Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rafting -- South Fork of the American River

LOTUS, CA -- “This next rapid is called Hospital Bar. You either end up in the hospital or you want to be in a bar, drinking,” said our river guide Peter “Mac” MacLaren from the back of the raft. Before I could even say margarita, we dive headlong into a Class Three rapid – 1,350 cubic feet per second of ice-cold Sierra Nevada snowmelt funneling through a rocky channel of pure exhilaration, soaking us to the bone. Woo-hoo! Now this is what I call living.

I am on the 12-mile “Gorge” stretch on the South Fork of the American River aboard the raft affectionately called “Ship of Fools.” It is near the historic site of Coloma, where gold was first discovered in California. “Eureka, I’ve found it” has given way to “show me some plastic,” as our boatload of six, high-five our paddles together after surviving the likes of Satan’s Cesspool and the Recovery Room.

River Runners, our adventure host, has been running trips on this stretch of the American River for over 25 years. According to Peter Mac, who’s been guiding since 1993, today there are over 100 boats on this river—a traffic jam of thrill seekers, hell bent on adventure. There are college students with water guns and helmet-wearing kayakers zipping through the rapids. Watching on the sidelines from the comfort of their lawn chairs are sunbathers on sandy beaches. A blowtorch wind hurls through the canyon as we make our way down river. I spy a weathered pirate flag with “surrender your booty” written in white. The countryside is divided: pastoral Chaparral, low-land Manzanita shrubs; to the more alpine-looking Ponderosa, Live Oak and Alder. Yonder on the hill is the Lollipop Tree. We all break out into obnoxious songs.

My beloved friends Rose and Shirish are with me on this 100 degree day as we advance through more than ten, Class two and three rapids. Bouncing Rock, Son of Satan, Lost Hat, each offer its own level of excitement. As we advanced through Midgets with Golf Clubs and were tossed from our seats to the raft bottom Shirish yells, “your husband picked a great day to get married.” I smiled to myself, looked at him and said, “former – my former husband.” We all laughed, then hung on for dear life as the next E-ticket Disney ride slammed our boat.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Chappell Vineyard and Winery

MARIPOSA, CA -- If you are looking for an earthy, premium blend of wines that are homegrown and family owned, look no further than Mariposa's Chappell Vineyard and Winery. Owners Dave and Kathy Chappell, former schoolteachers, maintain all aspects of production ‘cept for prunin’ and pickin.’ I recommend the 2005 Kylie’s Syrah, named after their 22-year-old daughter Kylie. The rich and full berry flavor will have you wishing you were a bon vivant in the Sierra Foothills, soaking up that glorious sunshine and breathing in that wholesome clean air. Charming.

Tenaya Lodge

YOSEMITE, CA -- Tenaya is a swanktastic rustic lodge that offers a rugged sensuality in which to indulge your inner child in lots of outdoor play. Visit this ├╝ber-cool lodge and find a perfect place to springboard to Yosemite National Park’s southern entrance—a scant two-miles away. Although once you arrive at this 244-room abode, you may want to stick around, there is so much to do. Summertime offers campfire sing-a-longs, barbecues, train rides and even a chuck wagon. Holidays are big at the Tenaya, with gingerbread house making parties, dinner with Santa, and horse-drawn sleigh rides. There are plenty of great dining options at this lodge. Ask Chef Freddy to cook some of his fabulous pasta for you—creativity at its finest.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Do the crime, spend the time: traffic school

SACRAMENTO, CA -- I am in the the pokey, or Great Comedians traffic school in a Sacramento strip mall. Our teacher is Bob Webb, a 72-year-old, self-proclaimed farmer from the red-neck town of Harold, California. Helping to teach the 400-minute, 9-5 course is Oscar, Bob’s diminutive Yorkie Terrier. There are 26 traffic violators with me on this Saturday. Half are here for speeding, the other for stop lights, one for crossing a double yellow line and the other for an unsafe lane change. “If we added up all the fines for everyone in this class, we could have one hell of a party,” Bob laughs. He ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie I think to myself. To support the County of Lake Tahoe, I contribute $364 for my speeding ticket; $64 for the promise of attending traffic school; and $38 in cash to Bob for a fun-filled day with 26 of my new criminal friends. At $466 per person, we collectively contribute over $12,000 to our down-trodden economy. Who said crime doesn’t pay?