Summer Fun: A [Revised] Guide to Floating the River

Lessons learned during a Texas summer staple

Considering that 50% of my time over the next five months will arguably be spent fully or partially submerged in a spring, lake, river, or pool, I have a lot to share about any number of Austin’s outdoor activities involving water.

Toobing: a summer survival tactic in Texas (photo by Andrea Kinnison)

So when two good friends’ joint birthday party involved a tube float on the San Marcos river this weekend (aka “toobing” for those not yet initiated), I thought, “Perfect! I'll write a 'Guide to Floating the River in Comfort and Style.'” After what turned out to be a rather stressful afternoon of ill-preparedness, unforgiving forces of nature, and just plain bad luck, this advice now comes to you from a slightly different angle. Still just as informative, I hope, this is now a 'Guide to Surviving the River While Maintaining Your Dignity and (Most of) Your Belongings.'

Lesson No. 1: Pack Essentials the Night Before

The birthday crew convened in a central location in Austin, assigned designated drivers, and planned to carpool half an hour down I-35 to Don's Fish Camp (105 Nelle, Martindale, Texas). The last thing you want to do is hold up the whole caravan while you frantically search for your sunglasses – the cheapo wayfarers with the hard lemonade sponsor’s logo you got for free at Fun Fun Fun Fest two years ago. (Do not wear the mirrored Miu Miu's. I know they match your swimsuit, and were just featured on ... but – you will probably lose your sunglasses.) In my case, it was my water shoes I couldn’t find at the last minute. If you don't own a pair of these, I highly recommend the investment. You will thank yourself when the river’s current sends you straight into a tangle of overhanging bramble with the only option being to bail out of your tube and walk ankle-deep through the riverbed’s cumulation of beer cans and swamp muck. Flip-flops have nothing on the muck’s suction power or the water’s current. River - 1; Adrienne - 0.

Stock up on those free sunglasses (photo by Adrienne Whitehorse)

Other essentials you don't want to forget: waterproof sunscreen (key word: waterproof. Bless his fair-skinned heart, he who spent the entirety of the four-hour float pushing streaks of milky liquid from one area of exposed skin to the next); nylon rope to tie your group's tubes to one another (think a floating platoon of "Drifters" a la Waterworld); and finally, koozies and beer salt (con limón), because nothing tastes like summer in Texas quite like a tangy, lime-y, ice-cold Lone Star.

Lesson No. 2: Bring Cash and a Waterproof Box

Don’s Fish Camp now accepts credit cards, but that one time your card is inexplicably declined, and you don't have enough cell-phone reception to call your bank, and you didn’t bring any cash … Well, let’s just say you don’t want to be that girl. (I was that girl.) Bring a little more cash than you think you'll need. In addition to tubes ($12, $17 after the per-person parking fee), Don's thankfully provides last-minute, overlooked amenities like extra ice, water, sunglasses bobbers (you had to wear the mirrored Miu Miu's, didn’t you?), and cooler tubes for a reasonable charge. A waterproof box will set you back $25, but if everyone chips in, the cost is negligible, and no one in your group will be that poor soul whose iPhone we nabbed as it bobbed past our brigade, wrapped in double-layered (yet waterlogged) Ziploc baggies. (Side note: Use this box to hold the keys of the vehicle that transported your group to the river. And do not take those keys out to punch air holes in your beer cans for the stopover at "Shotgun Island." You will probably lose these keys.)

Lesson No. 3: Expect to Get Wet – Maybe Even River-Ravaged

The San Marcos River, like any natural waterway, is governed by mother nature – and you have to remember that she'll do whatever she damn well pleases. The majority of the trip downstream was a pleasant mix of calm waters and gentle currents, sending us smoothly around corners and past other friendly groups of floaters. The water level was a good five feet in most places, allowing me to slip off my tube often and cool my warm body in the refreshing water. Note to self: When someone warns that the "tube chute" is coming up, you want to be on your tube in advance of the junction. One of the birthday girls and I learned this lesson the hard way, and we frantically scrambled to both squeeze into one slippery doughnut as the water at our thighs was quickly turning to rapids. Long story short, our tube capsized, our bodies tumbled violently among the river rocks beneath the surface, and we emerged gasping for air and grasping our bikini tops. River - 2; Adrienne - 0. We survived with minor injuries and the loss of only a few items between the two of us. Our dignity, however, was quickly whisked downstream.

Lesson No. 4: Don't Make Post-Toobing Plans

While it seems perfectly reasonable to float the river during the day, then head to that housewarming party, your roommate's graduation dinner, or your friend's band's show that night, you will lay down with the intention of taking a much-needed, post-float power nap when you get home at 6pm. You will, in fact, wake up at 2am. With a hangover.

While it's hard for this Texas toobing veteran to admit that she lost her favorite bandana, sunglasses, flip-flops, and several koozies – and came home with scraped knees and a bruised elbow and ego – I'm telling myself that these amateur errors were due to the fact that this was my first float of the season. Some lessons have to be re-learned each year. And just look on the bright side: I wasn't the whiny dude with the popped tube, didn't have any unpleasant encounters with poisonous flora or fauna, or come home with a bubbling sunburn. A few mishaps won't keep me away from the water, and I'm already looking forward to the next toobing adventure. Watch out, River; I'm ready to settle this score.

Read more Summer Fun stories (and check out the last few years of fun) at as we slather on the SPF and Ride the Wild Swell of our special annual issue celebrating Austin's sunniest season. The Austin Chronicle’s 2014 Summer Fun Issue hit the stands Thursday, May 16.

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More Summer Fun 2014
Summer Fun: Last Call for <i>Surf Texas</i>
Summer Fun: Last Call for Surf Texas
Autumn's a few weeks away; it's not too late to catch some last Summer Fun

Nina Hernandez, Sept. 3, 2014

Summer Fun: Obviously, It's Not Summer Without Them…
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David Estlund, May 20, 2014

More by Adrienne Whitehorse
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Summer Fun 2014, Summer Fun, tubing, toobing, San Marcos River, Don's Fish Camp, Lone Star, beer salt

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