Monday, June 15, 2009

Sonoma: Tip-a-Canoe (and a Travel Writer, Too)

It's summer, and even northern California is heating up. Time to bare those untanned limbs, slather on the SPF-gazillion sunscreen and cool off in lakes, reservoirs, swimming holes -- whatever you've got nearby.

When you're paddling a canoe in the bucolic Russian River in California's Sonoma County wine country, you've really only got two choices: go upstream one way, then float back; or go downstream with the current and have someone shuttle you. Here are the pros and cons.

If you rent from Johnson's Beach in Guerneville, it'll only cost you $25/day. But you'll be stuck paddling in the most crowded part of the river, and what goes up must come down -- you're seeing the same scenery twice. If you go with Burke's Canoe Trips ($59/day), you're just as much on your own, but you've got 10 glorious miles of river to paddle before you arrive at the shuttle stop, just upstream from Johnson's Beach. Oh, and the shuttle? A dusty, retrofitted school bus crankin' reggae tunes.

I can tell you this for sure: pick a partner who knows how to step into and out of the canoe without capsizing it. Now that the flood-control dams are open, the river is running deeper and swifter than you might expect. Last week, my dunking only put me in a foot of water. Embarrassing, but at least we didn't lose our paddles.

Afterward, as you wind back to US Hwy. 101 on CA Hwy. 116 from Guerneville, past the minigolf course and Ace Cider Pub (live music nightly), don't pass up Screamin' Mimi's ice cream parlor in Sebastopol. A scoop of cold apple sorbet or lavender cream just might make you forget all about those lobster-red sunburned knees.

P.S. If you wait until September 12-13, you can hit Guerneville's Russian River Jazz & Blues Festival, too.

Photo: Russian River (Sara Benson)

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