There I was, peering down over the edge of a cliff, shivering as the wind raced through my hair. I watched the droplets of river water fall from the tip of my nose 30 feet to the rumbling whitewater below. This was why I had come; to finally put my seemingly endless slumber of everyday apathy to rest. (Opening photo: Voyage with Jetsetters Magazine writer Josh Edelson down the Lower Kern River on a White Water Rafting Adventure.)
A lot goes through your mind when you're standing atop a cliff, but this was what I came for to feel scared; to feel nervous; to feel. . . something. In a world where society has trained us to become money making machines, we tend to forget about the things that make us happy. We tend to forget what it's like to be out there, tasting the scent of the Earth, smelling the sun.
The moment I stepped off that ledge, something happened to me. My heart started racing, my eyes opened like oyster shells, and for one brief moment, I forgot about the years of career searching, the constant pressure to build a family and an above average house, the need for a status-symbol car. There was one thing on my mind as I was flying through the air that recurrent dream I've always had where I fall, and awake just as I hit the ground. It was one of those dreams where you lose all control, and you know something? It felt good! I listened carefully as the pitch and speed of the wind in my ears rose as I fell faster, and faster toward the beckoning river below. The hairs on my arms trembled with fear, my blood pressure rose; my brain was on information overload. Then "Splashdown!" My shoes slapped the water like a bat on a tin trash can, and the Kern River quickly gobbled me up and spit me out downstream to the eddy where the rest of my crew welcomed me back. Now, I was awake; now, I was alive.
The Lower Kern river is warm. Now arguably, someone from Alaska might think a 45 degree shower is warm, but I'm from California, and I'm telling you, this river was warm. The reason for this is because the entire flow of the Lower Kern is runoff from the damn upstream which warms in Lake Isabella. It's based in The Sequoia National Forest a national park dedicated to wildlife, fishing, camping, hiking, and of course whitewater rafting.
The trip starts in Kernville, a podunk little pay-before-you-pump type of town dubbed the whitewater rafting capital; 40 minutes downstream on a rickety old bus, we reach our put-in. From here, the Lower Kern River stampedes down a boulder filled gorge littered with curls of whitewater all throughout. It sporadically dashes from a lazy-river-like feel to powerfully snapping rapids. Its banks are lined with wild elk, blue heron, and other sorts of creatures that quench themselves here from the scorching heat. In one spot, you actually have to exit the river, and carry your raft around the mother-of-all-rapids a class V nicknamed "The Royal Flush".
I've joined up with a company called White Water Voyages, of which the owner, Bill McGinnis, was named one of the top paddlers of the century by Paddler Magazine. Aside from being an excellent paddler and obtaining a Master's degree in English Literature, McGinnis pioneered White Water Voyages to be one that focuses on having an unmatched quality of service; and unmatched it was.
I don't mean to make you hungry, but if you don't mind, I'd like to take a little more time talking about this incredible fare because it was excellent, and I'm hungry. At the camp site (which I'll get to in a minute), I had smoked salmon for dinner, corn on the cob, fresh salad and beans, and a brownie soufflé that was ridiculously rich in chocolate. Then we woke up to eggs, sausage, bacon, omelets, and giant fluffy pancakes with real maple syrup. Cereal with milk, coffee and orange juice I don't eat this well at home and here I was in the middle of the wilderness, eating like a king. Now If you'll excuse me for a moment, I need to take a break from the article I need to make a sandwich.
So the food is incredible and the service is definitely unmatched. Let me tell you about a few of the guides. First there's Neal, a burly-bearded surfer dude whose reputation as a skilled paddler is closely challenged by his uncanny ability to make the world's best pineapple boat. There's Darlene, an account executive from L.A. that drives up to Kern County every weekend to be a river guide. Then there's Felipe, a scrawny little Costa Rican boy with the skills of a river god. All throughout the trip, the guides Ooohed and aaaahed at his tenacity to "surf the hole" (a concept in which the raft actually "surfs" upstream in a U-Shaped portion of water, stalling the raft mid-rapid). Lastly, there was Bruce, AKA "Curly from 'City Slickers'." Curly piloted the food and first aid kits down the rapids, leaving an offering of river rocks to the river gods for safe passage at each stop. But he didn't just put them in piles, he would deftly balance one upon another, creating graceful, eccentric cairns.
At camp, we learned to swim the rapids with nothing other than a life vest. We surfed on a panel of wood tied to a rope wrapped around a tree, and some were even daring enough to try "surfing the hole," although watching the numerous wipeouts proved to be much more entertaining.
Day two was filled with something like nine class IV rapids one of which was called The Pinball Machine because of the ridiculous amount of boulders that you'd have to bounce and spin off of in order to maneuver through the rapids. This was the only rapid that claimed one of our crew and fortunate for us, it happened to be our guide. All we remembered was being pinned up against a giant boulder, about to tip upside down, and when we flipped back over, there went Darlene, swept away by the current.
Another Class IV called "Surprise" claimed quite a few swimmers from other boats due to the fact that it was inconspicuously positioned to look as though everything were calm and normal, when in reality it packed a four foot drop followed by backlashing whitewater curls and a series of additional class IVs quick to follow.
I took the two day Lower Kern rafting trip which is perfect for first-timers and veterans alike. White Water Voyages also offers nine other trips ranging from Class IIIs to Class V+ expeditions down some of the rip-roaringest rivers California has to offer. All trips range from 1-3 days, include food, guides, brief training, equipment, and an excuse to get away.
Feature and photos by Josh Edelson, Long Beach Correspondent.