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A River Adventure: Support, Adaptability, & Healing with ETC

I slept near the river, under the moon and stars, surrounded by a cove of trees. The sound of moving water, the sight of blue skies and sunshine, and the smell of a diverse grove of trees and flora ignite my senses. A red robin and a hummingbird appear, one after the other, reminding me that my space is shared and connected with other species. It's our space. A poor night's sleep left me feeling tired but no less eager for the adventure ahead.

I’m cold after sleeping outside. I seek a cozy spot to write by the water. I passed through the stalk of evening Primrose flowers, that are on their way to closing. Last night I learned the flowers bloom at night, and attract a sphynx moth with red eyes. It was otherworldly to witness this with my friend, Diane Poslosky.

An evening primrose flower, Oenothera, blooming at night.

The mid-morning sun hits the black shirt covering my back, warming my skin like lava on ice.

A new sound comes from the bushes to my right, leaves ruffle. Excitement and fear hit me simultaneously. My mind thinks the worst, could it be, a poisonous snake?! Alas, it was a small bird hopping below a slough of wild blackberries. I appreciate the noise leading me to discover something so wonderful. I admire the wild blackberries, both the unripe small red ones and the larger purple ones. It felt biblical to pick the fruit from its vine. For a moment I empathize with Eve from the Christian creation story. I ask myself if I would have picked the apple from the tree. The further I looked the more berries I saw. They’re surrounded by thorny, wild shrubs. I think to myself, those thorns can’t keep me away. My hands turned a nice reddish purple after I squeezed a few of them.

The Organization & Socially Distant Reflecting

I was invited as a guest to participate in a white water raft trip down the South Fork of the American River, over my birthday weekend by Diane Poslosky, Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC), executive director. As a city dweller who has been in COVID woes of work from home monotony and summertime fog, this was a real treat for me. ETC is a 45-year-old, volunteer-based, nonprofit, whose mission is to give outdoor adventures to all. ETC was the first nonprofit in the nation to offer adaptive whitewater adventures for underserved youth and people with disabilities. ETC’s river camp, where I slept, embellishes inclusivity, mindfulness, embracing environmental stewardship even in its design. “I saw it before it was built”, Diane told me as we walked grounds together on my first night.

The space is open and welcoming, mostly made of reclaimed redwood, and topped with solar panels. ETC is the original, real deal, green--before it was trendy--river camp. ETC may have not realized at the time, but they created a refuge that would be admired in 2020 for its ability to cater to needs. For example, the outdoor kitchen is ideal for groups to come and still maintain social distance from the trip leaders.

In 2006, Dr, Brad Frazee’s life changed from a bicycle accident. Brad’s accident caused him a T-10 injury in his spine. Brad has since been paralyzed from the waist down. ETC created a trip for Brad, his kids, and his Middlebury College buddies, Fritz and Doug. The three amigos have always been adventurous and Brad was not going to let his injury stop that. Coronavirus put a hard stop to the original plan of rafting down the Grand Canyon, and ETC’s River camp could cater to the needs during COVID-19 thanks to its open space river camp.

The Life Aquatic Crew

Moments after my blackberry picking moment, 14 strangers all started to naturally gather in an open grassy field. We formed a circle with a six feet distance between all of us. It was quiet, and still a bit unclear who was who, but that quickly changed. Erin Turney, videographer of Bear Fish productions, started rolling the camera. ETC river camp director, Dan Berger, prompted the group to introduce themselves and say one thing we’re excited about or a positive thing that has stemmed from COVID-19 in our lives. Interestingly, almost all of us chose to talk about one positive thing that has stemmed out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The group included a wide range of people from different backgrounds, ages, and abilities. Here are the team’s responses:

Sam Huff-Bear and Fish productions, drone flyer, videographer, and kayak assist. Excited to “Capture the essence of ETC” and COVID-19 positive, “everyone is going outside more, which will benefit the world"

Derrick - ETC volunteer raft guide. COVID-19 positive, “More time to spend with my daughter”

Fitz - One of the three amigos from Middlebury, a participant, and 25 years of outdoor adventuring. COVID-19 positive, “Getting more time with his kids”

Jerry-ETC volunteer raft guide. COVID-19 positive, “Has watched a lot more Netflix and really enjoys it”

Doug- The second of the three amigos from Middlebury, a participant, works in water rights. COVID-19 positive, “A deep plunge into studying catamarans

Abby- Brad’s daughter, working in a preschool. COVID-19 positive, “A lot more running”

Cooper-Brad’s son, participant. COVID-19 positive, “reduced FOMO (fear of missing out) & more surfing”

Brad-The guy who just wants to go rafting. COVID-19 positive, “more time with daughter, cooking NYtimes recipes together”

Diane-ETC director, rafting extraordinaire, COVID-19 positive, “learning to reinvent things and let things go.

Dave- ETC river camp guide resident, COVID-19 positive, “lots more experimental cooking”

Bryan-volunteer guide, a friend of Bear Fish productions, kayak safety, COVID-19 positive, “honed in on carpentry skills”

Kala (me) -Quasi participant/guide, writer, journalist, birthday girl, “excited I discovered my journalism path”

Dan- ETC river camp guide director, COVID-19 positive, “really got into gardening”

Erin- Bear and Fish productions didn’t get to speak, she was rolling the camera. (thanks Erin!)

ETC river camp art

Brad, Fritz, and Doug all met in Middlebury college “centuries ago”, they would joke, but it was really about 40 years ago in 1984. The three of them are part of an even larger group of friends who have managed to stay close throughout the decades. Fritz and Doug have watched Brad’s kids, Cooper(18) and Abbey (20), grow up, and now all five of them are going to go down the South Fork River, together.

Doug mentioned to me, “Honestly, this is ideal, since this is his first time rafting, it may be better to get a practice run here, instead of the Grand Canyon, first.”

After we all met and spoke, we split off and geared up before the adventure began. Four rafts, two kayaks (for extra safety), a drone, a video camera, and twelve miles

ahead of us on a hot August day in Lotus, California.

The trip was perfect. Laughter, anticipation, education about the species of trees, a history lesson on the indigenous Nisenan, water fights, water floating, and just relaxing. There were class three rapids that ended up spitting a few people out. We all laughed about the unintentional "swims" when we interviewed the Frazee friends and family one last time. When Diane asked Fritz what his highlight was he said, “Doug falling out!” We all laughed…a little bit of danger and classic river fun. As Diane and Erin interviewed I wrote down my own reflection, “a little bit of danger brings people together more quickly”. Diane followed up by summarizing and saying, “there's a bit of beauty, comradery, and risk”

Doug commented on the feeling that today brought to him. “Back in the day we used to ski together and Brad would say ‘Yes! Yes! I’m skiing with my buds”, it was that same feeling today’, said Brad.

Brad felt like he was getting constant hugs and being held. Brad’s son Cooper said, “he doesn’t remember his dad ever standing.” He added, he feels “lucky about today and where he is with his life”. Abby mentioned she also feels lucky, and added, “[I’m] grateful to live in Marin and I think accessibility shouldn’t be a privilege just for some.” Brad looked at his kids, nodded in affirmation.

Bear and Fish productions and Diane interviewing the Frazee family

The final comment came from Doug when Diane asked how it was to see Brad on the water? His response: “uplifting, encouraging”

None of this would have been possible without the volunteers, the openness and accessibility of the river camp, and of course the mission and heart of ETC.

Support can come in a lot of forms. It can come in the form of physically holding your dad who is paralyzed while rafting down a river. It can come from a friend inviting you on a rafting trip during a difficult time. It can come from a friend listening to a story. It can come from helping others when you see a problem. It can come from spending time in nature when our mental health is fragile. For those who need extra support, it comes from places and organizations like ETC.

Here's the video that Sam and Erin put together, capturing the spirit of the adventure!

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