White water tubing on the Potomac
Before this weekend, I’d been tubing twice. The first when I was 8 or 9 years old. I had a newly casted right arm, as I had broken it roller skating down a neighborhood hill. I took out a mailbox and my radius (or is it ulna?) in the process. We went vacationing in North Carolina, and I slid down the rapids holding my arm over my head, a trash bag tied around the cast billowing in the wind; I still smile at the memory. At least my mom never lost sight of me, right?
The next time, I was about 16. My brother and I drove up to Helen, GA. On the drive home, Chris told me stories of family history and drama that took place before I was born. The day remains etched in my mind, if not for the rapids than for the bonding.
This weekend marks my third tubing trip, this one on the Potomac, to celebrate Matt’s 26th birthday. With neither a broken arm nor a family mystery unfolding before me, I could focus solely on the experience, and it was incredible.
River Riders showed Matt, Whitney, Ellie, Zander and I a five-minute video that equated white water tubing with death approximately 17 times, then piled us in a run-down school bus, handed us life vests and inflatable tubes and said, “Have at it!” Our guidance was this: we’ll drop you off on the right side of the river. You need to be on the left. The trip should take about 2 hours.
Make that ~3.5 hours for us, since the first 45 minutes was spent paddling ourselves to the correct side of the river! Our arms were all a little sore the next day, but it was one of the best parts. Zander showed off his strength by propelling himself to the starting point within minutes of entering the water. Meanwhile… the rest of us laughed so hard our abs hurt while we flailed in the water, unable to gain momentum. Ellie finally gave up paddling herself, jumped out of the tube and swam the distance.
I was the runt of the group. No matter how much water I shoveled or how fast I rowed my arms, I couldn’t keep up.
SO naturally hilarity ensued when the rest of the group hit the first rapids, and I came trailing behind minutes later, unable to propel myself the direction they did. My tube capsized, and I went flying into the water. I laughed so hard I swallowed water and emerged to the sound of their collective laughter on the rocks in the distance, where they all paused to wait for me.
The rest of the trip we fought to stay together with death grips on one another’s tubes. We snaked down the river in a chain, kicking off rocks to keep from being beached, guffawing when it happened anyway and admiring the stunning views of Harpers Ferry above. It was a picture perfect summer day.
At only 90 minutes from D.C., Harpers Ferry is an incredible day trip. We chose River Riders because 1) we were all inexperienced and wanted to go through a company and 2) their entry point into the Potomac is a good 2 miles above other company’s. It’s $34 with tax and fees for white water tubing with a standard tube (no butt and no back). We stopped at Sheetz for lunch – a gas station with a shockingly tasty sandwich/wrap bar. I spent $10 for Zander and myself to have 6″ subs, chips and drinks.
While the day was on the expensive side for me, $45 left me full, worn out and sun-kissed. It was a guilt-free, worth-every-penny splurge.
We’re toying with the idea of buying our own tubes and researching entry points so we can go it alone (and cheaper) next time. I can’t wait!