There are float trips, and then there are float trips.
Since summer had made a late showing in the Ozarks and the forecast for last Sunday was for temperatures to reach well into the 90s as had been the case for several days in a row, my wife Wendy and I decided to spend the day doing something river oriented. We’re big fans of traveling the relatively short distance from our remote Texas County outpost to the Jacks Fork River section of the National Scenic Riverways system and taking advantage of the many opportunities presented by its clear, spring-fed waters.
But one thing we hadn’t yet done on the Jacks Fork is float. Sunday was our day.
Now, during our years living in the northeast Georgia mountains, we became familiar with floating – White County style. The way it works is simple: Put hundreds upon hundreds of people on busses and take them upstream a few miles from the tourist town of Helen, plop them on thick “inner tubes” designed specifically for river floating, stick them in the Chattahoochee River not far down the mountains from its headwaters (long before it flows through urban areas, where its water is still clean and its not yet navigable by water skiing boats), and watch them play a game of aquatic bumper cars for the next three hours or so.
It’s referred to as “tubin’ the ‘Hooch.”
That’s the brand of floating we had in mind last weekend –not the kind where you’re mounted in a canoe or kayak, but the kind where your rear end is in contact with the water through the hole in the middle of a tube. We figured the crowds wouldn’t be bumper car sized, which actually suited us fine.
We began our journey at Harvey’s Alley Spring Canoe Rental, which also rents tubes to the crazier floaters like us. With the skies gray with overcast and temperatures substantially lower than expected, a nice local young man shuttled us in a van to a place called Horse Camp, and we put in for a five-mile trip to Harvey’s take out spot about a quarter-mile downstream from the bridge in Eminence.
The next four hours-plus was an adventure beyond compare.
As it turned out, the first mile-and-a-half or so was the most difficult stretch. The river twisted and turned, and there were many large trees downed along the banks, no doubt from the early August flooding episode because most still had green leaves on them.
The stretch required plenty of attention, so as to avoid bouncing off the snags – or worse yet, getting stuck in a v-shaped set of branches over water too deep and fast to simply stand up in and move your tube, such that there was no choice but to grab onto the wooden trap and struggle to pull yourself upstream inch by inch until you broke free and were back in the flow (if it sounds like I’m describing that from experience, that’s because my steering was at times not so great and I failed to avoid such a trap on three occasions).
Anyway, it’s a good thing the good people at Harvey’s supplied us with paddles, because that at least made it easier to avoid hitting some of the bad spots.
After a while, the river seemed to be satisfied that it had shown us who was boss, and we entered a calmer zone laden with the kind of naturally beautiful landscape that can only be found on a Missouri river. There were awesome gravel bars, leaping fish, and high rocky bluffs that made you want to just lie back on your tube’s head rest and stare, some rising well over 100 feet above the water.
A nice rain shower fell for a while, and at several points in the section a thick mist hung low over the water that created a surreal scene as canoes and kayaks floated in and out of its moist, odiferous clutches. It was at this point that we fully realized how glad we were that the weather was as it was – fairly cool and cloudy, rather than hot and sunny.
Farther downstream we came to the Circle B Campground, where a bunch of people (probably mostly campers) were hanging out on the banks enjoying their Labor Day weekend. We stopped near a rock bluff perfect for jumping into the river, where the water is 10 feet deep or more. I did my silly old man duty by taking the leap and then swimming to the gravel bar where we had beached our tubes, and eating some lunch.
From there it was mostly a matter of waiting for the water in a slow moving section to take us to the pick-up spot. That’s one thing a tuber has to be mindful of: Unlike with canoes and kayaks, it’s kind of hard to “make time” in lazy water; you just have to kick back and enjoy the view (which is actually one of the many attractive aspects of river tubing).
Once we got our land legs back, and a converted school bus took us and about 30 other floaters (all boaters) the six or so miles back to Alley Spring, Wendy and I began to realize how tired we were. My ancient body definitely felt the effects of the day’s activity all over; my shoulders were letting me know they were there, as was my left knee, my left arm, and my left and right everything else.
“Man, what a workout,” I said.
My wife kept repeating, “I’m tired.”
Needless to say, we both took it pretty easy on Monday.
I guess that’s standard procedure after tubin’ the Jack.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: email@example.com.