My River Family in China

Posted by Kristen McDonald on Thu, 04/01/2010 - 06:33

Travis and KristenTravis and KristenWhile in China, I've been spending a lot of time working and playing with a remarkable team of river guides. These folks include Jane Chipman of Colorado, a skilled kayaker, cowgirl, and banjo player, who started learning Chinese last year while working for a water treatment company in Beijing. Also on board is Bob Wojtalik, a man of many talents including welding, rowing, fire fighting, with a seasoned poker face. Li Weiyi, from Guangzhou, is a former real estate company manager who completely changed her lifestyle to become, as she likes to call herself, "China river girl." Tan Jian Zhong is a logger turned rower and climbing guide from Kunming, who rocks a mean wok and enjoys rave reviews for his singing.

The leader of this odd little family, Travis Winn, is my partner on China Rivers Project, and also the owner of Last Descents River Expeditions, a whitewater rafting company registered here in China as of 2006.

Travis is 26 years old and for ten years (yes) has been exploring rivers in China by raft and kayak, sometimes solo. Travis speaks and writes excellent Chinese, a product of his recruiting friends, new boaters and supporters, and a unique immersion program he attended at the University of Oregon. Some of the trips Travis does are extreme, no question, and he has been to canyons he admits he likely won’t revisit. But his real mission here in China is much more communal in spirit: he wants to get more Chinese folks out to enjoy their river roots. Travis has an inspiring blog, which he writes in Chinese, at

We head out shortly for another 10 days on the Jinsha River. The first half is a family trip for some Chinese VIPs for, and we're taking a couple Guangzhou based journalists on the second half. The second half will be pretty quiet, so we hope to do some exploration of pictographs which are supposed to be very unique to Asia, possibly the world, and may be threatened by the pending dams.

This will be my last blog til after the trip. Thanks for reading, and please comment! I am new to the blogosphere and would love to know what you want to hear more about, or less about. Zai Jian!