RIVER RUNNERS GUIDES
What is a river? Water. Plants. Animals. Currents. A glint of sunlight. The reflection of sky. The ripple of a merganser landing on a still pool. Bunchgrass growing in the shade.
What is a river trip? A journey. An adventure. An inspiration. A physical engagement with nature and its profound beauty. A potentially life-changing experience.
It is all of these things for me.
My river journey starts long ago. Before I could walk, my mother would take me to swim the American River and its tributaries. They inspired me. They nourished me. They got into my blood. We moved for a while to the salty waters of the ocean, but I liked to play in the creeks, missing the twisting passages of freshwater streams. We returned to the California foothills when I was 10-years-young. This time I fell in love with the gentleness and warmth of the Cosumnes Rivers. I passed summers staring into clear water where living creatures stared back at me.
At 20-years-old, I paid for a rafting trip with co-workers. I had forgotten the nourishing waters of my youth. I was seeking success in the city under the glimmer of fluorescent light. Fortuitously, and quite randomly, I had booked a trip with River Runners. I rafted the Chili Bar section. A connection was made that day, but many decisions refused my return to that spiritual home.
In the year 2000, at the age of 22 I started training to be a river guide. It awakened in me such madness and mirth. When I fell out of the raft, when I engaged in conversation with guests, when I swam rapids, when I cooked for busloads of happy folks, when I sat in the sun for 6 hours guiding down the Gorge, it was the only place I wanted to be. It felt real. It felt like home
Here it is, 2017, and I haven’t missed a summer. I have worked as a river guide all over the country and the world. I have dedicated much of my life to the exploration of river canyons. I have taught many guides old and new how to engage and inspire others in a dangerous and beautiful environment. River running is an art for me. I thrive in an ever-changing environment. Every day is different. Every trip is different. And there is always a new chance to learn and improve, despite the wealth of my skill.
Look for me on a rock in the middle of a blue-green river, or next to a class V waterfall pondering my fate, or making a fire for some curious youngsters. I am here ready to help you challenge yourself and fall in love with the river and the journey.
Hello, I have been guiding on the American river for over 15 years now but my history with it goes further back than that. At a young age I learned to swim in this river. After spending many years exploring the side creeks and swimming the river, I finally got into a raft. Since my beginnings on the American River, I went on to explore and work on rivers across America and the globe.
Like the salmon that go out to sea and return years later to the same river bed, I keep returning. When it comes to the South Fork American River, I have rafted it all: from the headwaters sliding down steep granite faces where the change from creek to river happens to the lost river bed under Folsom Lake. I see the river as my back yard and I am always looking to share it with others.
On the river I like to channel the muse of the Rodeo Clown. You will see me dressed up in all sorts of styles and colors playing around having a jolly time. Just as the clown puts on a show in the pen with a Raging Bull, the dangers of the river are always on the top of my mind. People might say rafting is in my blood, my 3 brothers and 3 sisters have worked on the river, at some point over the years for River Runners.
Welcome, catch you on the... upright side.
The sign posted on the job board at Cal State Northridge read: “White Water Guides Wanted, No Experience Necessary”. In October 1977 as a college freshman, I attended River Runners’ first ever guide training on the Kern River.
All 12 of us were from Los Angeles and had never been rafting before. It was a cold and rainy day. One of the guys had a wet suit; the rest of us wore flannel long sleeve shirts, wool socks, hiking boots and Levi jeans with our bathing suits underneath – it made sense at the time. After a lengthy orientation by an ex-drill sergeant who told us to cuss at our crew when things went wrong, we were issued Mae West life jackets and wooden paddles. It was a difficult day as the blind led the blind – there was lots of cussing.
The next April we headed north 400 miles to the South Fork American River for a 2-day training trip (River Runners’ 1 st commercial trip was the following weekend). We put in at Camp Lotus in the morning and took out at Salmon Falls at dusk. The day was filled with a wrap on Fowler’s Rock, multiple swims, broken paddles and lots of cussing. Back at camp we fashioned a rock-rimmed fire pit, lit charcoal then put in foil-wrapped potatoes. We placed a diamond-pattern metal grate on top where we cooked chicken and steak. Dinner was served at 10pm.
As the 1 st outfitter to bring customers from Southern California, River Runners began booking multiple weekend trips. I tagged along as a paddler during the next two weekends helping with the equipment, preparing food, and learning how to cuss at adults. Out of sheer necessity I was deemed a professional river guide before our 3 rd commercial trip. My first day as a river guide I had multiple swimmers, broken paddles, wrapped on Fowler’s Rock and cussed at my crew … just like I was taught.
After a few years of commuting back and forth from LA to the South Fork - seeing rocks, panicking, then running into them - I eventually became a decent guide learning how to “go with the flow”. In the spring of 1983 I moved to Lotus and have been here ever since. I married Gina in1988 and we had kids who eventually became professional river guides … just like their dad. Well sort of. They had proper training from skilled instructors, use modern equipment, employ kind-hearted customer service and they couldn’t imagine in their wildest dreams cussing at their guests. They’ve taught me well.
Love one another, have fun, go rafting,
I have been guiding on the South Fork of the American River since I was I teenager. I am currently 24 and am entering my 8th season as a River Runners guide. I grew up in Lotus playing and swimming in the South Fork with family and friends. I learned how to skip rocks on this river, and now I am currently training to break the world record of 88 skips set in 2014. Outside of my training regimen I work as a Land Survey Technician in Berkeley and coach and play volleyball in the area. I always return to be a River Runners Guide because the experiences I have with guests and co-workers are always special, fun, and truly unique.
I am very interested in the history and geography of the South Fork and I believe rafting trips can both bring groups together and give guests the experience of a lifetime. I have rafted on many rivers, and constantly seek to expand my exposure to the beautiful raft-able rivers of the world, but I have always found the South Fork of the American to be a very playful and fun river unlike any other.
I have always been proud to be a River Runners guide because of the way our guides raft and treat guests. My goal is to make each river trip a high-excitement, excellent customer service experience for guests both on and off the river, and River Runners has allowed me to achieve this goal season after season.
I am excited to take both returning and new guests on trips this season as well as defend my crown as best South Fork rock skipper.
I never thought I was adventurous but adventures kept finding me, and I always seemed to have the courage to see where life would go if I just said “yes”. There are many miles, driven, flown, cycled, hiked and rafted behind me now, and they led me here to Placerville, California about 8177 miles from my home town of Adelaide, Australia.
I went rafting for the first time nearly a decade ago on a class 5 section of the Tully River in Queensland Australia. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I knew enough to be excited, thrilled, inspired and quite a bit scared. A few years later, after taking what I hope to be the worse “swim” of my life, feeling jacked up on adrenaline, I demanded that John K teach me how to guide at the next River Runners guide school. That was six years ago now but it feels like a life time. My relationship with the river has cemented into something inextricable from my personality. The excitement, the peace, the fun, the athleticism and the tranquility of whitewater rafting is just so intoxicating.
After working at River Runners for a couple of years, I ventured out of the cocoon to dip my toes in other rivers and other ways of guiding, but nothing really compared to the freedom and satisfaction I felt guiding for River Runners. I love watching people forget themselves on a long Gorge day and I love teaching little girls how to skip rocks when moments before they didn't believe they could. What I really love is that working as a guide at River Runners feels like adventure, of course we are going to go down river, we are going to eat lunch and run some fun rapids but the rest, well that is just up to you, and my courage to say "yes".
- Sarah Vee
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