The leaves are starting to change, the days are growing shorter and there is just enough time to slip in one last summer adventure before it gets too chilly outside.  So why not take a little day trip up to the Middle Fork American River?  Bernadette did and had a bit of an adventure in white water rafting.  Here is what she has to say.

Dear class four rapids,

How scary could you possibly be?

5:00 a.m., only a few hours after I went to bed. Also the time in which it is to wake up for the adventure that awaits us. Did my best to open my eyes, stand up, and grab my gear for the white water rafting trip that Steve, Dakota and I would be embarking on. We headed out the door, walked a few blocks down the street to apartment of the fellow who would be guiding our boat, and then hit the road.  We then met up with the rest of the crew, and drove to the spot in which we would end our expedition.

Thirty long minutes later we arrived at the put in spot on the Middle Fork of the American River. Let me begin with saying, this trip was not, one bit at all, simple. Once we finally reached the put in spot we started unpacking all of the gear and the boats. We inflated these huge, in around 12’ by 5’ rafts, with a hand pump. Yes a hand pump. We took turns inflating, but by the end I was using my entire body to continue pumping air into the boat. Not even on the river yet, and my arms already feel like I’ve paddled the Grand Canyon (which by the way is 277 miles long). Yes I feel like I put a paddle through 277 miles of water. Anyways, after we inflated the boats, went over safety, packed in all of our food and beer, threw on our life jackets and helmets, we grabbed a paddle and walked the boats down to the river.

What have I gotten myself into? The thought came to my head for a split second, but I immediately convinced myself, “Nah, it won’t be too bad. It’s only water, right?“.

“Alright, first things first, we’ll be jumping into the fun right from the start, well at least 45 feet or so from the start.  The first rapid will be coming up in a few seconds” are the words that came from our guide.  Just listen to the guide and I’ll be fine I told myself. Paddle through this rapid. Wheeeeew!! That was intense, but so much fun. Once we got through the first rapid I was feeling a little more comfortable about the fact that I would be floating down class four rapids, sitting on the edge of a huge raft, holding on only by my feet.

Going through the rapids felt like being on a rollercoaster, but without the comfort of being strapped in and connected to a track. Water splashes in every which direction, making it nearly impossible to see where you are and what you’re heading towards. Everyone’s yelling with excitement. Paddle, paddle, paddle, was one of the many commands given. Once we got out of the rapid the river mellowed out, we did a few easy paddles, and continued down the river. “PffChht! Perfect time to crack open a beer. There we were, sitting back, relaxing and sipping on a cold delicious Sierra Nevada, with warm sun rays beaming down upon us. It felt like being in paradise. “If I could get a few easy forward paddles that would be appreciated” our guide said. Stuffed the cans inside the tops of our life jackets and paddled forward. “Ok, take a break.”

As we sat back and relaxed the seven of us in our boat got to know each other a little bit more. But a little while later the pace was beginning to shift. “Alright, now might be a good time to finish up those beers,” was the advice given by our guide, partially because we had been drinking beer for the past twenty minutes or so, but mainly because we were approaching another section of rapids. Finished our beers, threw the empty cans back inside the cooler, grabbed our paddles and locked our feet in for the next section. Left turn, forward paddle two, back paddle one, paddle, paddle, paddle! We had made it through yet another rapid.

The sun moved across the sky, and we kept moving through the water, taking on rapid after rapid. About halfway we decided to make a quick stop just before our encounter with one of the most anticipated sections. The tunnel! We pulled the boats onshore and ran up along the side of the river in order to get a close look at the crazy, rocky, fast-moving section we would be paddling through. It looked pretty gnarly. Just above the very technical spot sat a photographer catching shots of the many rafters that would make their best attempts to successfully paddle through this area. We were able to watch a few different groups take on these rapids. After observing I was able to draw the conclusion that this would be fun! “Who wants the front seat?”

“I do!”I then hopped in the very front of the raft, and held on for dear life. The plan was to stay right, angle the boat to the left, paddle hard, and at the last second right before the super fast section……… pull in your paddle in front of you and jump down into the boat.

Ok so far so good. Oh no, but wait, this doesn’t quite feel like the plan we went over. We were at the point in which we all got down into the boat but before I knew it all I could see was the water in my face, and I found myself practically on the other side of the boat. A few seconds later the water was calm, I looked around to see where I was, and where everyone else was. Somehow, our entire group had managed to cling on and not get flung out of the boat. We had made it. The next boat of friends had made it as well. All I’ve got to say to that is mission accomplished. What a fun trip this was turning out to be. The adventure continued, paddling hard through the rapids, and floating through the mellow sections, beer in hand. It was the perfect combination of activities.

There was one area we went through that managed to toss out a few of the guys that were in the other boat. We pulled a couple of them into our boat as quickly as possible so they didn’t hit any rocks that were approaching. Once it all mellowed out we returned them to their boat.

The trip was coming close to an end, but there was one more interesting, yet dangerous section in which we needed to pass through, only this time we would not be inside the boat. The process described in order to get through this next part sounded like something you see in movies. Our guide quickly laid it down to us. Ok so here’s the plan. We will paddle into an eddy at the edge of the river, and step onto the shore. Next we will tie a long rope to each of the boats. Someone will hold on to the boats and the ends of the rope, making sure the other ends are tied to each boat. A few members of the crew will bring a set of paddles with them. Once they are on top of a tall, about 15 ft. high rock that sits next to the river’s edge, the first person will jump down into the water, making sure they land in the small eddy created by a smaller rock that sits just ahead in the middle of the river. (An eddy is the swirling of a fluid and the reverse current created when fluids flow past an obstacle). Everyone will then climb up onto that rock in which sits only a few feet above water level. The next person will do the exact same thing, and before the last one makes the jump, they will toss down the paddles to the guys on the low rock. Once all of the paddles have been carefully and strategically tossed and caught, the last one standing above will meet the others below. The one securing the raft upstream will release the first raft while being sure that he is holding on to the end of the rope, and everyone on the rock will then be ready to jump into the boat as it passes by. Whoever jumps into the raft will then paddle it off to the side so the remainder of the crew waiting at the bottom can get back into the raft and continue the venture down the river. Got it?

Well god dam I hope we’ve all got it. This sounds awesome and terrifying at the same time. The first boat was released, headed quickly down the river, to the right of the rock in which a few guys stood on, and then was caught in between the two rocks. A couple of guys jumped in and brought it over to the side. Ok one down, one to go. Second boat takes off, but this time, instead of slowly passing by the rock in which the two other guys stood, it got caught sideways in front of the rock, quickly took on water, and then flipped over. “And that is why we secure every little thing we own, to the boat,” were the words that immediately flew out of one of the guy’s mouth. After about 40 minutes of a few of the guys trying to flip the boat back over, we had finally made it back into the boats, and continued on. At this point we were just about back. From here on out it was pretty straight forward, easy paddling.

About six hours later we had reached the end of our ride. We took our last paddles towards land, and brought the boats to rest along the shore. After deflating the rafts and organizing the gear, we loaded everything into the shuttle vehicles and began the thirty minute drive back to the vehicles at the put in spot. It felt like it took hours to get there, but once we were all packed up we headed home.

The three of us, Steve, Dakota and I had made it back, alive and in one piece. What more could I ask for? We had the time of our lives out there. I was extremely happy that I had managed to get the day off of work for this once in a lifetime experience. I then made my last push home. Biked the 4 mile route back to my final destination for the evening. Walked through the door, and headed straight for my bed. Exhausted, and still in awe I fell asleep, thinking class four rapids, I hope we meet again. Until next time…


Bernadette Dangelo


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