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The Pucker Factor


I love being in the outdoors, especially in the wilderness. Along with the wilderness however come isolated incidents that I refer to as the pucker factor. On the Tuolumne River there is a place that you can drive to called Early Intake where there is a nice parking area and a trail that heads upstream four miles to Preston Falls. The river along this stretch is big and wide and runs along a series of meadows dotted with huge oaks and digger pine. Having fished all the way to Preston Falls I decided to rest awhile in the shade of one of the huge oaks. The tree limbs dropped almost all the way to the ground so I had to duck under them to get into the shade. Imagine my surprise when I came face to face with a large, coiled rattler. That is what you call the pucker factor!

A great way to fish the Tuolumne is from a rubber raft on the 18 mile float from Lumsdens Bridge to Wards Ferry. You camp out on a sandbar with your fellow rafters and share campfire stories. An interesting campfire tale takes place in a wilderness setting where some city dudes have hired a professional guide to introduce them to the splendors of the wilderness. After hearing several campfire stories of exciting times in the wild, a lady remarked that there were things out there that could kill you. The guide replied “Lady, if there ain’t something out there that can kill you, it ain’t a wilderness.”

Oftentimes the Pucker Factor comes along with absolutely no warning whatsoever. One bright summer day I was walking along a beautiful trout river, when the sky around me was suddenly filled with hundreds of angry hornets determined to kill me. It was very much like the scene from the movie “My Girl” where the young boy was attacked and killed. Fortunately for me, the river was right nearby and I ran as fast as I could and dove under the water to get away from the deadly hoard. I probably had a dozen hornet stings, but I figure I got off lucky.

For those of you with a theological bent, such experiences can also be referred to as a “Come To Jesus Moment.” Lake Alpine on Ebbetts Pass was the site of such a moment for me. It was early spring and the snow plows had just opened the road to the lake. The snow all around the lake was about 6 feet deep and the lake was still frozen over solidly, so I decided to walk across the ice to one of the islands in the lake. About halfway to the island I heard a loud noise that sounded like a gunshot. It was the ice cracking underneath my feet! At that moment I had a hurried conversation with The Good Lord, and vowed that if He let me off that lake alive, I’d have perfect attendance at church for the next year. I can testify from my own experience that miracles do indeed happen and by golly, I never missed a Sunday sermon for over a year.

When you check the statistics I’ll bet that the wilderness is a safer place than the freeways or the shopping mall. Still, there enough factors out there in the wild to make your experience a little more exciting: The Pucker Factor.

Until next time, Tight Lines.


Don Moyer is a longtime Central Valley resident and avid outdoorsman. He contributes occasional columns.