Tubing is just one of those summertime rites of passage that you have to partake in at least once before the Autumnal equinox, lest you temp the fates into offering up an especially long winter. And given the piedmont-mountainyness(a very real geological term) of our region we are in prime floatation territory. For those of you unfamiliar with tubing…first, welcome to America…second, it involves an inflatable tube that floats on water. You follow the current. See how that works??
As amazingly uncomplicated as it sounds I was nevertheless witness to my fair share of tubers (people, not potatoes) stranding themselves on a stray rock or tipping over in calm waters during a trip up to Harper’s Ferry this week. If you’ve never tubed out of a fear of…well…tubing, I’d like to offer some tips/advice to change your mind:
1. Don’t drink (alcohol, not the river…well, don’t drink the river either). I know, I know…it sounds downright communist for me to say as much. And I already apologize for espousing the ways of the teetotaler. There seems to be something about moving water that makes people want to pound Busch Lite by the case…I get it, I’ve been there. But the fact is, after a case of Busch Lite under the hot sun you kinda turn into an uber-destructive moron. You start letting cans float away. You stop paying attention to where you’re going. You forget how to swim. You start crying hysterically…and then you start screaming “Freebird!” at the top of your lungs until you scare all the birds and fish thus irrepairably damaging the ecosystem for generations to come.
2. Carpool…carpool…carpool. If you’re going tubing I hope you’re going with friends, I mean if you’re not that’s alright too. But since you’re already going with friends you might as well all load up into the same car. Harper’s Ferry gets crazy-busy on the weekends, and if you had the clever idea to go tubing for the day it’s probably a safe bet that half the DC/Baltimore metro population also came up with your “clever” idea. With that said, parking is an enormous pain. You’ll see a bunch of cars haphazardly parked on the side of US 340…don’t fall into that trap. The three major outfitters have parking lots, but their spaces are limited. Your best bet is to get there early. Also if you carpool it’s easier to break rule #1. If you want to be really enterprising you can always bicycle up on the C&O Canal Trail
3. Make sure your floatation device actually floats. Yeah, I get that you just picked up that sweet new tube at Walmart for your backyard pool, but it’s probably not gonna cut it. And that inflatable Shamu is no match for the mighty Shenandoah. If you should happen to have your own tube, make sure you have a life jacket too. I get that you know how to swim, and you’re a big strong dude. But you’re gonna break rule #1, and when you fall into the river in a haze of Busch Lite confusion the jacket will save your life.
4. Wear some form of footwear beyond flip-flops. I’m not promoting the recent war on flip-flops. I love flip-flops. But they suck in water, mainly because they like to float away. And don’t go barefoot. You have no idea what’s on the river’s bottom from broken glass (I’m looking at you rule #1 breakers!) to jagged rocks to the
discarded bayonet of Johnny Reb. Slicing your foot open halfway through a tubing trip is not something you want to deal with. So get some water shoes or wear some old sneaks or use this as an excuse to get those new Tevas that you secretly desire.
5. Be waterproof with your tech. You’ll get dry-bags…but still if you want to take videos and pictures have a waterproof camera or Go Pro with you. iPhones don’t typically fare so well at the bottom of the Potomac. You will get wet, even if you think you won’t.
6. Be early. Yes, I know. Standard operating advice…but in this case it’s vital if you want to find parking on the weekends. Are you the anal-retentive type that needs a benchmark? Here: be at the tubing spot an hour early!
7. Pre-book. It’ll save you time and probably cash. Check out the coupon sites like LivingSocial and Groupon as they often have special deals. And if you plan a bit you can take advantage of some of the deals offered by the tubing and rafting companies. For example, River Riders offers a Wednesday “Hump Day” special for $20 but you have to call ahead. And you could find some neat “off-the-beaten-river” type offers…like floating on the Antietam Creek.
8. Do the waterproof bug spray/suncreen mix. Again more common-sense advice…but I bet you didn’t think about the bugs! They can be pretty annoying/frustrating even in the middle of a river. There are some pretty good waterproof mixes that’ll keep you bug-free and skin cancer-free all day long for a minimal investment!