Hoses can disconnect and reconnect multiple generations.
My family has always felt at home on the water. To us, a salty ocean, a brackish bay, or a freshwater river feels like a baptism. We feel renewed, healed. When my parents visited us in Richmond to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, I knew they wanted to go tubing down the James River.
When we moved to Virginia from Louisiana last year, our family discovered that one of Richmond’s greatest assets is the James River Park System, which stretches 600 acres right through downtown. Richmond is the only urban area in the country with Class IV rapids. You can stand downtown and watch experienced kayakers and raft guides navigate the whitewater. But for our tubing trip with my parents, young sons, niece and nephews, we stayed upstream in calmer waters with a short stretch of Class II rapids at the takeout.
Tubing tours booked through an outfitter usually include a shuttle bus to the starting point so tubers can pick up their car at the end. As a do-it-yourselfer, we needed two cars, one of which we parked at Pony Pasture, our terminus, and then drove the other to our starting point at Huguenot Flatwater, just west of the Huguenot Bridge. Both are part of the park system’s extensive urban network. Because the car wasn’t big enough for eight people and Eight inflated tubes, we brought an electric air pump to fill in the parking lot.
As we inflated tube after tube, the kids got restless, my mom and dad started sweating, and I began to wonder if all the effort was worth it. But when we finally dove into the river, the cold water hit us and we threw out a collective ah. Our flotilla was off, with my parents in the front and the four grandchildren bobbing up and down like baby ducks.
With little current, the first leg of the journey moved slowly. The kids splashed in the water, raided the snack bag, and ate Doritos with sweaty fingers. Most of the time we just floated. Out on the James, you just go with the flow. Hours later we were only a mile and a half down the river. But looking over my shoulder I was surprised to see the distance between us and the bridge. We had made more progress than I thought.
The time is so fun. Sometimes the days feel long, but the years fly by. Five decades ago, my parents started out with nothing but love and a spirit of adventure. They eloped out of college and struggled through years when money was tight. After law school, they bought a tiny beach house and a sailboat. When my brother and I arrived, our family of four traveled by train from our home in Alabama to Boston, hiked in Glacier National Park, went whale watching in Canada and drove 2,000 miles in Utah in a rental car. Other times weren’t such a joy ride. My brother and I, the same age, were toddlers at the same time—and worse, teenagers. My mom and dad had to bury their own parents, make sure they had enough savings for retirement, and manage health issues well into their 70s. But through it all, they’ve stayed afloat.
Further along the river, the children discovered a rope swing. They climbed ashore on a muddy bank and took turns flying through the air before splashing into the water.
After a picnic we restarted our tubes and stayed near Williams Island. In order not to drive over the potentially dangerous Z-Damm, we followed signs to carry our tubes around it on land. Safe in the water again, the current picked up speed. The roar of the rapids grew louder. The river pulled us into the swirling whitewater, spinning our inner tubes around boulders in a thrilling finale.
When I got off Pony Pasture, my skin was tingling from the cool water and my heart was pounding with adrenaline. Back in the car, we retraced our half-day journey in just a few minutes. But out on the river, time didn’t matter. Our phones were sealed in their waterproof cases, we had no appointments, no agendas, no emails or texts to send back. Instead, we tuned in to the water, the trees, the sky, and each other. We totally immersed ourselves in the moment and could just be three generations all together.
Please investigate– Plan your entry and exit points carefully, check the weather and water conditions and make sure there are no hazards along your route. If in doubt, call a local river outfitter.
Wear a life jacket anytime and make sure everyone in your group can swim.
Buy a good quality tube with headrest and drink holder. Black hoses may be nostalgic, but they’re hot and not that comfortable.
Bring a waterproof bag for your cell phone and a dry bag for car keys, first aid kit, glasses and other personal items.
leave valuables and your beautiful sunglasses at home.
Wear secure waterproof shoes (no flip flops) for hot parking lots, rocky shores and muddy river bottoms.
Pack an extra inflatable tube for carrying cool box, snacks and garbage bag.
bring rope to attach items to your pipe or tie to others in your group.
Drink plenty of water before and during the trip, especially in high temperatures.
Wear waterproof sunscreen and insect protection.
This article originally appeared in August 2022 Output.