Friday, December 5, 2008

Rafting the Russian River

I wasn't raised as much of an outdoorswoman, so I often feel the necessity to prove myself in nature. So when Larry from SOAR Inflatables said we would be rafting 8 miles upstream for 5 hours, in an inflatable kayak, without a guide, with our 5 month old son, I took a big gulp of air and climbed aboard. It's not that I enjoy torturing myself, but my husband does. He heard of this physical challenge and opted for the main paddlers seat, claiming that all I had to do was take care of our son Kai.

After we were suited up and fully paid for our trip, Larry informed us that there were a few challenges of note. The first was negotiating under the Healdsburg bridge to assure not being grounded. He said we especially had to be careful, because we could tip over, and with a baby, that wouldn't be so fun. We watched most couples trying to paddle out towards the bridge end up working against each other and spinning in circles or running into one of the trees that randomly stuck out from the river (this ain't no Disneyland).

Eddie, the constant student, observed the physics of how to paddle just the right way to use the water to push us in the right direction. The first few tries, we too went in circles; though just as Kai started nodding off to sleep, he figured it out. I could see him enjoying the rush of manuevering past small inlets or trees (some of the other obstacles Larry mentioned), other kayakers, and even tough waters, but the real challenge came on the last mile.

Kai had woken up and we had stopped on a riverbank to swim and eat some lunch. We knew we were about a mile away from our pick up because we had spotted the only manmade structure along this stretch of river. We also knew that this was the most challenging part, when the current basically stopped. After seven miles of paddling Eddie's honeymoon with kayaking was beginning to fade. Yet, I was taking care that Kai didn't fling himself over the edge of the kayak when he tried to touch the water.

Like most stories of soft core adventure, we made it back to camp safely, with no bruises to speak of (though Eddie did have a sore back for a couple days). We watched as other paddlers (some with dogs, others with kids) arrived at the pick up spot and I asked Larry why he was the only outfit to allow people to bring their pets and babies. He smiled the smile of a true outdoorsman--one who surely takes his kids on massive adventures--and said that he trusted parents to decide for themselves, since he knew his trips were very safe (that could also be because we all are required to bring cell phones along). I'll say this, Larry's kayak trip does make Healdsburg one of the more kid friendly wine country destinations.

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