Divine Daytripper Freelance Travel Writer


Rafting: South Fork of the American River
by Ingrid Hart


“This next rapid is called Hospital Bar. You either end up in the hospital or you want to be in a bar, drinking,” said our river guide Peter “Mac” MacLaren from the back of the raft. Before I could even say margarita, we dive headlong into a Class Three rapid – 1,350 cubic feet per second of ice-cold Sierra Nevada snowmelt funneling through a rocky channel of pure exhilaration, soaking us to the bone. Woo-hoo! Now this is what I call living.

I am on the 12-mile “Gorge” stretch on the South Fork of the American River aboard the raft affectionately called “Ship of Fools.” It is near the historic site of Coloma, where gold was first discovered in California. “Eureka, I’ve found it” has given way to “show me some plastic,” as our boatload of six, high-five our paddles together after surviving the likes of Satan’s Cesspool and the Recovery Room.

River Runners, our adventure host, has been running trips on this stretch of the American River for over 25 years. According to Peter Mac, who’s been guiding since 1993, today there are over 100 boats on this river—a traffic jam of thrill seekers, hell bent on adventure. There are college students with water guns and helmet-wearing kayakers zipping through the rapids. Watching on the sidelines from the comfort of their lawn chairs are sunbathers on sandy beaches. A blowtorch wind hurls through the canyon as we make our way down river. I spy a weathered pirate flag with “surrender your booty” written in white. The countryside is divided: pastoral Chaparral, low-land Manzanita shrubs; to the more alpine-looking Ponderosa, Live Oak and Alder. Yonder on the hill is the Lollipop Tree. We all break out into obnoxious songs.

My beloved friends Rose and Shirish are with me on this 100 degree day as we advance through more than ten, Class two and three rapids. Bouncing Rock, Son of Satan, Lost Hat, each offer its own level of excitement. As we advanced through Midgets with Golf Clubs and were tossed from our seats to the raft bottom Shirish yells, “your husband picked a great day to get married.” I smiled to myself, looked at him and said, “former – my former husband.” We all laughed, then hung on for dear life as the next E-ticket Disney ride slammed our boat.