Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A 5th of July

Mermaid and I had a playdate to celebrate the fourth on the fifth. Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains is the little town of Helen, Georgia. I have no clue how an "Alpine Village" came to be in the midst of what was once the mighty Cherokee Nation along the banks of the Chattahoochie River. But there it is. Full of streets with names like Eidelwiss, Heidelburg and Somethingstrausse. While there isn't accordion music  blaring from the lamp posts it does look more like it should be a pavilion at Epcot than an actual community where people earn their livings promoting charm and sauerkraut.

Our purpose for visiting this location was to go tubing down the river. This is not a tube down the river in the wilds undisturbed by anything but the occasional bird call experience. No.  This is summer in the  mountains vacationing families are everywhere tubing experience through the middle of town.  With lots and lots of strangers playing bumper tubes with you and the sound of human laughter as a constant backdrop.

Do you know how this works? You go to a venue, rent your green, pink, yellow or blue tube then board a bus which takes you up the mountain to a launch site. Here is where you collect your tube and where you determine if you do or do not wish for it to be lashed to another. Then you wade out into frigid waters, climb aboard your tube and prepare to have a time out for the next three hours.

At the point where you rent your tube you are asked to sign a sheet absolving the universe of any liability to this activity and you are asked by a sweet spoken local,
" I'm sorry what is your question"?
"Stick? $5"
" Do we need a stick?"
" Mebbe, if you get stuck on the rocks. But's it's shallow water so you can just stand up and push off".
We elected to not stick . What was the point of a relaxing float if you had to mind a long stick?

While we were waiting for the bus to go "up mountain" the people watching was entertaining. Near us there was a group of ladies, in their 60's dressed in tee shirts and  cropped pants. I appreciated their modesty for there were others who could have been the posters for America's obesity epidemic.  All of their extra pounds of flesh in full display. Very full.

Mermaid and I took the seat directly behind the driver and sort of opposite the steps into the bus. I knew I was receiving a warning to behave when a sharpish elbow
smashed into my ribs right before a woman, fully 12 months pregnant, boarded the bus wearing a bikini. Seriously, her belly button was so far out it looked like a nose in the center of her swollen abdomen. I might have made an air sucking sound but the bus was so noisy with excited children I am sure no one heard me. Mermaid wore her fiercest expression of control so I knew  to look the other way and not make her lose that slim, slim hold on politeness.  The truth is I am of an age where I am surprised when I am confronted with the nudity of strangers. Even more surprised by the subject matter and expansiveness of body art. I am also talkative about my observations so Mermaid was vigilant , keeping her elbow cocked and at the ready. I really do not think I am as bad as all that but clearly Mermaid does. I spent the entire bus ride looking out the window and letting the sounds of the eager wash over me.

Once we got to the launch site I  noticed there were a lot of babies being sent out in their tubes making me think of Moses in the rushes. Most were in life vests, a few had on helmets and all were lashed to other tubers.  This really was a throwback to my own youth when extended families gathered in one place to reinforce the bonds. Aunts and cousins, grandparents and infants were all taking to the "lazy river" ride on a hot summer's day. Older cousins or siblings were enthusiastically telling the younger ones how much they would love this trip and to stay in the tubes and to mind their sticks. All generations were represented. All age groups were eager with excitement.  There was merriment everywhere and we were no exception. We lashed our tubes together, waded out and launched.

 Mountain rivers are very cold. I think it fair to say I have body parts which have never been that cold . Never. I can't imagine this is a popular choice for honeymooners. But it is fun. In this activity there is something very liberating in the  shocking contrasts of hot sun and freezing waters and recognizing you have no control over the river. It will take you were it takes you in it's own time.

Part of this river ride is through nature but along much of the banks are rental chalets , condos or restaurants with balconies cantilevered over the waters. The residents are friendly calling out greetings and occasional advice if you are traveling backwards toward dangers.  Mostly they are up there laughing at the entertainment floating by. The tubes have a mesh middle. This does not allow for actual sitting up for adults.  You are sort of draped over the edges with your bum as the center weight. Trying to navigate from this position is apparently, a great spectator sport.   I am not sure Mermaid and I had actual conversations as every time we opened out mouths laughter came forth. Lovely. I think I was still laughing when we started picking up speed and hit rocks on our way over a drop.  I don't think you could rightly call these 'rapids' but it did become clear the entire journey would not be all floating down the river and some heads up awareness would be prudent. 

 Also along the route are places where you can climb out and take a hike, or go for lunch or stop to collect a river rock or two. This station for 'lost soles' was one of Mermaid's favorites. Clearly flops are not the best footwear for this activity. While this certainly does not qualify as 'natural art ' something about the rhythm and the colorfulness reminded me of Klimt's art. 

We were maybe half way in our journey when we became fully aware of why you need a stick if you did not want to become trapped. Or worse. Shortly after watching Moses float past sound asleep, I went whirling around  and down by some rocks and wham my tail bone slammed into a big sharp rock. Suddenly I heard that dreadful sound old people make when you move their parts for them. That awful, keening, oh. oh, oh!  I had a frozen moment when I thought "Mama?" Still laughing Mermaid said, " Mom are you okay? You were making that wailing sound just  like Meems".

" Yep I heard it too. Call the exorcist, I've been posessed."

Eventually we figured out we were in a bad position. And there was no stick to pole ourselves out of the badlands. One of us would need to get out and  unwedge us.  It's not easy to stand on slippery, unevern boulders in a rapids. It is also foolish. We  had heard some folks say there had been storms in the mountains so the water level was high. It was one of the reasons for not needing a stick. Right. 'Swollen river' also translates to' faster current'. We managed to get  unstuck without getting in trouble but not far beyond I started maneuvering to get us over to the shallows.
" Mom, what are you doing?"
" Help get us over to the edge, we need a stick"
"You can't do that Mom, that is private property".
" We need a stick, I can't go slamming into these rocks"

I am eternally grateful there was no video of my attempted tubular exit. I thought I could get over into the shallows and just stand up. Not so. I will say my ungraceful exit  was maybe the pinnacle of comic entertainment in Mermaid's day.  She tended the tubes while I scavenged us a stick. On my way back she started to frown,
" Mom, are you okay, you are walking funny."
"Are you  hurt?"
"What happened?"
" I think my tail bone broke smashing into that rock".
" seriously?"
"What should we do?"
" I'm going to put my butt back in the cold water to keep the swelling to a minimum and use this stick".
Mermaid starting laughing really hard. Eventually she reached a point where she could get enough air to speak,
" Mama three cheeks?"
" Shut up and take this stick"

About 2 hours into our journey we heard the first rumbles. We could see patches of sky between the trees some was clear blue,  other areas were darkening. We thought the predicted afternoon rains were maybe starting to show up early but seemed to be pretty far away. But the rumbling got closer,  more frequent and the temperature dropped . I cautioned Mermaid we would be getting out of the river  if there was any lightening.
A man near us said, it wasn't far til the exit, it's just up here around this bend. Right. Rivers have lots of bends and unless you are a local it is hard to discern one from another. We made it around that bend a few more while the sky darkened and  rumbled. Most everyone was still laughing and floating but as we were sticking our way past boulders I saw lightening.
"That's it kiddo, we are out of here"
" That's cloud to cloud not cloud to ground, we're good".
" We're out of here"
" Really Mom, look, even the babies and old folks are not worried"

Think Lucy and Ethel lashed together in bright pink tubes paddling and kicking in opposite directions.
It was so damn funny even we were laughing.
" Mom. we ca';t get out here these are not public grounds"
" We're getting out"
" No!  Mom, are you really going to make me walk through town in this bikini?"
" Yes. In case I failed to mention, we Fishy's don't play with lightening"
Eventually the current came to my rescue and delivered us to the town side of the river.
A man floating by said to me,
 " Lady, you don't have to get out these  tubes are rubber".
"No sir, these tubes are plastic and lots of your body parts are in the water and that is lightening" My statement was punctuated by the skies opening up.

We were not the only family to leave our tubes to the currents, climb the bank and start the trek back to our starting points. It was quite the parade we people in squelchy shoes, adhered  clothing and debris matted hair .
Children driving by in cars had their noses pressed to the glass. Teen boys had commentary. 

It wasn't long before Mermaid started laughing really, really hard.
 I gave her my raised eyebrow quizzical look. Eventually she said,
" I have a mother who can break her ass floating in water".

This morning I sent her this text message:
"Do blue butts out rank blue bloods?"


sparringK9 said...

what a delightful post. many laughs here. i have to say, the fact that you are talkative about the fleshy poster slobs makes you a dream date for me. think Otter hanging with Bluto. so sorry about your butt -didnt they have the little rubber kayaks? those are pretty cool and have solide(er) bottoms than mesh. Im glad you and mermaid laughed..thats great. I know just what you mean about middle aged and older on these river rides...always a challenge to figure out what to wear. Our 3 hour river float isnt that shallow -so theres no butt busting. Ive seen some people mess up bad though on the mid-way rope swing.

i really enjoyed reading about this outing. what fun and you wrote it so well i thought i was there. happy 5th FIsher.

sparringK9 said...

forgot to say -that was interesting you saw Klimt in that shoe tree. I get that.

Aunty Belle said...

Fishy, youse so entertainin'!
I could shiver in the cold, snicker at the fashion parade, an feel your pain. Heh.

Fun fun post!

Jenny said...

Chickory was talking up "tubing" when I was at Chickory but it was too cold was I was there... maybe that was a good thing? :-) I admire you for doing this and what a nice day you and your Mermaid had together. I sometimes go jet skiing with my biz partner on Lake Washington and I wear shorts and t-shirt and I have noooo problem with that. MORE (clothes) is better, I say!

Glad you and your rump survived.

How was your 4th?

fishy said...

NO rubber kayaks. No mid way rope swings either. I can imagine the mess ups there. I am often a very private person so going forth to be part of this Americana kaleidoscope on the river was entertainment on many fronts. Thank God for the Columbia company which makes modest, fast drying, adventure clothing.

Did you see the skull at the top of the 'Lost Soles' tree collage? Very interesting art and I am delighted you can see the Klimt reference.

First time I ever went tubing was in Florida, just outside of White Springs, North of Hogtown Creek. There I went floating down the Ichetucknee taking comfort in knowing those spring fed waters were too cold for gators and crocs.

It was a great day except for the
smashed tail bone. I certainly have taken full advantage of my pharmaceuticals cuoboard. Trust me when I say you do not want to feel my pain.

I think Chickory's location is a few hours North and West of Helen. Not sure about which river she visits but it sounds fun. Safer than the Chattahoochie for bums. On the other hand, in Helen, you can park your tube , stop in at the oom-pah tavern for a beer or a margherita , then sit out on the balconies with some corned beef and kraut while you watch the tubers float on by. It is simple escapism at a comic level.

More clothes IS better! I was stunned by the ease with which so many display flesh of every description. Clearly modesty is a thing of the past.

My fourth? The fencing is so bright white it hurts your eyes to look at them. The watermelon was good. We were blessed by rain which liberated me to come inside and watch the second half of Independence Day.

Is it summit week???? That's a post I am looking forward to! Y'all have a good time.

Sharon Rudd said...

What a fun post, and so glad you and Mermaid had a day filled with laughter! The station of Lost Soles was quite a find, and I can absolutely see Klimt in it. Sorry, however, about the tailbone injury. At least you were doing something fun when it happened. I bruised mine when I slipped and fell on the steps in my own house, and it took weeks to heal. Wishing you a speedier recovery :)

fishy said...

I always enjoy playdates with my daughter. She is good company. I liked the Lost Soles tree a lot. In fact I think it has spawned a fund raising idea for our arts center.

Busting your tailbone is awful isn't it? No way to sit comfortably, rolling over in bed is a misery and stairs..... ouch! I've decided if I ever do this again, I will wear bike shorts with the gel padded bums.

moi said...

You had over-hanging flesh at your outing, too? The horror!

But, the story is funny as heck. Glad you had the sense to leave the water, though.

How's your butt?

fishy said...

there was definitely a fleshy abundance! It would seem modesty is a thing of the past. I try to respect my fellow man by covering that which could offend. Clearly this Fishy is an anachronism in her own time.

I think Mermaid makes a good point, my getting out of the water probably saved hundreds of lives.

It IS busted.

Prine said...

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