There are some things I should never do. On the short list is (1) Ride a bike, (2) Use a stair-stepping machine, and (3) Take a group of teenage girls on a “fun” trip tubing down the Zumbro River.

Years ago – when I had a whoooole lot more energy than I have now – I was the Mother Advisor (Adult Leader) for our local chapter of the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls. I was 27 years old and the mentor and leader of about 25 young women ranging in age from 11-19. I was just the right age to still be able to relate to the girls and the experiences they were encountering as teens, and still young and inexperienced enough myself to lack the forethought to think through certain scenarios and the potential difficulties that might arise. Unfortunately, the older adults around me naturally assumed I always knew what I was doing. Big mistake!

One beautiful Saturday afternoon in the middle of July, my girls had made plans to go tubing down the Zumbro River. I had never gone tubing, so I really had no idea what to expect. As it was explained to me, each person rented a very large inner tube and simply “sat in it” as the river slowly guided you along. Simple huh? Not so fast. Among the things I hadn’t considered were:

  • Shallow spots in the river which required us to get up and walk so that our butts wouldn’t drag bottom.
  • Nasty wildlife.
  • No bathrooms.
  • No cell phones.
  • Sunburn.
  • Mosquitos.
  • Areas of swiftly moving water with no control or ability to direct the craft (which meant occasionally running into bluffs or water grass).
  • Critically Important: How much time was involved.

In my imagination, we hopped in an inner tube and slowly drifted down the Zumbro River. The birds would be chirping, the wildlife would perk their ears and watch us kindly as we passed and, somewhere off in the distance, Snow White might be singing a lullaby to the woodland creatures. Such is the imagination of a novice tuber.

We began our day rather late for the plans we had made, and this would be a critical piece that would come back to bite us in the butt. Our first clue should’ve been that every tube rental we encountered had closed down for the day…all except for one. Our second clue should’ve been that the slime bucket who finally rented to us gave us a “deal” on the rental of those tubes since it was “so late in the day.” With three adults, seven or eight teenage girls, and my 2 year old daughter, we loaded up the old guy’s van with something like 9 inner tubes and two canoes. It was about 4:00 when we were dropped off at the shallow area to launch our tubes.

Things went along well for a while. Surprisingly, we were mostly able to keep our group together as we floated down the river. In the beginning, the only real hardship we encountered were the occasional shallow areas where our butts would drag bottom and we’d have to stand up and carry our tubes or the canoes for a quarter of a mile before it was deep enough to relaunch.

As the sun began to move down in the sky, the mosquitos began to come out. With nowhere to put a can of OFF!, we’d left home without anything to deter those blood-sucking monsters. But we were strong women and decided to keep plugging along.

Somewhere around 7:00 – as we thought we should be getting really close to the end of our journey and should be reaching our destination – we passed a group of people having a cookout on the shore of the river. We made our greetings, and then one of our adults asked whether the people on the beach knew how much farther we had to reach our destination.

“Oh wow! That’s where you still have to go? Wow!” said the man on the shore. “You’ve got quite a while yet to go…” and that’s all he said.

About a half hour later – and still not seeing our destination – we passed another group of people near the shore of the river. Again one of our adults asked the question, “How much father to (name of the place that now escapes me)?”

“Surely you’re not planning on going that far tonight?” said the woman on the side of the river.

We all assured her that we were, and she was completely aghast. “You’re going to need to come up with a different solution. It’s going to be dark here pretty soon and I’d guess you have about another four hours.”

FOUR HOURS?! She seriously must be kidding! It was nearly 8:00 at night. It would be dark in about another 45 minutes! We were three adult women on the Zumbro River with a bunch of teenage girls and a baby! My internal panic button was buzzing in my ears!

After some quick thinking, we divided our party into two groups, and decided that our best bet of getting back at a reasonable time was to pile into the canoes and row back as quickly as we were able.

Have you done the math in your head yet? That’s 6 or 7 people in each canoe. The canoes are only built for about 4 people at a time. We would have to make do. And so we scrunched into the canoes, one on top of another, with the inner tubes piled on top. If memory serves, I think I had two or three inner tubes stacked on top of me so that only my head and shoulders stuck out.

The sun went down and the mosquitos began to bite with a vengeance. Our sweet woodland animals began to grow sharp teeth and claws and were beginning to sneer at us as we glided by; and directing the canoes with that many people aboard was nothing short of a challenge. Time marched on and we seemed no closer to our destination. Occasionally our little canoe would hit a rapidly moving section of water and we’d lose control of our ability to direct the canoe for a short period of time.

At about 10:30 PM, we saw the first lights indicating that we were approaching our destination! We’d made it and we were all in one piece! Not so fast…

As we approached the landing for our tubes, the low-life who rented us our tubes suddenly flipped off all of the outdoor lighting, got in his van and drove away! We had arrived at our destination, but it was pitch black outside! To make matters even worse, as we began to direct our canoes to the shore, we hit a section of rapidly moving water and we were again without the control of our canoe. Luckily the water was shallow enough for use to wade to shore but, in the midst of vacating the canoes, the second one flipped over and with it went the keys to the second vehicle…the 11-seater maxi van that had driven the majority of our girls.

We had reached our destination, but we were soaking wet, cold, and left with only one vehicle (a Jeep Grand Cherokee) to transport about a dozen people. As we approached the vehicles, we assessed our options. We were out in the boonies, it was pitch black, it was about 5 miles back to town, and we only had one vehicle to transport all of us. What in the world were we to do? Legally (not to mention safely) we couldn’t all pile into the Jeep; but leaving a bunch of girls – even with two adult women – out in the woods at that late at night seemed like the worst possible solution. Who knew what was out there? If I ever made it back to town for help, would I even be able to direct a rescue team back to rescue the others?

With no other real solution, we packed everyone into the Jeep. It was a tight fit and we had to push hard to close the trunk, but we finally got everyone settled and then we began our very slow drive back to town, terrified the entire way that something would happen to our precious cargo; and hoping that – if pulled over by an officer – he/she would understand the extenuating circumstances.

In the end, we all returned safely and – after a couple of hours to “steady my nerves” – I began my own trek back to my home, thirty or so miles away. To say that I was pretty shaken up by my experience was a complete understatement. I was tired and jittery and still shaking from head-to-toe several hours later as I finally arrived in the town where I live. As I was driving across town, en route to my house, I noticed a police cruiser following closely behind me. It’s now about 2:30 in the morning and it was clear that he was following me because I was the only one on the roads at that time of night. And then he flipped on his lights. All I could think to myself is, “Are you freakin’ kidding me???”

Still shaking violently from my earlier encounter, I greeted the officer as he approached my car. He requested the normal: drivers’ license and insurance verification, and then he asked…”Ma’am, have you had anything to drink tonight?”

That was just too much! Have I had anything to drink tonight? Was he kidding me? I burst into tears.

“No! I haven’t had anything to drink tonight, but that’s only because I haven’t been home yet! When I get home, though, I intend to get fully sloshed! Would you like to know why?” I cried as I began to sob loudly.

I’m sure the officer regrets asking, “Why?” I think he’ll think twice about it if the situation presents itself again in the future.

Without hesitation, I unloaded the entire story onto the officer’s shoulders. By this point, I was crying so hard I was hyperventilating and the poor office probably wasn’t sure what to do with me…a young woman out on the road alone at night, obviously distressed, with a sleeping toddler in the back seat. In the end, he apologized for causing me more stress and offered to give me an escort home. Thank God he didn’t have me try to walk a straight line or stand on one foot. With not a single drop of alcohol in my system, I’d have failed the test.

Is there a moral to this story? I don’t know if there’s a moral, but I do know that I learned two things:

  1. Tubing seriously sucks!
  2. If you don’t know what else to do with the police officer, overwhelming him with information may be your only recourse.