Running Rapids on the American

This is a nice piece on white watering, from the Wall Street Journal.

An excerpt.

“On the American River, near Coloma, Calif.

“I blew the turn and the kayak shot up onto the big rock, its nose in the air at a 45-degree angle. Then the river spun the boat in a half-circle and flipped it over. I careened downstream, upside down and backward, until I could roll the kayak upright and resume paddling.

“When I’m on a whitewater run, I often feel like a pinball: shooting downstream, bumping off rocks, wildly paddling through waves to keep from being capsized. The potential for disaster seems to be everywhere.

“I’ve been plenty scared—and had more than a few close calls—climbing. But kayaking really frightens me. And the logic of the sport, like climbing, is that once you master one degree of difficulty, you seek another—constantly pushing your limits. I was reminded of this running the Greys River in Wyoming last summer—on the day before, as it happened, the Annual Deb Martin Memorial Slalom Race. Many whitewater events are in memoriam. Deb Martin, for instance, was an expert kayaker who died on the Fordyce Creek in California.

“I was paddling with Curtis Rohrbaugh, a local guide who has been kayaking for 23 years. I asked him if he’d ever been injured on a river. “I’ve split my head open, split my nose open,” he said. “Nothing major.”

“But as the day unfolded he told me about one hairy river run after another. In one case, he had to escape his boat in a hydraulic—a punishing river feature that keeps a person underwater. Kayakers call this being in a Maytag (as in a washing machine) or getting window-shaded (spun again and again). The whitewater kept beating Mr. Rohrbaugh down, until he crawled along the bottom of the river, out of the turbulence, and could finally swim toward the surface downstream.

“If I have nine lives,” he said, “I’ve probably used four.”

“The more I paddle, the more horror stories I hear. So I decided it might be a good idea to take a kayak rescue course. Which is why I recently found myself squeezing into a dry suit and hurling myself again and again into the cold water of the South Fork of the American River, near Sacramento, Calif.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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