I know, I know. We looked shabby when we hauled our previously-owned canoe strapped down to the top of our 20-year-old Toyota 4×4 with the previously-rusty spots patched with the next-best color of spray paint. The homemade wooden bumper added a touch of class, too. But, hey, we were headed to the river for another one of our fun float trips.
My husband and I set out in this truck a while ago on a sunny Saturday morning for an annual float trip with friends. This gathering ultimately becomes a gravel bar gourmet contest and is held on the Big Piney near Duke. Along the interstate, we passed or were passed by some folks in RV’s, and others in monstrous, shiny 4×4’s – pulling campers, Jet Ski’s and/or speedboats.
Now some folks might tend to get a little green around the gills if they were sitting with us in our little old un-air-conditioned situation, but I refuse to compare my craft to theirs. I don’t think that the philosophy from the bumper sticker in the 1980s that read, “He who has the most toys wins,” or something like that, even counts. It’s the quality of your trip, and your time outdoors and your life, not just the dollar amount, that counts.
Fun Float Trip Ideas
When you head out to meet with friends on a gravel bar situated below an awesome bluff near a spring … When the food is hot and the drinks are cold … When your friends pull up their chairs and share their marshmallow sticks with you … When someone starts telling “Little Johnny” or “Nasty Nicky” jokes … When the bullfrogs lure you into the canoe for a midnight gigging trip … All this and more – it all comes together on the gravel bar with friends.
Lest you think I wax philosophical, allow me to wax practical here. I have learned a lot about packing the right stuff for an enjoyable and simplified trip to the gravel bar.
I learned most of this stuff from reading my outdoor writer friends’ articles and from listening to them. Some of the stuff I learned from experience. I’ll share some of these tips with you, and you can take it from there and find your own friends for your own gravel bar excursion.
- First, forget about packing underwear. You don’t need it. Wear an old swimsuit, and take another one along for good measure. Wear clothing that is demure, or as the yuppies would say, “Khaki and fossil are in, Babe.” The fish, supposedly, have a hard time figuring out if you’re one-with-nature while wearing earthy colors, but you will be spotted a mile away in your Ocean Pacific duds in the zaniest neons.
- Get some water shoes that will swim with you, not pull you to the bottom of the deepest part of the river. Shell out $40 for Tevas or their equivalents, because they’ll last a lifetime and they even feel good if you slip them on your feet after a long day at work. Plus, these watershoes have Velcro enclosures for when you get really old and can’t bend over or see your feet. Or, buy the aqua socks at the local discount store for $10, and prepare to replace them every year or two for the rest of your life—as your feet grow.
- Buy sunscreen from this year’s lot. Last year’s lot may have expired, and you don’t want to find out this little fact after a day on the river. Don’t use the spray stuff, either, as the results tend to be blotchy. Because of my use of this new spray-on technology, my son looked like he’d been stood in front of a tennis ball machine and whacked with 100 tennis balls. He was not happy about this new look. He’s a teenager.
- Don’t forget to put a strap or a shoelace on your sunglasses, and wear a hat with a brim that goes 360 degrees around your head. Rednecks don’t only get their names from sitting on front porches, drinking beers, and having belching contests.
- Get yourself a polyester sleep sack from the local discount store. It rolls up into a little wad and you don’t have to take the same sleeping bag your son took to Boy Scout Camp. Remember, that’s the one that didn’t get aired out.
- Put everything into one of those big waterproof bags. Otherwise, you’ll spend a half-day double bagging everything with trash bags that tear easily.
- Buy a little dual-fuel camp stove and use premium gas for the fuel. It burns hot and fast and is a lot cheaper than the special, expensive stove fuel.
- Take along flour tortillas for lunchtime sandwiches and for suppertime fajitas.
- Take a big enough cooler so you can sit on it in the middle of the canoe while on a midnight gigging trip. Fashion your own gig from a broomstick and a frog spear. Stick a piece of Styrofoam on the business end until you are ready to employ it, so you don’t skewer someone you love with it.
- Always pack Skittles for quick energy.
- Don’t plan on sleeping well, even if you have the best “earthpad” in the world. Someone in camp is going to snore, and it’ll be the guy/gal in the next tent.
Finally, and most importantly, leave the outside world back there somewhere, and as you approach the put-in point, start clearing your mind of worries. Concentrate on getting to know your friends and family better, on laughing so hard at times that your stomach hurts, and on enjoying what really matters.
You know what that is, too.
First published in Sept. 2003.