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River Rafting the Tuolomne

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Her sweet, babbling voice calls me in the morning. I long for her chill on my neck and her wet kisses on my lips. The lovely Tuolumne whispers to me memories of stargazing and river rafting.


Laurence came into my life at the Fillmore Jazz Festival. It was a random encounter between two people who love adventure and travel. He has a river-rafting expedition company and invited me on an upcoming tour. I took him up on his offer and joined his white-water rafting adventure down the Tuolomne River in California. He named his company Bio Bio Expeditions Worldwide, after the cherished river in Chile. Most of his tours are in exotic locations such as Chile, Patagonia, Peru, Africa, and Siberia. During the summer, he spends time at home in Northern California. He invited me to join him and a few of his friends on a quick trip down the Tuolumne.


I had never been white-water rafting before, so I was a bit nervous. I assumed the other guests were great rafters and that I would be the one to end up in the river! Fortunately, I was wrong. Everyone on the trip was new to the sport and we were all in the trusty care of Laurence and his lovely girlfriend, Nicole. After a hair-raising ride down to the river, we had a chance to get to know each other. Our group included our guides Laurence and Nicole; Inca, their fearless puppy; Buck, our heroic supply-boat driver; York from Los Angeles; Carolyn from San Francisco; Kate from Chicago; and me. For a few days, I was blessed with the opportunity meet new and wonderful people and learn to trust them while on the river. Their smiles, daring, and the true cooperation between us was inspiring. For me, this trip was more than a leisurely ride down a pretty river. It was an opportunity to trust others, move beyond my fears, and live in the present.


After a few hours on the river, we set up lunch on the warm riverbed. I should mention that Forbes.com named Bio Bio as one of the world’s most luxurious outfitters—and now I know why. We were treated to savory smoked turkey, lovely cheeses, avocados, just-baked bread, fresh fruit, cookies, and beer. After lunch, we rafted a bit longer, then pulled into camp. Buck and I went off exploring up another river tributary. We found a natural, granite waterslide we enjoyed slipping down into a pool of cool water. We swam in water teeming with trout, climbed a huge rock, then jumped off it, flying into the deep waters below. I felt as though Huck Finn would appear any second and join the fun! We laughed, swam, and enjoyed the sun’s warm rays until the shadows crept over the mountains.




All that exploring worked up our appetite and, when we returned to camp, Buck and I found a spread that looked ready to be photographed by Food & Wine magazine. We all gathered around, shared stories of our afternoon’s explorations and enjoyed delicious cheeses, crackers, fruit, salsa, and chips while sipping wine. Dinner was a just as impressive, with stir-fry chicken and veggies. We spent the rest of the evening drifting on the raft, counting stars and laughing.


I was the lucky one and got to sleep on the raft. It was a peaceful night under the bright stars of the Sierras. Morning came quickly and we enjoyed breakfast burritos and fresh coffee. Nicole is a massage therapist and on most Bio Bio trips, she’s available for hire. I was fortunate and got a free half-hour massage. Just what I needed after spending the day using muscles I did not know I had! After the massage, we were back on the rafts to continue our journey west.


During this trip, I gained a new respect for nature and running water. Our wonderful, caring guide Laurence spoke about honoring the water and the river before we went down each rapid. Prior to going down the white water, he would tell us to give thanks to the river. “Take some of her pure water and splash your neck and wet your lips.” It was a sacred genuflection to the Tuolumne, and I found it moving. “It’s a thoughtful gesture, thanking the river for the opportunity to ride her, while respecting her power,” Laurence would tell us. “Don’t fight her power: if you get pulled under, relax—she will let you go at the end of the white water.” How true, not only in rafting but in life. Sometimes we just have to go with the flow and relax.


Writing the river of life, riding the river of white—it’s all the same. It’s about honoring what’s true, pure, and intended—and going with the flow. Sometimes I wrestle with my desires and question my love of writing. But on this trip I learned that I can’t fight my passions; I need to honor them. They need to flow, like the river. Sometimes they might get wrapped around rocks, or plunge deep into the cold riverbed, but they continue to move me.


Our trip ended too soon, but I am so grateful for the new friends I made, and the new perspective I gained. I want to get back to the river soon.


Photo courtesy of Tango Diva

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