Long story short: I went to Bakersfield for the first time, then went to Kernville for the first time, then went to Tulare County for the first time and finally rafted for the first time. This is what I consider an acceptable effort for my brother's thirtieth birthday.
However, I feel I must note now how I amused myself during my trip from Santa Barbara to Bakersfield. I forgot my iPod at home and had only my iPhone and the twenty or so songs I've loaded onto it to help me get through my work day. They don't make for good car music so I did something even braver than driving to Bakersfield: listening to the radio in Bakersfield. I picked a good day to attempt this, it turns out, because nearly every station was paying tribute to Michael Jackson. I got to play a fun game where I'd scan the dial for the next hit and see how long it would take between one and the other. Over the course of the trip, I heard "Thriller" twice in its entirety. I heard "Smooth Criminal" four times. I even heard "Beat It" in its regular English version but played on a Spanish station.
Very strange. Will never happen again.