Out-and-out fun on an inner tube | AspenTimes.com

Out-and-out fun on an inner tube

Ian Cropp
Vail correspondent

Preston Utley makes his way through some rapids on the Colorado River. (Shane Macomber/Vail Daily)

Not every outdoor activity has to be strenuous.

Don’t get me wrong; skiing, mountain biking and running are great ways to get in touch with nature while getting a good workout. But every once in a while, you need to lie back and relax.

And there’s no better way to unwind than on an old tire in the Colorado River. Tubing, or floating down a river in an inner tube or any other floatable object, is not your typical leisure activity.

How often can you work on your tan, hang out with friends and enjoy a great view, all while you pretend like you are the modern-day Lewis and Clark? OK, maybe you’re going down and not up the river, but everything seems perfect when you and a group of friends cruise the Colorado on a Sunday afternoon.

I had been in inner tubes before, but in different situations. Either I was being pulled behind a boat at 35 mph or I was sitting in a pool with a cocktail in my hand. So when I met up with about 25 people Sunday near State Bridge for a float trip in the Colorado, I figured it would be a mix of my two previous experiences.

Before I got in the water, I realized I would be floating on a tube so oblong it could have passed for an exhibit at the Modern Museum of Art. Fortunately, someone was nice enough to trade my “tube” for a one-man flower-print raft.

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After the first stretch of calm water, we rounded a bend and left the backyard pool area and moved into the first set of rapids.

When I hit the rapids and got a face full of cold water, I couldn’t stop laughing. It dawned on me that tubing is a throwback for adults to the days when you spent hours in the bathtub splashing and putting foam bubbles on your face.

I soon found that the river can push you upstream, too. When I saw some tubers pass by my more aerodynamic raft, I knew I’d hit and eddie current, so I sucked it up and put in a few swift strokes to move back into the downstream flow.

Two or three hours doesn’t seem like long, but remember, you may get thirsty along the way, and potentially giardia-tainted water is not the solution.

Just as tubes float, so do coolers. Tubes (which are normally used for car tires) hold people. And coolers, well, they hold whatever it is you decide to drink.

More importantly, you should always leave the river cleaner than when you used it. Not only should you pick up your own empties, but grab a few you see on the shore. It never hurts to have good river karma.

As far as staying together with your group, it’s always better to be ahead a bit, as it’s a lot less stressful to wait for the cooler to float to you. But if you are less concerned about staying hydrated, hanging back has its advantages. Watching a few people pass through some rapids can give you a good idea as to where you want to go and where you don’t want to go.

While a nice cool dip can be refreshing, make sure the sun is still out. When a set of clouds soaks up those warming rays, the water feels a few degrees cooler. And the wind can leave you with what a fellow tuber aptly described as “goose bumps on top of goose bumps.”

Tubing doesn’t require full knowledge of the river, but it’s a good idea to go, and stop, in places where you see other people. The area of the Colorado River near State Bridge is relatively safe in the summer, but the Eagle River in early spring is dangerous even for experienced kayakers.

Much like stopping a boat, stopping a tube isn’t instantaneous. And moving laterally 10 feet can take 100 feet or more of river. I had the foresight to look ahead and see where the pullout point was at State Bridge. One of my friends, who will remain anonymous, had to resort to an intense doggy paddle in an attempt to get ashore.

When he passed us by, he tried to stand up, but the river had other plans for him and pushed him through a set of rapids, a few hundred feet downstream. I was polite enough not to tell him a stroke in time saves nine.

When I walked up the rocky shoreline, I lamented my bad decision in floating without footwear. But I quickly remembered one good decision I ‘d made ” I left my car at State Bridge. When you’re cold and wet, a towel and a change of clothes chase away the goose bumps in no time.