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 www.barbarakossy.com for current trips.
Thanks to Barbara Kossy, Gerard Ungerman, Charlotte Hendricks, and the Sacramento River Preservation Trust for the photos!
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.
Why this trip? We had some vacation requirements:
- Not far, no planes. (We live just south of San Francisco.)
- Fewer than seven days
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
No. I hate suffering. I hate pain. And I don’t train.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.