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Last woman paddling

Keith Sheffield/Tahoe WorldWendy Lautner and friend Liza enter the Truckee River near the Glenshire Bridge in Truckee. Lautners goal was to paddle from Lake Tahoe to Renos Wingfield Park. To complete the adventure, shed have to paddle 56 miles.
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Taco Bells Grilled Stufft Steak Burrito never tasted so good. The time was 4:42 p.m. at Crystal Peak Park in Verdi, Nev., and thanks to the heat in Keiths cozy Toyota FJ Cruiser, my fingers were starting to thaw from their frozen grip I had since 4:42 a.m. when we started our expedition of the Truckee River from Lake Tahoe to Renos Wingfield Park.At that point, I was the one and only woman still paddling a feat of blind determination or utter stupidity, a subject thats still up for debate. From Fanny Bridge in Tahoe City to the Crystal Peak Park, my GPS said Id traveled 47.7 miles. But there were still 10 mostly flat miles left, and the idea of trading cold, wet kayaking gear for warm, dry clothes was tempting.

The notion of paddling the Truckee River from Lake Tahoe to Reno, a mostly rambling Class II river with a couple of manky (kayaker-speak for ugly) Class IV rapids here and there, is not the most popular thing to do. In fact, Ive never heard of anyone doing it in one day. I decided to go for it for three reasons: 1) To draw awareness to the river connecting Lake Tahoe to Reno; 2) To raise money for the Truckee River Watershed Council; 3) Because it sounded like a wild idea. I managed to recruit two ladies to try it with me. Tera Muir, a kayaking fanatic from Grass Valley, and Sonia Forgues, an all-around adventure girl from Truckee, put-in with me in the 34-degree darkness.

Within 20 minutes, the agony of scraping over phantom, shallow shoals was too much for Tera to bear and she decided hike back to the car and, well bail.Sonia went next. Her borrowed boat sprung a mystery leak and every 15 minutes she had to pull over to the side and empty the icy pool accumulated in the bottom of the kayak.We were going nowhere. At 6:43 a.m. we finally reached the River Ranch, two hours and 2.7 miles from our put-in. We were not hopeful and Sonia finally read the writing on the wall and called her boyfriend Jeff to pick her up. Nervous Id have to quit the expedition, I reached out for a life-line and checked my messages. Keith Sheffield, editor of the Tahoe World, had phoned at 6 a.m. to say hed been waiting back in Tahoe City since 5 a.m. wondering if hed missed us. Earlier last week, Id told him of our expedition and hed volunteered to take photos of the mission. He said he could rendezvous with us near Squaw.I decided to paddle on to meet him I didnt want to wake him up at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning for nothing.



From Tahoe City to River Ranch, the Truckee meanders gently and slowly. After River Ranch, things turn up a notch. Small boulders are packed closer together and the flow and gradient pick up a little, creating some fun but bony, technical rapids. I met Keith and briefed him on our pre-dawn mayhem. He gave me a handheld radio and said hed follow me down the river along the highway if I wanted to continue.All the way to the Town of Truckee the river rambled busily over shallow boulders as I watched the morning sun disintegrate the fog that hung over the frigid water. The name of the game was always finding the deep line. In Truckee, about 16 tributaries, drainages or culverts later, the river swelled into a more navigable waterway. Technical rapids kept me busy all the way to Glenshire, where I met up with Liza. This was the first time I had met Liza, but I was incredibly happy to have a new companion on the river. Thirteen miles and a few good rapids later, we knew each others basic life stories and had become good friends. Then she said good-bye, too. The rapids after the Floriston exit off Interstate 80 pack a bigger punch than anywhere else on the river. First off, there are three dams. I portaged all three, but believe the second is runnable on the far right at the right level. The river swelled and shrank, and the topography began to change. Tall, blocky, tan cliffs fit for the homes of mountain lions rose straight out of the river in places. Sage and the smell of cold rain drops hitting dry dirt scented the air. Hard, cold rain smacked into the river and my face. Before long, though I hadnt rolled once on the entire trip, I was drenched. Then the wind picked up. I dug deep knowing that Keith would be waiting for me in Verdi with some Taco Bell goodness.

There in Verdi in Keiths truck, my tummy full of food, warm air blasting from the vents, I had to answer a deeply personal question call it a day, or continue another 10 miles to the finish, where thered be no welcoming committee, no medals handed out?I tried to do the Gunbarrel 25 this year too, I told Keith. And I didnt finish that either. That pissed me off. After blurting out those words, I knew Id have to keep going. Id worked too hard and come too far.



It was. The total trip took 15 hours and five minutes. At 7:47 p.m. on Sunday, I completed my journey by paddling right up to the island at Wingfield Park.


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