How Whitewater Moves Us to Act


George and I looked upstream at Skyscraper, a rapid halfway down South Silver Creek, in the mountains near Placerville, California. Beneath us was an undercut cave; we had been there for a while, scouting and fretting and rationalizing. Kirra scrambled down to us and asked if we planned to run it. I looked at George: “I sure wish someone would come down from behind us and, like, run it. Or set safety. So that we know it’s okay.”

Photo: Kirra Paulus

Ten minutes later, as we walked back to our boats, a group of six Kiwis materialized from the white roar. “Want to set safety with us on the Teacups?” one asked. Providence.

We ran it. It was beautiful, terrifying, perfect. At the end, stripping off our wet gear, elated, we discovered myriad connections: Two of them had worked in Banks, Idaho, near where I live. Another had guided on the Middle Fork, where I guide. We shared many friends and although we were from different parts of the world, and neither they or us had been to California, our camaraderie was instant.

The river community is small, but it is tightly-knit. Anywhere in the world if you meet a kayaker, it’s likely you have a mutual friend. At the end of our California trip, I was driving over the Yuba Gap (CA) on my way back to the Middle Fork. I passed a van with kayaks on top, and waved. Later, after fueling up, I passed it again near Winnemucca (NV). That evening I pulled into the Canyons warehouse (ID); as I caught up with the team, that same van pulled into the parking lot. Out jumped Chris and Britt, two of our guides.

Photo: Kirra Paulus

Unfortunately, this close community is sometimes insular. (When your activity is the coolest ever, what else matters?) But there is such vivid, exultant energy in the kayaking community; how can it be directed to tangible issues? Kayakers are driven to explore, travel, and experience new rivers, but what do we do to help conserve them?

Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) has a compelling solution. The founder, Gregg Treinish, realized that much scientific research requires travel in extreme or inaccessible environments and training researchers to manage these situations safely is time-consuming and expensive. But there is already a group of people in these environments: outdoor sports enthusiasts. Particularly, kayakers travel worldwide to remote creeks and rivers. ASC’s Microplastics project organizes kayakers to take water samples wherever they may be in the world. Researchers can get much more data by partnering with people who already have the skills and motivation to get into the places being studied.

Photo: Louise Johns

Kirra and I stumbled by chance into the Gallatin Microplastics Initiative. A friend sent me a link and we signed up for it because it sounded neat and fit our skill set. But as we learned more and took samples, the importance of the issue grew on us. Our interests, as they exist now, can be useful for research that seeks to understand the resource we depend on.

Photo: Kirra Paulus

Kirra graduated in the spring, and I’m taking time off. We both river guide and had been planning a trip in May before rafting season started. Influenced by ASC, that trip suddenly seemed like an opportunity to gather data for the Global Microplastics Initiative. We had a month. Well, we had to take finals in the first week of May. So, a month, minus five days of caffeinated stress. That’s kind of like thirty days. (Although May has thirty-one. I haven’t taken calculus in a year.)

We reached out to sponsors who had a vested interesting in rivers: Astral, Grand Trunk, Montucky, Ice Mule, Lx Polarized, Bozeman Brewing, and MAP Brewing.

First, right before finals, we jetted to the Lochsa Rendezvous. Then after our last exam, Kirra and I got on the road. Over the next few weeks, in a haze of exhaustion, river noise, shuttle complications, and Cold Snacks, we kayaked and sampled the following rivers:

  • Lochsa River, ID

    Photo: Kirra Paulus
  • Fish Creek, ID
  • Clark Fork River, MT
  • Fish Creek, MT
  • Kootenai Creek, MT
  • S Fork Clearwater River, ID
  • N Fork Payette River, ID
  • Lake Fork Creek, ID
  • S Fork Payette River, ID
  • Main Payette River, ID
  • S Fork Salmon River, ID
  • Main Salmon River, ID
  • Selway River, ID

    Photo: Kirra Paulus
  • Bear Creek, ID
  • White Salmon River, WA
  • Hood River, OR
  • Wind River, WA
  • Little White Salmon River, WA
  • Klamath River, CA
  • Cal Salmon River, CA
  • South Silver Creek, CA
  • Stanislaus River, CA
  • Tuolumne River, CA
  • Merced River, CA
  • S Fork American River, CA
  • Swan River, MT
  • Gallatin River, MT


Photo: Kirra Paulus

Joining us for various sections were George Milheim, Kathryn Egnew, Mark Rockwell, Spencer Lawley, and Jessie Bohn. The trip was less about paddling stouts (although we scared ourselves more than once) and more about going to new places. We wanted to expand our experience of the river world and add to its scientific knowledge base. Adventure and science need not be mutually exclusive. Small groups of citizen scientists, operating in areas they know well, can do powerful work for environmental science. We’ve become activated and engaged in our community on a new level: you can too.

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Photo: Kirra Paulus

One thought on “How Whitewater Moves Us to Act

  1. What a remarkably-balanced and inspiring video! No blame, only direct action, blending river and environmental science, recreation, education and visual beauty with a positive and relaxed auditory vibe. Ultimately, and hopefully, emotionally moving others to either join your expanding community, or to find their own way of expressing proper stewardship of our incredible planet. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

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