Every summer day in Sacramento, on the American River, hundreds, if not thousands of people flock to the banks of the American River to grab their rafts in one hand and an ice-cold brew in the other. The main objective of this throng is to float down the river, enjoying time with friends and a good buzz. Recently, I took some time to partake in the experience known as beer floating.
Our party for this particular afternoon consisted of eight people: five girls and three guys. Seems everyone wasn’t sure who was bringing supplies, because we ended up with two ice chest packed full before setting adrift. We also picked a very busy weekend, as the line at the raft rental place was excruciatingly long. (Note: show up early next time!) We walked our raft down to a river access point and got set to launch along with hundreds of others.
As we floated along, feeling progressively less restricted, I took note of the many intermittent pit stops where people were congregating onshore. Many parties were breaking out here and there as collectives of people stopped to linger in the beauty of the afternoon. I witnessed two college aged guys crack open a fresh bottle of Jack and proceed to take shots. Further down the line, a weathered rope swing provided a focal point for a throng of party-goers.
As I peered off into the distance both ahead of and behind me, I marveled at how full the river seemed to be of rafts and hedonists. Some rafts bumped together and coagulated like drops of water on a window pane. Others consisted of several rafts tied together like party flotillas. A raft mass ahead of us appeared to have a sound system aboard. One lone reveler approached the mini-rapids alongside us on nothing more than a kiddie pool inner tube. We tossed him a Pabst to go along with the open beer in his left hand. Even though I swear our throw was short, somehow he came up with the beer for the win.
We admired several strange sights, such as the Beer Can Tree; and had to decide which way to turn at a fork in the river while impaired. Finally, we made an extended layover at Beer Can Island. I estimated over three hundred people at this archipelago alone. Some of us (read: me) were falling down in the shallow water, trying to stand. Some of the girls in our party were onshore, getting into their usual trouble, putting on a thumbs-up, debauchery-filled show.
We eventually set sail again, saying goodbye to the oversize party going on behind us. After a while longer, we found the point where we were supposed to dock and turn in our raft back to the rental place. Many river travelers were still feeling the effects of the afternoon. One tiny girl was dragging her larger boyfriend by the waist as he leaned into her, feet dragging up the hill. I was feeling the need for Gatorade and a burger. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was also feeling the need for sunscreen, as I was already burnt to a crisp. We all made our separate ways home, happy to have spent such good quality time among friends.
Tips For Next Time
Beer floating on the American River is a summertime tradition in Sacramento, one that I was long overdue for. My tips for planning a future jaunt include: bring sunscreen, water, a t-shirt, and cab fare, along with your beer. Speaking of which, your beverages of choice need to be in cans, not bottles. Bring a “dry bag” for things like cell phones or smokes.
Show up early or make reservations ahead of time for your raft rental. Most raft rental places will also shuttle you back to the parking lot for an extra per person fee. Call around to compare which places pick you up where; different places might have longer shuttle routes than others. If traveling in a group, figure out who is parking at the launch point, and who is parking at the bottom. The person parking at the bottom should definitely be the sober driver, or have a designated driver there to pick you up.
• Many thanks to Liz Allardyce for generous use of her photos in this article.