This one’s going to be brief because we're on our way out of town to raft the San Juan River for the second, and last, time this season. The preparations seem less daunting now, maybe because our June trip is still fresh in minds or because, at four days and 27 river miles, this expedition is shorter and a smidge less remote than the lower section. The water’s lower and slower, too, flowing at 600 cubic-feet-per-second instead of 6,000. And, there are more of us: 5 families total, with 11 kids (baby to teenager), and 10 adults.
On the other hand, we have a different set of challenges now: Since we last went rafting, our one-year-old has started walking, enthusiastically if not very adeptly, judging from her skinned nose and bruised forehead. How to keep a rogue toddler from lurching into the river or pitching into a cactus? I ruled out a kiddy leash, not for ethical reasons but strictly for safety’s sake, after my boating and Wilderness First Responder friend, Whitney, pointed out that a leash could easily snag on a rock or branch and drag a small child underwater. Scary.
I'm bringing my indispensable, hands-free Ergo carrier and the Go-Pod, an ingenious piece of baby gear from Kid Co. that was the MVP of our last river trip, when the baby was 11 months old. A lightweight, pared-down version of a busy parent’s best friend—the burly, plastic Exersaucer—the Go-Pod is a nylon seat-cum-activity station that folds small and pops up to contain and entertain babies in practically any setting. It’s advertised for use on the sidelines of soccer fields and at Grandma’s house, but this thing is so handy and stashable, it’d be the perfect contraption at the local crag or fly-fishing hole. You could park a baby in the Go-Pod between laps at 24 Hours of Moab or in the ski lodge while you trade off on powder runs. I’d pack all seven pounds of it up Everest if I had to.
On our six-day river trip in June, the Go-Pod was the last thing to go on the raft in each morning and the first off when we stopped to eat lunch or make camp. Packed in its own nylon sleeve, it folds to about the size of a small backcountry tent and pops up like a camp chair, with four accordion legs with locking buttons that keep the seat from collapsing while baby’s on board. The minute it was set up, in went the baby. Ours was happy simply watching the rest of us unload dry bags and set up camp, but there are five nylon toy loops if yours needs more diversions. The seat adjusts to four different heights, the nylon floor keeps little feet out of the dirt, and a cup holder stows bottles, binkies, or Cheerios. Our Go-Pod also doubled as a mobile feeding station; we’d pull a camp chair up to the Go-Pod and spoon feed her oatmeal or avocado. With so many distractions, she was usually good in there for at least 20 or 30 minutes—plenty of time for the rest of us to make dinner or pitch a tent.
The Go-Pod is designed for infants four months to walking, so it’s anybody’s guess whether our toddling 14-month old will tolerate sitting still any longer than she has to now. But here’s hoping we get at least another four river days out of the Go-Pod, a serious backcountry sanity-saver and all-purpose kiddy-corral at a price that’s as light as the load ($50).