Friday, February 5, 2010

How NOT to Innertube

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Location: Machias River,
Lake Stevens, Washington
Activity: River Inner tubing
Time of year: Mid-Summer
Fee: Free, public access river
Costs Involved: Gas, food,
and inner tubes.

It was mid-June when my little sister was flown out of Boise for a visit. On an uncomfortably warm morning Tim, Johanna, Will, and myself set out to buy ourselves some cheep flotation devices and spend the day on a friendly river. With the boys as our guides, we chose the river Machias to stage our little adventure.

We bought inner tubes at the only hardware store in Granite Falls for $2.00 each. Tim and Will snagged some flip-flops at Target for $3.00 a pair. I collected some cliff bars and a myriad of water bottles in an airtight bag.

We were ready for a day of sunlit bliss.

Backstory: Johanna and I were practically raised on a river in Idaho. My grandmother spent her latter days gazing out from the porch of a hunter's cabin in Garden Valley, just feet away from the bank of the lovely Payette River. We were with her.

I know every swimming hole, sand bar, and bend in in the Middle Fork. My Dad used to load us (his children) with our "river rats" into the bed of the Ford truck and haul us up stream a couple miles, past the elk farm, to Lightning Creek Bridge. He'd drive with the windows rolled down. Music floated from the cab as our hair whipped and kissed our faces. "...we can sit and talk just as long as it can pour 'cause the way it makes you look makes me hope it rains some more...(Lovin' Spoonful)"

It usually took three hours to float from Lightning Creek Road to Elk Bridge. Early July is the best time of year for floating: the sun is hot, the water is cool, and the river is high enough that you won't need to pick up your river rat and walk over the shallows. My older sisters napped in the sun. Johanna and I would dip and dive with snorkels, searching for trout.

Floating the Machias River didn't work out so well. This may come as no surprise to you but not all rivers are alike. I was not prepared for the amount of walking we were about to do. I wasn't prepared to dodge a sunken jeep, get dunked by a low branch or sit up in my inner tube and think "Gee... We've been on this river a long time.... Where's the truck?"

It seems we parked too far down river. We had been floating for two hours when we came across the first bridge. Our faces were blue because our two-dollar inner tubes weren't keeping their air. So when we realized, because of the bridge, that we weren't even half way to our destination, we made a unanimous decision to climb out of the river and walk the rest of the way.

Then Tim's three-dollar flip-flops broke.

He was walking barefoot on sunbaked asphalt where there was broken glass. I wasn't going to stand for that. I saw a sign across the street giving directions to a community church. It was Saturday but I know the church staff, at least, would be in the building. They would give us a ride to the truck.

I crossed the street and before I made it to the church I saw a fire station.

My Dad and my Grandfather were firefighters. My Dad says that being a firefighter is "three parts boredom and one part pure terror" due to the fact that firefighters spend a majority of their time absorbed in the maintenance of equipment, or simply waiting for a call. When called they're washed with adrenaline and terror and excitement as they rush to the rescue - never really knowing what lies ahead.

When I walked through the open door of the fire station I knew what to expect. Firemen sitting on the couch next to a phone... waiting..... endlessly waiting. When they saw me standing in the doorway they both leapt to their feet, hands twitching at their sides, expecting for me to announce disaster. I felt bad for causing them false alarm.

I explained our situation, with embarrassment, to the firemen who were practically thrilled to help. They asked us how far down the street our truck was. Then they loaded us into the aid car and away we went. It sorta felt like a first-grade field trip. The firemen didn't need to be prompted with questions, they filled us in on the equipment in the aid car, and the first aid training they're given. The ride in the aid car turned a terrible trip into a fun memory.

Thank you, Firemen!

Inner tubes = $8.00
Flip flops = $6.00
Parking too far down river, getting dunked by a branch, and walking 3 miles over melting hot asphalt in July? Priceless.

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