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Goosing Around with Tuolumne Bob

It was Memorial Day on the Tuolumne river near Yosemite National park, normally a very busy time.  But that year had a nice big snowpack in the Sierras, and “The T” was running at about 8000 cfs, which is pretty high for that river; certainly too high for the commercial raft companies that haunt that river, and thus it was pretty empty.  I had been on a trip with some other folks but we had gone different directions and I was solo, but I had the good fortune to hook up with Jack, a Bay Area paddler who not only knew the river well (it was a first for me) but was happy to hook up with someone else to help with the T’s famously-long shuttle. 

The river was big, pushy, and super fun.  Jack led, while I used the tops of the big rolling waves to keep half an eye on him and half an eye looking for big holes, both to avoid if they were too big and to drop into and surf if they appeared benign enough.  At normal flows (1000-2500 cfs) the T’s rapids are pretty distinct and have some gradient to them, but at this high water we were on a bit of a liquid freight train.  Clavey Falls is the biggest rapid on the run and deserves respect even at regular flows, but with all the water in the riverbed we were able to easily skirt around the ginormous hole in middle. 

Below Clavey is a smaller rapid called Powerhouse, cleverly named for an ancient riverside powerhouse that was probably used somehow for gold extraction back in the day

Powerhouse now is memorable for the super fast surf wave that comes in at flows over about 4000 cfs, and only gets bigger/faster with more water. 

Okay, I confess: this is not that wave (it’s Lachine in Quebec) and it’s not nearly this big, but it’s really fun, even if I can’t find a picture of someone surfing Powerhouse!

We surfed ourselves silly there for a bit, then with arms turning to jello we decided to hit the nice adjacent beach for a snack; Jack working on a sandwich and me on a Powerbar (back when I thought Powerbars were actually food). 

We were watching the water roll past and the wave build and break, and as new river friends do, swapped various tales of adventures.  When suddenly….we had company.  No, it wasn’t other kayakers zeroing in on the Pumphouse wave, nor was it a raft full of intrepid paddlers.  It was a goose!  A big ol’ tan and white farm-type goose, just floating merrily along down the current:

This isn’t the actual goose; just a pic poached from the interwebs.  But very similar. I hope this goose doesn’t mind that he didn’t get any photo credit.

Just at the moment that we saw the goose it also spied us, and immediately it vectored out of the current, into the eddy, and onto the beach.  The goose then waddled right up to our feet and started honking loudly, effectively right in our face!  

This was nutty; the Tuolumne is at the bottom of a several-thousand foot deep canyon, above our put in is a 5 mile section of class 5 whitewater where the canyon is even tighter, not far above that is the Hetch Hetchy dam which is still deep in a heavily wooded canyon, and above that is the granite high country of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne that stretches into Yosemite National Park.  So the likelihood of seeing a farm goose that was clearly pretty domesticated was low at best, and it seemed that no matter where it came from, it was far from home. 

A view of Hetch Hetchy. Not very farm goose-friendly terrain

It was an easy guess that this goose wasn’t just honking at us to be friendly; it was hungry!  Jack tore off a bit of bread from his sandwich and tossed it to the goose, and of  course it gobbled the bread up quickly and looked for more.  Jack kept tossing pieces of bread and all was well until suddenly the goose stopped with his beak poised high in mid-swallow down that long neck, then spun and waddled hurriedly  down to the shore, stuck his bill into the water, sucked noisily to wash the dry bread down, then charged back up the beach and started honking for more! 

Between Jack and the goose the sandwich was soon gone, but I was still working on my Powerbar, and I wrangled a piece off that and tossed it to the goose, whom by this time I was calling Tuolemne Bob.  Bob made a concerted effort to chew that old school malt Powerbar, but – like many humans – was apparently unable to do so, because he suddenly spit it out and bit me in the leg!  We roared in laughter, but Bob clearly didn’t think it was very funny.

After a bit more lounging in the sun on the beach (which Bob enjoyed as well) we decided to press on down the river, so as Bob watched curiously, we wriggled back into our boats, popped our skirts on, and pushed into the water.  We peeled out of the eddy and into the current, I spun around, and yelled “C’mon Bob!” not expecting him to follow, even as he was craning (goosing?) his long neck to watch us float away around a small spit of land.  I shrugged, turned and started paddling downstream, when suddenly…..there was Bob, soaring a foot over the water right off the end of my paddle blade, and landed in the current right between Jack and I, and started “paddling” downstream with us!

I watched as he deftly cruised through the rapids, zigzagging between rocks, bobbing over the small waves, and “goose diving” through the crests of the bigger waves.  I got a little ahead of Bob and was looking back upstream at him when I heard a quick yell from Jack; I was about to drop into a big pourover hole, which might’ve resulted in something like this:

I scrambled a few strokes and was able to barely miss it, but since Bob was right behind me and I was blocking his view he was headed right for it.  I hollered at Bob, but even as I did so I thought “I’m going to be the first person to ever see a goose get trashed in a hole!” However, right as he went over the lip Bob realized what was about to happen, gave two powerful flaps of his big wings, and flew right over the hole, passed the backwash, and glided back into the current!  What a great trick that I’d love to be able to pull off at opportune times….. 

We carried on as a threesome for at least another mile as the river mellowed in the final run to the reservoir, and I started wondering what the hell I was going to do with a domesticated goose if he followed us all the way to the car.  But abruptly the goose very distinctly paddled into an eddy, spun around for a last look, and apparently decided to bid us adieu.  We continued to float along, still laughing about our most unusual paddling partner ever, Tuolumne Bob. 

I wrote this up for American Whitewater long ago, and was happy to have found it recently as I was shuffling some papers.

Postscript: I’d be quite remiss in talking about geese in whitewater if I didn’t include this video clip that someone caught a few years ago of some Canadian geese getting after it on the Colorado near Glenwood Springs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQfSx6zEey0

2 Comments

  1. Allison Allison

    Tom, thanks for resurrecting this gem. Such a great story and provided a welcome laugh! I had two pet geese growing up and could picture the expressions and behavior you so well described (aside from the whitewater stuff). Ha!

    • Tom Tom

      Hey Allison – glad you liked it and I didn’t know that you had geese. Seems like any story involving pet geese is bound to be a funny one….even as they definitely don’t think they’re funny, which makes it funnier yet!

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