Today, several of my friends and I spent the day lazily floating down the American River in Sacramento. It was a blast. I highly recommend you try it.
This event is called tubing.
The basics of “tubing” are thus: You get a floatation vehicle (usually an innertube or innertube-like thinger), go to a spot at the top of the river, get in the water, and float down to an exit point. You spend between four and five hours on the water, in the sun, talking, relaxing, and (usually) drinking.
I smoke cigars every now and then.
What you do is this:
Get a group of friends. Five to ten is probably optimal. Pick two points on a river: a entry point and an exit point. They should be about ten miles apart on the river (not by road). Everyone meets at the exit point and parks their cars.
At this point you’re going to leave about half of the cars behind. All of your people get into half of the vehicles, carrying all your equipment, and drive to the entry point and park.
At this point you all inflate your flotation vehicles, get in the water, and have an awesome four or five hours.
When you get out at the exit point, you get in the cars left behind and drive back to the entry point. Then you split to your cars and go home. Sometimes you have to leave people behind at the exit point and then pick them up.
I’ve done this a pack of times now and each event is different. I always learn some new tricks and tips about what makes the difference between an afternoon that is excellent and a one that is a disaster.
I am now going to share my knowledge with you, so that you need not repeat our mistakes.
1) Never Split the Party. – Seriously. With a group larger than 5, you may find this to be a problem: people drift apart, get split by currents and such. This is not a problem as long as you can see each other, but if your group fragments to the point where you can’t easily get back together, you’ll need to reconnect.
This is most easily accomplished by beaching. The group in the front should beach to the shore and wait for everyone else.
This idea leads us to…
1a) Never Get Out of the Boat Alone. – If it starts to get cold, or you move too slow and night begins to fall, make your decisions as a group. If a few people get out of the water early, the party gets split. I have personal experience about how this is a Bad Idea, with Bad Results. Either everyone gets out of the water or no one does.
2) Cans Only. No Bottles. – Beer is awesome. We love beer. You must only purchase beer in cans because, simply, bottle break. They break, and they get on the river bottom, and then you might step on them. Or they might slice open your floatation vehicle.
Get yourself a mesh sack. Put your full cans into it and let it drag in the water. The river will keep them cold.
When you have empties, crush them. Keep your empties in a different sack – you can leave this one out of water if you want. There’s two reasons for this: a) Crushed cans can possibly puncture your fresh brews, and b) You’ll sometimes find people who want your empties to recycle.
3) No liquor. No Psychedelics. Don’t get Fucked Up. – Stay with beer. You need to not get totally hammered. There may be moments where you have to think quickly (like, oh, you’re about to float into a downed tree). Liquor will dehydrate you pretty quickly and gets you more drunk faster. You need to stay hydrated in the sun, so drink light beers: pilsners, Coronas, etc.
As far as psychedelics go, ohman. Having some people in your group who are totally fucked up this way turns them into Persons of High Maintenance (see below).
4) Avoid Persons of High Maintenance. – This is a personality thing, and something you’ll need to know about your people. You want to avoid bringing your friends along who are High Maintenance. The ones that require a shit-ton of attention and help for everything. You know what I mean: people who require others to inflate their floatation vehicles, or are totally incompetent at paddling, or whatever. Everyone needs to be reasonably capable of taking care of themselves.
This extends. When you get on the river, sometimes it will be cold, or slow, or there may be other problems encountered. The best people take charge about this; most bear these problems well, but there are some people who will complain endlessly. These people are also Persons of High Maintenance, because they demand that the River bend to them.
Further, inviting your friends who get aggressive when they get intoxicated should be avoided as well. My friend Cary related an anecdote to me about this. He once went out with some friends, who invited friends, And one of these guys got super drunk really early on – and then started shooting the other people in their flotilla in the face with a super-soaker at point-blank range. After about an hour of this, Cary just cut the douchebag loose from the flotilla.
This actually leads to…
5) Have a Super-Soaker. – While on the river, you will encounter other parties. Most of them will be very relaxed and friendly. However, from time to time, you’ll encounter a pack of douchaholics. They will have super soakers. And they will possibly want to start a marine battle with you. You must have at least one weapon. This is a deterrant. You shouldn’t have to use it; just be willing to. No one wants to get nailed with one, so just showing your teeth will be sufficient.
6) Never Tie Your Flotilla. – You’re on the river. You’re having a great time. You want to hang out with your friends with very little effort. Everyone’s got a rope, right? Let’s just tie in to each other.
We lost a raft today because of this, and some people almost got injured – possibly killed.
At the top, I said, “You can tie up but make sure that those ties can come undone at a moment’s notice.” After a while, we forgot that this was important and just tied on. Towards the end of our trip, we ended up floating into a submerged tree. Josh was instantly capsized and only survived by grabbing onto the “beer wheel”, and Val and Randor’s floatation vehicle was annihilated on the tree stump.
Because we were tied.
This tragedy would have been avoided if we could have split apart.
Here’s how to do it correctly: Tie multiple ropes to your flotation vehicle. Then hand those ropes to others. They hold on to them with their hands, or drape them around things, or whatever. You really only need loose cohesion. The ability to instantly separate is of paramount importance.
7) Have Paddles. – So, yeah. Paddles. You don’t really need a long paddle, but having one (or preferably two) paddle blades is essential.
There will be times when you will drift too close to the shore and are in danger of running into draping trees. You’ll need to get out towards the center in a hurry, and it’s just not going to happen if you’re in a Flotilla Formation and everyone is just cupping water.
There are few things more enjoyable than hitting a “rapids” area while in Flotilla Formation. And then, there’s few things lamer than getting becalmed or trapped in the eddy that occurs right after those rapids. You need to be able to get out of those places and back into the current.
8) Get Good River Shoes. – You can’t do this barefoot. You’ll be stepping on rocks and sludge and slime and other bad things. Find some footwear that you can get wet and not worry about – but most importantly will not come off. Flip-flops are not acceptable unless they also tie around your ankles.
I personally use a pair of low-top Converse Chucks. Surfing footwear works well, too.
9) Stash a Towel, a Change of Clothes and a Hoodie at the Exit Point. – You’re leaving cars there already. Pick one, and everyone dumps a change of dry clothes, a towel, and a hoodie there. The hoodie is super-important, even if it’s in the hottest part of summer: the water is cold. You will be chilled getting out of it. You should also store your “dry” shoes here: no one wants to drive home with wet feet.
10) Stash of Food at the Exit Point. – Even if you bring hella sandwiches on the float, you’re going to get out of the water feeling pretty hungry. This is a good time for some granola bars. It’s especially important if you have to leave people at the Exit while others go to get the cars.
11) Everyone Buys a Dry Sack. – Well. Not “everyone” but have a two or three. These can be purchased at any camping goods store. Get a bunch of ziplock baggies. Put all car keys in ziplocks, and then all phones. Put this stuff in the dry sack.
12) Split the Car Keys. And Cash. – You should have a stash of cash money. Enough for cab fare to either the entrance or the exit point. Double this amount and split it among your dry sacks. Same with car keys: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s possible you could lose a dry sack, so you can’t let yourselves become completely screwed.
Aside from all of this, always be aware of your surroundings.