FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Not many people would choose to celebrate their 80th birthday on a whitewater canoe trip.
But if you know Ron and Lou Davis or their former business, Canoe Alaska, you would not be surprised they chose a five-day trip on the Gulkana River to mark the milestone.
The Davises have been running the 47-mile stretch between Paxson Lake and Sourdough Creek since the 1970s. The river is known for scenic views and a mix of flat water and class three or even class four rapids. The Davises estimate they have done it 25 times. Two years ago, the couple decided to do something for other boating friends they always wished someone had done for them. They ran the river in rafts so their friends can run the rapids in empty canoes without worrying about spilling gear. They had so much fun they saw no reason to stop doing the trip this year when they both turned 80.
"You get into a new decade and you want to do something for it," Lou Davis said after returning from this year's trip. "We said maybe this was going to be our last trip."
"Now we know that's not the case," Ron said. The couple is already planning to do some river trips next summer.
Four rafts, three solo canoes and a tandem canoe came on this year's Gulkana float in early August. They did the float in four nights and five days to have a full day to spend playing in the canyon where the biggest rapids are found. One member of the party went through the canyon six times.
The Davises don't look like they are 80 and have kept up both their canoeing and their other favorite sport, downhill skiing. They've seen the popularity of both sports increase among all age groups.
"Years ago when you were 60 years old you could ski for free. Then when we got to 60 they bumped it up to 65. Now no one lets you ski for free. There are too many old people skiing," Lou Davis said.
But canoeing presents some challenges. At 80, it's harder to kneel on your knees for a long time, a technique for keeping a low center of gravity in turbulent water. They've also noticed they are not quite as fast at reacting to things. But most of all there's the challenges of moving gear and portaging.
But with friends available to do the lifting trips like the Gulkana still can be fun. The Davises do their share of the work preparing food. On this summer's trip the Davis' and a former canoeing student prepared all the food on this summer's trip. Menus included meatloaf and mashed potatoes, Dutch oven pineapple upside down cake and stuffed bell peppers. Another favorite they take on many trips are fresh baked rolls with filled with turkey meat.
With rafts to carry gear, it's possible to carry gear to make a comfortable campsite. The group carried a camp shower, a kitchen tent, a table, chairs and a welded aluminum stove that looks like something out of a catering truck. The Davises sleep on a wire frame queen-sized bed in a tent that's big enough to stand up in.
"That's really new for us because we've been on little Themrarests and sleeping bags forever," Ron said.
With their gear ready to go and plenty of boating friends, among them many former students, the Davises already are looking ahead to trips in the 2013 paddling season. The Gulkana River will likely make the list.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com