To the rest of you: My promises may one day get me killed.
Yesterday I fulfilled a promise to Younger and took her back to the Elora Gorge Conservation Area for a day of Tubing down the Grand River Gorge.We had gone there last year and had a wonderful time, and younger begged me to promise her that we would do it again. "Sure," I said, casually tossing away opportunity to have an ambulatory retirement.
I had tried a few times earlier to fulfil said promise, but the weather has not been cooperating. Last year was a drought, and the water level was too low shortly after our first trip. This year has been very rainy, and the water has been quite high. In fact, a teenage boy died not far from where we were tubing yesterday when he and some friends tried to tube upriver from the conservation area right after a freak storm. But the water levels were now down to acceptable levels and the ministry deemed the conditions to be safer for tubing. I say "safer", not "safe" because, before you are permitted to tube the gorge, you must sign an agreement that you understand all the dangers involved and will not sue anybody if you should lose life, limb or mobility. That should have been what those in the palm to the forehead business call "your first clue".
Inner tubing is a simple affair. To properly inner tube, one merely needs a tube and some water, preferably, but not necessarily of the flowing variety. It is a good idea to have some safety gear: a life jacket and a helmet. It was also required of us that we wear some kind of footwear to protect our feet against rocks. There is no steering equipment on the tube, and the human is for the most part along for the ride. A sense of fear, or at least mortality, is not required for tubing on open calm water. It is positively a hindrance on white water, and best dispensed with before one sets out into the water.
As we walked to the point where we launched the tubes with our precious selves aboard, younger begged me to promise her that we would do more than one run down the river.
"Can we do two, at least?" she asked.
"No problem," said I.
"What about three?"
"If we have the time."
When we got to the launch point we were confronted by a set of rapids much wilder than I remembered from last year, which was, as I said, a drought. There was roughly twice as much water flowing yesterday as there was one year ago. (Incidentally, to put numbers on the matter, the flow yesterday was said on the website to be 4.9 cubic metres per second. Tubing is closed in the Conservation Area when the flow exceeds 8 cubic metres. The flow after the storm that killed the boy was above 80.) After the increased rapids, the first thing we saw there was a man with a funny accent shouting at the Conservation Area worker that the launch point was too dangerous and that people should be told to launch further down, in calmer water. He begged me not to take my daughter and launch in this spot. This would be "my second clue". But he had a funny accent, and like most people with funny accents, he was obviously insane and not at all familiar with our Canadian ways, so I politely told him that my daughter and I had done this before and were in no danger.
I was half right. Younger is skinny for her age, and weighs in at about 68 pounds. As a result, her tube barely sank into the water with her on it, and she went down the river like a soap bubble. Her tube just floated over the rocks and obstructions. Her only job was to hang on for dear life, which she did quite ably. I, on the other hand, am a big fat guy. My tube sank considerably in the water, and, being both big and fat, My arms and legs protruded over the edges of the tube and into the water, while my backside protruded through the hole in the middle.
It was my backside, appropriately, I suppose, that first felt the pain of my folly. During the first set of rapids, the rushing water carried all of the tube and most of me over a submerged rock, but not quite high enough. I hadn't thought to put any padding on my backside, because my backside essentially is padding. Suffice to say: Ouch.
The only trouble younger encountered on that first run was when her tube took the wrong path at another set of rapids and followed a short channel between two narrow stones and got jammed. I whizzed past her, unable to stop. I decided to try and mount a rescue mission, and began swimming upstream with a tube in tow. Did I mention we were in the middle of some rapids? I somehow managed to make it to her, only to find that some other adult had got into the same predicament, and pulled both himself and Younger out of the mess.
The second run was going well until about the third or fourth set of rapids. While inner tubing, in case you have never participated in this form of attempted suicide, the human person has only limited control over their progress. They are, in essence, ballast. As such, you frequently find yourself going in the wrong direction, you find yourself going the wrong way in the wrong direction. Such as happened here. The increased current at the mouth of the rapids spun me around rapidly, but only one hundred and eighty degrees, so I was going backwards down the rapids. My limited control became non existent control, and the current slammed me into a boulder just under the water. I was wearing a life jacket, which took much of the brunt of the impact, but I still have a large angry bruise on my shoulder blade. Through an inch of cushioning foam. Ouch. Again. By now the face palm brigade have stopped counting my clues and have simply taken to pounding their foreheads against the table.
I also noticed around this time that I had a small spot of sunburn on one of my shoulders. I didn't think anything of it.
I endeavoured to talk Younger out of a third run. "But you promised," she said.
"I said we might," I said.
"You said we would if we had the time," she said.
It occurred to me that I should have said, "If we have the time, and I have not maimed myself on an earlier run." but I hadn't, and here I was, stuck with my stupid promises. We went in for the third time.
Here things went a little wrong for me. It was in the first rapids. As usual, my tube bounced off many rocks in that first chute, but this time it dug into one and flipped over. (In case you have been wondering what that first chute looked like, here's a photo from the web)
I was off the tube, but I instinctively grabbed the tube (I believe my thoughts were: "No! I'll lose my ten dollar deposit!") as I slammed into that first rock, and then began swimming down the rapids whilst carrying my tube.
Swimming through rapids isn't as easy as you might think. Actually, "swimming" isn't really the term for it. "Not drowning while attempting to get beck my ten dollar deposit" is a more accurate description, so I'll rephrase. Not drowning while attempting to get your ten dollar deposit back whilst in the middle of some rapids isn't as easy as you might think. The current has you, for starters. There are also rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. Rocks that have been there a long time even though they daily have tons and tons of water pounding against them. The kinds that laugh when some big fatso is rammed against them. Those kind of rocks. And very hard. Very hard rocks indeed.
I also swallowed a fair amount of water for the nth time that day. The Grand River flows through a fair amount of farmland, with cattle poop and pesticides and fertiliser all washing into it. I expect to soon die from some obscure waterborne disease that will be named after me. People will talk about the amazing coincidence that I, like Lou Gehrig, died of a disease that had the same name as me.
I managed to make my way into the shallows where the current wasn't quite so strong, feeling battered bruised, scraped and altogether tenderised. The first thing I saw on the shore was a paramedic rushing in my direction. "Wow," I thought. "These guys are really on the ball." But she rushed past me down the stream a little ways. There was another man there, who appeared to have a broken leg. I could also see younger, squealing with delight, pulling farther and farther away. I hopped back onto my tube and pushed off into the rapids. By now, the face palm brigade gave up the will to live, pulled out guns and shot themselves.
I made it to the end without any further accidents. Younger came, without complaint, back to the check in station, where we returned our gear and got our deposits back. I noticed that the sunburn spot on my shoulder had grown. We got into the car to go home.
As I drove, everything in my body, one piece at a time, seemed to stop working. Ever muscle, every fibre seemed to seize up, and would move no more. By the time I got home, I moved out of the car like a zombie and ambled up the stairs.
"How was the day?" asked Puff.
"NNNNNNN," I mumbled back to her. "Need medicine."
I pulled off my shirt, and saw that I was badly burned on both shoulders, as well as on my belly in the space between my life jacket and my swimming trunks. I was badly scraped on the knees and feet, and the large bruise on my shoulder was starting to form. Puff started to chide me about doing stupid things with the kids as she began to smear some ointment on me. Younger was telling everyone how much fun she had.
"Can we do it again next year, Daddy?" she asked.
"MMMMMMM." I said. "Ne....ne....ne..."
Judging from her reaction, I think she took that as a "yes". And a promise.