Rogue River Cycling and Rafting

During Cycle Oregon, a 400 mile route across the southern part of the state, we crossed the Rogue a few times. Several cyclists I talked to, of the 2000 or so other riders, said something to the effect that biking is great, but what’s really amazing is rafting, and in particular the Rogue and Colorado. Over two decades earlier, I had wanted to be a river guide on the American River in California. I was just out of college, and imagined that with the one week of on-the-job training, I would be fine. I had never camped before – except for one regional Girl Scout adventure, where my troop shared an enormous tent for one night. I had never been kayaking, canoeing, or boating in fresh water. I had once been on an inflatable raft on the Truckee River, which is a bit like the log ride at Great America. Run by a company, groups of high schoolers and beyond, got dropped off at the top and floated downstream and super-soaked each other with plastic water guns. I am not even sure that we had paddles, and life jackets were not required. The first day of guide training, I realized how limited my vocabulary was, and that while I had certainly heard of currents, eddies and holes before, these words had new meaning when placed in the context of moving water. I’d like to say that at the end of this river boot camp, I learned how to guide, but the reality was that even with seven more weekends under my belt, I never became strong enough to guide solo. It would have taken a whole summer of devoted apprenticeship. While on the river, I gained an appreciation of the quiet leadership of the other guides, most were soft spoken, funny, and had great back stories.  I learned some life lessons that stuck with me – that you have to practice baby steps with your team before entering more treacherous waters, that you need to choose your direction with force and power, never entering a rapid sideways, and that it only takes one inattentive moment or misread of rocks or Rapids to go from an easy float to a dangerous run. One training day on the Sacramento River, when I was not guiding, the river moved from moderate to high water, and from Class 3 to Class 4, and I and another girl were bumped off. Part of my body was underneath the raft and I had to walk my hands up touching the bottom surface of the raft, before the underwater disorientation and panic set in. And I knew, if I was sucked underneath the raft completely, the personal flotation device wouldn’t work. There was no adrenalin rush after this experience, just fear and gratitude. I developed a deep love of camp mornings, when coffee is fired up and only the early risers are awake. This is still my favorite time when I backpack, the moments of anticipation of the day’s adventures. The next year, I left my job as an administrative assistant to lead cycling adventures for Backroads Travel Company. Unlike rafting, I had been riding a bike since I was 6, and bike paths were simpler to read than the river. And some two decades later, along with former Backroads leaders I rode alongside the Rogue.