A Bike For A Raft: Musing On Sentimentality And Trading Gear

Many years ago my friend Tyler and I traded my Soma Sandworm for his Alpacka packraft. Both of us were ready for an upgrade in our respective realms, so we traded. Years later we now have these two items, which are so storied and niche, that we can’t let them go and even if we could, we’re not sure anyone would want them. Stuck as we are, let’s have story time and walk down memory lane.

On a recent float down the Gila River, I was telling a friend the story of the carabiner holding my bottle to my raft. It was my first piece of “climbing booty”, a piece of gear found left behind on a route. I found this carabiner after my first trad lead while riding the TDR with Kurt and Sam back in 2014. Not wanting to trust my life to a random piece of metal left out in the sun for who knows how long in the Grand Tetons, it has been relegated to river water bottle duty. This friend also happened to be borrowing and paddling the packraft which is the topic of my story today. Now, could I just use a better, newer carabiner? Yeah, but that doesn’t have a story. This brings me to the point of all of this, sometimes you just can’t let a piece of gear go. You mainly can’t bring yourself to sell it, and if you can’t sell something then you might as well trade…

Soma Sandworm

In the nascent days of 29+ and fat bikes, Soma threw their hat in the ring with the Sandworm. It was mostly a fat bike that could be adapted to do just about anything with big-ass tires, maybe too many options honestly. It was the first bike I was ever given by a company to review, test, write about, etc. I was hyped, the bike was weird, and I had a helluva time putting it together, but it came together just in time for the first DFL the Divide ride back in 2016. I had dreamed of rolling on the largest of large tires at the time and this bike did not disappoint. After a good while rolling on 29+ tires I swapped to the first run of 27.5 Fat tires on a smaller plus rim. This yielded a delightfully plump ~3.4” tire with a really round profile. At the time there weren’t many bikes that could run such a setup, but I still hold this is a great combo for Tumbleweed Prospectors and Crust Scapegoat style bikes.

I rode this setup on a section of the Transecuador route, which was quite a doozy of a trip. Many factors came together to make this trip memorable and exhausting all the same. When I returned from that trip I never threw a leg over the Sandworm again. I had amassed about 3 wheelsets for the bike in a menagerie of sizes and a few different forks. As I said, maybe TOO many options. I didn’t know what to do with it, I had exhausted the capability of a rigid bike with a very wide bb on technical terrain and just wasn’t excited about riding it anymore.

Tyler always had some weird affinity for this bike that I’ll never truly understand. At face value it didn’t even fit him, but he has a proclivity for riding bikes too large for him. Since he became the owner, the Sandworm has continued to live a full life with tons of bikerafting and exploring the four corners area. Tyler went on a quest to put a Giant carbon fat bike fork on it which led him down quite the rabbit hole to find a very specific lower headset bearing to make it all fit. The bike looks pretty amazing now with the huge rake. Though it’s still a heavy beast the fork probably saved many pounds. Tyler keeps coming back to the Sandworm as one of his favorite bikes.

For us tinkerers to have such an open-ended bike is a blessing and a curse. With fat bikes falling from the mainstream and parts getting harder to source, Tyler is firm in his resolve to keep the Sandworm rolling around. We joked over beers about maybe selling it, but it’s so cobbled together, wrecked, and downright odd that we can scarcely imagine anyone who might want such a beast.

Camo Alpacka Packraft

Since this packraft had an incredibly long life before me or Tyler, I pinged Doom for a bit of lore on the boat;

“That camo boat started its life as a sample of fabric that alpacka raft purchased to test. The fabric was great but ultimately the print was considered old school and they went another direction. The simple open boat sat around the shop collecting dust until I started borrowing it out to my friends for some of our early bikerafting climbing missions. several holes were ripped in the floor due to paddlers sitting on packs full of cams on low water desert tower ascents. This boat made the rounds of all my dirtbag partners on countless mega missions. Ultimately I started trading some of my own personal fleet to these partners and some of them actually got their own boats. Ol Camo started to collect dust once again and then Alpacka moved the shop and this boat somehow ended up in the first-ever sidewalk sale. Where Tyler picked it up for like probably way too much money, but you’ll have to ask him!” -Stever “Doom” Fassbinder

Tyler wound up with this raft for some kind of a deal at the sidewalk sale and instantly started making it his own. He had Alpacka retrofit it with a whitewater deck and some extra tie-downs for holding a bike. In an effort to make it a jack of all trades and once again master of none. It went on many missions before he finally realized he wanted an actual whitewater boat and it sat around his house until I came along.

I was ecstatic to trade my bike for the raft. I was on my way to Minnesota for the summer to move me and Blix down to Tucson. Blix left on a family trip and I ran up the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for a really dumb idea with my new camo boat. I learned how silly hiking in the Boundary Waters is and how bad packrafts are when paddling on flat water.

The following summer Blix decided to get trained as a whitewater river guide and I came along for the ride. Ol Camo came along and got many laps on our daily float through Dinosaur National Monument.

Much like Tyler, I tried to make the camo boat into something it wasn’t. I tried multiple times to add DIY thigh straps only to have the patches pull off each time. I had Alpacka retrofit the old valve with one of their modern one-way valves. Just trying to keep the boat paddling as much as I could. I realized that I also needed a proper whitewater packraft finally. Tyler snagged me a new proper raft at the sidewalk sale last fall, the same one “Ol Camo” came from.

Now I’m left with a raft I’ve outgrown, but understanding its adventure pedigree I can’t bring myself to let it go. It’s so storied and unique. Maybe another opportunity to trade will come along and it can continue its life of misadventure. I’ve been pressured to get rid of a few of my boats, but then a weekend comes along where two friends need to borrow packrafts and I’m glad to have the extras and can even give them a great story about their boat’s history. I don’t miss my Soma at all but I laugh every year when Tyler brings it back to me so I can fix the year’s worth of back repairs he’s neglected and maybe help him plan its next iteration.

Do you have a bike or piece of gear you just can’t get rid of? Tell me a story in the comments.