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    September 4, 2011

    Labor Day Weekend – Rafting The South Fork Of The American River

    There’s been a high surf advisory for practically this entire weekend – so, it was time for me to fill a spot on Instructor John’s annual river rafting trip up to the American River.

    We all met Saturday morning at an undisclosed location, in the South Bay area, and started the day drive to the Sacramento area…

    Fire on the 5.

    We passed by an apparent recently started fire just off the freeway – it was probably started by some really stoned teenagers who flicked a marijuana joint out the window.

    Farmer’s Catfish House

    As tradition warrants, we had to stop by the Farmer’s Catfish House in Modesto, California for what might be someone’s last meal…

    The rafting group.

    From left to right, Darnell, Rebecca (Indispensable shuttle driver), Instructor John, Macho Me, Jeff W., and Jaime.

    Since I knew I faced possible death by river, I decided to try a dish that I never had tried before.

    Gator on  the menu.

    Yep, Gator – I believe it was Alligator, but the menu just stated “Gator.”

    Fried with spices, I have to say, I really don’t know what Gator tastes like – sort of like Frog Legs, is the best I can tell.

    The Farmer’s Catfish House is an old converted gas station…

    Farmers Catfish House Catfish back in the day.

    …and a Modesto, “locals'” gem, if you like Cajun style seafood.

    The other customers looked at us like, “Who the hell are these people?”

    After another few hours of driving and a night at a local Sacramento area Hotel, we were ready to do the entire 22 mile South Fork of the American River – something that the commercial rafting companies always divide into a two day trip.

    Inflating The Raft.

    While we were inflating the raft, a Ranger came around and checked to see if we knew what we were doing.

    And we do, unlike a lot of the other rafters that we would meet later in the day.

    Around 10:30 AM – we set off.

    The front of the raft - the power paddlers - Jaime and Me.

    The front of the raft – the power paddlers – Jaime and Me.

    The back - Jeff W., Instructor John as the Guide and Darnell.

    The back of the raft – Jeff W., Instructor John as the Guide and Darnell.

    We went through our first rapid – Meat Grinder.

    The raft was front heavy and when we hit a rock, Instructor John was catapulted forward.

    Unfortunately, he couldn’t get his feet out of the holds and ended up going over the left side.

    Everyone in the raft was trying get him in – we hit another boulder and almost flipped.

    Jeff W. yelled to the front to pay attention, and that the others would get him in.

    They did.

    John thought that he broke his leg – apparently, it really fucking hurt…

    John thought that he broke his leg - apparently, it really fucking hurt…

    After a 20 minute break in an eddy, it was apparent that John’s leg was just bruised and probably will be swollen later.

    Regardless, we were in no place to quit, so after we redistributed the weight in the raft, we continued down the riiver.

    A lot of the old Gold Mining trails from the California Gold Rush still remain on the river…

    A lot of the old Gold Mining trails from the California Gold Rush still remained on the river.

    We rode a few class ones and twos with no further problems.

    When you see in the distance an umbrella with a photographer underneath it, and about 100 spectators around him… and as the sound of intense running water increases, you know that you are now up for a challenge…

    Trouble Maker Rapids

    Entering Trouble Maker

    “Trouble Maker” is a 20 foot drop in the river, on a bend, with a big ass fucking boulder in the middle…

    Trouble Maker Rapids

    “Forward! Forward! Dig! Dig!” John yelled.

    Trouble Maker Rapids

    We had made it around the boulder in previous years, but the water was flowing too fast today.

    Trouble Maker Rapids

    Fuck! Fuck! We are going over the boulder!

    John yelled, “High Side! High Side!”

    Trouble Maker Rapids

    I leaned towards the high side, stopped paddling and grabbed onto the vertical side – I pictured everyone dumping out of the raft – I took a breathe, getting ready for a swim…

    Trouble Maker Rapids

    Instead of the raft going over my head, it landed flat.

    Holy shit!

    I wondered how many were still in the raft?

    Trouble Maker Rapids

    Holy crap!

    I looked around, and everyone was still in!

    The audience applauded – “Yeah! That’s the way to do it!”

    Upon later analysis, there were two things that kept us from flipping:

    1. Shear luck.

    2. Nobody panicked or froze, and everyone at least tried to take the high side.

    On break at Coloma.

    We took the rest of the stretch with no problems before ending up in Coloma for lunch – tacos at Gringo’s Tacos.

    We were back on the river at 2 PM…

    The Doldrums.

    There’s a part after Coloma that is just plain flat… we paddled and floated for two hours, maybe hitting a couple of class two rapids.

    Finally, we came upon…

    Satan’s Cesspool

    Satan’s Cesspool

    Satan’s Cesspool

    Satan’s Cesspool

    Satan’s Cesspool

    Satan’s Cesspool

    A perfect run – except for stalling in an eddy at the bottom, and being hit by some asshole that was following us too close because he, “Didn’t know the rapids and wanted to follow us.”

    Yeah, he was some douche bag, with a cheap “bail boat” who wore a bucket on his head.

    A wrapped river raft.

    We passed by a group that had wrapped their raft around a rock.

    Low budget rafting…

    Kmart raft.

    … a $45 Kmart pool raft that is losing air.

    Stand up rafters.

    How some people try and take these rapids is amazing.

    We approached the “Hospital Bar” rapids… this is where we flipped a few years ago on my last trip.

    Hospital Bar

    Hospital Bar Rapids

    “Back Paddle! Back Paddle!”

    Hospital Bar Rapids

    Hospital Bar Rapids

    Hospital Bar Rapids

    Hospital Bar Rapids

    A perfect run this time.

    After Hospital Bar, it’s about a mile or so to the end of the South Fork of the American River, which dumps into Lake Folsom.

    When we started to see large lake boats, we knew our journey was near the end.

    We paid a jet skier $10 for a tow to the take out point – a service that has been greatly appreciated for the last few years.

    We made it!

    We made it!

    Twenty-two miles in just under seven hours.

    I made a quick slide show from all the professional photographs.

    It may look like I’m making funny faces… OK, I am, but that’s how I either hold my breathe or gasp for air – or yell, “Oh shit!”

    To view this video on YouTube, click here.

    The next day, we heard the tragic news that a woman had died in a Kayak accident on the same day.

    We drove back to Los Angeles the next morning, hitting spotty Labor Day traffic.

    June 19, 2010

    Rafting The Upper Kern River

    I was determined to raft at least once this year, before the water level dipped to pinball levels.

    On Wednesday, we didn’t have enough people to make the trip; on Friday everyone was calling me wanting to go.

    The crew this trip consisted of Instructor John, Darnell, me and first timers for this group – James, Haylee and Ulli.

    The Kern River death count is now at 251.

    The Kern River death count is now at 251.

    We were on the river at noon.

    The water level was still running decent, but down from previous weekends.

    The first run…

    Instructor John, Me, James, Haylee and Ulli

    … Instructor John, Me, James, Haylee and Ulli.

    The raft remained in control; everyone paid attention to the commands.

    Lots of pits and hay stacks, especially over the Powerhouse rapids.

    There was a photographer at the Ewing rapids, but as we found out later, they didn’t take any pictures of us the whole day.

    The crew of the second run…

    Ulli, Instructor John, Darnell, James and Haylee.

    …Ulli, Instructor John, Darnell, James and Haylee.

    The second run shoves off…

    The second run shoves off…

    I sat out the second run and drove the van back down hill.

    This is Ulli.

    This is Ulli from East Germany – an absolutely fascinating and entertaining woman who slightly remembers how badly communism sucked.

    To make Ulli feel safe, I wore my German Police shirt.

    To make Ulli feel safe, I wore my German Police shirt.

    We ended up making two more runs; each run was about 30 minutes down four miles of river.

    It seemed like half the rafters going down the Ewing rapids wiped out; we didn’t.

    This was a perfect trip – everyone showed up and on time, traffic there and back was light, nobody fell out of the raft and everyone did their share of what had to be done.

    We’re not sure when the next trip will be, but it may not be until next year.

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