My daughters have been telling me lately that I’m too overprotective and I need to let go a little. Coming from a 7- and 9-year-old, it’s not very convincing. What do they know about a mom’s need to keep her children safe, anyway? But it seems that life is sending me the same message, and life has a way of making you listen.
A friend recently invited our family on a whitewater rafting adventure. He owns the company and wanted to show us what it’s all about. I was nervous, but he assured me that he’s been taking his daughters since they were little tykes, and one has become a veteran rafter herself and even manages the company now. We’d be in good hands. So we planned our Saturday adventure, drove the 2 1/2 hours to Coloma, California, and anxiously suited up for a day on the American River.
I’m usually up for any adventure. I have many fears, but overcoming them is the best feeling in the world. I want to experience everything life has to offer me. And that’s what I tried to remember as my husband and I exchanged nervous glances and joked about who would jump out of the raft to save the girls first. Our daughters were oblivious to our worries and chattered away with the Sierra Whitewater Rafting staff and excitedly jumped into the boat when it was time to go. They were clearly NOT concerned. (note to self: try to be more like a 9-year-old, they have way more fun!)
It was a beautiful day to be on the river. We were serenaded by birds and greeted by turtles sunning themselves on a log. My friend and rafting guide, Deric, pointed out the things he loves about the river and canyon and shared stories of memorable runs down the frothy white river.
Sierra Whitewater Rafting is a mid-size rafting company but runs very much like the family business that it is. Deric owns it, daughter Ascha manages it, and both expertly guide groups all spring and summer (and sometimes winter!) long. As they’ve added guides and staff, they’ve learned that the thing that sets them apart from other companies is the simple human connection. They care about their customers and take the time to get to know them. This isn’t a cheap ploy to retain customers, it’s because they really are interested in who their customers are, where they come from, and what makes them tick. Chalk it up to Deric’s prior career as a newsman, but he makes it a point to ask questions and learn about each and every person in his raft.
As for our raft that sunny Saturday, he learned that Red Vines are a universally beloved treat, and learned that I’m not nearly as carefree as I was a decade ago when I worked at the newspaper with him. Now I’m a nervous mom who shushes her kids when they get too loud and tells them to keep their feet off the furniture — or, in this case, PVC raft bench. Deric didn’t know when he told my eldest to “go with the flow” that he was actually talking to me too. So I pushed my fears to the back of my mind and jumped in for the ride, and what a ride it was!
My daughters shrieked and squealed with glee as we charged through ravaging rapids with names like Satan’s Cesspool and Ambulance Driver. They laughed as walls of water washed over them. They screamed “FORWARD PADDLE!” at Deric’s direction, and for once I didn’t care who heard them. Then they did something I am still in awe of. They pointed at a rocky cliff by the river and said, “Can we jump off that?”
WHAT?!?!!? Um, no! Are you crazy? Surely that’s not in the day’s itinerary. Right? Right?!?!
Here’s where I had to swallow my gut reaction and go with the flow. Deric guided the raft to the shore and the girls scrambled up the rock to the top, which I later found out was about 18 feet high. My husband climbed with them and was the first to jump in the river, showing them to jump out from the rock face so they don’t hit it on the way down (again, are you crazy?!?!). After some teasing and coaxing, my 9-year-old took the plunge, jumping wide and easily clearing the rock face. Then the 7-year-old followed. Both girls popped up to the surface and Deric hauled them into the boat, dripping wet and exhilarated beyond belief. They were SO proud of themselves, and I was too.
I saw them in a different light after that. They were brave, and dare I say it?, BAD ASS! Yep, I have two BAD-ASS daughters who are easily capable of taking risks and seizing the day. Adventure is a good thing, and who am I to tell them they shouldn’t have it? After the rock jump and the endlessly thrilling rapids, I think I began to learn that lesson that my kids – and life – have been trying to teach me. All those times I so quickly told them no, they can’t do something. All those times I said something was too hard, or too scary, or too risky. All those times. Those missed opportunities. Those memories that weren’t made. All those times.
The rafting trip was easily the highlight of our summer, and oh yeah, it’s still only spring. The kids want to make it an annual trip and they want to take on bigger rapids. I’m pretty sure they think Deric is a god and they want to be just like Ascha when they grow up. While a part of me wants them to be cautious and safe, an ever-growing part of me wants them to remember this experience and tap into that courage they found at the top of the rock. I want them to remember what it feels like to step off the rock, soar through the air, and plunge into an icy river… and want to do it all over again. I want them to never say “I can’t” or “I’m too scared.”
Some tips if you go:
- There are three forks to the American River – north, middle, and south. The lower section of the south fork is what we ran and it seems to be the most manageable for young kids. There is an age and weight minimum, though, so be sure to check before you book.
- There are lots of rafting outfitters. Sierra Whitewater is family owned and run by the utmost professionals and will get my vote every time. And here’s an insider tip: unlike most companies, you get the best deal from Sierra Whitewater by calling, not reserving online. They want to connect with their customers from the very beginning, so they encourage phone calls. (530-368-9027)
- Wet suits are a must in the spring. I’ve rafted the river in the high heat of summer and the water was still cold. I wouldn’t do it in the spring without a wet suit. You can rent them from Sierra Whitewater or bring your own.
- Buy the damn photo. Yeah, yeah, we all know that souvenir photos are overpriced. But you do NOT want to sneak your cell phone onto the raft with you and you won’t get a better photo than the one the pros take from perfectly positioned vantage points at the rapids. You will want to remember this adventure, and it’s worth it to just buy the photo from the pros. (Hotshot Imaging took our pics from Satan’s Cesspool and Hospital Bar, the two Class III+ rapids we ran. Our expressions are priceless!)
- Coloma is the launching point for the lower section of the south fork. It’s also the epicenter of the 1849 Gold Rush and has the coolest living-history state park. Take some time after your adventure to wander the gold discovery site or picnic by the river.
- Have fun! Sure, someone might fall out of the raft, but that’s not an emergency and does not ruin the trip. The guides are experts at scooping you back into the boat, and you’ll get to go home with a great story to tell. So just go with the flow. You won’t regret it.