As rafting expedition members dressed in full-body drysuits and lifejackets clambered aboard their raft at the Grave Creek boat ramp, another party dressed in shorts stood to the side of the Rogue River, stretching their lean, muscled, runners' legs, double-knotting their shoelaces and taking sips of water.
The dozen runners were about to begin a three-day journey down the 40-mile lower Rogue River Trail into the heart of the river's national Wild and Scenic Section.
While other people at the boat ramp were embarking on traditional rafting trips, the runners — carrying only light backpacks and water — were accompanied by a raft from Ashland-based Momentum River Expeditions that would ferry their belongings to each night's camping spot along the Rogue.
Momentum River Expeditions is one of several local rafting companies attracting visitors from throughout North America who want to run or hike the entire Rogue River Trail with the support of experienced guides.
If a person on foot gets tired, or an old injury flares up, the runner or hiker can hop in a raft for part of the trip. Guides take care of the food and overnight arrangements, which range from camping to stays at riverside lodges in the remote wildlands.
On the Momentum River Expeditions outing for runners earlier this month, Los Angeles resident Claudia Plasencia said she had been searching for trail-running trips in Oregon when she ran across the rafting company's website and a photo of famed ultra-runner Jenn Shelton, who helped guide the run.
"This is the best of both worlds," Plasencia said of the raft-supported trail run. "I don't have to deal with the logistics. It sounds like a moving playground."
A mischievous Shelton had a beer-drinking game planned for the runners after they completed their first day. The runners were well-advised to avoid a hangover, because day two brought 17 miles of running, the longest daily distance on the trip.
Shelton said running the Rogue River Trail is special because there are few ways to access the area by vehicle.
"It's wilderness. There's basically no access other than by trail or a raft. Once you start, you have to come out on your own two feet or flag down a boat," said Shelton, a former Ashland resident now living in Colorado who holds numerous course records in ultra-marathons.
To help the guests, Ohio runner Connie Gardner ran in the middle of the pack, while Momentum River Expeditions' Pete Wallstrom brought up the rear to watch for stragglers.
Gardner said she appreciated that the run was not a race and would give participants a chance to enjoy the scenery.
"It's beautiful. It's spectacular," she said of the rugged Rogue River canyon landscape.
Wallstrom said the rafting company first launched its raft-supported trail runs last year in the spring and fall. It guided two expeditions this month and will do a third three-day run beginning on Sept. 20. Openings are still available for the September trip.
Other local companies offering raft-supported outings for runners and hikers include Rogue River Journeys and Merlin-based Orange Torpedo Trips.
The expeditions cost $700 to more than $1,000 per person, which includes food and overnight accommodations.
Canadian runners and business partners Rick Stone and Kirk Pinneo said they learned about Momentum's early May running trip via the Internet.
Stone said he had never been to Oregon before. While he had run marathons, he had less experience running trails.
"I'm running a marathon in two weeks," he said. "This is training."
Washington state resident and runner Julie Cary said she went on the expedition to celebrate turning 40 years old.
"A friend found out about it and said, 'How about this for a birthday party?' " Cary said.
Long-distance cyclist Joshua Lawton admitted to having little trail-running experience, but was drawn to the raft-supported run after going on a 13-day cycling tour in France during which a company shuttled supplies and the cyclists' belongings.
"I'm a huge fan of the Northwest," said Lawton, who hails from 5,430-foot-elevation Boulder, Colo. "I used to do road trips to the Northwest. I love it up here. It's a different environment. It's so lush here. There's oxygen, too."
As the Rogue River slipped quietly by through a deep, still stretch by the Grave Creek boat ramp before quickly picking up speed through a series of roaring, turbulent rapids, runners gathered round to hear last-minute tips from Wallstrom before beginning their run.
He advised them to watch for poison oak and rattlesnakes, and to avoid eye contact with any black bears they might encounter.
Like a team, the runners then put their hands together and cheered, "Illahe!" — a reference to the Illahe Campground at the end of their long journey.
Then, running single file, they set off on the rugged, remote trail that would be their home for the next three days.