Russian River Roulette

Canoes lined upon Johnson Beach on California's Russian River. Photo by Gerry la Londe-Berg via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

In the course of writing his Outside story on public access to beaches bordering private property along California’s Russian River, Chris Colin tried canoeing down the river and landing on contested pieces of shoreline to see what would happen. Among the more unexpected encounters with irate landowners? Violent golfing.

Two-thirds of the way into our trip, we came upon a pirate flag flapping above a small spit of sand. I hollered up a guileless hello to the two men standing nearby. In response, one disappeared into some trees. He returned with two large dogs, which he led down to us.

Clearly we were meant to be frightened away. But I wasn’t ready to leave, so I tried to de-escalate the situation with chatter: a mindless remark about dog breeds, then an explanation of what the hell we were doing there.

“I know about the goddamn high-water mark,” the man spat at us.

All this time, his friend had been holding something. I saw now that it was a golf club. He stepped up to a makeshift tee and squared his shoulders. Before I could register it, he was winding up and blasting a ball in our direction.

He missed us by a good 15 feet. But now he was teeing up again, clobbering another poor Titleist at us. This one came close enough that we heard a ffffffttt as it shot over our heads. Five minutes after pulling up on this beach, we were hauling away at top speed. Already I was thinking about the next leg of my expedition, where the locals were said to be far less friendly.

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