Rafting the river
June 23, 2011
Growing up in the desert state of Nevada, I don’t have a lot of experience with water sports.
Sure, I splashed around in the muddy waters of the Humboldt River as a little kid in Elko County, and as I got older, I learned to dive into a murky pond used to store water for irrigation.
We even had an old, wooden canoe we’d take out on that pond. But we would float in it only until enough water seeped through the rotting bottom that we started to sink or we noticed leeches floating in it.
So I was excited – and a bit anxious – when I was invited to try out the Carson Aquatic Trail last month. Always one for an adventure, I accepted.
Under the guidance of Pat Fried, owner of Great Basin Sports, we rafted the nine-mile section of the river from Morgan Mill Road in Carson City to Santa Maria Park in Dayton.
Before we left, our guides took us through some safety demonstrations. We learned that if we fell out of the raft to lift our feet and float on our backs until someone could grab the back of the life jacket to pull us to safety.
The danger of trying to stand, they said, is wedging a foot under a rock and having the current pull you under. Another tip: If you get caught in a current around a tree, called a strainer, climb on that tree rather than try to swim away.
Other lessons, like how to properly sit in the raft and how to row, came as we launched into the water.
The best advice came from Bob Smay, the “captain” of the raft I was on.
“The most important thing is to stay in the boat,” he said.
I did the best I could. Rotten conoeing on a stagnant pond certainly hadn’t prepared me for white-water rafting.
There is a quiet stillness that comes from bouncing along the current through the canyon walls. The entire world seems to settle into state of calm.
Then the rapids hit.
The silence was broken with hysterical screams of laughter (those were mine) as the raft transformed itself into a mechanical bull, bucking and lurching in every direction. At the same time, water flew all around us, finally settling into a mini wading pool down the back of my pants.
Our guide expertly maneuvered the raft through the obstacles, telling us when to paddle and when to just hang on.
Then, as quickly as they came, the rapids would pass. Serenity returned.
In those moments, we marveled at the breathtaking scenery in the canyon that you’d never know existed from the outside.
The landscape also offered up a history lesson. Scattered along the way are ruins from the old mills built by the Chinese in the 1800s and early 1900s.
In the cutout banks of the river, you can see layers of ash from the eruption of Mammoth Mountain about 760,000 years ago.
The Aquatic Trail ends at the newly renovated Santa Maria Park in Dayton, a perfect spot for a picnic.