Thursday, May 30, 2013

Our fateful tubing trip

Our last day of vacation….

We had heard tubing was lots of fun.  It sounded like fun.  Years ago, we had thoroughly enjoyed the “lazy river” at a resort hotel we once stayed at.  Floating down a real river would be much the same, wouldn’t it?

So we rented our tubes- one for each of us- even our three year old.  We put on our life jackets, grabbed a few tethers to tie the tubes together for extra safety and lowered ourselves, tubes and all into the cold Toccoa River for a 6 mile float upstream (The Toccoa River flows north and eventually meets up with the Ocoee River in Tennessee, where the whitewater events of the 1996 Summer Olympics were held). 

Tim and I tethered an empty tube between our two tubes.  That was for our little one to be transferred into once she was comfortable and confident enough to leave my tube where she reclined on my lap to start off.  Our two older girls tethered together and the two boys tethered together.  

We had our buddy system in place.  

We had our instructions- “Lay back when you hit the rapids or you’ll tip over and fall in.  And then just enjoy the ride- it’ll last about an hour and a half.”  

We had our route laid out for us- “Once you pass the island, look for the bridge, and the take-out point will be right there on the left bank of the river.”

The only thing we didn’t have was our camera- because we were advised to leave all valuables behind.

So there we were- the seven of us floating along in the slightly frigid 68 degree water.  The woods around us were beautiful and serene.  The river was mostly calm with just a few little rapids every once in a while to add a little thrill to our float trip.   

On one rough patch of water, the still unoccupied middle tube did get caught on a rock that jutted up in the center of the river.  The tube flipped over and the flip-flops Tim and I had stowed there spilled out and floated away out of reach.  That was okay- we just laughed as we tried unsuccessfully to retrieve them.  I should have known at that point (and maybe I did) that my little one would NOT be leaving my lap for the roominess of her own tube.

Aside from the lost flip-flops and the discomfort of the water temperature, the only problem was that the kids seemed to be constantly drifting to one side or the other- getting their hair caught up in the long reaching branches of the tress that lined the riverbank.  They screamed about spiders and spider webs a few times but we were still having fun.  After a while, though, the girls got sick of being scratched and tangled by tree branches so we tethered their two tubes to our three tubes and the 5 of us floated together.   

Five tubes, all tied together, made maneuvering a lot more difficult.  We had to be constantly on guard because there were quite a few rocks jutting up here and there in the middle of the river and the current did tend to pull us towards one shore or the other.  

Trying to paddle with my arms worked okay but it was uncomfortable and tiring especially because I still had 30 pounds of nervous toddler on my lap.  My daughter never did relax.  She continued to huddle against me, digging her head into my chest in fear the whole way.  She had not forgotten watching “her” tube flip over and she was anxious to get back on dry land.  

We talked about tethering the boys to us as well- making our floating cotillion into a seven-some.  At one point, we even tried it but that was really too awkward.  And the boys seemed to be doing okay on their own so we let them loose again and reminded them to look for the island and then the bridge.  

So for the six mile ride, Tim and I paddled, keeping away from dangerous rocks and annoying trees and other unexpected obstacles along the way.   We were soaked straight through and the sun was elusive- sometimes shining to warm us up, sometimes hiding behind clouds leaving us to shiver.  By about mile 4, our arms were sore from paddling and my stomach muscles were aching under the weight of my daughter.   

We weren’t really having so much fun anymore.  

Finally, after close to two hours on the water, Tim spied the island.  And then the bridge was in sight.   To our immediate left was the take-out point.  The current was swift there, very swift, and the space between where the take-out point became visible and where we had to land our 5 tethered tubes on the slippery shore was short and abrupt.  It was a difficult task but we did it and I hauled the “baby” out onto shore and stepped up myself.  Tim and the other girls did the same.  

Then, we looked back to where our boys were- still in the water some 200 yards or so behind us, and on the opposite side of the river.  Tim and I screamed to them- “Get over, get over!” but the water was too rough to be heard over and, even after 6 miles of floating, the boys had not yet mastered steering their tubes very well.  They were rapidly approaching the place in the river where the take-out point was but they nowhere near the left bank where they needed to be.   We could tell there was no way the boys were going to get out of that river on their own.  

Tim jumped into the nippy water slipping on the moss covered rocks that littered the river bottom and dove for the boys trying to reach them.  After a considerable struggle against the strong current, he gripped the edge of our oldest son’s tube and pulled him toward safety.  He and I both sighed in relief- the boys were safe……or so we thought….

But, somehow our younger son continued to float away.  The boys had untethered their tubes at the very last minute in an effort to control them better and now neither boy was safe.  Tim pushed our older son’s tube towards where I stood at the water’s edge and took off after our younger boy.  I tried running in the water to retrieve my older son, as he was once again floating very quickly away from where he needed to be, but every time I put my barefoot down it seemed I was ramming it into another sharp rock.  With no other option and feeling more and more alarmed with each passing second, I swam as quickly as I could and grabbed the tube, at last.

In the meantime, Tim was in hot pursuit of the other renegade tube where my youngest son sat, now crying uncontrollably in distress.  The current continue to sweep him further upstream and, for what felt like an eternity, Tim could just not quite get to him.  I looked to the man from the tube rental company who waited on shore to drive us back to our van and implored him to “help us, please” but he stood looking bored and unaware and he offered no help.

At loooong last, exhausted, wet, and beyond-scared, Tim caught our little boy and pulled him, tube and all, to the side of the river quite a ways upstream from where the rest of us waited with baited breath.  I later learned my little one was crying as uncontrollably as her brother as she watched him float farther and farther away.  Her older sister held her close and reassured her.  But the whole experience freaked us all out so much, that Tim could not sleep that night (though by then, our sons had been safe and sound for hours and hours).  As if the emotional scars were not enough, Tim and I both left the river with deep painful bruises on the bottoms of our feet.   

As I told the children once we were back in the van and on our way to our cabin to warm up though, “We should be grateful--all's well that ends well.”  

Then, I looked down and noticed that my bracelet was missing.  My solid gold, beautifully etched, hand-made bracelet.  The bracelet that I had had my whole life- the one that my grandmother had brought with her when she left her home country of British Guyana at the age of 19 to marry my grandfather.  The one that matched my grandmother’s own bracelet and my aunts’ bracelets, my mother’s bracelet, my sisters’ bracelets, my cousins’ bracelets, my daughters’ bracelets.  It was my family heirloom- linking me to generations of woman in my family.   

When they said to leave our valuables behind, it didn’t occur to me to take it off- because I never take took it off.  Now it was gone.  Somewhere on the murky bottom of the cold Toccoa River.   

If I had to lose something on that fateful tube trip, I am eternally grateful that it was my bracelet and not my son--- but in the future, I think we'll stick with "lazy rivers" at resort hotels.  

1 comment:

  1. Kari, that was such a scary story! I am so glad the boys are ok!! I can only imagine how scared you all were. I'm sorry you lost your precious bracelet. I enjoyed reading all the blog posts about your trip though. Family vacations are the best! I hope to see you soon.



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