Rivers for Change-12 Rivers in 2012
Russian River- February 7-12, 2012
By Danielle Katz
The afternoon is quickly slipping by as we head up to our put in near Potter Valley. It has been raining slightly in the last 24 hrs, but not enough to bring the water levels up substantially. Our initial put-in looks too boney for our canoe, so we head slightly downstream to a bridge just off of Potter Valley Rd.
We’re here to paddle the Russian Source to Sea, as part of Rivers for Change stewardship and conservation campaign to travel 12 critical California Rivers in 2012.
While gearing the canoe up, I keep questioning John on his class IV tie down, asking, “why the extra effort? Isn’t this a class I river?” We hit the water; test our flat-water skills and head on down to the first bend.
We haven’t gone 250 yards from the put-in and without warning find ourselves nicely pinned on a rock in the middle of a rock garden. With the canoe quickly filling up with water, we sit there momentarily stunned. Too slow to move before a full wrap, we tug a bit before realizing that the only way to get the canoe off is to ungear completely.
As we shuffle gear to shore, I notice a guy taking pictures from his smartphone from the bridge above. Yes, today we are the monkeys in the zoo. We wade gear to shore, and I’m very glad I have my dry suit on. With the boat unloaded but full of water, it takes some mighty heaves to liberate it. I’m sure it’s been bent in half, but miraculously it comes free and snaps back into place minus a few scraps and dents.
We load back up and push off downstream, slightly more apprehensive about what lies around the next corner. We paddle up to our next rock garden: scout, and decide to line the boat. Time and time again we line, push, and pull down a river that’s just a little too low to paddle. We reach another boulder garden that is completely impenetrable. This time portaging is the only solution. We continue on, get bounced out of the boat, have a slow motion swim, regroup, and continue tugging the boat through the obstacle courses. These are not Zen rock gardens you can eddy hop through. We are moving like snails and losing daylight fast. This is becoming wearisome and worrisome.
At long last the gradient begins to level, the riffles turn into clear shallow gravel bars that we barely slide through in the waning hours of daylight. We reach the reservoir and start our paddle in the dark. John and I arrive at the far shore above the dam. There is supposed to be a campsite, but find it closed for winter. We decide our only option is to camp in the parking lot of the boat launch.
I’m skittish all evening as the locals do their evening rounds, just waiting for the authority’s to show up. I begin to run the countless scenarios through my weary mind. “Well there is no clear NO CAMPING sign posted….!” “Where did you expect us to go? Anchor in the middle of the reservoir for the night?” After slipping into some warm clothes and savoring a hot dinner, I relax into watching the almost full moon try to break through the clouds. A gentle fog begins to drift down to the banks of Coyote Dam, as I drift off to sleep.
12am: A loud voice is shouting, “What do you think you’re doing, you can’t be here!” over and over, a dog barks in the background. I sigh and wearily take my earplugs out as a bright flashlight shines into my sleepy eyes.
John and I alternatively answer the looming authority figure. “We’re traveling down the river, had no place else to go, it was late, our online research about the campground informed us that it was open, and we were disappointed to see it closed. We had to improvise given the time of day….” The sheriff begins to see the picture, he lowers his flashlight, and responds in a gentler tone: “Well you’re certainly not the normal transients I get here,” he says. I take that as a compliment. “I’m on ’til 7, you may here me pass by a few times, but I’ll make sure you go undisturbed, I imagine you want to get some sleep.”
Yes, yes we do. Gratefully we are allowed passage. And I sleep soundly for the rest of the night.