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Nature's Playground

May 28, 2010 10:44AM, Published by Style, Categories: In Print


Illustration by John Stricker



I had no reason to hate the guy in front of me, but thanks to the heat and his fanny pack, I did.

It’s just that he, me and a thousand other wilting tourists were all waiting for the white water ride at a popular southern California theme park, a wait that was fast approaching f-o-r-e-v-e-r. This park is good about making sure that their lines coil through little pseudo movie-sets, which are designed to give your eyes something to rest on, if no other part of your body. Ours threaded through a little make-believe river outfitter’s camp full of props like kayaks, paddles and weathered life vests. My tired eyes flitted from item to item, like weary mosquitoes looking for bare flesh to land on.

I was about to burst into flames (admittedly hoping I’d take fanny pack guy with me) when I noticed a map tacked to a fake wall of the outfitter’s cabin. Yellowed and curled at the edges, it looked exactly like I felt. It was of a river, and along its course were names like Chili Bar, Meat Grinder, Triple Threat...hey! Wait a minute...that’s the South Fork of the American. I’ve been down that! Maybe it was just the heat stroke talkin’, but a vague, distracted bliss suddenly came over me.

My eyes tumbled down the map, checking off the names of other rapids: Satan’s Cesspool, Hospital Bar, Swimmer’s Rapids...I cast a condescending look at fanny pack guy; while he was still melting in line, I was rollicking down the South Fork, bouncing into that first rapid where an icy splash shoos the heat from your skin like an old man chasing kids off his lawn. The raft bucks and lurches and the guide yells which direction to paddle and you and everyone else digs into the water with hard, purposeful strokes. After the whitewater spits you out, you look back and let out a whoop. Every nerve crackles as you high-five paddles, totally and completely alive and, more than that, cool. There are few places better during our blast-furnace-summers.

“Excuse me.”

I snap back to reality and, dang it! I’m still in line. Worse, fanny pack guy is talking to me. He gestures towards the map.

“That’s the South Fork of the American River, isn’t it?” He asks.

“Yep”, I say, “And that’s a stupid fanny pack.”

OK, I didn’t really say that.

“I thought so!” He continues, way too cheerily. “My wife and I floated it last summer. It’s up near Sacramento.”

“I know.” I reply curtly. “Actually, I’ve been down it too.”

His fanny pack has multiple zippers. He glanced around, and then leaned in. “What I wouldn’t give to be there instead of standing in this *%&*$% line right now.” Whoa. Just like that, fanny pack guy didn’t seem so bad. Maybe I’d survive this wait after all.

The best thing about where we live is how diverse the geography is. Drive 60 miles in L.A. and you’re...still in L.A. Here, drive 60 miles and you can be descending the whitewater gullet of an ancient river canyon.

Theme parks are great, don’t get me wrong. But given the choice between standing in a hot sweaty line so I can go on a five-minute re-creation of something I can do all day that’s only an hour from my home? It’s a no-brainer. Hook up with a guide service this summer and give it a try if you haven’t before, you’ll love it. But don’t take my word for it. Ask fanny pack guy.


Find more of Tom's Takes here, and make sure to catch Tom on the Pat and Tom Morning Show on New Country 105.1.


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