Tuesday, January 31, 2006

An Apology of Sorts

Wow! Who wrote yesterday's blog? I got the calls and the emails yesterday afternoon. Most thought the blog was harsh, but also, most agreed privately with the sensibility of the tone. But I want to apolgize to our readers. You don't need to read about the gripes of the business of rafting. Most of you just want to join in on the fun. I wrote that after being very upset about my local grocery store leaving, Yahoo throwing in the towel on search, and finally, seeing our marketing efforts being used by competitors in an ackward attempt to confuse the paddling public. That was the last straw. It's all about business. The business of screwing your competitor. This country was born on the backs of small business overtaken by big business. As each small company is swallowed up by larger ones, a dreadful homogenous vision begins for that particular industry.

Driving on the freeway... anywhere in the country, one can find the "pleasant" McDonalds at any exit. Clean, shiny and oh so, comforting... you know this cheeseburger will be the same there as in your own hometown. Going to Walmart, we are comforted by the largeness of the choices and the low cost. The store in Kansas is the same in Texas. It's a oneness of mind and body and spiritual satisfaction... NOT. It is flippin' boring. Those of us who crave adventure may stop off at the local burger joint where cars line up with the locals biting into giant juicy burgers dripping with someone else's secret sauce. Or you might visit the local grocer who specializes in Italian cuisine where you can get the best bufalo (sp?) mozarella in town. It's the same in the rafting industry.

One outfitter specializes in wine tasting trips and another emphasizes women's empowerment. Others focus on one river where the difficulties command all their attention. And still another, focuses on adventure trips using climbing gear and rivers. These are the rafting companies who come from another place besides just business. W.E.T. River Trips specializes on the American River since 1978. Their love of their small companies and the love of teaching the public outweigh all the stupid marketing techniques out here. Go rafting with these special outfitters who bring their own personal character to their companies; I guarantee it that you won't regret it!

Monday, January 30, 2006

WalMart Rafting Company?

My grocery store is closing down. And another big chain will be closing throughout California, too. Both were major grocery store players here in the West. Both gave consumers fair prices. Mine was just down the street. Close enough to walk to or ride a bike. It had all the sundry items that run my household. The store, also had bulk items. I preferred to purchase there because I got tired of the Costco-warehouse concepts since I usually purchased too many unplanned items that ended up costing me more money than necessary. You know what I mean... lots of wasted cheese, bread, produce... more than my family could ever processl Sure the paper goods were available at less than the cost of the grocery store, but who wants to waste an entire pantry to store toilet paper or sacrifice your small garage to stacked boxes of canned goods? So, I always bought from my local grocery store. According to the store's representatives, the bottom line was affected by the WalMart phenomenon. The two stores could no longer compete with the giant retailer.

Now what does this all have to do with the rafting industry? In California, there are two major players in this industry. Both are swallowing up every mom and pop rafting company in the state. Both have spread their wings and purchased permits and other companies to position themselves as the numero uno force on their respected rivers. The only difference between the two is that one plays fair and the other is the WalMart of the rafting industry. The white hat one has a great rafting company with a great website. They market and position themselves well in the search engines. The other wears a black hat. They create marketing that fools the public and causes harm to the industry itself. They find loopholes in the government's permitting system that allows them unfair advantages and skews their river usage. They have worked the industry to a point that no one dares to go up against them. Even large rafting outfitters fear them.

So why is a small company like W.E.T. River Trips posting this diatribe? Because we are a true mom and pop company... been around since 1978. We are so proud of our size and what we do for our clients. We have this funky website because we can't waste our money. Sure, we have some great positioning on the web... but probably because our site is soooo old. We put the money in the best gear, boats, vehicles and our employees. We pay our staff very well, and we don't save money on their backs. We work with our government agencies because we understand that the rules are there to protect the consumer and us. We don't try to circumvent their efforts and we don't try to fool our paying public.

The consumer is not as unsophisticated as so many internet marketers believe. The consumer is smarter than you think. They know when someone is "mess'n" with them. Those of you who have supported us; we appreciate it greatly. You have allowed us to cope with the daily assault from the WalMart-rafting-company. We continue to grow slowly without fanfare and without destroying our competitors or our precious rivers. We don't need to take everyone down the river... just those of you who have the same sense of community and giving that our society so desparately needs.

And by the way, on your way home today... stop by that coffee kiosk that's owned by the friend of your neighbor or stop at the community-based grocer who grills the best tri-tip... just quit frequenting the starbuck/walmart/bigassrafting companies out there in your universe... and we'll see you all soon on the river!
PEACE:: Mom and Pop at W.E.T. River Trips

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Romance on the River = Wedding!

Saul, senior headguide for W.E.T. River Trips has announced his engagement to the most lovely lady. Their tale is a river story in itself. Meeting on a 12-day journey through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River, it was love at first sight. Well, maybe not quite that corny, but it is definitely a romantic beginning. The Grand Canyon is famous for romance.. you have great looking, athletic guides, a mesmorizing environment, multiple days on the river and vulnerable clients. A perfect setting for love to bloom. How many times have I heard this: "... he/she was a rafting client and we met and we rode off into the sunset?"

The river is a special place. Love blooms just from being there. I remember clients who left their careers and lives to ride on the waves and dream with their guide. What makes a reasonable person leave all behind? Magic... it is pure magic on the river. Multiple day trips should be done with the mindset of a life changing event. By day three, you are on river time. Everything slows down. Everything is amplified. Emotions... joy or sorrow is magnified and dealt with in a reality setting unseen by any tv show. It's a oneness with your surroundings... yeh yeh... hippie jargon rears its ugly head! But, I'm not kidding... that's real. Of course, a night in Vegas will cure that and bring you back to your own reality.

The mutiple day trips are booking now from 3 day Middle Fork American River tours, 5 day Klamath River, 4 day Rogue in Oregon and the grand-daddy of them all, the 12 day Colorado through the Grand Canyon. Plan early for these popular river trips. Colorado books almost year in advance and many europeans and east coasters come to the wild west for all of these trips. Try to do them all in your lifetime. To start with, begin your river rafting journeys on the American River trips first.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Northern California Rafting

Whitewater rafting has begun! The world of paddling sports is not confined to the summer months only. Hardcore paddlers using kayaks and whitewater rafts jump on the rivers when the water is there. Today on the North Fork American, we have flows of over 1,800 cfs. An awesomely great flow for paddling Class 4+ rapids. Our crew has been ecstatic over the winter flows this year. They are looking forward to Spring training in March and April when the snow starts to melt. Every year, W.E.T. travels up to the Northern California rivers to acclimate everyone before our commercial rafting trips. The Cal Salmon, Scott, Smith, Sacramento and other smaller esoteric runs are favorites of our crew. Due to recent storms, we are predicting a normal to above-normal year for our rivers.

Snow was raging these past couple of days. The summit was a total white-out as skiers swarmed with the pent-up energy of little kids stuck in the house during a rainy day. The snowpack is here with Sugar Bowl (summit) at 66 feet at the base and 100 feet at the top; check out Kirkwood at 113 feet at the base and 222 feet at the top! ...looks like we will have a great spring runoff and we all look forward to springtime runs.

This year, W.E.T. will be taking our crew to the Illinois River for a private rafting trip prior to the beginning of our regular commercial season. Very challenging at high flows, this river commands excellent paddling ability. I still remember the meadow where we camped. A mist languished over us as we ate blocks of chocolate. Very surreal setting. This time, we will enter "Green Wall" with the boat pointing straight! Can't wait to get back there!

Monday, January 16, 2006

California State Budget for Levees

California's state budget is finally addressing Sacramento's levee needs. With all the talk about the Auburn dam and necessary flood control, it is welcome news that our state legislature is looking at the long range needs of our waterways. The govenor increased the current levee budget from 49M to 84 million. Fred Klass, the program budget manager for the Department of Finance says,"It's a fairly substancial increase." This money does not include the bond measure that adds another 2.5 billion to flood protection improvements. This money is also being used to leverage the federal and local governments for another 2.5 billion.

Protecting our levees throughout the State of California will save millions in economic impacts from flooding and water management. After seeing the damage done by Katrina, federal and state government representatives finally realize that catastrophic financial impacts far exceeds any preventative measures such as fixing our aging leeves. These extra dollars will support the following salaries:
  • 14 people dedicated to levee maintenance
  • 8 engineers to evaluate levees & management practices of 80 statewide agencies
  • 9 staff members to work on emergency needs
  • 1 person in charge of updating floodplain maps
Also, much of the monies will go to support new gear such as bulldozers, dump trucks and equipment for monitoring rainfall and river depths. Approximately 17M will go towards Delta levee maintenance alone.

Cheryl Bly-Chester, VP of State Reclamation Board says,"It's one thing to tell us to get more levees built... It's quite another to back that up with the staff and the money that we need to get the work done. He's (Governor Schwarzenegger) doing both." Ms. Bly-Chester says that the added monies will help their board to process levee repair applications in a more timely manner.

Voices throughout the State have weighed in with positive responses to the new levee budgets. Careful spending is necessary to fund the much needed levee work throughout the state. Dave Schmidl, superintendent of Levee District 9 north of Yuba City, is glad to hear this news. His district borders along the Feather River. The levees there have been so poorly maintained that burrowing rodents have become out-of-control and have threatened the levee's stability.
Thanks to Deb Kollars' research from the Sacramento Bee

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Mega-Meeting with California State Parks

Whoa! EIGHT hour meeting with California State Parks. The entire California rafting industry attended the Annual Outfitters meeting on January 12th. This is a mandatory meeting with the regulatory agencies of California's rafting industry. Here, we discuss specific problems on the whitewater sections of the American River. Or we give kudos.

Kudos to the State for maintaining and designing a great egress at Salmon Falls take-out on the South Fork American River. That's mile 21 on the river. Or for those of you who have been there; that's the take-out for the Gorge section. Its good to see our user fees put to good use! Problems on the South Fork are usually regarding overuse. Thresholds were created so that certain areas were not adversely impacted by the number of users. In the last few years that threshold was met on specific days and times. That's why you'll see some bottlenecks on the river during high season. One of the reasons why W.E.T. River Trips tries desparately to stay away from the Gorge run on Saturdays is because several mega-large outfitters run that section every single Saturday. So there we are on the technically challenging upper section called Chili Bar. Our clientele love the fact that we can create a better experience for our users. Of course, if we have a group who wants to do the Gorge, we try to do a later or earlier start time depending on time of year. El Dorado County is strongly encouraging ALL outfitters to consider doing just that.

Middle Fork American was pretty much business as usual. Mostly boring stuff. Some of the new programs include a new regulatory system. A concessionaire concept has been introduced with some very interesting proposals. Rafting companies are currently looking over the new system and are hoping that business will proceed as normal.

On the North Fork American, W.E.T. was pleasantly suprised to see that we had the largest number of guests last year. And the year before. And the year before. This places us in the largest outfitter category on this river. On the most difficult section of the American River, W.E.T. River Trips has consistently provided the public with a safe and fun trip on this beautiful Class 4+ river. What we do promise, though, is that we will never pump up the numbers like over on the South Fork. That beautiful, Class 4+ river is too precious to impact in that way. Many of our early recommendations are now being implemented by all the outfitters. Wetsuits, helmets, safety kayaks are all part of this river now and W.E.T. will include them with every springtime river trip.

Price increases look inevitable since most of our governing agencies are increasing our fees. With California & our federal budget in dire straits, we understand why these agencies are looking for more revenue. Their own budgets have been decreased dramatically. What we do promise, though, is that we will package our trips in the most economical fashion to allow our users to get the "biggest bang for their buck!"

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Arnold's Motorcycle Accident

This is a plea to our Governator: please stop riding your motorcycle... especially with your 12 year old son! 40 years old and up is the largest accident demographic for motorcycle riders. Men who reach ages from 40 to 60... boomer age... are looking for thrills. Many rode during their youth, gave it up when "adult" responsibilities kicked in and now, are purchasing motorcycles faster than the younger riders. This group, unfortunately has a lot of accidents. This is the second time our governor has had an accident. We understand. We are in the business of thrills... except we provide it in the safest way possible. Those of you who are loyal readers know how crazy our staff and our guides are when they go out during extreme conditions to do the whitewater rapids. Private boating is one of extremes. They push the limits so that when our clients come out for their commercial rafting "thrill," we know that it is a very controlled setting of normal flows in below extreme conditions.

Last year's boating public got a taste of high water. The highest flow last spring on the South Fork American with clients only reached 10,000 cfs. This year, kayakers and rafters did the same stretch at 42,000 cfs last month. Keep that in mind... and Govenor, if you want a great thrill without clunking your body onto the pavement, come out again and go rafting!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Seasoned Women vs Senior Women

The Active Senior Woman or Whatever You Want to Call Them
This past weekend, I read Gail Sheehy's article in the newspaper insert, Parade Magazine. The article promotes her new book, "Sex and the Seasoned Woman." The gist of the article and book talks about the resurgence of a woman's second life... you know, pre, during and post-menopause. This resurgence occurs with many women from the baby boomer era. These women are 41 to 60 years old now. They are the ones who actual make decisions about the spending in the family budget. They are also the ones who may have already raised their children, been divorced or widowed by their husbands and have started new businesses, careers or have gone back to school! I would definitely rank these "seasoned women" as the new movers and shakers of our economy.

You've met these women. They are the ones who are starting businesses faster than any other demographic in this nation. Not just babysitting, child care businesses... they are opening up online stores, services in their neighborhoods, freelancing their skills to corporate America, organizing and implementing political networks and truely becoming a force to recognize. Sheehy call this the "Pursuit of the Passionate Life."

The passion that these women have for life is inescapable. It is contagious. Yes, they garden, bake and participate in knitting clubs; but they also, go to the gym. They worry about their health. They live well and they eat well. They also like to play well.

One of our oldest groups of rafting clients, is a group of boomer-age women who come out every year to do one of the forks of the American River. The group started as a women's softball team back in the late 70's. These powerful, athletic women would organize a river trip just to satiate the passionate desires for a whitewater thrill and the outdoors. Athletic, aggressive paddlers, they accomplished the South Fork American with ease. Then onto the Middle Fork American River for the Tunnel Chute thrill. Only a few of them did the North Fork American and some even went up to the Cal Salmon. They did the Merced and the Tuolumne Rivers and some even went on the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. Now most of them are in their late 50's and 60's. They are bringing their grandchildren and their own kids on our trips. Last year, one of them shared the experience with their favorite grandson.

If you know a "seasoned woman," let her know about whitewater rafting. For the passionate woman who loves life, this is a thrill that will add much to her memories. Come out and go rafting with your favorite friends. Join us this spring and bring other "seasoned women" with you!

Friday, January 06, 2006

California Whitewater Rafting North Fork American River Class 4 to 4+

Just a couple of weeks ago, we thought we would have a short spring season this year. We thought we would only be on dam controlled rivers. And then it started snowing. And the storms moved in. And more are coming. They just measured the snowpack yesterday and the "water people" are now saying that we are at 110% of normal... and it's only the first week of January! Yowza!

North Fork American River should be optimum around mid-March through May. Days are usually sunny and mild and there are hardly any rafters there at that time. Last year, we had a lot of very athletic users who didn't care about the milder weather. They just wanted to river raft on this premier stretch of whitewater. Class 4 to 4+ over polished granite rocks with very technical rapids have kicked butt on many experienced users. This is a favorite run for serious rafters and kayakers in Northern California.

This river has a wild history. In the early 60's, there were some paddlers in Sacramento who first did this run in rubber duckies! Can you imagine? They got thrashed and their boat did not survive. In the 70's, kayakers abound, but the kayaks then were not as refined and negotiating the tight rapids took quite a bit of skill. In the 80's, the commercial rafting companies came out in droves. Unfortunately, some of these companies did not have the skill level and there were some awful moments over there. I remember rafting there with clients and watched as BrandX rafting company flipped in Chamberlain. Fortunately, we had an oar-boat and safety kayakers with us. We corraled those paddlers safely back to shore, but the guests refused to go with BrandX company. So we distributed the people among the W.E.T. rafting trip and we proceeded downstream.

The other company's guides were glad that we took charge. And we were glad to help out. On the river, there is no competition among the companies. We all just want to provide safe and fun trips. Every rafting company out there will stop and help any user on the river. That is our moral obligation within this tight river community!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Wild Weather, Wild Flows

...having a hard time typing in 2006 today... weather has been slammin' the past few days and rivers came up to last spring's high water levels.Lots of rumors and news are swirling around the rivers since the rains started. There was a posting on CaliProducts from members regarding the far North rivers such as Cal Salmon and Klamath River.

Read more kayaking news at CaliProduct's Forum. Roads washed out, bridges bent and bowed, extreme flows... you know, the norm for this type of weather. And over on the American River; the North Fork posted flows at 60,000 cfs <for real!>, the Middle Fork came up to 32,000 cfs and the South Fork on New Year's Eve was around 35,000 cfs.

Hilde, a long time kayaker and rafter in Coloma noted a successful kayak run that day by Jared N. <former guide for W.E.T. River Trips; now a rep for several kayak manufacturers> and a group of kayakers as they floated past her deck on the South Fork. We received a phone call in the office right after Jared got off the river and he stated that he was heading for more action on the water. On river-right at Troublemaker Rapid, part of the road was washed away. By today, the rivers have receded to "normal" high flows. These flows are accommodating to the advanced enthusiast, and the magnetic draw of the river has already begun for 2006!

A word to the rafting public as you all plan for river trips this year. Be on the alert to several new rafting websites that seem to sell only passes or tickets to trips. Booking services can be really time saving; but if I am planning a trip for my family, I want to know who the heck is taking me down the river! It is much better to have a dialogue with the actual company that is providing the rafting trip for you. Email, phone or write to the rafting company. Ask about permits, insurance and safety record. If the company can not provide this information; paddle to the nearest rafting website where you can get this info.

Note to all regarding the "Chasing 50" crew: Ryan reports their first descent in Brazil for January 1st. The rest of the crew will be there around January 11th. Photos and videos should be awesome and we pray for their safe return back to the Lotus/Coloma Valley this upcoming spring.

Rafting has begun and we are selling our May and June weekends first. Those are the hottest dates and most corporate and family groups are vying for space now. Always ask for Group Rates for the best savings. For the more advanced paddlers, we recommend coming out this March and April for higher flows on the rivers such as the North Fork American and the good ol' South Fork. We hope to see all of you on the river in 2006. Happy New Year and God bless all you crazy boaters!