January 2, 2020 By Tom McKinney

Rafting on the River

In early 1983, I saw an ad in Orange County touting the South Fork of the American River offering special discounts for groups of fifteen or more. I rounded up some interested friends and we left by bus early on a Friday afternoon. My friend, Tad Riley, from Chula Vista, was my tentmate, and along with our dinner that night we had a few beers to celebrate our friendship. Little did we know what lay ahead the next day! (I was told later that the rapids were graded a five!)

The following morning, we were given instructions on the use of paddles and life jackets then boarded two rafts and prepared for an enjoyable two-day trip down 21 miles of river. Tad and I were assigned to different rafts. We began our trip through a series of lesser rapids, even though they had names like Satan’s Cesspool, and then entered calmer pools of water. So far everything seemed exhilarating, but not overwhelming.

After a short lunch break, we began our journey down the famous gorge section and hit our first real rapid, which is known as Trouble Maker. Indeed, it was true to its name! As we were the lead raft, we entered and executed and only one person went overboard. I was fortunate as my hat fell off and, while I reached for it, the guy in front of me flew over my shoulder and was quickly pulled out. Then we paddled to the right side of the river and exited our raft on the riverbank.

Suddenly one person in our group said, “Isn’t that your friend, Tad, floating down the river?” It was! Alone on the river with his hat on his head and holding his paddle! Zeke, the guide on my raft, said not to worry as someone would pick him up. Sure enough, he was rescued several minutes later, but by that time he was suffering from hypothermia.

When we went ashore, I was relieved to see him with a grin on his face. When Tad and I had time to talk, he told me that he had been worried that he was going to meet his maker. What a comedown that would have been after having survived one or two plane crashes!

We had a short lunch and boarded our bus for our return trip to Orange County. Most of our group told me that it was one of the most exciting trips that they had ever taken, and they couldn’t wait to take another. Except for Tad. He swore off river rafting . . . until Costa Rica!


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