The Great Independence Day Floating Disaster of 2014
On the Fourth of July, Joe and I made plans to go out with Sam and Amanda and a bunch of other people we know through the UIdaho Geology department folks. I got really excited, buying cheap tire tubes, beer, mesh nets for beer, and a disposable, water-proof camera. I’d been floating once before in Missoula, and it was awesome. I wanted to do that again.
Well, the water was higher and colder and more rapidly flowing than expected. Once we finally set out on the Clearwater, near Orofino, Idaho, we encountered our first problem: some people were able to get to the quickly-flowing middle of the river right away. Joe and I were not; we got caught in some eddies that pushed us back toward the coast. Joe’s a powerful swimmer, so he hooked his feet onto his tube (we were bungeed together) and swam us out to the middle. Some people never made it out of those eddies and had to just get back in their cars.
Joe was now forced to be laying on top of his tube- he couldn’t get back on top of it in a reclining position without capsizing. So, floated down alongside one other floater and a couple in a canoe with their two dogs. As we went down, some of the swells we came up against were not relaxing- they were way over our heads. It would be fun if we were at a water park, but we were not. We were in a wild river. Good thing I was with a lifeguard.
So then we heard a hissing sound coming from one of our tubes. Joe said, “I think it’s yours! Get off, get off, get off!” So I begrudgingly crawled off of mine and Joe had me get on his… and the hissing sound got louder. It was his tire tube that was deflating. So he made me get back on mine. His was deflating because a bungee cord had dug its way into the tire through all of the rough water. The weather was now grey, and I was getting anxious. There continued to be rough, cold water, that Joe said he was okay with just swimming and floating in until the end. But he was shivering and looked like he definitely wasn’t having fun.
Then we came around a bend and heard rushing water— much more serious rapids than what we’d seen to this point. They were bad enough that we both thought the same thing: we need to figure out if we’re getting out, right now. With Joe’s feet floating beneath us, we were afraid of hitting rocks. Joe waffled on it, and I said, “Let’s just do it.” Then we waffled about which side to go to; the side the road was on was further from us to the left, but the right side was a lot closer. We ran out of time to have choices, so I chose for us to go to the closer side of the river.
We did make it to the side— Joe’s a strong swimmer, and I’m, well, confident enough. When we got there, Joe still had shoes on, but mine were tethered to Sam and Amanda’s tubes- and they were way ahead of us- or so I thought! The canoers we’d been alongside were there for our tube popping and had offered to go ahead and see if anyone could give us a spare tube. They ran into Sam and Amanda, who just happened to stop on the other side of a small rock face from where Joe and I got stuck. So Sam came around, got Joe, and they left me to go get some footwear. I sat on the tube that was still blown up, contemplating how to take this. The mosquitos were only coming often enough to be annoying (no horrifying swarms), and I had a great view. We’d lost our beers to the river at this point, but I still had the disposable camera.
Sam and Joe came back with my flip-flops, which were terrible for what came next: a hike and minor climb over some big rocks. We made it to the other side to find Amanda hanging out with the canoers. The folks in the canoe became our greatest hope: they offered to tow us to the other side. There wasn’t room for us in the canoe, but if we grabbed on to the tail end and kicked our little feet off, we could get to the other side. So, we did that.
When we finally got to the other side, there was one last obstacle: getting up the hill! The hill on the side of the river was extremely steep. Joe led the way, holding the only tube we still managed to have. As we got near the top, the tube got out of his control; then, it rolled down the hill, and down into the river, never to be seen again. Not by us, at least. When we got to the top, all we had left was the disposable camera and a waterproof case that Joe had been tethered to carrying our car keys and IDs. We had a potentially long walk ahead of us, but right as we got to the top, one of our group came by and picked us up! She was one of the ones who had never gotten to get past the eddies at the beginning, and had been witnessing what was going on with us from the road. She took us back to our car, and we went home soon after. The beer had long since been replaced by adrenaline, so we were good to drive.
Well, needless to say, we went home that night and drank. Happy America!