I wanna field test some gear (Yukon Yak packraft, new backpack and my body) on the water for a week before heading to AK, is there anyplace out west that would be a good testing ground for such a trip? I thought the Colorado River but am told getting a permit is becoming an issue now. I know we're in for a serious winter with lots of rain and wanna hit the water when the river is not too crazy. Was looking at the Merced River but heard it can be a high class ride and I'm inexperienced. Need to be able to camp alongside the river and don't wanna go through densely populated areas (like the Staniclaus River). Thanks.