Without one, your brand-new, auto boof, never-flips-but-easy-to-roll kayak is useless. That $375 paddling jacket—so dry the only way water gets into your boat is through your nose—means nothing. Your hydrokryptonite, triple torque, modified crank, guaranteed-to-make-you-bounce-higher-on-a-wave paddle, just a lifeless stick. As paddlers we all use them, need them, hate them and love them.

That’s right, I’m talking about our beleaguered, beloved shuttle rigs.

An ode to shuttle rigs

It’s a strange relationship we have with our river rides. When they are doing their job (getting us to the river) and not breaking down (costing us money), we rarely think twice about them. We drive too fast down logging roads, push the suspension well beyond the manufacturer’s recommendation and assume the liter of oil burnt every month counts as regular oil changes. We watch impotently as scaly rust advances like leprosy and tell ourselves grinding Doritos into the carpet adds character.

Some of us, though, understand what an important role the shuttle rig plays in our dirtbag boater lives.

paddlers in a shuttle rig drive across a rocky stream bed with a small wooden bridge in the background
Wing and a prayer down 65 / Five best friends on four bald tires / I can still see Billy smiling / When we finally made it —“Talladega,” Eric Church | Feature photo: Kalob Grady

You never forget your first love

Touring river to river in New Zealand, our 1988 Isuzu Bighorn was more than just a shuttle vehicle. It was our living room, bedroom, dining room and, unfortunately, once or twice our bathroom. Even after splitting it four ways, the Bighorn was the only thing I owned of any real monetary value. For the first time, I truly appreciated and, well, loved a shuttle vehicle.

Most folks don’t ever develop such a strong bond with their metal steeds—such a close relationship, the self-help authors tell us, requires months of intimate contact. When the inevitable happens and something goes wrong, the blame for the breakdown falls unjustly on our poor, boat-burdened beasts. “Why is this P.O.S. pulling to the right? I was only going 60 when I hit that stump. Stupid car!”

Spirits of shuttle rigs past

Thinking back on all the shuttle rigs I’ve owned and the rivers they’ve delivered me to makes me a little nostalgic. Breaking down on the way back from Mexico and sleeping in the Automobill’s parking lot in Arkadelphia, Arkansas while awaiting repairs. Driving at night with no lights, dodging unseen sheep when the Isuzu’s alternator fried. Changing two flat tires at the same time in a torrential downpour on a Vancouver Island logging road.

At the time, it seemed like the world was against us and vehicles were the worst contraptions ever invented. Thinking back, though, it was probably just our rides reminding us to show them a little love now and then. Air out the trunk, change that sludgy oil, Bondo the rust holes. Heck, maybe even run a tank of high-test through her system. Because without your trusty shuttle rig, you’d just be another hiker.

Dan Caldwell has been writing for Rapid since the Summer 2007 issue. Starting in 2012, he took on multiple roles at Rapid Media, including media sales and Paddling Film Festival coordinator.

Cover of the 2023 Paddling Buyer’s GuideThis article was first published in the Summer/Fall 2012 issue of Rapid Magazine and was republished in the 2023 Paddling Buyer’s Guide. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Wing and a prayer down 65 / Five best friends on four bald tires / I can still see Billy smiling / When we finally made it —“Talladega,” Eric Church | Feature photo: Kalob Grady



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