I trust everyone survived their Memorial Day weekend? It was a balmy 95 degrees here all weekend, so Tony, ZB and I celebrated the sacrifices of our armed forces by spending as much time as possible submerged in water. ZB and Tony did so in her baby pool on the back deck, and I did so in an inner tube while riding down a mountain river in the Smokies*.
See, my friend Erin had her brother and sister-in-law in town to visit for the weekend, and Drew (the guy Erin is dating) had his family in to visit, so they were all, "What should we do to entertain all this family when it is blazing hot outside?". And I, being the helpful friend that I am, was all, "I dunno...Charades?" and Erin (who is a much better event planner than I am, although possibly not as good at charades) was like, "Actually, I think we're all going to go up to the mountains and go tubing". And I was like, "Sounds fun! Where should I meet you guys?"
Which is how I ended up inviting myself along on Erin and Drew's family (and me) outing.
So on Saturday at the crack of noon, Erin, Drew, Erin's SIL Virginia, Drew's sister Anna and yours truly piled into Erin's car for a scenic jaunt to the mountains. I say scenic because normally the drive from Knoxville to the Smokey Mountain National Park takes about an hour, but Erin thought she remembered a shortcut to avoid the always crowded Pigeon Forge area. Alas, the fates were against us, because between the "shortcut" (which did take us right through Pigeon Forge after all), the police detour due to an accident, the mandatory Dunkin Doughnuts stop, a brief rest stop pause to look at a map and figure out where the heck we were, and my insistence that we not do more than 25mph on the curvy mountain roads (due to my tendency to get all green and barfy from motion sickness), we finally made it to the tub rental place about 3 hours after we set out.
Still, the company was nice, I scored permanent dibs on shotgun (the one advantage to the above-mentioned green and barfy), and I brought road snacks, so the drive wasn't bad at all.
Once you get to Townsend (the town about 2 miles outside the National Park Entrance), you can rent tubes for roughly $6 a day. For another $2 the tube rental places will shuttle you and your inner tube up to the river and drop you off. But we are locals, not some newbie tubing tourists, so we eschewed the shuttle bus and decided to drive ourselves up to a more fun, more energetic part of the river where we could partake of some white-water rapids. So we tied our tubes down all over the car with what basically amounted to dental floss that we found in the trunk of Erin's car and took off for our river adventure.
|From Left to Right: Anna, Erin, Virginia, Drew and Me ready for some tubin'.|
If you head into the SMNP (that's Smokey Mountain National Park for ya'll who have trouble with acronyms) by way of the Townsend side, you'll come across the famous "Y" where the river splits into, you guessed it, a Y shape. This is a popular destination spot for swimming, picnicking, and tubing (if you rode the shuttle bus). And it is very nice. But! If you go up the river another mile or so, you will hit a less crowded, much faster, much more fun section of river.
And really, who wouldn't want that?
Ya'll, the river did not disappoint. We were a little worried about having enough water volume when we first went up there, but the rains that we've had recently more than guaranteed lots of white-water rapids for us to bounce, slide and sometimes downright fly though.
|Pay no attention to my sexy sexy mesh water shoes. What they lack in fashion, they make up for with traction on the slippery river rocks. The hat I have no excuse for.|
It was hard to for me to grasp that there's no "right" way to go down the river. You have to be vigilant about submerged rocks and trees and such, but other than that, left of the rock, right of the rock...it doesn't matter. If you get stuck, just paddle your tube back out into the current and do it again. It wasn't designed by a team of engineers or theme park designers. It is nature at its finest, unstructured, untamed, and unapologetically beautiful. That said, there was one memorable chute where nature got a little more up close and personal than I bargained for. See, I was caught in a bit of an eddy while facing backwards. I was wearing a very fetching nylon swim skirt (see the first picture if you need a visual refresher) and I was just maneuvering my tube away from the one current into another when something bumped up against my thigh.
(Yes, there are fish in the river. It's not something I like to think about a lot, and for the most part they stay away from the people, and the people never even know they're there. Kinda of a nature don't ask don't tell policy.) But this particular little fish decided that he was going down the same current that I just had, and was most surprised to find me still at the bottom of the chute. Worse, the water ballooned my skirt out so that it was acting as a giant fishing net, and Mr. Fish flew right past the rocks and right up my skirt.
(This is the part of the day where I re-enacted Jesus walking on water, because as soon as Mr. Fish's tail went fwap! fwap! fwap! against my thighs, I shot straight up out of the water and hovered six inches above it while screaming and beating myself about hips and buttocks).
(Of course, this delightful little moment was witnessed by our entire group, several random hikers and all the fish's buddies, who were no doubt laughing uproariously at my expense).
I'd like to at least be able to say that the fish that assaulted me was huge- a 15 pounder or something like that, but the truth is that I never saw him. He slipped away unnoticed while I was trying to explain to my group that no, those screams were not me being eaten by a bear...I just had a run-in with a cross-dressing fish who wanted to try on my skirt.
But fish cooties aside, the outing was simply wonderful, and a lot of fun. (Totally worth the carsickness to get up here and back). We ran some sections of the river three or four times if we liked the rapids, and drifted through the calm parts, just enjoying the scenery and the sunshine. I met some lovely people, had a lot of laughs, and got thoroughly and refreshingly soaked.
And while our veterans and active duty soldiers might not have envisioned this exact scene (fish attack included) while they fought to keep our country free, I appreciate their sacrifice in order for me to do so anyway. Happy Memorial Day, ya'll.
* Why didn't ZB and Tony come, you ask? Because you have to be 2 years old to ride in the tubes, and ZB isn't there yet. (And Tony is an anti-social hermit who hates group outings). But next year! Oh yes! The fun will be had by all next year!