We tubed down the Green River today, me and C and J and K. It was awesome. I've never actually done it before - once, a few years ago, C and I and J (a different J) went down there to go tubing but by the time we'd driven the switchback road to the bottom of the mountain to the place where you get tubes, the sky had opened up and thunder was pealing through the gorge. So we stood for a long time under the bridge and read the graffiti and watched the soaked, shivering tubers come down the river. I thought at least someone would get electrified, but it didn't happen while I was watching.
Today, of course, since it hasn't rained in 7 weeks or so, there was no fear of a storm. So we drove the long road down, hairpin turn after hairpin turn, got our tubes and onto the schoolbus and up to the put in, where there were cops watching to make sure nobody had any beer. That kind of sucks, although I can understand why they made alcohol illegal on the river last summer, but there were points in that four hour trip today where I really, really missed the cooler full of beer languishing in the trunk of K's car. (I had been hoping that that law was just some kind of not real thing. Alas, they're serious.) But we had filled C's backpack with vitamin water and grapes and melon and a bag of cheese cubes that stayed edible surprisingly long.
It was crowded and insane. There's a wide, wide mix of people who tube down the Green River on a hot as hell Saturday in August when the heat hasn't broken for weeks. You get to know them as you bang into them and they kick you in the head and so on - actually, mostly everybody was really nice. We made friends on the first leg down - a cool guy named Bear and his friends. Bear had a paddle with his tube and was an expert; he also had a lengthy conversation about tax law with some other guy as we floated. That's impressive, really. Tax law. We hung out with them for a while. There are kids. There are older people. There are people with impressive ink and people with, uh, less impressive ink and then there are people in blue jeans, long sleeved shirts and black shoes. They look a bit odd next to the girls in bikinis. Some people are serious and manage to bring their cigarettes and lighters and keep them dry. On the first leg I blew this entirely - on the second I managed to keep two dry, although I gave one away. I'd bummed half a Newport and been glad of it myself earlier - cigarettes are gold on the river.
When you go to tube down the Green, if you're coming from Asheville and points west, the first tubing place you run into is called Wild Creek. Or Wilderness Camp. Or something else entirely; all I know for sure is the tubes all say WC on them, which is amusing: less amusing while you're floating, much more when you're out of it. If you're coming from the other direction, which I guess is South Carolina, you get to Silver Creek first and your tubes say SC on them. They're also a different color, and I got this mental picture of the two campground/tubing places getting together every year and deciding on who had what color tubes this year. You get your tubes where ever, anyway, and leave your car and decide what you should bring with you (I went to Ingles this morning and got a waterproof disposable camera and I can hardly wait to get it developed) and what you should leave and then you climb into the school bus. You choose whether you want the one hour ride, which is down to where your car is, or the three hour ride, which is to the second bridge and the one we did, which took in actual fact about four hours, or the four hour ride, which I'm glad we didn't do, since ours was really enough.
There are rapids and some of them are super rapid. The trick is to pull your whole body up over the top of the tube and hope to god you don't turn over. If your butt is still down inside the tube your butt will get whacked, and severely. We sang, "Keep your ass up. . . Keep your ass up. . . Hold your ass high!" to remind us of this simple fact. There are bamboo forests that make you think Ling Ling is going to wander by any minute. There are vines. There are small islands with black eyed susans and nothing else growing on them. There are big islands with huge old pine trees growing on them. There are deep lovely parts where you can swim. There are parts where there are teenagers jumping off the top of trees, which is terrifying. There are kayakers acting all serious in serious kayaks with serious helmets and serious life jackets, which you would think they would feel a bit dumb when they're being passed every five minutes by hooting tubers in drenched shorts with coolers full of "iced tea." There are houses and trailers and campgrounds with tents by the banks and often the people who live in them are playing music and standing outside drinking beer and cheering the tubers on. That was pretty cool, actually - as you move deeper into the country and deeper towards SC you go from hippie folk guitar to AC/DC.
There were two herons, one kingfisher, one snake and multitudes of crawfish. We fed cheese to some minnows, who were deeply appreciative. There was an idiot woman with a small, terrified dog, who I think got out and that was good; there was a happy Lab who swam half the river with his owner in a kayak.
It was just starting to get a little cold when we got out at the second bridge and waited and eventually got on the Bus of Terror back to the campground with our tubes. That was very third world - inasmuch as flying way too fast down a twisting mountain road in a packed, elderly short school bus that shrieks and heels on every curve is third world (I had visions of the headlines: Polk County Tube Bus Plunge Kills Many) and we passed the place that we thought was a church. From the river all you can see is this huge white cross with writing all over it and a white building that you assume must be a church. Instead, as far as we could tell from the road, it's a Christian tube rental place. Like, perhaps you could rent a giant inflatable cross, and the whole family could cling to that as they washed down the river. Wet with parable action! Or maybe it's the church of Christ Watersports, in which Jesus walks on the water just for the hell of it - wheeee! Aren't there any stories of Jesus running on the water? Sliding? Jesus, in his tube, floating serenely down the Green.
It was a brilliant day. I was cranky and didn't want to leave my house because I had every intention of spending the day napping and reading bad detective novels and pretending to clean up and I'm so glad that I went out to the river instead. We all ended up at my house where I made pizza and salad and we drank the beer from the cooler in that perfect, summer tired from sun and swimming, pulling cans of beer out of icy water way.