It almost didn't begin at all.
We packed up the car, bought beer and snacks at the grocery store and tucked them safely in coolers, and drove an hour and a half to Rancho Cordova. That part went as planned.
At Rossmoor Bar, the landing point, we met up with David, our kayaking guitar-virtuoso friend, and parked our car. Then Rob and I piled ourselves and the food into David's Jeep, which was already loaded with our inflatable raft, paddles, life vests, and David's kayak on the roof. On to Upper Sunrise (I think) where we kicked in the four-wheel drive and parked on the gravel road next to the river. There were only a few other people parked there, unlike at the height of the summer. We unloaded everything onto the riverbank, and unrolled the raft, only to realize that we had failed to pack the raft plugs. Plugs are these handy items that allow you to effectively inflate the raft and keep it from deflating.
Feeling like jackasses, we drove about eight minutes back out of the park to the raft and kayak store, which, luckily for us, was open on a Sunday. We bought plugs. We drove back into the park (hooray for all-day passes) and pulled up to our chosen spot yet again, passing deer and wild turkeys as we meandered along the road.
This time, the launch was a go. We took turns spraying on sunblock and inflating the raft with the battery-powered pump, and then tossed the three small coolers into the back. David was sporting a new life vest, helmet, and kayak, because he received $1000 of kayak store credit for saving a guy's life earlier in the summer. Meanwhile, we were sporting the nifty Intex boat that we got brand new on eBay a couple of summers ago. And off we went.
The weather was beautiful: in the 80s and sunny, hardly a cloud to be seen. The water level was a bit low, and the water itself a bit cold, as usual--that happens when it's mountain runoff. In midsummer heat, it's refreshing. Late summer...well, we didn't do any swimming this time. Mostly we floated slowly downriver, drinking beer and eating cold fried chicken, bananas, and pita chips. David tested out his new kayak. We all tested it out a little--my first time in a kayak. I went in a lot of circles. It turns out you don't have to paddle very hard in a kayak compared to a raft.
Not that we paddled much in the raft; a bit more than usual because the current was very slow, and we had to be a little more careful to avoid rocks because of the lower water level. At times I felt like a gondolier, poling the boat with the paddle, the river was so shallow in spots. We saw minnows, crayfish, herons, egrets (which, as it turns out, make horrible noises), vultures, and a dead salmon. Earlier in the summer, we saw otters.
We stopped at our usual "play spot" for a rest, and skipped stones. Now my arm hurts. No professional stone-skipper am I. I can usually get at least two bounces, though; sometimes up to four.
Between the three of us, we managed to polish off a 12-pack of Heineken Light (the choice of canned beer at the store was limited, and they don't allow glass on the river any more) and two tallboys of Sapporo in about 3 and a half hours. The problem is, we're of the philosophy that "we brought all that beer with us; now we HAVE to finish it!" It's like a challenge, or some bizarre beer-related guilt trip.
And so went our last (probably) rafting trip of this year. I just hope we remember to hose all the fried chicken crumbs out of the bottom of the boat before we pack it away for next summer.