American River, January 12, 2013 Cabin Fever

American River, Sailor Bar to Rossmoor

4000 cfs, weather cold and clear, no wind

January 12, 2013

bugs eye view of our group

bugs eye view of our group


Tallulah and I take a look at a tree with low hanging shoes.


Ok, Pat and Eileen, we got up early so we wouldn’t be late. We knew we were supposed to be there at 10 and so we left Berkeley with 2 hours to make a 1 1/2 hour trip. I averaged 68 MPH ( I love my cruise control) even though I wanted to go slower because I had two giant canoes cinched down to my roof rack and boat hooks. It looked like there was more boat than car even though I have a Subaru station wagon.

How it is that we arrive at the put in 15 minutes early to see that everyone else is already outfitted for the river and we are still in our underwear (metaphorically speaking)? You guys are super!

Fortunately it takes an hour or so for those who arrived on time to get their stuff together so we were on the river by 11:45ish, with plans to finish the shuttle at the end of the day.

The parking lot was full of trailers and SUV’s and the shore was peppered with fishermen up to their armpits in the river with their filament lines streaming out. They were after Steelhead. They looked very happy.

Did I mention that the thermometer in my car read 34 degrees when I parked the car at 11:30? There was a small pond in one of the parking lots at Sailor Bar that had a layer of ice almost half an inch thick. Alice brought me a piece. She and Tallulah spent a few minutes walking on the ice, breaking off chunks of it and throwing them at each other and generally playing with yet another version of the water toy.

I also should mention that as we drove up Highway 80 then 50 we were passed by plenty of people who had skis and snowboards on their roofs. They were driving up to places with actual snow on the ground and air temperatures lower than 25, so if you think we were nuts just imagine what a terrible time they had!

We were a fairly large group of regulars, Pat and Eileen, trip leaders, Bob and Joan, Kit and Tallulah, Alice and Charlie, Jan L., Dave and (the best brownies cook ever) Debbie, Eric F. and Amy S. with Fred(4) our only true beginner.

I was really pleased to be paddling with Tallulah, Alice’s friend who was visiting from Australia. Tallulah used to come on a fair number of trips with us when her family lived here in the States but they moved back to Australia when she and Alice were sophomores in high school. Now the girls are in college and Tallulah is here for her summer break. In Australia the street temperatures were in the 120’s (no, that is not a typo).

Time flies like an arrow. Tallulah remembered everything about her strokes except which way to lean so we worked that out and paddled around the eddy at the put in for the last few minutes before we circled up at the boat ramp. She has nice strong strokes and she is very satisfying to paddle with.

We did the introductions and Pat demonstrated the signals and we made sure Fred was aware of some of the basics. He was attentive. Somehow Eric had managed to convince his little son not to get his feet wet so he was probably pretty comfortable in the boat. He looked like the Little Prince but puffed out by his PFD and layers of fleece and waterproof pants. Still, he could walk without the slightest clothing-induced waddle. I guess the Little Prince part is that he looked calm and inquisitive and very together. Maybe his dad knew better but from this observer’s point of view, Fred had a good time.

As we pulled out someone asked, “What’s the flow?”

Eileen said, “I don’t know, I meant to check but…”

So I said, “Its something between 100 and 2000 CFS.” ha ha.

A bored voice from one of the fishermen hanging around waiting for his shuttle said, “Its running at 4000.”


No one had a GPS so we don’t know how fast we were going but in a very few minutes we arrived at the lunch stop where we sat in the sun and ate. I was making up for a short breakfast and stoking up for a cold day so I ate a big lunch. Then Debbie brought out her brownies. OMG! I think they went as follows, a layer of dense brownie with chocolate chips, then a layer of marshmallow cream, topped off with chocolate fudge. One mouthful was enough to keep me going for the rest of the day, the whole brownie was enough to power Sacramento.

We saw buffleheads and plenty of the usual seagulls and white egrets (or herons? I can never tell the difference). But there was a special treat of a quacking blue heron that took off right behind us, a green heron and a night heron. Alice saw a kite (the bird kind). There were a couple of jumping fish that had avoided the fishermen. The river was so wide and fast we barely noticed it. It was just part of a moving landscape that carried us along. Sometimes I feel like this trip is kind of depressing because the parkland on both shores is dried out and grey and covered by cold and stripped oak trees. It looks kind of desolate but this year my eyes were much more appreciative, the ground was covered with sparkling frost and foolish little bits of baby green grass were peeking out of last year’s crop of dried weeds. The houses on the bluffs raised the usual comments, “I couldn’t live that close to a river. I would always worry about floods and erosion.” But I guess when you build a giant house on stilts you have the money to build a foundation far enough away from the edge that you have at least one lifetime’s view of the river and valley, the heck with the next generation. I wonder what their flood insurance costs?

It took us another 5 minutes to arrive at San Juan Rapid from the lunch stop. We walked down to take a look at the chute. It didn’t look like much, the whole ledge was under water and the wave train didn’t look extraordinary until you took a look at the eddy line, where you could see a huge complicated mess of boils, cross currents and whirlpools. That could be a challenge. Tallulah and I took the sneak route on the left into the eddy beside the chute and watched as Eric, Amy and Fred bounced right through the middle of the wave train, followed by everyone else. No drama, which is how you want it on a cold day like this.

Tallulah and I sat in our boat while some of the paddlers played with the current. Tallulah and I drifted into the current just to see where it would take us and there was a strong pull into the wave train so instead of doing an ender we took control and paddled the eddy line back to our parking spot. There were a few moments when I felt quite giddy as the boils and whirlpools rattled us around.

The takeout was Rossmoor, about a mile below San Juan. Eileen was worried about people feeling like the trip was too short but Charlie’s comment seemed to answer for everyone, “This is a cabin-fever trip. We’re here because we haven’t been on the river for months and just need a little fix to get us back in line with the universe.”

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