Work boots to white water

March 19, 2003 11:00 pm

By SCOTT PESZNECKER

"Daredevil" is not the description that comes to mind upon meeting John Yost.

On solid ground, the longtime Vallecito resident is mild-mannered and soft-spoken. He is often found in blue jeans and work boots, fixing something at Feeney Park in Murphys, or attending community events around Calaveras County.

Heck, just last weekend the 50-year-old man was a grand marshal in the Murphys Irish Days Parade because of his work on the park — a mix of playing fields and a skate area created almost entirely through community contributions. Yost and his wife, Helen, have led the ambitious project.

Put Yost in a whitewater raft, though, and it's a whole different story.

He has navigated treacherous rapids all over the world, pioneered many rivers and been chased through African waterways by hippos and crocodiles.

"What I like is the adventure — seeing things that you don't know about in advance and seeing things no one else has seen," said Yost, who's rafting equipment is scattered throughout a work shed next to his house.

"I like the adrenalin and excitement."

Yost has rafted in about 120 countries. He has led "first descent" pioneering expeditions down rivers around the globe, including Ecuador, Kenya, Chile, Africa and India.

Yost took his first whitewater rafting trip more than 30 years ago while in high school near Washington, D.C. He and some friends — including Vallecito resident John Kramer and former Angels Camp resident Richard Bangs — went rafting because they wanted to do something "wild and crazy," as Yost put it.

Little did Yost then know that rafting would soon become his livelihood.

Yost and Bangs — with the help of Angels Camp resident George Wendt — founded Sobek Expeditions in 1973. Yost and Bangs managed the rafting trips, and Wendt fronted the money for the operation.

The company was based at Wendt's own business in Angels Camp, called Oars Raft Trips.