The first time I was offered an invitation to go rafting down the American River, I prepared myself for the whitewater. Years later, I was offered an invitation to go rafting down the American River and I prepared myself for a float. Both times I was ill-prepared. There are two types of rafting in Sacramento: rafting and floating. It took me many years to understand this.

My introduction to Sacramento’s meandering rivers came via heavy drinking, inflatable donut tubes and in the midst of high school. My friends invited me rafting one weekend and as an outdoor advocate, climber and slight nerd, I eagerly questioned if I needed a life jacket. My friends giggled and said, “Sure, more floaties the better.” I didn’t think much of the comment, we were about to go on a whitewater adventure and I was stoked. I loaded myself, lifejacket, Tevas and snacks into my 1989 Volvo station wagon and headed for my friend’s house where we all planned to meet. After shuttling a few cars to the location in which we would exit the river, we drove back to the drop-in point, parked and began filling the rafts.

“These seem like pretty flimsy rafts,” I thought to myself. “Why does Sam have a donut tube? She could get really hurt.”

We loaded our arms with floatation devices and made our way down to the water. The river was nearly motionless as screaming youth slowly waded by holding water guns and “Natty Ice” in their hands. I realized there would be no adventure, except perhaps the adventure of keeping these old, thin rafts afloat throughout the day. Regardless, I was excited to get on the water.

Floating the American River thus became a habit for the remaining years I have lived in Sacramento. With time, I have come to recognize the joy in floating without cheap booze. Floating the American River can take many forms: partying, a quiet day of reading, girls (or boys) day, a romantic day out, taking mom (or dad) on an adventure and much more. For the perfect amount of float time, here is my recommendation for where to begin and where to end. This way, if you plan on drinking, you also have the option to utilize the $5 shuttle to bring you back to homebase at the end of the day.

Begin: Sacramento Bar Park: Pennsylvania Ave., Sacramento, or Sacramento Raft Rentals: 11257 South Bridge St., Rancho Cordova.

End: Ancil Hoffman Park: 6700 Tarshes Dr., Carmichael
(Once you see an old water tower, you’ll know it’s time to “abandon ship” and head up the trail to the parking lot).

After years of floating the American, my highly technical and advanced rafting friend asked if I would be interested in rafting the north fork of the American.

“Like, whitewater rafting?” I tried to clarify. Yes, this time I would be in a life vest, wearing Tevas and have paddle in hand the entire time. Forgive me as I am a novice rafter—er, raftee—and my technical terms may be amiss.

Driving up Foresthill Road, we arrived to the drop-in point of the north fork of the American River. My buddy Josh, who was leading the trip, acted as our guide. If you are a novice like me, I highly encourage and almost demand (for your own safety) that you befriend or hire a guide to take you down this part of the river. The day consisted of learning safety protocols, paddling commands and what to do if you fall in the water. I fell in three times over the course of a few hours. At the end of the trip my arms were exhausted from rowing and mounting the raft from my mishaps. My core ached as it had been tense attempting to stay aboard, my hands were raw from over-gripping the paddle and my face was burnt to a crisp due to my useless sunscreen. I had a fantastic day and appreciated whitewater rafting for what it was: an adventure sport.

Whether rafting or floating through Sacramento’s beautiful waters, be sure to acquire the appropriate gear needed before entering the water. There have been countless deaths and injuries in rafting and floating with the majority of those being preventable. The sun has arrived for the season; whatever your next water activity is, take care and adventure on.

**This piece first appeared in print on page 9 of issue #268 (June 18 – July 2, 2018)**

    Ellen Baker

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