Rowing into the past: A canoe trip down Sonoma’s Russian River

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We are thoroughly enjoying our holiday in California. Well, me and the girls are. Hubby is holed up most of the time with his laptop working away (and we thank him for it). We did manage to take a family canoe trip down the Russian River. It was also a trip into my past.

My family didn’t have lots of extra money when I was growing up — there were five of us pesky kids and my parents did their best on school teacher salaries. The only holidays I remember was staying at a friend’s house that overlooked the Russian River. The two-story house on stilts had a huge deck that was shaded by the 300-foot Redwoods that populated the river banks and we got to sleep outside in sleeping bags. We would play in the river by day (earning the term “river rat”) and at night we would have developed such an appetite we would devour everything in site; one of the favourites was pie made from the slightly tart local Gravenstein apples.

So, back to the canoe trip: four canoes, one kayak, six adults, three teenagers, three little girls, two dozen bottles of water, salami and swiss cheese sandwiches, and loads of sunscreen.

Russian river

Hubby and I had a few teething problems at the start of the trip with the rowing (quite a compatibility test) but we were soon on our merry way…

Hacienda bridge

Here’s the bridge near the house I stayed as a child. If you look closely, you can probably make out Susie + Phil (latest teen crush) written in the stone.


Here’s the house. Squint and you might be able to see a little girl on a lounge chair with her nose buried in a copy of Little House on the Prairie, taking a break only to eat penny sweets from the shop.


My 15-year-old nephew showing off his kayaking skills…


Two more nephews. The one on the right is going to be a freshman at UCLA this autumn.

River rats

Two of my river rats.


The ten-mile trip took about six hours! At the end they pack up the canoes and take them back for you.


We found a blackberry patch while waiting for the bus to take us to our car. The blackberries weren’t on this branch for long…

Where did you go on holiday when you were a child and have you ever been back?

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  1. 21/08/2009 / 07:13

    Great post. My family didn’t take vacations. We would just go to the main tourist attractions in our city.

  2. 07/08/2009 / 22:52

    Oh wow, looks amazing – fancy a swap with Bognor? ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. 07/08/2009 / 18:49

    Stunning pictures. Sounds like you’re having a wonderful time – definitely understand bailing out on this ‘summer’, though I’m personally relieved it’s not the heatwave we had the year I was expecting Rosemary.
    I have very fond memories of visiting my cousin (and her family) during the summer holidays. I think I may only have done it a couple of years, but I can remember ice cream cones filled with ice cream from the freezer, paddling in the pool, going swimming at the local pool, making a wind-up ladybird at a playgroup, going to the library…
    Haven’t been back to the same village, as they moved since then, but my cousin came back to the UK (she lives in Arizona now) in May for a visit with her two children and I took Rosemary up there. Watching them (and her brother’s children) play together brought back a lot of memories for us and we’re hoping to be able to get the cousins together more often.

  4. 07/08/2009 / 17:25

    That looks absolutely gorgeous, what a fabulous canoe trip.
    This post struck a real chord as my parents sold their holiday home in France a few weeks ago. My grandparents bought it the year I was born and we would go every summer. It’s a vineyard in Provence, miles from anywhere, very basic with no TV but amazing views, solitude, mountains to climb and a pool. My brother and I would entertain ourselves day after day rambling around the countryside and only returning for swims and meals. We’ve taken our children a few times, and they were just beginning to love it too, so it’s very sad that we’ll never be able to go again. I can understand why my parents sold it, but it’s a great loss.
    Enjoy your summer in the US!

  5. 07/08/2009 / 16:27

    Susanna were you looking for an SF hotel (sans kids)? Sorry still haven’t worked out how to reply on twitter, but I can recommend the Hotel Nikko, it’s very handy for the trolley/Union Square, if you get one of the upgraded rooms you get great views of the city, it’s all very chic and the beds are heavenly!
    Liz (LivingwithKids)

  6. 06/08/2009 / 23:13

    Looks like heaven – we found a surprise blackberry patch this week too… Very envious!
    I’m looking for poo stories now ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m sure you have better things to do than submit but thought I’d let you know!

  7. 06/08/2009 / 22:41

    I’m so glad that you got to revisit your past — and then to share it with us! Is it just my imagination, or do even your photographs have a slightly retro look to them?
    We used to go “tubing” on the Guadalupe River in the summer. (near New Braunfels, between Austin and San Antonio)
    Now that I’m on Facebook, and in contact with old high school chums, those memories have resurfaced because that’s what everyone in TX seems to do during the HOT summer. (You haven’t been missing good weather in the UK. I’m sure you have been updated on that!)

  8. 06/08/2009 / 14:12

    How fabulous! Never been Kayaking, looks like great fun.
    Great photos too.

  9. 06/08/2009 / 01:46

    i am so glad you get this summer with your family!
    we went to Maine every summer, stayed in little cabins on the harbor climbed rocks till we were so very tired.
    i haven’t been back since about age 20. i wanted to take the girls this year but wasn’t ready to do the 10-hour east coast drive with them by myself yet….but someday soon!

  10. nappyvalleygirl
    05/08/2009 / 22:48

    That river looks glorious, and the house magical.
    I was very lucky to grow up in the Far East, so our family holidays were to places like Malaysia, Japan, Bali and the Phillipines. My parents booked into wonderful hotels, the like of which I could never afford now. It all seems like a distant dream….
    Very different to my husband, who only ever went camping in France and Italy!

  11. 05/08/2009 / 20:47

    Wow, amazing photos!
    My husband recalls going to his aunt’s house for a holiday when he was young. His aunt lived ten miles away! I’m pretty certain we won’t be doing that!

  12. 05/08/2009 / 20:02

    Reading the headline, I expected more of the rowing pictures you posted lately… Anyway – and only slightly disppointed ๐Ÿ˜‰ – the pictures are beautiful and I am happy, you are having a great time!

  13. Iota
    05/08/2009 / 19:16

    I actually got goosebumps reading this – it was the little girl reading Little House on the Prairie that did it.
    I’ve loved taking my kids to all the spots we enjoyed as children. My mother still lives in the same house that I was born and brought up in, so it and the surrounding area are jam-packed with memories.
    My husband’s family went on holiday to Goathland, in the North York Moors, for 13 consecutive summers. Because the tv show ‘Heartbeat’ was filmed there, it’s become a bit of a tourist hotspot, but even so, it’s just lovely. We’ve been back with our kids a couple of times, to a favorite picnic spot, where you can play in a stream (‘stream rats’?), watch the steam train go by and wave to the passengers, and play cricket on the same flat piece of grass that my husband played on 30 – 40 years ago.
    I like to think it’ll be there 30 – 40 years hence, for the grandchildren…

  14. A Modern Mother
    05/08/2009 / 17:52

    Too- I’ve only been to Hawaii twice (as an adult), but would love to go back
    Lisa- I remember those days too. All those orchards!

  15. 05/08/2009 / 16:29

    This morning I loved waking up this to this post and gorgeous pictures ๐Ÿ™‚
    I would be in heaven there! Sounds like so much fun. And that is the kind of place I would have also loved as a kid who liked to play in mud and creeks.
    Actually some of the best summers I spent as a kid was hanging out at the ranch. We had horses, back in the day when Silicon Valley was considered Santa Clara Valley and there were quite a bit of ranches in the area.
    Out of the area, I always loved to go to Northern Virginia where my grandparents lived. It was like a 2nd home there–love the DC area.
    Love your vacation posts!

  16. TooManyHats
    05/08/2009 / 16:17

    That is beautiful and looks so relaxing. I could do 6 hours of canoeing – dh wants me to go on a week long canoe trip. My comment is always, no bathrooms means the answer is no.
    We only took two real family vacations while I was growing up – both to Hawaii, so not too shabby. I have been back and in fact lived there for a short time. Mom and the kids went to Maine several times as that is where her family was – I have been back there too and it is so beautiful there.

  17. A Modern Mother
    05/08/2009 / 16:10

    The magic of happy family memories…

  18. 05/08/2009 / 15:40

    my entire extended family started visiting a small village in the Lakes called Allonby when I was about 7yrs old. My auntie later bought a cabin there, and when my mum re-married, so did she. My husband thought it was such a special place,he proposed there. We even had a static caravan there for a while. My 20 month old has already visited more than 10 times….he got back from his latest visit last night, just him, nanna and granddad. And the fields,and the beach,and the local kids…..he adores it.

  19. A Modern Mother
    05/08/2009 / 14:55

    Well at least it’s good for the garden! I have to say I’m glad we bailed this summer and it may become a regular event.

  20. 05/08/2009 / 14:29

    Wow, stunning scenery, Susanna. And what’s that blue stuff – oh my goodness, it’s the sky! We’re more used to it being grey down here in Devon this summer:-(