Tubing -- the masochistic act of hurtling down a fall-fraught river while clinging to an inner tube. Somehow my husband Mark talked me, a devout wimp, into trying it.
Why did I go along for the rocky river ride? Perhaps I was dazed by the beauty of the Catskill Mountains' Esopus River. Perhaps the brave (or foolish) teens who plunged heedlessly into the Esopus shamed me into it. Or maybe I was feeling guilty for being a perennial naysayer. Whatever the reason, one summer day I broke my first rule of survival: If they advise helmets, avoid it.
Before risking the river we signed a paper saying our survivors couldn't sue. Then Mark paced while I interrogated the clerk about safety. Jagged rock protection was high on her (and my) list. Sneakers for the feet, a helmeted head, and plywood in the tube to protect the tush.
After a short, steep bus ride up river, the driver said "Just throw your tubes into the river and get in." He pointed towards what looked suspiciously like waterfalls.
Foolish me, I'd assumed there'd be an attendant to provide advice, guidance, and moral support. And to hold the damn tube in place long enough for me to lower myself onto it and grab its pathetic excuse for handles. At the very least, they could have posted a sign saying, "Start your death ride here."
My husband insisted that I take the plunge first. He was convinced that if he went first, I'd never get in, and he was right. He swore we'd soon be side by side, hand in hand, gliding romantically down river. And I fell for it.
I watched as several teens effortlessly climbed into their tubes and floated downstream. Feeling foolish, I willed myself into the tube and was suddenly surging faster than any of them. Within seconds I lost sight of my spouse.
Mark swears he jumped in and headed down river as soon I took flight. But for the next 40 minutes I plummeted solo. Dropping over fall after fall. Holding onto the tube's pathetic string handles for dear life. Cringing each time a crescendoing whoosh told me yet another steep fall was near. And praying the tube would still be underneath me when I finally touched down.
By my fourth or fifth drop down the "beginner's course," I was sure Mark had drowned and that I was about to share his fate. As I eventually learned, he was very much alive, floating at a gentle, turtle-like speed. For some reason, presumably related to body weight, size, shape, and center of gravity, he and his tube meandered downstream at a fraction of my cascading pace.
Throughout our separation all I could think of, besides killing Mark if he wasn't already dead, was slowing down. I even sat up -- against the clerk's stern warnings -- and scouted for rocks I might wedge my tube between. At last, I managed to trap my tube without inducing undue bloodshed. I bobbed between two rocks that were separated just enough to block my downward plunge. And peered backward, searching for some sign of Mark.
After what felt like hours, I spotted him gliding gracefully down river. As he grew closer, I braced my arms against the rocks, so as to synchronize my release with his arrival. It worked somehow, and soon we were floating tube by tube, hand in hand, my movement now slow enough for me to appreciate the beauty of the river, the trees, and even the falls that no longer seemed quite so menacing.
This is almost fun, I thought ... as we overshot the spot where we were supposed to disembark. Realizing our mistake, we forced our tubes to the craggy riverside, climbed out, and waded upstream, fighting the waters that were determined to carry us even further off course. And struggling not to lose the tubes.
At last there was only a rocky climb between us and our car. And no tube-rental employee to help. Instead, we faced a steep, awkward climb, encumbered by life jackets and tubes. Even so I might have managed it, had it not started to pour. Fortunately, a Good Samaritan took pity on me and carried my tube.
"It was beautiful, wasn't it? Can we do it again someday? Can we?" my husband asked as we reached our car. I smiled and conceded that the views had, indeed, been great. "Nevermore," I added under my breath. "Nevermore."