More Adventures “Paddling to the Sea”

Here are some more journal entries from participants in the Paddle to the Sea project, to raise awareness of river and water supply issues. For most, it’s a relay event and they’re taking a leg or two of the voyage from the upper Tuolumne to the San Francisco Bay. But two paddlers have pledged to go all the way. Here are some of their observations.

Facing the froth--and mortality--on the Tuolumne.
Facing the froth--and mortality--on the Tuolumne. Photo by Jayne Johnson.

Emilio Martinez: whitewater section, Tuolumne River

Once the green terror subsided and I knew I might not drown, rafting the “T” (river rat lingo) was an absolute blast! Our blue rafts, manned by a crew of four apiece, plus an experienced guide at the helm, put in about ten miles upstream from where the Clavey River and the Tuolumne River meet in a thunderous embrace. And I am not ashamed to tell you that seeing the river run at 7000+ cubic feet per second was exhilarating to the point of terror. Whether due to climate change or pure luck, the Tuolumne was in fine form that weekend: racing down its bed like some aquatic serpentine creature from another dimension, wildly snaking its way through ancient bedrock as it bucked and thrashed, arching into the wind, pummeling its way through narrow confines of rock and tree as only a force of nature unleashed can.

For two days, thirty of us clung to the River, loving it and fearing it, crawling out of our rafts each day, tired and hungry, but somehow spiritually cleansed by the only worldly thing I’ve ever known that I can call sacred.

Unlike my rafting cohorts–who likely must travel some distance to the “T” to pay it homage–as denizens of Modesto’s “Airport District,” we are blessed with the Tuolumne as a constant benevolent feature of our neighborhood (emphasis on hood), which squats on the River’s banks, roughly one square mile of humanity and squalor broiling in the San Joaquin Valley, and whose inhabitants are more known for our deficits than our merits, for our God-fearing ways rather than earth-loving hearts.

My first encounters with the “Tuolumne” were a mix of horror (fear of drowning), awe (Pentecostal baptisms), joy (childhood treasure hunts at the Modesto landfill – now filled up and landscaped into something called the Tuolumne River Regional Park), and food (Mexican fiestas, where beer, barbeque, and corridos mixed nicely).

And, as befits my low-income neighborhood: I am still largely ignorant of the ecology of this gorgeous river.

So, speaking for myself, my trip down the Tuolumne River is something like an awakening to nature in the Garden of Eden, for there is precious little vocabulary in the noisy, backward streets of the Airport District for the marvels of nature that abound on the banks, canyons, and hillside forests that flank the River: though we children of the Airport grow up touching the River almost daily, we are taught almost nothing about its nature or how to address it.


Still, I figure (hope) that my vocabulary for its flora and fauna and geology will grow as I flow downstream towards the San Francisco Bay; that I’ll be able to distinguish an oak from alder some day, egret from swallow, poison ivy from blackberry vine, and that my eyes will see “salmon” and not just vague swimming things.

I exaggerate, but not by too much.


Emilio Martinez grew up in the Central Valley and currently lives in Modesto. The rivers are uncharted territory for him and have inspired his poetic side.

Segerstrom and Martinez on the river.
Segerstrom and Martinez on the river. Photo by Jayne Johnson.

Owen Segerstrom: whitewater section, Tuolumne River:

It is a privilege to be on the “T” (Tuolumne River) during a peak snow melt flow like the one we experienced over the weekend.  My cousin Tom, son of Sierra Mac founder and TRT (Tuolumne River Trust) board member Marty McDonnell, said it was the second highest flow he had ever seen (out of an estimated thirty-five trips).

Our guide, an east coaster working his first season for Sierra Mac, opined that the T would be the national gold standard in whitewater if such flows were a regular occurrence. We took a nasty swim on a 4+ rapid called “Frame Crusher,” a humbling reminder of the river’s power.  The excitement of the water conditions was rivaled only by the magnificence of the river canyon itself.  As if to remind us not to stay away for too long, a bald eagle swooped above us on an up-canyon trajectory less than a mile before the take-out.

Owen Segerstrom grew up in Sonora, near the upper reaches of the Tuolumne River, and spent his childhood and teenage years exploring the Tuolumne and Clavey swimming holes.  He’s also done quite a bit of rafting on the Tuolumne.


More Adventures “Paddling to the Sea” 2 June,2009Craig Miller

One thought on “More Adventures “Paddling to the Sea””

  1. We’re thrilled to have Owen and Emilio paddling the entire journey. They’ve been an inspiration to other paddlers and a joy to work with. We hope everyone will join us in Aquatic Park downtown San Francisco this Saturday from 12-4 to welcome them and celebrate the completion of their journey from the Sierra to the Sea!

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Craig Miller

Craig is a former KQED Science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to that, he launched and led the station's award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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