On Sunday afternoon, just as the rain that had been drenching the region for three days started to taper off, Alex Bowman and his friend Patrick Sitzer decided to ride down the roiling, swollen waters of Piner Creek in a small blow-up raft. Without life jackets.
What sounded like an adventurous outing at the time nearly got the two 24-year-old Santa Rosa residents killed. Their boat capsized, plunging them into the muddy torrent of Santa Rosa Creek, and they spent more than an hour stranded on an debris-choked island in the middle of the creek before firefighters could rescue them.
"There were a few minutes where it could have gone either way," Bowman said after his rescue around 7 p.m.
Bowman, his white shirt, jeans and boots soaked, said he and Sitzer launched their craft into Piner Creek near Marlow Road with the idea of reaching Willowside Road, where Sitzer had left his pickup truck.
The pair was unprepared for the whitewater conditions they faced once Piner merged with Santa Rosa Creek. They capsized somewhere near Fulton Road.
Bowman held onto the raft for a while by grabbing a rope they had tied to it. But the rope got tangled around his arm, and he let go, grabbing hold of log that made up an island of debris in the middle of the creek, he said. Sitzer wasn't far behind, and he was able to clamber up onto the debris, too.
That's where they sat, cold and wet and shocked. for more than an hour.
A man walking his dog on the trail on the north side of the creek spotted them. The roar of the creek was so loud they couldn't hear each other, but "he knew the message we were trying to get across," Bowman said.
It took firefighters from several departments some time to reach the men. They were located halfway between Fulton Road and Willowside Road, and rescue teams had to drive along an access road to get to them.
Once there, they performed a swift-water rescue. That involved sending special life jackets across to the men, tying ropes to the jackets, and hauling them through the water to safety, explained Santa Rosa Battalion Chief Mark. Basque. Additional personnel were stationed downstream with ropes to catch the men if they were swept downstream. They were uninjured.
"It's just dumb," Basque said. "They put themselves at risk and they put the rescuers at risk. It was totally unnecessary and entirely preventable."
The flow rate of the creek at the time of the rescue was between 3,000 and 4,000 cubic feet per second.
Bowman acknowledged their plan wasn't well thought through.
"There was a level of ignorance involved," he said.
But he seemed taken aback by the suggestion that he'd put other people at risk.
"It they're so upset about it, they shouldn't be rescuing people for a living," Bowman said. "I pay taxes."
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater.