Friday, July 27, 2012

Tubing on the Yellowstone - really?

I have to confess that I resisted the tubing expedition we put together for our family members, who range in age from 71 down to 4 months. The tubing was to include everyone four years and above. But I thought I could enjoy it just as much vicariously. What if it was too hot out there. Or sunny. Or bumpy. Or scary, or awkward for, you know, an old Grammy.

But a certain daughter cajoled and explained - not just once - that I would LOVE it and I MUST go and that this would create HAPPY MEMORIES for my grandchildren.

So despite feeling clumsy (how do you get into a less-than-ground-level tube anyway?) and fairly tubular myself, I decided to go.

Fortunately as we blew up the 20 tubes we'd rented, a STORM blew in! Thunder and lightning! No time to be out on the water! Full of real danger, foolish to venture out into...as I explained to a lawyer son, a space-scientist husband, an adventure-nut son-in-law. They hoisted their tubes, encouraged their offspring, and trod into the water.

I was the last one in. It happened because that sil said, well, stay here if you're worried....

And leave my grandchildren to fry on the river?

So I waddled into the water, stepped into the vehicle (a poor excuse for a vessel for serious travel), plunked down, adjusted my posterior, stretched out my legs, grabbed the paddle-thingy, and shot out into the deep. About 6 feet deep was the Yellowstone, and I entered its current at a record-setting pace.

In fact I did shoot past the early-adopters, and took the lead in the casual, easy-going, non-race that constituted the braver elements of our progeny. (At least some had the sense to stay behind to carry our genes forward.)

The thunder boomed and the lightning was all too visible and a particular dark cloud rolled closer and closer. I paddled and paddled. Others floated and floated. Soon I was in the lead permanently.

Little children rode on the laps of their parents. Grampy and I rode in 'trackers', which are the LazyBoys of the tubing world, fully equipped with a cupholder as well as a comfy (relatively speaking) backrest.

The storm continued to brew.

The tracker leaked.

Some parents avoided the rocks that caused upsurges of whitewater. Others headed for them on purpose and provided early warning (through squeals) for the bulk of the party.

Soon we were quite spread out. The water (in the tracker) was sufficiently comfy that I felt no impatience for this adventure to be over. I tested the water outside my little vehicle and it was substantially cooler. The sky was cloudy so overheating was not close to being a problem.

At one point I saw a fair amount of whitewater ahead, and it spread from one shore to the other. How was I going to avoid it? I saw a break and headed for it, only to be swept into the chop broadside. I grabbed the handles so I wouldn't be thrown out, and was tossed wildly from side to side. Cold water poured in first here and then there.

It turns out that the best way to remove excess water from such a vehicle is to scoop it out with the scoopy tip of the paddle. I did not invent this technique, but after laughing at him who did (because in HIS case it propelled him sideways right into the bank of the river) I adopted it. And now it is in the public domain....

The storm passed behind us. Sometimes the sun came out. Certain of the children were done at an early pull-out. Three of us, through the good choices of the most rapid currents or judicious use of the paddles, were first to round the many bends that indicated we were approaching the end of the journey, some 2 hours down the river.

The end point was to be the vacation rental we have been using all week. As we approached I realized that the remaining issue was stopping in time. Once past our destination, we would find ourselves continuing down the river without a rescue plan. So once the house was in sight, I clung to the shore - and ran aground. The timely arrival of a son-in-law tubing behind me with his squeally 5-year-old resulted in my being biffed back into the current until it was the right time to paddle with all my might for the shore, where he - the same sil - hauled me out and even remembered to grab the tracker as it headed downstream.

Exhilaration! I made it. Gradually the others came into view around the last bend and as we hauled them out ('we' being a somewhat inaccurate term), they were all smiles. It took about half an hour till the last arrival.

(One grandchild did not really get the message that he should get out of the middle lane of the river, and one of our party jumped back in to bring him to shore, only 100 feet or so downstream. But that is only 1 of 20 grandchildren who participated, so we did pretty well, all in all.)

And then the skies opened up. It rained for the next couple of hours. Nothing will dry. Tomorrow we leave this reunion and we will all go home with soggy clothing. And sweet memories. And a few photos taken from shore as we arrived, which I will post as soon as they are sent to me.

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