If my book was a playlist…

I have a very early memory (as a 6-year-old? 8?) of my mom using lyrics from a Beatles song to teach me not to trust strangers. I was about to fly to Montana by myself. My mom has a beautiful singing voice:

Say you don’t need no diamond rings
And I’ll be satisfied
Tell me that you want the kind of things
That money just can’t buy

I don’t care too much for money
Money can’t buy me love

I moved to Alaska with my mom and brother Burke when I was four. I shuttled back and forth to Montana to spend summer and winter holidays with my dad. In those days, my parents could go all the way to the gate and hand me off directly to a flight attendant. I loved collecting my wings. Sarah suspects this stuff caused childhood trauma. I’m not so sure. I’M FINE! THERE’S NOTHING WRONG!!!

So, music has been a big part of my life from a very early age. I joined Spotify soon after it was created, and Pandora before that. I love access to new music and creating playlists.

I’ve created a Spotify playlist for my book, The Packraft Handbook, illustrated by Sarah K. Glaser. The Packraft Handbook is a comprehensive book about all-things-packrafting (and a lot of it is applicable to other paddle sports too). I spent over a year working on the book, self-published it, and then sold over 5000 books in two months. I received wonderful reviews, and now Mountaineers Books is taking over publication! I’m psyched.

If you don’t have Spotify, this YouTube playlist should work.

Chapter 1: Packrafting Equipment

A common problem in packrafts is sitting too low. “I wish I was a little bit taller” reminds me of my years working to create a “proper paddling position.” At one point I sat on two seats and had three inflatable PFDs stacked behind me as a backrest!

A proper paddling position allows you to engage your core … bigger and stronger muscles than your arms. Sitting tall lets you get more power—to transfer more force to the river.

I also wish I was taller whenever I’m scouting from the boat … trying to see farther down the river.

I like starting with this song because it reminds me of high school. We had a shared stereo in the hallway, and during the few gaps when Beastie Boys or Fugazi CDs weren’t playing, this track got play time (I’m looking at you Michael Santillanes!).

Chapter 2: Boat Control and Wet Re-entry

After getting familiar with packrafting equipment, I advise spending time on a pond, lake, or pool, getting used to the outfitting and then practicing falling out of the boat and, hopefully, climbing back in. Upside Down is a great fit.

Around and round you’re turning me.
Upside down, boy, you got me.

The point isn’t that you need to be able to climb back into your boat (not all paddlers or boats can be re-entered). The point is to have a plan for when you accidentally end up Upside Down.


Built to Spill, by Built to Spill. The title says it all. But Built to Spill is featured later and I didn’t want to include two tracks by the same artist.

Chapter 3: Risk

I got lucky with this one—heard it on the radio and recognized it as a perfect fit for the risk chapter.

I tried to calculate all the risk’
Planned it all out from start to end’
Thought that I had seen it all’
Yet something showed up and broke me down’

Chapter 3 is about risk assessment. I provide a framework that helps us discuss risk in the planning stages as well as on-the-river quick decisions. I dug deep to create this chapter, which involved learning about how risk professionals think about natural disasters.

Chapter 4: How Rivers Work

These lyrics are probably too deep for me to understand fully, but I like some of the lines:

Come to your river
carry away my old leaves …
let the river take them …
my ego and my blame.

Chapter 4 is about how rivers work. A consistent theme in the book is to let the river do the work—it has all the power. The introduction includes a quote from kayaker Jim Snyder: “Be bold enough to be small enough to let the world be awesome, and it will.” I think this song captures that same respect.


Mail From the River, by Wang Wen. I suspect this track wouldn’t be as popular as they others on the playlist, but I wanted to include it here. Besides having a fitting title, this artist, and others like Wang Wen, are what I listened to while cranking out text. Music with lyrics was too distracting, but instrumental ‘postrock’ worked really well to keep me motivated and productive. Thank you Wang Wen!

If this style works for you, I recommend these playlists:

Wang Wen Radio
Calm Before the Storm

Chapter 5: The Principles of River-running

To be honest, I don’t know what this song is about. But she says “run me like a river,” so it seems appropriate. This track is best enjoyed in this AMAZING dance video:


Caught By The River by Doves. I first heard Doves on the amazing Dan the Automator mix called Wanna Buy a Monkey? (not available via Spotify—try Pandora). If Doves are good enough for Dan the Automator, they are good enough for me. Caught by the River is about a son getting caught by the river (metaphorically, I hope) and losing control.

Chapter 5 is about how to maintain control on paddling trips … by scouting, portaging, and maneuvering. A key concept is to grab the river (or be grabbed by the river) when it goes where you want to go. Getting caught by the river is a good thing, when done intentionally.

Chapter 6: Navigating River Features

Beck’s Wow captures the awesomeness of paddling rivers. I love this exchange with the natural world, carving around holes and boofing over rocks. Chapter 6 presents how to maneuver through river features and this fun song reminds me why I love doing it.

Shasta Hood after paddling the Happy River. Like, wow.

Chapter 7: Open-water Crossings

I matched the open-water crossings chapter (lakes, bays, wide rivers) with this track by Elohim because of these lyrics:

If today’s a bad day
Tomorrow’s a new day
We gotta celebrate
When we get a good day

My personal bias is that open-water crossings are more dangerous than rivers. With rivers, you can usually see the hazards (rock! hole! wave!). But what goes wrong during open-water crossings are hidden hazards that rapidly develop, such as wind-generated waves. There have been three packraft fatalities in these settings to date.

I like Elohim’s message here … if conditions aren’t good now, wait.


Wait, by Foxtrott. Because of the title.

Chapter 8: River Rescue From the Water

The title says it all!

Chapter 9: River Rescue From Shore

The Cure pre-dates my musical generation, but I do love this track. What I like in this application is the joyful tone and a few appropriate lyrics:

Why are you so far away, she said …
Dancing in the deepest oceans …
Twisting in the water …

Okay, to be honest, I just read the rest of the lyrics for the first time. She drowns! Probably could have figured that out from the title. Well, crap. I wanted to make a point that rescues don’t have to be scary—with practice and training, catching a throw rope can be fun.

Maybe the reality of loss makes it worth leaving this track on the list. I do believe that rescues don’t have to be scary. And I know how it feels to lose a friend in the water.

Chapter 10: Equipment Repair and Modification

To be honest, I’m still kind of pissed that the girl dies on the previous track. Sigh.

Okay, Chapter 10. This track is a match for two reasons:

  1. The band name has “Broken” in it! I’ve enjoyed Broken Social Scene since their 2003 album You Forgot It in People, and unlike some other long-running bands, I loved their 2017 releases too, which includes this track.
  2. Halfway Home makes me think that something broke down and you have to repair it to continue your journey. Having the supplies (and knowledge) to make a field repair might be critical to your success!
Lue Mehl with a broken ski on a ski and packraft crossing of Iceland.

Chapter 11: Medical Emergencies

I was looking for a track about a beating heart to accompany the medical emergencies chapter, rather than a more serious medical theme. This one is great:

Can you hear my heart beating like a hammer
Beating like a hammer
Help, I’m alive, my heart keeps beating like a hammer

Metric has some membership overlap with Broken Social Scene (previous track). If you like these songs, you might like one of my all-time favorite movies, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which features tracks by both bands. The movie is based on a graphic novel series (which was part of the inspiration for the few graphic novel-styled illustrations by Sarah K. Glaser in the book!). I LOVE the editing … very clever transitions and action. The arcade effects were my inspiration to make a game themed video for a ski trip.

But anyway … Metric, Help I’m Alive, awesome.

Chapter 12: Backpacking, Camping, and Cargo

This one feels pretty self-explanatory too …

Well, I guess if you say so
I’ll have to pack my things and go (that’s right)

Let’s just hope he has an ultralight backpack, shelter, and sleeping system! Chapter 12 discusses how to load cargo on a packraft and reduce the weight that you carry in your pack.


Fears by MTNS. I really like this song, but it isn’t as fun as the Ray Charles Track.

I’m leaving, pack my bags
And I’ll see you later

Chapter 13: Research and Trip Planning

As promised … Built to Spill!

During freshman orientation week at Carleton College (Minnesota, 1996), I met Scott Wells and Dana Olson. Scott and Dana were both from Redwing and had the pulse of the local (and national) indie rock scene. In addition to watching Scott’s evolving bands (including Free Energy, which had a national run), we’d travel to catch Built to Spill, Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Sterolab, Modest Mouse, Detroit, Low, Fugazi, Superchunk, etc.

Despite being close to Scott and Dana’s hometown, I was the one with a car. When I graduated from high school in Anchorage, my mom, JoAnne, gave me and Burke shared ownership of her two cars (she moved back to McGrath after I finished high school): Tippy, a Chevy S-10 with shot shocks, and Pokey, a 1980 Honda Civic with no guts. Pokey made it to Carleton.

In the 1990s, my mom had mysterious joint pain issues that made it hard for her knees to work the clutch. Francis, my step-dad, in classic village-Alaska problem-solving mode, connected a suitcase handle to the clutch pedal with cord and a pulley so that mom could pull the clutch with her arm. The suitcase handle was attached to the bottom of the steering wheel with bungie cords.

When we inherited the car, Burke moved the cord from the clutch to the gas pedal 😬. Needless to say, my college friends enjoyed driving my car—even though it required starting by popping the clutch more often than not (which can be challenging in the low-relief midwest!).

Another friend, Kyle Williams, snuck a mini-disc recorder into a Built to Spill concert in St. Paul, intending to record the show. Kyle was playing pinball before the concert and recognized the lead signer, Doug Martsch, playing right next to him. Kyle later explained that he felt especially bad about sneaking in the recorder when he realized Doug was just another cool pinball-playing guy, so he asked permission to record. Doug said, “Yeah, no problem! Why don’t you plug it into the mixing board?” Kyle ended up with an amazing recording and I still have my cassette copy. Some of the tape got munched in the Honda’s crappy tape deck, but it has been one of my MVP albums of all time. The concert opener: The Plan.

The plan keeps coming up again
And the plan means nothing stays the same
But the plan won’t accomplish anything
If it’s not implemented

That pretty much sums up Chapter 13: make a plan so that you can get yourself out of trouble. My planning process involves Google Earth, Gaia GPS, and creating a trip plan document to share with folks in town. I’m building this process into an online course—due January 2022—stay tuned!

Bonus Track (Index)

I can’t help but end with this one … Blackalicious’ brilliant A through G rap, to go with the index of The Packraft Handbook.

Cheers. Thanks for taking the time to enjoy this music with me!


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