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"This is Whitewater Heaven"


The term "wet and wild fun" could encompass anything from the back yard slip-and-slide to sitting front-row-center at a Korn concert and getting sprayed with a fire hose. But as the weather turns warm in Kern County, the phrase conjures up two more words: whitewater rafting.

If you like to split "white" and "water" and make it three words, sue me…the thesaurus I bought at the dollar store has it as two.

" A third of the visitors to the Kern County info booth had a hankering to literally wet their pants on the Kern River."
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At a recent travel show, I was stunned by the number of people who came to ask specifically about Kern County's whitewater. A third of the visitors to the Kern County info booth had a han-kering to literally wet their pants on the Kern River.

Believe it or not, this is Whitewater Heaven. It's interesting that we've got that reputation outside of the county but tend to ignore it locally. No more. Here's the skinny: Gang, we're not a secret. At the start of the millennium, Sports Afield magazine let the cat out of the bag when it ranked the nation's top 50 destinations for paddling and declared the Kern River Valley to be numero uno. U.S. Olympians trained here prior to the Sydney Games, and the International Canoe Federation's 2003 Wildwater World Cups left Europe for only the second time to test the mighty Kern.

Part of the allure is the fear factor. It's a bit like riding a roller coaster, provided you were riding said coaster through a car wash. As soon as the trip begins you get that little tingle in the pit of your stomach and wonder just what you've gotten yourself into. But you also know that if you follow the rules, everything will turn out just peachy.

Throughout the trip you are silently (okay, maybe not so silently) reminding your maker that you'll never do anything this crazy again if you're allowed to live through it. Of course, the trip ends with some wise guy (probably the buddy you suckered into coming with you) asking you if you want to go again, followed by your own resounding shout in the affirmative.

So much for that promise.

"...the disturbing sight of Ned Beatty in bicycle shorts is irreparably burned into my cortex..."
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The Kern River is an easy day trip (hey, you knew the name of the column when you started reading) for much of Southern California, but for Kern County families it's a couple of gallons of gas – or less. While a handful of companies take willing victims, er, adventurers on the mountainous sections of the river, one outfitter specializes in calmer trips at the mouth of the canyon just northeast of Bakersfield.

Shameless plug: links to area outfitters can be found on the Board of Trade's tourism web site, www.VisitKern.com under "Outdoor Recreation." Check out the "Adventure" section.

Now there are some misconceptions. The mere mention of whitewater seems to create an immediate mental image culled from the movie "Deliverance". Although the disturbing sight of Ned Beatty in bicycle shorts is irreparably burned into my cortex, the reality of the situation is somewhat different.

Truth be told, this is an activity as suitable for family fun as it is a draw for thrill seekers. Rapids – and the Kern River has 50 miles worth – range from the sublime (Class I) to suicidal (Class V). The Kern runs the full spectrum. And since most outfitters will take youngsters down to age 6 on the more tranquil runs, it's no great sweat to book a trip for the whole clan.

You can further customize your trip by length. Go out for an hour, a day, or multiple days. Factor in your skill level and budget, and pick the trip best for you. Outfitters also offer theme trips with extra touches such as cowboy cuisine or even…yoga? Tell me this isn't California.

As with any outdoor activity, conditions are dependent upon weather. Length of season and rate of flow are impacted by the size of the snow pack (the Kern's headwaters are at Mount Whitney) and rate of melt. In a good year, rafting continues through Labor Day. Less snow means a calmer river and shorter season.

Add one more factor—this is the closest whitewater to 21 million potential LA-area visitors—and spots tend to fill up fast. Reservations are a good idea, and it's best to book early.

For more information visit the Kern County Board of Trade web site at: www.VisitKern.com.

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