Take me to the river

Editor’s note: Jean Gillette is taking a short vacation. This column was written last summer, but is one of her favorites.
Do I look pruney? It may have eased by now, but last week I spent two days rolling down the Lower Kern river, and wet was definitely the fashion statement.
My dad, my 91-year-old dad with the body of an 80-year-old and the mind of a 25-year-old, decided he wanted to river raft before he dies. And so we did.
We gathered up a great group of friends and headed out. The gang of high school- and college-age youngsters had the time of their lives, shooting the rapids, splashing each other, falling off the boat (on purpose) to float the rapids. My dad was right there with them … in fact, he shared their raft. We moms had our own raft and our own good time, working muscles that are generally not called upon, but paddling our hearts out, and, I am proud to say, coming out unscathed.
Our guide was clearly the coxswain on a Viking slave galley in his last life. He made it quite clear that he really had no faith that his bunch of middle-aged women and teen-aged girls were going to make it down the river without serious mishaps. Our raft quickly stopped being a vacation and became a training exercise. We had fun anyway. I don’t think he did, though.
The guides love to tell you both the proper name of each set of rapids and then the colloquial name. Example — Sweet Maiden’s Walkaway, or Eat Rocks and Bleed. Another was fondly called Hari-Kari. It needed no nickname but, generally the “inhouse” nicknames were always something like Raft Muncher or Broken Paddle.
Highlights of the trip included a host of Class 4 rapids and getting just the tiniest bit stuck on one rock. The most fun we had was figuring out how to get off without tipping over. I never doubted we could stay upright. Our guide thoroughly doubted we would. Ha ha … we did.
Then there was the very large and very drowned cow in the middle of the river, horns sticking up. We had to paddle hard and fast to avoid hitting it. That would have been far more memorable than anything but not in a good way.
We saw turtles, blue herons, dragonflies, garter snakes and even witnessed the saving of a fledgling woodpecker. It was floundering in the mud as we pulled up for lunch. Apparently its first leap from the nest didn’t work out so well. The guides plucked it out and popped it up on a tree branch to dry out and calm down. It was pecking wood before we left.
The guides were surprised and delighted when they finally found out my dad’s real age. They can’t wait until they get some whiney 40-something in their next raft who is complaining that he or she has to paddle too much. They plan to immediately break out a “Tom” story and put them to shame.
I’m ready to go again … in my next life. But I’m coming back as the raft. It doesn’t have to paddle.


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