Paddle California 2014

by Nancy Soares on November 24, 2014

by Barbara Kossy

Editor’s note: Barbara Kossy is an artist and environmental activist. She lives in Moss Beach, California with her husband John Dixon, Tsunami Ranger and surfski paddler. She is a former president of Bay Area Sea Kayakers and has been organizing kayaking trips in Italy since 1996. See for current trips.

Thanks to Barbara Kossy, Gerard Ungerman, Charlotte Hendricks, and the Sacramento River Preservation Trust for the photos!

Paddling the Sacramento River - the group photo

Paddling the Sacramento River – the group photo

We paddled 100 miles in four days on the Sacramento River. The trip was more about time than distance.

I’ve been paddling for over 20 years and I knew I could paddle the whole thing. But I figured the best way to be sure I saw John Dixon, my surfski racing husband, over the course of the trip would be to paddle a double with him. We chose the stalwart ocean-worthy open deck Tsunami X-2 Starship.

Barbara and John paddle the staunch old X-2

Barbara and John paddle the staunch old X-2

Why this trip? We had some vacation requirements:

  • Not far, no planes. (We live just south of San Francisco.)
  • Fewer than seven days
  • Active
  • Nature
  • Warm
  • Something that fit both my competent and his elite skill set
  • Did not require buying lots of stuff

We drove up with our friend Charlotte Hendricks, kayaks car-topped, and spent the night in Redding. After a greeting, a talk, and sandwich packing, the three of us and about another 14 people launched near the Sundial Bridge, a swoosh of Calatrava that hops over the river to Turtle Bay Park in Redding.

The intrepid Charlotte Hendricks

The intrepid Charlotte Hendricks


In four days of downriver paddling I had plenty of time to think about time and rivers. The river hints at the scale of geologic time. As it cuts through the earth and carries us down, the river exposes more. Some say, and I agree, that we’re in the Anthropocene, the epoch that began when human activities started to dominate global ecosystems. There was plenty of time to view bald eagles, surf motorboat wakes, assess waterfront homes, and try to spot big fish underwater.

Swallows' nests

Swallows’ nests


  • If you want your rudder to work you need to paddle faster than the river.
  • Bald eagles are big and look kinda badass.
  • River otters and turtles have something in common. Mostly all you see is the splash.
  • When you paddle a kayak on fresh water you may not need a shower, and you don’t need to rinse your gear.
  • Take care of your skin.
Pete Rudnick taking a break

Pete Rudnick taking a break

What you get:

  • A satisfying paddle vacation.
  • Fresh water and lots of it.
  • Some guided spiritual moments on/in nature’s realm.
  • No cooking. All meals plus ample snacks provided.
  • No tedious kayak packing. Your stuff is schlepped by the staff and their trucks!
  • Friendly helpful guides.
  • Great conversation and friends on the water and around the campfire.
Gotta have the campfire

Gotta have the campfire

Back to the trip:

It’s so kinetic – bouncing down a wave train. Seeing the white water boiling cold splashes into the hot air and onto my hot skin. It’s a downhill ride. I can’t claim to know all that much about river running. I’ve rafted. But I was the one who just pulled hard and followed captain’s orders.

We paddle. There were eddies here, boils of water there, white water flumes, gravel bars shallow, and deeper water with salmon swimming to an upstream spawning and decomposing end, while we run downstream to our own end, some composing (this article?) and hors d’oeuvres.

Gotta have food - yummmm...

Gotta have food – yummmm…

Between celery sticks and hummus I chatted with Gerard Ungerman of Respectful Revolution. He is a French videographer documentarian humanitarian revolutionary. And this fellow has had his share of life roaming the asphalt rivers of the USA on his Harley, looking for the inspiring story. “Do we need inspiration and a connection with the greater powers to save our own asses?”

Gerard (in front) and Lucas Ross Mertz

Gerard (in front) and Lucas Ross Mertz

While paddling we talked with Sacramento canoeist and guide Tom Biglione about writing. To honor the gravity powered journey I write:

The cool water under the October sun heated air
The flow, we go floating on water
Pulling the paddles.
A hot blue sky
Cold green water
Trees dotted with vultures arranged as black ornaments.
The eagle flies up river as we fly down.

an unspoilt riverside view

A peaceful riverside view

Tom pulled out his stage voice and sang some tunes from “Paint Your Wagon.” Russ Clark, a canoe guide from Oregon, belted a song from “Oklahoma.” John and I paddled in time. Charlotte sang and I hummed as I can’t carry a tune. I closely watch the banks for fuzzy river otter pups. I’m hoping for my own cute animal show. John’s comment is, “Lean right!” as we eddy out.

Later, we’re floating. I’m paddling. I wiggle.
He says, “Don’t do that.”
“I’m standing up.”
And I turn around slowly – full rotation – and see he’s standing upright in our kayak. 

In camp Haven says, “Hey, you two should do the Cal100!
I guffaw.

No. I hate suffering. I hate pain. And I don’t train.

Paddling a smooth stretch of river

Paddling a smooth stretch of river

The Cal100  uses the same course. Paddlers slam through the 100 miles in one day. It may be just the thing – for you.
The river changes constantly. Sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly. The river flows with gravity. It runs down to the sea, and always runs down. If you wait it still runs down to the sea. You cannot go up. Well, unless you have an engine.
Eriogonum roseum - wand buckwheat

Eriogonum roseum – wand buckwheat

The motor boats:

It’s not wilderness. There were motorized fishing boats. They could power upstream through shallows. If they went fast enough they planed and left very little wake. When one came downstream we could surf the wake if it was slower than planing speed. The Sacramento is not the Mississippi, but going back up for us human powered craft would be difficult in places and impossible in others.

The fish:

I was wearing polarized sun glasses and could see through the water’s surface glare, deep into the channel. Over the center flow I could see big fish swimming upstream. They must have been salmon or trout, but it was hard to tell since the glimpses were brief and the water murky. We were going downstream and the fish were going up. That can’t be easy. One day someone yanked a big fish from the water, hand caught. It was a big salmon, half alive, half dead, mission accomplished. In shallow side pools we saw frogs, and tadpoles (bullfrogs?) and little fingerlings zipping around under the aquatic plants. I wonder what it would be like to snorkel down river for a day.

Lucas and his big fish

Lucas and the big fish

Here’s a list of the plants and animals one might encounter:

The message:

Lucas would talk to us about the river: its history, its geology and the way it’s the hinge of a huge and important watershed. We were all thankful to be there.

You won't be doing this during the Cal100

You won’t be doing this during the Cal100

The food:

It was good. There was lots of it and it was way better than I could ever drum up after a full day of paddling. And there was beer and wine and brownies and fruit and salads and S’mores. One night we sat around the campfire and Ethan performed a sort of S’mores performance piece, gliding from warming toasting marshmallows to bits of oozing chocolate, all done just so as he delicately assembled the morsels and delivered them to us one by one. This was culinary art. Thank you thank you Haven and Ethan and all the camp and kitchen crew.

Or this - camping under the river oaks

Or this – camping under the river oaks

The camping:

We had to set up our own tents. That’s it. Given that our safari was serviced by trucks, and there were lots of us, we used campgrounds near roads. When compromise includes hot showers, I’m IN.

Your river trip will be different from mine. Maybe you’ll get into the lava formations along the Lassen stretch of the river. Maybe you’ll photograph all the native plants, or work on your paddle stroke. Or learn about geology, or the native people who lived there. If you’re reading this blog, I have the feeling you would love this river trip. And say, if you don’t have a kayak or canoe you can rent one.


This trip happened October 2 – 5, 2014
Catered paddling trip put on by Paddle California
The California Paddlesports Council is the same organization that produces the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium.
Like this post? Then please help us out and share it on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. And don't miss any Tsunami Rangers posts: subscribe by e-mail or subscribe by RSS. And you can leave a comment below...

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Micaila November 24, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Very cool. I’m curious, where was the end point for the river trip? Campsites?


Nancy Soares November 24, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Someplace in Chico. I’d like to do this trip too. Barbara invited me to go this year but when I found out they did about 25 miles per day that was too much for me. I think they may be doing it in 5 days next time – much more doable from my point of view. My butt gets sore and my hips don’t like that much sitting. They do take breaks but it didn’t sound like enough (for me).


Nancy Soares November 24, 2014 at 4:05 pm

And BTW, THANK YOU SO MUCH Barbara, for doing this post for the website. Eric and Jim not to mention myself grew up playing on and in the Sacramento River. It’s my favorite river in the world and I spend a week every summer camping on the upper portion. I’d love to check out the section between Redding and Red Bluff – Jim says it’s especially cool.


Barbara Kossy November 25, 2014 at 6:38 pm

The end of the trip was a take-out just west of Chico.
One aspect of the trip that I forgot to write about in the article, was that I did not have a map. I never knew exactly where we were going, or what the name of any place was. I know I could have looking it all up–and I did when I got home, but I found I enjoyed just trusting the guides and the river, because we always got to where we needed to be. It was a fun tension, wanting to know, and at the same time knowing that not knowing was best.


Barbara Kossy November 26, 2014 at 7:58 am

Correction: The trip was presented by the California Paddlesports Council. For more information or to sign up for next year see


Tony Moore December 3, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Thank you for sharing your river adventure, Barbara, I enjoyed the photos and the account, especially your no-nonsense, almost outline style of writing.
My wife and I also have a Tsunami X-2, and it’s been great for us, allowing my wife to go on trips she otherwise would avoid, mostly due to medical issues…she can rest if she wants to, and let me do the paddling. I had never thought of the reason you gave, namely guaranteeing that you’d be together on the water, and it certainly will do that!
Let me ask you a question: do each of you always sit in the same cockpit, or do you switch off? My wife insists on the rear cockpit, which is fine with me…I truly have no preference. (She thinks the rear cockpit is equivalent to riding a motorcycle rather than being a passenger in the back of one, and laments that 99.9% of the time, the female is on the back of the motorcycle.). She also says that with me in the front, I take the brunt of any wave we punch through. Any thoughts / comments on this subject? (a subject which is mildly amusing to me)


Barbara Kossy December 3, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Hi Tony. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. When I paddle with John I like the front. He’s a more aggressive paddler than I am, so we have more fun when he’s steering. And, I actually LIKE getting gobsmacked with waves. I love that feeling of being right in there. I do paddle the stern and steer when I paddle with other friends. I find myself distracted by looking at the back of their head. I do prefer the front row seat, even if I am a bit wetter.


Tony Moore December 5, 2014 at 9:36 am

Hi Barbara, this is Aline, Tony’s wife. It’s great to see another married couple survive (and even enjoy) a double so much. I wish you lived closer to us. And yes, I refuse to use the front cockpit, mostly because it’s the “traditional” paddling spot for the female. We do all ocean/sea kayaking, and I can see your reasoning especially on a river. It’s easier for me with him in front, he can get in/out of the boat easier than I can (after total knee replacement this past summer) and it’s easier for him when he’s video taping. Also, he doesn’t usually notice when I stop paddling!


Barbara Kossy December 5, 2014 at 5:03 pm

On the topic of doubles kayaks and rudder control and seat choice: Some kayaks have rudder control in the bow. Some have rudder control in the stern. Some have no rudders. Seat position can also be chosen by weight — as the heavier person is often in the stern. In some kayaks the shapes of the front and stern seats, and the reach to the foot pedals of foot rests can also determine who might be more comfortable in the bow or stern. When my husband built a double, I asked that he put rudder control in the bow and stern! Yes, that can be done, but requires a little more cooperation while paddling. I requested that because occasionally one or the other of us may dismount, either on purposes or not, and it’s useful for the other person to be able to control a large kayak as the other remounts.


Tony Moore December 6, 2014 at 9:03 am

Yes, our Tsunami X-2 has rudder control from both cockpits, but the rear cockpit control is better, probably because it is nearer the rudder and therefore more direct. In the front cockpit, with my wife in the rear, I must remember to brace against the foot pedal with the ball of my foot, so that I’m not working against my wife’s steering in the back. I also often use the double as a single because I want a solid rescue and/or videotaping platform in severe conditions (which my wife no longer kayaks in). It’s always the rear cockpit I use in these cases.


Dick Ryon December 9, 2014 at 1:24 am

Barbara, very nice report. The big river beckons. Thanks for the inspiration.


Barbara Kossy March 26, 2015 at 6:53 pm

April 1, 2015 I’ll be giving a talk on Paddle California 2014, and 2015 at the meeting of Western Sea Kayakers (WSK) in Sunnyvale. Meetings are held at Sports Basement, 1177 Kern Avenue, Sunnyvale, 408-732-0300. There’s food, talk, and kayaking friends. From the WSK website: WSK Meetings are held monthly (except July and December) on the first Wednesday of each month from 6:30-8:30 pm. Meetings are open to members and non-members alike. We share ideas and experiences, talk about trips, learn about kayak related issues in our communities, discuss safety topics and listen to wonderful guest speakers. See below for more information on upcoming meetings. See you there!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: