Yesterday I got to take my kids and their friends tubing down Rainbow River in Dunellon, FL.
We had been once before, last year, with our church high school youth group. I was warned then that the water would be cold (I don’t do cold) because it is spring-fed. Cold didn’t even begin to describe it. I spent the entire 4-hour ride down the river (Yes, I said 4-hour ride. At least the passengers on the SS Minnow only had to suffer through a 3-hour tour.) perched balanced atop a tube, never allowing my bottom or feet to enter the river. It was probably the equivalent of a 4-hour ab and back workout. I was exhausted. And it was all futile effort because, as is the norm in Florida during the summer months, we had an afternoon thunderstorm. So, we all ended up completely drenched, stranded on someone’s private property for about 30 minutes while we were waiting out the storm (lightning and water are a bad mix) so that we could continue our torturous ride down the river. Hopefully, only 3 other people on that trip last summer knew how miserable I really was (two of them would be my kids because they know I don’t do cold).
So, you might be asking yourself, why in God’s name did I agree to go back down this cold, crystal clear, spring fed river, on purpose? Because I’m a mom. And that’s what you do when your kids want to do something that you know is good for them, will bring them joy, and get them outside and off of the electronics. (To be honest, the kids didn’t ask to go. I suggested it because of the other good-for-them reasons, and they agreed. Then I thought, ’Oh dang, now I have to actually take them.’) Oh, how we moms suffer for our children (cue the hand-to-forehead-nearly-fainting-from-exhaustion pose).
Now for the good news, yesterday was a BLAST!
I was a little worried as we drove up there, my little truck full of 6 different tubes and one raft and 5 human beings and one cooler. Dark storm clouds were all around us. This didn’t bode well for the day, and it wasn’t even Florida summetime yet. But we pressed on.
We got to the launching area and the first thing I noticed was a sign that said flotation devices over 60″ diameter not allowed. Dang! My raft was over that limit. That was going to be my salvation in this river….I wouldn’t have to get wet at all and could carry our “necessities” such as waters, snorkels/masks, and phones in plastic sealed baggies. Leaving the raft in my little truck, I again, pressed on.
We all dug in to the food we had packed so we wouldn’t set out completely starved. I inflated 5 tubes while Sunshine Boy went up to the counter to pay for park admission and transportation back to the launch point at the end of our 2-hour ride. (Make note here. We planned to only go down the river for 2 hours, get out at that exit, and be returned to my little truck to go get something for a late lunch). One of the rafts was much larger than the others, and had a net bottom. I claimed that one reasoning that I could carry supplies with a reasonable assumption that we wouldn’t lose them because this tube had a bottom. Plus, it was the biggest. And it had a bottom. That would certainly help keep me out of the water, right? Riiiiight…
So we get the tubes into the water and the sun is shining and the water really doesn’t feel too bad at this point. I’m thinking this is going to be a piece of cake today and I’ll most certainly receive a round of applause at the end of the day.
And we headed down the river and about an hour into the lazy ride, we came to the tree swing. Someone rigged up a rope swing from way up high in a tree on the bank of the river, and nailed some 2×4 planks into the tree and a small piece of wood on a broken branch as a platform to jump off. Perfectly safe, I’m sure. So the boys wanted to jump and I thought it would be awesome to get some pictures. So I dug around into the pool bag I had in my large, net-bottomed tube and found my zipper-closure baggies with my phone and keys so that I could take a few pics. And I discovered that zipper-closure baggies aren’t waterproof, even when you put one inside of another. My phone and keys were swimming inside of a baggie filled with water inside of a baggie filled with water. Dead phone. So I “paddled” over to the riverbank (careful to look out for gators) and tried to stand up out of my tube and realized I was kinda stuck. My tube had been leaking air for the entire hour and I hadn’t noticed. But that would explain why it was becoming increasingly harder for me to keep my bottom out of the water. I just thought I was really, really out of shape. So I proceeded to blow up my tube, keeping an eye out for gators (Pretty sure I spotted on on the opposite bank, but the kids tried to convince me it was turtles. Funny how they were the ones convincing me.) and thanking God that at least I only had to deal with a leaking tube for one more hour and could get my phone out of the water in an effort to start to dry it out and save it. Yeah, right.
So, after several jumps from the tree, I convinced the kids to keep moving on the river and we approached the 2-hour exit and got out. I had never used this exit before, so I was unfamiliar with where to go. Two of my adventurers took off ahead of us but made so much noise that I knew pretty well where they were. And then we encountered another group going the opposite direction as us. I recognized them as the group that had set out right before us at the launch site. They stopped us and said don’t bother going all the way up to the parking lot because there’s nothing there. It’s a ghost town. Ummmm, what??
So, since my adventurers were so far ahead of us, we had to travel the long and winding boardwalk through the swampy hammock. I carried my now-almost-thoroughly-deflated tube and increasingly-heavy gear to the sidewalk and walked up to the parking lot with a building with bathrooms and a little convenience store just to catch up to them. The place was deserted. The building was locked up and no lights were on. The bathroom doors were locked. There were no cars in the parking lot. We saw signs that said the last shuttle run was at 3:30. Without my phone, I could only guess that it was around 1:45. We sat and we wandered and we talked and we kind of stared at each other for a good 30 minutes while we waited hopefully for a shuttle. And the actions of the previous group were echoing in my head, knowing that they had decided to cut their time losses and get back into the river and finish the entire run….2 more hours. If we did that, we’d be returning home way later than we had planned. This could cause some problems since we all had someplace to be in the evening.
One of the boys decided to run up the road from the parking lot a little ways and came back to report that there was a padlock on the gate to the entrance. Not lookin’ good.
So we made the decision to trudge…uh, I mean walk purposefully back to the river and get back in and finish the rest of the run.
On the way back to the water’s edge, one of the boys played a fun little game called, “What would you do if there was a Zombie Apocolypse RIGHT NOW?” The kids shared their creative and stealthy ways to survive a Zombie Apocolypse. Ahhh, the optomism and feelings of immortality of teens.
So we got back into the chilly water and I told the kids we’d actually have to paddle (vs. just floating) down the river because this stretch of the river has almost no noticeable current and the signs on the 2-hour exit said the last transport runs at 3:30. Considering the time we spent waiting at the little convenience store/parking lot, and walking into/out of the river exit, I guessed it was nearing 2:30 now. And we supposedly still had 2 more hours on the river until we reached the “end” of the ride. And I had no idea what to do if we got to an empty parking lot and I had no phone and no car and no transportation was coming to get us. I totally would have figured out something, but I just didn’t know what at the time.
I got into the river and I started paddling and I was making great strides in getting down the river muy rapido. The kids, not so much.
After a few “encouraging words” only garnered short spurts of paddling from the kids, I decided to just let it be. We (mostly) floated down the river (because I really just can’t let anything be….just ask Mr. Sunshine). And it started to rain. And I got cold. Really cold. And I seriously considered climbing out of the river onto one of the properties with one of the smaller “Private Property” signs (My reasoning was that the people who went out and bought really big “PRIVATE PROPERTY” signs really meant it. But the people who only put out small “Private Property” signs were just making a suggestion.) and asking, or begging, them to drive us back to the launch site and I’d pretty much just hand over my Visa.
But I didn’t. I. STUCK. IT. OUT.
And the kids? THEY. WERE. AWESOME. They continued to play the entire way down the river. And we got to the end and got out and walked to the parking lot with my now deflated tube and 4-ton bag of gear. And we waited about 10 minutes and a van showed up and took us back to the launch site where we all felt a little refreshed and successful.
(We found out from this driver that the 2-hour exit is run by the state and they only run on the weekends, only until 3:30. And they will not come get their customers at the 4-hour exit if they miss the 2-hour exit, EVER. The 4-hour exit is run by the county and they run every day. And the state does not allow them to drive onto the 2-hour exit property to pick up river adventurers. Oh, and the country runs their transportion until something like 5:30. So if you go on the river, you need to know who you are paying to pick you up where on what day and until what time.)
We got changed into dry clothes (bathrooms with changing rooms on site, but no showers.). And we deflated the rest of the tubes and put all of the gear away and decided to go celebrate a great day with a gourmet meal from McDonalds. (Which could probably be a whole other blog post because our orders were totally messed up and these kids are stinkin’ hilarious!) And I actually got everyone where they needed to be just in the nick of time (though they all still had dirt and river muck on them where they might not have been able to wipe it off before they changed clothes). I was even able to make my 2 meetings at church with nasty rain/river smeared hair, damp bathing suit under my sweatpants and tank top, and exhausted makeup-less face.
And later last night, after we all had showers and had our pj’s on. My precious children said, “Thanks for taking us tubing today, Mom. We had a great time. It was probably one of the most fun days we’ve had in a long time.”
My standing ovation.