Descending the Russian River | Part 2

By Lisa Micheli, PhD, President & CEO, Sept 9, 2016


Leg Two, Day 1 – Cloverdale to Alexander Valley (19.5 miles) and Day 2 – Alexander Valley to Healdsburg (14 miles)

We were a pretty rag tag crew and all quite proud of ourselves for surviving the first chapter of our journey, a 19+ mile paddle from Cloverdale to Alexander Valley. Although Don McEnhill (our Russian Riverkeeper) offered the option of leaving the river at Geyserville if needed, no one took him up on short-changing the day. We were on the river for nearly ten hours total the first day, paddling, observing, talking, sharing, and even engaging in some splashy horseplay at the journey’s end.


The view from the river.

Day two we journeyed from Alexander Valley to Healdsburg’s Memorial Beach Regional Park—hosted by yet another partner in the “Confluence”—by comparison a mere 14 mile paddle punctuated by delightful terrestrial detours at Warnecke Ranch and Front Porch Farms.

We novices—myself plus Kara Heckert and Christine Kuhn of the Sonoma Resource Conservation District (RCD)—had been given a crash course, so to speak, in how to navigate the-not-so-big-but-still-capable-of-flipping-you-out-of-your-kayak rapids of the middle Russian River. The biggest hazard, it turned out, was being scraped off your kayak by willow stands on the banks just below riffles where the river ran deepest. These deep holes seemed to magnetically attract our electric lime green boats as the steely willow branches loomed closer and closer. I think they called them ‘strainers’ and that’s what it felt like when we hit them. More than a few willow leaves filled my kayak after several scrapes with low-lying branches.

Don plus Craig Anderson, our LandPaths trek coordinator with Meghan Walla-Murphy, would get out of their own boats to  “catch and release” us at critical flipping hazards. In addition they constantly reminded us to hydrate and apply sunscreen. It was nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit out but I barely felt it, as I was partially or intermittently fully submerged in the river’s cool waters the entire day. We enjoyed glorious, clear days filled with camaraderie.

Holding the gourd we used to symbolically collect water along the way, to be later released at the ocean.

Besides the unifying forces of the great outdoors and shared physical exhaustion, LandPaths’ hospitality provided the perfect context for bonding at our campsites, the first generously offered by the Kashia Pomo tribe, and the second by Sonoma County Regional Parks, for the event.  This included touches of civilization, including cocktails (Manhattans!) and a slew of Sonoma reds. Gary Fleener’s The Geographers’ Kitchen provided hearty gourmet meals to fuel us through the journey.

I will never forget being part of an adventure that built stronger relationships between those of us who already knew each other, and brand new friendships for several meeting for the first time. To share the discovery of what the river looks like from the middle of the channel instead of the bank.  To travel like a steelhead smolt downstream, seeing how the river evolves which each mile.  To witness members of the Farm Bureau digesting what they are seeing with the Russian Riverkeeper and fisheries experts of the Sonoma County Water Agency.  All coming together to meet the river’s reality.

Spirits were kept high by our leader Supervisor James Gore’s energy, which inspired some in-stream wrasslin’ and water fights. At Healdsburg, James was joined by his 5 year-old daughter Opal and her Hello Kitty pink tent for her first outdoor overnight!  Engaging the generations in river regeneration…..


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I’m very grateful to the many of you who donated over the past weeks in support of the Russian River—thank you so much!

If you’re still interested in helping to solve the challenges faced by the Russian River,
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