Looking back at the Spokane River, speaking to no one in particular, Tim Wildman of the United Kingdom summarized two hours of whitewater rafting in one word.
“Fantastic,” the visitor said.
That was just halfway through an outing with a new program of local half-day trips being introduced by ROW Adventures.
Within minutes after getting their heart rates up and faces washed in Devil’s Toenail rapids, the guests beached two rafts, peeled off their wetsuits and donned cycling threads and helmets the ROW crew had delivered to the take-out.
They would finish their Paddle-and-Pedal outing by bicycling back upstream through Riverside State Park along the river on the paved Centennial Trail.
“This area has so much to offer just minutes from downtown,” said Peter Grubb, who founded ROW Adventures as River Odysseys West 30 years ago. “We’ve decided to tie some of it together for people to enjoy.”
And ROW is doing it on a scale unprecedented in this area. Consider this:
•Other rafting companies are working the river.
•At least one local company, Silver Tours, is running bike trips on the Centennial Tail, Route of the Hiawatha and Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.
•A couple of outfits are running sea-kayak trips on Lake Pend Oreille and Lake Coeur d’Alene, and there’s at least a dozen active fly-fishing guides on the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe Rivers.
But ROW is debuting this year as a one-stop shop for any of these activities and even combo trips.
“We’ve been thinking about doing something specific in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area for a decade,” said Grubb.
After advancing his adventure travel business from the Salmon and Moyie Rivers to Turkey, Europe, the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands, Grubb says the sputtering economy seems like an invitation to apply some of his savvy closer to home.
“We kept thinking somebody else would do this, and we’ve hesitated to get into the half-day market,” he said, noting that most of ROW’s adventures are geared to a week or more in remote areas such as the River of No Return Wilderness.
But the Spokane River provides an abbreviated version of the same whitewater action to, say:
•The convention-goer who has just a half a day of free time.
•Tourists looking for a way to connect with the area’s outdoor attractions.
•Locals looking for affordable and appealing outdoor recreation.
•Hosts who don’t have the equipment to outfit themselves or the relatives visiting on vacation this summer.
“Twenty years ago, people would have said you were stupid to offer guide service for rafting, biking and other trips around Spokane and Coeur d’Alene because most people who liked that sort of thing could do it on their own,” Grubb said.
“But this area has changed. More people are moving in who aren’t acquainted with these outdoor sports or the rivers, lakes and routes to enjoy them.”
The longer trips that have been ROW’s bread and butter are harder to sell this year, he said, noting that much of the adventure travel business is down about 40 percent.
“But across the country there’s increased interest in half-day or daylong trips that are a reasonable distance from large metro areas,” he said.
Few places in the country can offer more than this region for a quick escape in nature.
Other ROW trip options include:
•Sea-kayaking and dayhiking along Lake Coeur d’Alene or Lake Pend Oreille out of Farragut Park.
•Happy Hour rafting on the Spokane River, starting at 5:30 p.m.
•Weekend rafting afternoons.
•Gentle flatwater river floats on the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane rivers with an emphasis on enjoying the scenery and wildlife rather than crashing rapids.
“Offering people nuggets of information about geography, natural history and insight into the area is something our guides do on every trip,” Grubb said.
It’s part of the formula ROW has used to become a regular on National Geographic’s annual list of Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.
While the extended international trips can cost several thousand dollars a person, the local trips generally start around $45 for youths and $60 for adults.
“We’ll be opening a storefront and meeting place in Spokane at W. 17 Main, next to Isabella’s,” Grubb said, noting that ROW’s base of operations is in Coeur d’Alene.
“We’re getting new bikes and we’re rigging a school bus so we can transport all of our people, put the rafts on top and hang the bikes inside the back.
“We should be in full swing about June 1, about the time the river is really running.”