Thirty years ago my friends and I used to spend the odd summer Saturday tubing on the Guadalupe River just north of New Braunfels. We generally avoided Schlitterbahn, due to its outrageous prices. They charged something like $15 a head (it’s about $95 now). We went to the river instead, and tried to find a free place to park to save the three bucks the tube rental places charged for parking out there. And we took our own tubes, to keep from having to rent any. In other words, we were cheap. But then, we were broke.
We would usually get in the river just above Slumber Falls. There was a sign over the river there that had a warning of some kind on it. I think it said, "If you don’t turn back now, you will die" or some such. And there was good reason for the sign, because people drowned at Slumber Falls every summer.
We never drowned, though. At least not that I remember. What I do remember is spending all day lying in an innertube in the sun, paddling with my arms, and getting flipped over in the rapids. By the end of a typical trip I was white on one side, lobster-red on the other side, and most of the skin that was supposed to be under my arms was floating down the river somewhere. Good times.
Since my oldest son, Courtland, was home from college for a while, I decided to take the boys to the Guadalupe so they could experience the same pain I did when I was their age. But then I went soft, and we loaded up some kayaks. Not so much to keep the boys from burning and rubbing the hide off their arms, but I’m getting a little long in the tooth to soak my backside in river water for several hours at a time.
My wife dropped us off just above Slumber Falls, but I didn’t recognize a thing. The place used to look like a normal river. Now it looks like a river running through the middle of a town. Concrete steps, paved parking lots, and big, fancy buildings full of rental tubes and boats are everywhere. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the water. It’s still cold enough to rattle your teeth.
Plus, there are people everywhere. There were people everywhere back when I was a kid, but there are even more people everywhere now, and they are in more places along the river. And if you don’t think there can be people in more places than everywhere, you should go to Slumber Falls and check it out.
The biggest difference, I guess, is the noise. When I was a kid stereo systems weren’t what they are now. Which I thought was a Bad Thing then, but I was wrong. Everyone on the river seems to have a boom box, or something, and they all seem to think there are two volume settings – off and cerebral hemorrhage. There is no such thing as a nice, quiet float on the river anymore. The astonishing noise level wasn’t quite enough for one fellow, though, so he was periodically cutting loose with an air horn.
Plus, most of the people we saw were drunk, or working hard to get that way. The fish, if there were any fish in the river, were probably also drunk, judging by the number of violently ruptured beer cans floating in the river. We picked up a lot of the cans, but didn’t really make a dent in the trash situation.
The beautiful Guadalupe River is lined with tall Cypress trees, dotted with fun rapids, and in some places there are high, wooded bluffs overlooking the water. From the balcony of a house atop one of the bluffs, about 100 feet up, some drunk people amused themselves by throwing things at the people floating down the river. We reported them when we got to Gruene (pronounced ‘Gruene’), and the local police said they would check it out. I offered to go and identify the house, but they declined the offer. I guess keeping people from killing one another with projectiles is not a high priority. Considering the type of people in danger, I can understand why.
The boys and I managed to survive our trip, and my wife picked us up at the Rockin’ R establishment in Gruene, where you can rent canoes, kayaks, rafts, tubes, and probably other stuff. They also provide a constant flow of shuttle vehicles, hauling huge numbers of rowdy, noisy, drunk people up and down the river. I imagine they try to hire local day care and kindergarten teachers for the summer, for their experience dealing with uncooperative adolescents.
The Rockin’ R folks, especially one fellow that everyone calls Hippy, were the bright spot in our whole trip. They were very nice and helpful, and run as efficient a business as humanly possible in such a chaotic environment. If you plan to float the Lower Guadalupe River, the Rockin’ R people can take care of you.
Of course, they can’t protect you from the idiots. So if you do decide to float the river, you might want to invest in a Petzl rock-climbing helmet. And some ear plugs . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who plans to float in Mexico from now on, for safety. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org