I’ve covered a lot of things I have done, but some how I havn’t got around to mentioning one of the most exulerating expernce’s I participated in with my Daughter. In the summer between her eighth and ninth school year my wife got the idea it would be a good experence for the two of us to go white water rafting. She prettty much arrainged the whole trip before springing it on me. I am not so sure that I would have encourged her to proceed other wise. I do not remember the name of the outfitters but the trip took place on the South Fork of the American River between Scaremento and Reno in California.
We made the trip in my 74 Chevy pickup and got my wife checked into a motel next to a place called Sam’s Club. I believe this was before he got involved in the Nevada Casino business. There were several eating estableshments located there and a large eletronic gaming area at the time. None of which interested my wife. Also there was included in a large building a musem he had put together, with many objects he had collected. He had rooms set up with olden times furniture and such, of interest to me was he had a compelete blacksmith shop ( at the time I had a deep interest in blacksmithing). Any way knowing there were places to eat and a safe room for her to stay in I felt a little better abandoning her for the two days we would be gone. Also she had a sister living fairly near who was sheduled to visit with her. After breakfast the next morning My daughter and I bade her goodby and embarked on our adventure.
Traveling down highway 50, we found our exit and started the twisting inner mountain road that led past Suttlers Mill State Park, where the great 1849 gold rush started. We did not know it at the time , but we would disembark our rafts here for a short lunch and break later in the day. After about a hours drive we finaly located the outfitters headquarters and parked our truck. After checking in in the office and paying our fees, we were instructed to wait in the parking lot.
There we were joined by other members of the float as they arrived. I remember there were three highschool girls looking quite young, and two families of four, and another couple. I recall the guy was a big husky fellow and I had hoped he would be in our raft as I was hoping for his strength on a oar. Three guides arrived to take charge one was a guy in his late thirties, a younger guy and a young gal. All dressed in their bathing suits and water sandals. We were all instructed to get into our swin suits and to wear shoes. Most of us had our suits on under our clothes so the change went very fast. One family consisted of a father, mother, son and daughter, and they were all very small people. The oldest guide walked up behind the daugh er who looked to be about eight and asked her age. she replied twelve and he asked the parents to verify that, which they did. Twelve was the minium age for the trip.
About this time a old school bus rumbled up with a driver and we all climbed aboard and off we went back the way we had driven in. After turning of on a secondary road and what seemed a long jorney in the slow crawling bus, we finally started a slow decent into a canyon and finaly stoped at the base of a dam. After disembarking we were devided into crews of six. My daughter and I were teamed up with the family of small people. My daughter at the age of fourteen was almost as big as the father. We were asigined to the young gal whose name was Hili, she said she was born in Hawalli. Hili was not a large person either, it was her job to sit in the center rear of the boat and call instructions to the rest of us and steer with her oar like a tiller. Life jackets were issued to each and checked for proper fit. While the driver and the two male guides, hand pumped up the rafts. Hili gathered us all together and began some basic instruction on how to hold our oars, and how to paddle with them. I might add that there were a number of other outfits going through the same process all over the rocky shore. I wondered to my self why they were all starting out at the same time. I would learn later that the dam restricted the water flow late in the evening and did not open the flow back untill about nine in the morning. It took a few hours for the water to build up enough for the floats to start.
Finally the rafts were inflated and we waded into the water and clambered aboard. Hili instructed me to take the front right side of the boat. The other father was placed on the left, my daughter was behind me with the little girl in the rear behind her. The son was behind his father, he was a young teenager, with the mother in the rear. The water below the dam was calm and smooth, and we paddled around for awhile praticing following Hili’s comands all diging in together, back paddeling, and one side digging and the other back paddeling. Also we were intructed to hang on to our paddels at all cost as no spares were carried and a charge would be assesed for lost paddels. Also instructiong were given if we fell out of the boat to just float along feet first to push against rocks if we came near. And if we fell under the boat to use our hands and knees to crawl out from under it to the rear, and we would be fished out after we were through the rapid.
We piddeled around praticing for all of ten minutes, when the head guide shouted “are they ready? ” Hili shouted “I guess they are as good as they are going to get”. We strung out in a line with the leader going first and us second. The river streached out peacefully before us, off to the left I observed a hugh bolder riseing from the water like a small island. I also noted that people were sitting along the river bank on the otherside of the bolder in lawn chairs. We began to steer our raft toward the bolder and the current began to pick up speed also. Suddenly we came around the bolder aiming between it and the shore and My God, All I could see was spray and foam in the air and Hili shouted this is called the “Washing Machine”. Have you ever opened the lid of your washer in full cycle? Thats what it looked like. Now folks when I was young and foolish while in the Marines on Camp Pendelton, I went to the rodeo arena on Sundays sometimes to watch the Marines from cowboy country ride. My big Navajho friend talked me into getting on a mild half tamed bull once. That is kinda what it was like in that flexable raft. I had wedged my righr ankle into the crease in the bottom of the boat and my left foot under the seat cross peice behind me, you sit on the side of the raft to paddle, and I mean I had them wedged good. In the back of the raft Hili was screaming DIG, DIG, Dig. I was trying my damnedest, but everyother time I dug my side of the boat was out of the water. I was worried about mu daughter so I stole a quick glance over my left sholder, at first I couldn’t see her and felt a moment of panic until I spied her in the middle of the boat with her feet in the air and laying on top of the little girl. Also in that glance I saw the mother and son were both compeletly missing. and the father was off the side and sitting on the bottom hanging on. And Hili is screaming at me DIG, Damn it, Dig, keep us off the rock. I was the only one with a oar in the water and the bolder was close enough I could touch it with my short oar. We were only in there for seconds, but it seemed like five-teen minutes. We suddenly burst out in to calm water. The boy had went over board and floated out behind us, and the mother came crawling out from under the raft. That first rapid was the worst butt puckering one of the day. Everyone was pulled on board, the mother had a minor scrape on one shin, and the daughter had lost her oar, which was retrieved by the front boat.
We encountered other rapids but nothing like that first one. At one spot we got into a stretch of mild rapids that went for a hundred yards or so. In another the water curled back and we could ride the raft like a surf board for awhile.
Soom we reached Sutters Mill where the bus was waiting with cold cuts, drinks and deserts. Rest rooms were available if you need to get rid of some of the stuff we had scared out of us. After our break we took off again and encountered other rapids finally ariving at the over night camp ground where we tied up the rafts and retrieved our camping gear from the truck and settled in for the night. The guides prepared a very good evening meal over a camp fire. Biskets were baked in a duch oven on hot coals, as was a delicious cake. We played vollyball and just sat and talked and got aquanted. We found that the older guide had been a spotter pilot in Viet Nam. On of the fathers from another boat was curious as to why he missed the action, to which he replied ” It was a constant High, on the edge all the time. They talked about some of the other rivers they had run, I believe The American South Fork was a class 5, some had run a class 2. the degree of danger increases with the lower number, a #1 is considered almost impossable.
The night was quite and peacfull under the stars and the river began to quite down to a murmur. I walked down to the bank and the water had dropped to way below the bolders that were covered when we came ashore. The next morning was a slow paced breakfast and stowing our camping gear. and waiting for the water to rise. The river level came up so slow it was hardly noticable. Finally we got back into the boats around 12:30 and started on down the river, much the same as the day before gentle rapids, a few exciting ones and near the end we ran the Devils Washboard. We were warned it would be rough and while exciting I felt it fell short of The Washing Machine of the previous day. Maybe it was rougher and it was just the shock of the first one that stood out. Eventually all good things come to a end and we emerged onto the resavor behind Folsom Dam and were towed to the landing site by a motor boat. There the rafts were deflated and loaded like us back onto the buss for the trip back to the base camp. There we all said our goodbye’s and tipped the guides and crawled into the truck for the trip back to the motel and my wife.
As a souviner of the trip we have a photo take by a profesional on the bolder at The Washing Machine. The only one we could decide on is on with me down in a trough of spray and Hili in the back and my daughters legs sticking up in the air. It was a fun trip and one I will always treasure with my daughter and be grateful to my wife for arrainging for us.
For my wife’s enjoyment we then went to Tahoe for a few days. There I and My daughter rented a motor boat and went out on the lake for awhile. I did not know the lake could get so choppy around four in the afternoon. To return to the dock we had to cut across the on coming chop, and I let my daughter drive the boat and she had us flying across the chop bouncing up intp the air and scared the crap out of me, almost like The Washing Machine. But we made it in safely. She has always been an adventerious individual. She and her partner lived in Gig Harbor for the first few years after she moved to Washington state. They had a boat for a couple of summers before moving to Seattle. She has always driven a pickup and now a Rodeo, no mild car for her, but lives on her big Suzki motorcycle when weather premits.
Oh yeah as for the cold water part, that river is from snow melt and my feet and tail was frozen for the whole time. Being in the front of the raft I caught all the splash and spray. The closest I come to white water now is in the shower. My old bones ache in the cold and damp, so I just look at my picture and remember the fun days. (gettin old is for the birds)
Gonna paddle on out of here