in location. The cost could be similar to that of an outfitter’s service, if not more, depending on your location and the length of your trip.

Step 5. Go paddling.

Step 6. Arrive at your take-out location. Don’t overshoot. Exit the river and pack your vehicle.

Step 7. Return to the put-in location to collect your locks (unless you stowed them in your kayak while paddling).

Use your own muscles to get back to your car

Ok, that sounds pretty general, I know. But, if you are banking on a day of pure solitude, there are lots of self-propelled ways to shuttle yourself to and from your vehicle.

Just walk. The average person can walk five miles in about 85 minutes. A fit paddler should be able to do it in less time. If you are willing to spend 1-3 hours of time walking, listening to a podcast on your iPhone (alone), then your feet might be all you need to shuttle the rest of your body around.

Are you a runner? Well then simply pick up the pace. Bear in mind that you will need water waiting for you at your put-in destination.

Use a scooter, longboard or roller blades. Admittedly, these suggestions are for a niche audience. They require not only technical ability on the apparatus, but also terrain that is suitable for each mode of transport.

If your target river lies by the side of a paved road (which isn’t wholly uncommon), then you might actually be able to propel yourself with the assistance of one of these fun toys that only children and teenagers really look cool riding.

Now, to take a niche idea and niche it down even further, scooters with off-road wheels and motors are not only a thing, but are a thing that could you get you from take-out to put-in with minimal effort. Not to mention, motorized scooters (especially the juiced-up ones) are almost as fun as kayaks. Not quite, but almost.

Follow the Pay-for-Shuttle process to navigate the necessary steps. While reviewing the process, whenever you see the services of a taxi/uber come in to play, substitute that service for those of your feet or scooter or blades or, whatever. All of these terrific, low cost methods, can help you return to your car when kayaking alone.

Hitchhiking back to your car. PaddleGeek

Use your thumb to get back to your car

As a caveat, hitchhiking is not a solution for everyone. There are clearly inherent risks in boarding the vehicle of a stranger so, be thoughtful as to whether this is something you really want to do.

Hitchhiking is common along some rivers. If your plan is to paddle down a high-traffic river then the probability is high that you are not the only hitchhiker trying to thumb a ride. Furthermore, it is likely that a great many of the drivers whizzing by are accustomed to the presence of hitchhikers. In fact, many of them have probably paddled along the same river and even hitchhiked along the same road.

All of this to say that someone will empathize and pick you up.

If there is any doubt about your intentions, carry the blade-end of a broken-down paddle with you. This will illustrate your purpose to passersby (and serve as a tool for self-defence).

If a situation doesn’t feel right, trust your gut and decline the ride. Thanks, but no thanks.

Not to worry, someone will stop to pick you up.

Parting thoughts

If you want to return to your car when kayaking alone, a little planning goes a long way. Simply determine your most desirable shuttling method, follow the steps as outlined, and enjoy your day of solitude.

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