How to Float the River

You always hear that you’re supposed to write what you know. Well, I know floating. Spring/Summer is here, and that means one thing to me. It’s time to make some trips down to the river to go floating. We’ve done this religiously pretty much since college, and I’d like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. While the exact details vary from time to time, I thought it would be useful to offer up my experience and knowledge so that others can plan enjoyable trips as well.

Before we get started, it might help to make sure everyone realizes what I mean by floating the river. I’m not talking about class 5 rapids, helmets, and a crazy boat. I’m talking about large tubes, coolers, beer, and a leisurely 2-8 hour float down a river.

What to Bring

While you can vary the formula a little from trip to trip, there are some essential items and tasks that are necessary for a good floating trip. I’ll do my best to explain them all here as well as the potential complications they may introduce.

Clothing

As with any event, it’s important to dress for the occassion. Naturally, since there is water involved, you want to dress as if you were going to the beach or any other fun water locale. However, and ladies, listen carefully, there are moments where floating is slightly more intense than laying on the beach. This means that skimpy swimwear held only by a small bow will fall off. Don’t get me wrong, skimpy is ok, but reliable is also important. I’m aware that some women like the attention they receive when their top accidentally falls off, and those women are free to disregard my advice.

Another important aspect to consider is footwear. I personally prefer flip flops as they can easily be taken on and off and stowed in the cooler tube. However, they are not the best choice. Flip flops tend to get slippery very easily and provide very poor traction. This means you’ll be bringing sunglasses. The advice here is simply to make sure they’re expendable. Designer metal sunglasses do not float, but they do fall off.

Sustenance

On any floating trip, it’s extremely important to have sustenance. Naturally, I’m referring to beer. There is one huge faux-pas with regards to beer, and that is the bringing of glass containers. I’m shocked every year by the fact that some people think it’s acceptable to bring glass bottles on the river. That’s just plain stupid. Glass and bare feet don’t mix. One of your bottles will invariably get broken and someone will get hurt. Just don’t do it.

Can’s are good, but I’ve found that the Coors Light plastic bottles are the best. When you’re approaching a rough section of water, you’re able to easily recap your beverage and travel safely through the rapids without spilling any of the precious nectar.

Naturally, you will need a contraption to keep your beverages cold, and you’ll need ice with which to keep those beverages cold. Believe it or not, I’ve seen plenty of people go to the store to buy a cooler and forget the ice. That’s a rookie move. Worse are those who buy styrofoam coolers. These are unacceptable because they will break. This not only uglies up the river, but you will not have a way to keep your beer cold. I suppose warm beer is nearly adequate punishment for those that bring styrofoam on the river.

Camera

On any river trip, it’s important to bring some sort of device to photologically capture the experience. For most, this means buying a disposable waterproof camera. These are alright, but the serious floater will have a waterproof case and digital camera. Canon offers a full line of waterproof camera cases for its cameras.

Safety & Necessities

Of course, you’ll be in the sun. That means appropriate sun block is usually a good idea. Chances are that you also want to bring cash and an ID. This makes the tube-renting process faster and easier at most places. Additionally, some tube rental places only accept cash. Lastly, don’t bring anything that you don’t want getting wet. If you absolutely have to, make sure to bring a pretty solid waterproof bag or prepared to be disappointed. Do not bring keys on the river. Keys don’t float.

Music

This one is a bit more challenging, but if you can devise a contraption that is waterproof and plays music, you’ll enjoy your trip much more. We managed to get one put together by placing a car stereo, small motorcycle battery, and speakers inside of a cooler. Of course the stereo was mounted outwards and had a remote control for easy song selection. A system like that could be built for around $700, and it’s worth every penny.

Friends

Of course the trip wouldn’t be complete without people to share it with, however, it’s important to remember that large groups are more difficult to mobilize. Any more than 5 people and you can pretty much be guaranteed of getting on the water at least 1 or 2 hours later than your target time.

Where to Stay

Regardless of where you stay, it’s valuable to get an early start, because it usually takes some time to gather everyone up, get beer, ice, coolers, etc. Therefore, it’s imperative that you choose a realistic target time for arriving on the river. This will vary based on where you plan on spending the night, the length of float you’d like to do, and the number of people in your group.

Camping

If you’re camping, that’s an entirely different checklist of items to bring, and I’ll assume that you’re an experienced camper or know how to use Google to learn more about that aspect of the trip. Camping is a great choice for two reasons. First it enables easier access to the river and second because it’s significantly cheaper.

They key to camping on a floating trip is finding a spot where you can crawl out of your tent and be less than 20 yards from the river. This makes life much more convenient, and enables you to start drinking early because you won’t have to drive to the river, and let’s just be honest, floating the river is as much about drinking as it is about floating.

If you’re planning on camping, I suggest calling ahead and making reservations at the camp grounds of your choosing. For your campgrounds, you ideally want to make sure they have running water, electricity (for music of course) and plumbing. This makes life much easier.

Hotel

Hotel’s have their obvious benefits. You have a real bed, a shower, plumbing, air conditioning, etc. The significant advantage, though, is really the air conditioning. Down here in Texas, we’ve gone camping on nights where the temperature never dipped below 90. That’s a bit uncomfortable at night.

Hotels carry one major inconvenience in that they are generally not located in close proximity to the river and thus you are forced to drive/caravan to the floating spot. This isn’t too big of a problem unless you have a large caravan of individuals who don’t know where they are going. Red lights, wrong turns, and dis-organized people who need to run 20 errands the morning of the trip are all your enemies. The time it takes to get from your room to the river is exponentially proportional to the size of your caravan. Also, hotels tend to cost a bit more money.

Summary

Floating is a great experience, and things go much more smoothly if you follow these simple bits of advice. Less hiccups means more time for fun. If you’ve floated before, I hope you found this valuable, and if you’ve never floated, I hope you’re convinced that it’s one of the best summer events ever.