A Tube with a View

Summer is here, which means that I get to practice one of my favorite summer activities: River tubing! River tubing was an activity that I was unfamiliar with before moving to Maryland. I had heard about people going to water parks to ride black rubber tubes down a slide and I had seen folks in tubes being pulled in large groups by motor boats, but I never knew about the pleasures of river tubing. What a discovery! This year, I bought my very own lounger-style river tube complete with head rest and cup holders. I can now mosey down the river on my very own tube and look at what nature has to offer me for the day. I go with my friends, who are much more experienced “tubers” than I am and we usually spend a few hours down the Shenandoah river in the northern Virginia area.

My friends have truly mastered the science of tubing. We no longer need to go find local outfitters to partake in our favorite activity. Gone are the days where we have to pay a steep fee to wait around for other people and ride on a bouncy green-painted school bus to take us to the river bank. We have our own strategy now, which involves a semi-complicated car dance, lots of sunscreen and drinks and a great packed lunch. It may or may not involve one of our friends running a few miles. I can’t tell all our secrets!

Figuring out where the cars goes and what needs to stay in which car is definitely the hardest part of the trip. Where do the towels go? The arrival car or the departure car? What about the tubes? Did you pack the cups or did I? It sounds easy you say? It should be, but we always get a little bit excited and ahead of ourselves when it is time for a river trip. There is always something forgotten, but we always make due with what we have. It always turns out fun and usually a bit of an adventure.

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I have decided that people pay for the convenience of not having to figure out the logistics of tubing. When you tube on your own, there are a few reconnaissance activities to do prior to enjoying your first trip. Among other things, you need to figure out the direction of the river flow, the various entrances to the river that are available to you and how you are going to coordinate transportation at the departure and arrival spots. Don’t worry, you will learn how to perfect your own strategy with each tubing trip. There are always lessons to be learned on every trip! Yesterday, we ended up using a different way to go to our arrival spot and overshot our car by half a mile. We ended up having to get off of our tubes and into the river to paddle up the river as much as we could. We learned that the Shenandoah river can be VERY deep in some areas! If you don’t know how to swim, please wear a vest! We ended up having to bail ahead of some small rapids and ended up climbing a very steep and very muddy bank with our tubes in tow. A few banged knees and lost flip flops later and we were back on track. As I said before, tubing on your own is always an adventure!

We saw a lot of nature on our trip yesterday. There were many Great Blue Herons, a few Green Herons, Rough-winged Swallows, Cedar Waxwings, a pair of juvenile Double-crested Cormorant, a Belted Kingfisher and many other birds that we couldn’t identify without binoculars. We also saw many fish species jumping all around us and a great number of damselflies around landing on our legs and on our tubes.

Are you ready for your own tubing trip? Check out the rivers in your area, get your tubes and call your friends! For Maryland residents, check out the Maryland Geological Surveys’ Rivers in Maryland page. To find rivers in Virginia, check out the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Virginia Rivers and Streams page. To find more rivers in other parts of the country, you can do a search on Wikipedia (West Virginia example hereor look on Geology.com (Delaware example here).

As far as equipment goes, I recommend Amazon for the river tubes. Intex make a great single river tube for $20 and a large two-seater for $40. The two-seater has a great cooler in the middle, which is perfect for your lunch. A single floating cooler is also available for cheap at Amazon. I also recommend good water shoes like Keens and a few dry sacks for your lunch and for the other items you want to bring with you. Don't forget your car keys! Good choices are the lightweight bags from Sea to Summit and Outdoor Research. Although you do not need to focus on the weight of the bags for tubing, these bags can also be used for hiking and backpacking where you will be happy you spent a few extra bucks to get lighter stuff sacks.

Have fun and tell us about your experience! Share your pictures with me and I will post them on my blog!