Nomad Life: Meet the River Gods

Kernville, CA

We can’t live without water and we die by the hands of it. The river and creeks are the veins while the ocean the pulse. It reminds us how small we are, how we’re all connected. We are drawn to its morphing beauty, it’s natural power, it’s life giving and life taking abilities. We challenge it and take it for granted. H20, our life-source.

Water is powerful. I understood that at a very young age. Getting held under by waves, pulled by the currents, inhaling water, running out of breath. The ocean and it’s waves were my summertime best friends as a child. We’d dance and play, the harder the play the freer I’d feel. As I got older my girlfriends and I would spend our weekends sunbathing and swimming at the river or lake but I wasn’t able to find that connection as I did with the ocean.  Until this summer when Sean introduced me to one of his passions, white water rafting.

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Sean got to take some of his family down the river, they had so much fun! I got to take photos (this one is by me).

Because of the drought in southern California, this was the first time in three years the Kern River had enough water for recreation.

Finishing up our time in Bishop, CA Sean was determined to work as a raft guide again, at least for a month. Because of the drought in southern California, this was the first time in three years the Kern River had enough water for recreation. Knowing this we packed up and headed to the town of Lake Isabella which is one of the small towns situated near the Kern river. As soon as we arrived we found a free spot to park the trailer and only a couple hours after Sean landed the job he came for.

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“Here’s your paddle, don’t fall in.” Then they started talking about strainers and sieves and foot entrapment, “oh and don’t forget to high side”…you don’t want to flip your boat…

The next day we were on the river running class IV rapids with friends. It happened so fast I don’t think I even understood the madness of it all. I was the only true newbie on our first trip. I’m pretty sure I’d been tubing once in my life but even that was a distant almost forgotten memory. Instructions on rafting: “Here’s your paddle, don’t fall in.” Then they started talking about strainers and sieves and foot entrapment, “oh and don’t forget to high side”…you don’t want to flip your boat…”but if you do flip your boat whatever you do don’t try to stand up in the river!” I wanted to be terrified but I was too overwhelmed to feel much of anything. We made it through the run without incident which was quite amazing to me since two of the five passengers were our dogs who, like me, had never been rafting. The site of all of us, I’m sure, was hilarious. It was definitely an adrenaline rush, I had moments of confused emotions like “I’m terrified but having fun?”….but ultimately I knew I was with experienced hands and we all had a good time (the dogs, not so much). <VIDEO coming soon>

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Keenan came to visit, we took him rafting for his first time (my second).

Maybe our sweet little bus driver got in my head, maybe the River Gods thought I was feeling too confident or maybe it was just my time.

We kept running different sections of the river over the next two months, I didn’t want to admit it for the fear of something bad happening (I learned quickly to not piss off the River Gods and that superstition is at an all time high along the river), but I was having a blast. Then one day I bounced right out of the boat. It was a rapid I’d been down a few times already. Our friends were the customers, Sean was our guide and I was along for the ride. We were running Limestone class IV two times in a row that day. First round all good, I was finally beginning to feel confident and a little less scared. As we were unloading boats for round two our bus driver informed me he had a feeling I was going in this round. “Nooo! Shhhhhh!!!” I told him, the River Gods were probably listening! And sure enough, I popped right out of the boat at the top of Limestone and had the swim of a lifetime. Bruised my right sit bone, inhaled and choked on water and gained a whole new respect for the river. Maybe our sweet little bus driver got in my head, maybe the River Gods thought I was feeling too confident or maybe it was just my time. Either way, it scared the sh*t outa me!

I didn’t float the river for a week after that (partly because my butt bone was so bruised I couldn’t sit straight). I would try to find comfort in Sean and other experienced boaters, looking for sympathy or understanding but they’d just come back with an even more terrifying river story…was. not. helping. I had some private talks with the River Gods, did a lot of reflection on pushing my limits and how far I’m comfortable with taking them. When I went back, I was not just a little scared anymore, I was terrified. Before every big rapid I’d practice slow deep breathing to calm my mind and nerves (which has been scientifically proven to be effective) and got myself through that irrational fear safely to the other side….staying in the boat was also a huge help. We continued through the season, went on private trips with friends, commercial trips with friends and strangers, personal trips with just the two of us. The river was beginning to seep into my sun drenched skin seeking my love and affection.

 

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Sometimes I’d tag along on commercial trips for experience and fun.

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A view of our free BLM campground on the Kern River. This is a semi busy weekend. No designated camp areas, it’s pretty much a free for all at this place.

My first real experience living on a river was surreal, humbling and eye opening. I was witness to displays of undeniable passion and love for the water by many but what came with that was also witnessing the carelessness and destruction of the river and lake by many more. Trash, graffiti and inappropriate waste disposal just to name a few. It was sad to see people being so disconnected from nature and we were right in the middle of it. On the weekends there’d be an influx of people from the city for a river party and they’d usually leave the place a disaster. When we could we’d try to educate those that were camped around us, give out garbage bags and pick up trash ourselves. Everyone should do their very best to practice “leave no trace” but I prefer to leave an area better than you found it. We all have to lead by example, eventually others will catch on (we can’t leave everything up to the River Gods and we definitely don’t want to piss them off).

The life and sounds of the river were incomparable. We found little pieces of paradise with swimming holes and beavers. Happy dogs, cool water on a hot day, peace and quiet…moments that made the overcrowded weekends at camp okay.

By the end of the Kern rafting season we’d had visits from many friends and family who got to enjoy our backyard, go rafting sometimes for the first time and get a little taste of life down by the river.

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I must say, our summer of “working” was a great one. Sean got to share his passion and a new way to adventure with me. It wasn’t the easiest place to be dry camping in the middle of summer for two months but the few struggles we faced helped us become better and hopefully a little wiser.

Kern River is absolutely gorgeous. A huge thanks to those who help conserve this special area! For local clean-ups and fundraisers contact the below foundations. Every little bit helps!

Kern River Conservancy 

Keepers of the Kern

Have you every beeimg_7723n white water rafting? What was your experience like?

Have you pushed your fear limit too far? What happened?

I’d love to hear your stories! Comment below or contact me via email : geneva@theoutsideway.com

Written by: Geneva Damico

Photos by: Sean Naugle, Geneva Damico, Kern River Tours

 

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