Paddle the Llano River for fun and smoked chicken

12:00 a.m. Saturday, July 1, 2017 Travel

Sometimes, it’s nice to bust deadline. Especially when you’re in a kayak, paddling without purpose toward a small town with nothing but a smoked chicken on your agenda.

That’s what happened recently when my husband and I hauled our kayaks to Castell, stayed a night in a cabin, hitched a ride to a highway crossing 20 minutes away and spent the day lazily paddling back to where we started.

Honestly, we expected the 12-mile trip to take about three hours. Maybe we’re slow, maybe we didn’t try hard (yay!), maybe the flow was too low or maybe we just relished the no-plan plan. Whatever it was, it took us almost five hours to make the trip from the Highway 87 put-in on the Llano River to the FM 2768 crossing in Castell.

Here’s my best advice: If you do this trip, call the Castell General Store ahead of time and ask them to hold a smoked chicken for you. That’ll take the pressure off.

We started our adventure (2017 is my Year of Adventure!) at about 9 a.m. About 50 yards after we eased our kayaks into the water, we paused for snacks and water.

“Supplies half-depleted 10 minutes into trip,” my husband announced.

Not really, but it could happen.

We hit a tiny mini-rapid 10 minutes later. Chris, my husband, flipped his sit-on-top boat, and not because of the intensity of the rapid. He just hit it a little off and slowly tipped over. Good thing we had our stuff secured in dry bags.

I should interject with a disclaimer here: Make sure you’re fit and have plenty of endurance if you decide to do this trip. No unguided river trip in Texas is for newbies. Wear a life jacket. Carry plenty of water and snacks, and slather yourself with sunscreen.

You’ll encounter wide, shallow pools of water, rock gardens that split the river into channels, a few short, rocky drops and a couple of fun chutes. (Always check river flows before you head out on a paddle trip, and don’t go if heavy rains have occurred upstream. The Lower Colorado River Authority maintains a good site, hydromet.lcra.org/full.aspx.)

The scenery on this stretch of river unfolds in slow motion — rocky outcroppings, brush-covered hillsides, gravel bars and islands that force you to choose which side to point your boat. At one point — actually, at a point where I took a turn dumping my kayak over — we met a father and daughter out for an all-day fishing trip. They shared some watermelon with us and wished us well as I repacked my boat and pushed on.

The trickiest part of our adventure occurred just before we reached Castell. The river widened and braided, and we weren’t sure which channel to follow. Chris went right, I went left. He disappeared into a narrowing thicket; I bounced down some rapids. We should have stuck together, but neither of us could backtrack.

Some fly fishermen told me I’d picked the better route. When I navigated the rapids, I found a rock to sit on and wait for Chris. It took 15 more minutes, but he finally turned up, a little scratched from encroaching brush. We both grumbled with frustration.

With visions of a late lunch in mind, though, we managed to pull our kayaks out of the water at the crossing in Castell.

And that smoked chicken made everything better.

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