Them’s fighting words, so I spat back with, “Yeah, well….so what.” She was right. She was still hopeful. She was still crackin’ jokes. 😉
I got nothin’.
This was hard work and we hadn’t floated all but about a half a mile total and we’d been out here three hours, at least. We had walked and walked and walked some more. Did I mention we also carried our tubes? The children were still floating on and off, for the most part, and giggling along. The adults were pulling and carrying tubes. Mostly we were walking over river rocks in shin deep water regretting our idea.
Now and again, a group of people would come by, most of them walking and pulling each other, but at a much faster pace than our crew. They obviously had better shoes or some sort of slime retardent on the bottom of last years Nikes, which kept them from braking their knees.
The rocks were large and slick, we were falling and fast.
I learned quickly that you keep your eyes on the rocks and you make fast and safe decisions. There was no looking up. You couldn’t afford to take that risk, but if you did you could achieve the moment of getting to see a friend quickly fall from view. Or you could find yourself face first in the river, hands gripping the river bottom, in an effort to keep from chipping a tooth. Anyone else’s heart beating out of their chest? Which brings me to this quick side note.
Don’t judge a chipped tooth when visiting Hill Country. These folks probably bit it on this river and for all of saving themselves they lost part of their tooth. There’s nobility in that and I for one will salute them from here on out.
We’d fallen a lot and we’d been strong enough to get back up and continue on down the river. No one had laughed in a while and the mental game of staying alive was getting to us, when suddenly I went down and took my daughter down with me. We tumbled.
Neither hurt, thankfully, but we fell and it had been a defining fall. We sat looking at each other, both recognizing the mental break that had come to a head. Out of exhaustion, she started crying and then out of anger and annoyance for our fate I started crying, too. There we were, mother and daughter, crying in the Frio, it had won. What it had won in that moment I don’t really know, but we succumbed to defeat. We bowed our heads in acknowledgement that it was indeed much stronger than we were, and we were not worthy of its power.
The Frio River had stolen everything I had planned out for the day. I hadn’t spoken but a few words to my friends, they were busy keeping the children alive ahead of me. My husband’s fun meter was hovering around the “she’s a pain in the butt” mark and it was beginning to flash some sort of warning. I knew I needed to figure out how to keep my mouth shut. Or I’d be hitchhiking back to Houston.
Not once had I looked into a set of trees carefully sorting out which one had the girth I desired to compose a treehouse. I hadn’t taken my eyes off the water and it’s good for nothing rocks in hours. I was a steamroller by this point and all I wanted was to get to that rendezvous point, Neal’s Crossing, as quickly and as humanly possible, without the help of a stretcher.
Oh, I’d thought about the early settlers who had mistakenly decided to call this place home. No wonder there had been a hundreds of men to one woman ratio. No self-respecting woman would have stayed here, if that meant she’d have to try and manage these rocks in an effort to supply her man with clean clothes and fresh water. I can only imagine the frustrations that ensued after coming off a rock for the hundredth time, all in the name of a place of “their own”.
Yeah, obviously, I’d hit a low point.
And in my friends’ defense, they had no idea it would be this miserable either. They, too, were showing their horns.
We took a break, my daughter and I. We’d needed it. We sat pretty much in the middle of the Frio and refused to go any further. We’d find our own way back. I wasn’t above walking the steps of a 17 story staircase, up to someone’s private property and calling for help. Once I’d broken into their house, that is. I’d call someone. They’d send bail money. I was sure of it.
Once we dried our tears and found a way to smile, I began assessing how we’d get to a standing position again. Yes, planning that out took time. The arches in my feet were now straight lines. I didn’t have monkey toes anymore, either.
I’d done about fifty up downs. Getting back up was going to take some time and attention.
A nice Hispanic man, who was pulling his family, stopped and offered his hand to me. He was smiling. His wife and daughter were being pulled along while listening to music on some sort of traveling speaker box. I truly believe he was in seventh heaven pulling his sweet family down the Frio. He looked like good stock and was radiating physical energy. Something I’d lost along the way. I looked up at him and thought, you don’t want any part of this buddy, keep moving, but thank you. Move along, please. We’re having a moment.
I had to figure out how to get up without falling for the umpteenth time and muster up any lasting effort to smile. We had a few miles to go yet. I needed a moment to establish what card I was going to play in order to get my daughter on board with the idea of pulling up her boot straps and continuing on.
I had nothing.
Then a hero wearing white (not yellow, this was his reward for not killing me out there) showed up and he put us back in our tubes and began pulling us down the river, once again. One by one, my husband, hooked us up, until the children, the women and the cooler were all attached to him.
The lone mule.
He’d set out to find deep waters pulling the women and children along. Talk about your epic story!
He was walking in the water and the rest of us were just above dragging butt, but it wasn’t long till we were all floating. We stayed together a bit and even found a way to laugh. After about four and a half hours we’d finally found deep water to float in.
Until the waterfall, that is.
We were over half the way to our rendezvous point when we got to the waterfall. “This is where the fun begins,” they’d said. Once you get to the waterfall you float on in til you get to Neal’s Crossing. The promise land…
It was about the same time I acknowledged loads of people who had caught up to us, yet again, probably after stopping to eat and having a nap before continuing on. They were smiling. I’d decided that’s how you determine if someone is a pro river rock walker. I’m telling you, it felt like we were working at a snail’s pace, folks. And it was my fault. I couldn’t get a handle on it. Plus I had this fear of falling and cracking my skull open. Talk about a mood killer.
Anyway, investing in the decision to float down the waterfall was something thrill seekers did. Deciding to commit on floating down the waterfall was a crucial one. The decision had to be made quickly. You also had to go down the waterfall feet first and I couldn’t guarantee that my tube would carry me through that crucial detail.
If you were going to dump out of your float and walk in to the trees, in the effort to go around the waterfall, you had to make your move sooner than later, because the water was moving fast. I couldn’t tell how far down I was going to drop nor could I tell if I had any muscles left to control my body and hold myself in place. Free falling down the waterfall, for this girl, seemed a hasty decision at best.
My daughter and I decided that we’d had enough excitement for one day and opted to walk around the waterfall. This waterfall was a rather quick dump down and a manageable tubing event for a thrill seeker. I was already “thrilling” enough, so my daughter and I dumped out and walked to higher ground. I figured it would be the prime opportunity to daydream a bit about tree houses and all the writing I could do in them, in the event that they had stairs, electricity, AC, and Wi-Fi.
A girl has her limits, it was beginning to show.
As we walk, we also get to witness several of the members of our party easily make it down the waterfall. They finally have smiles on their faces. It was looking like the rough part was finally over. A few of them got out walked around and tried the waterfall again. It was a brief moment of fun, in a rather tough journey.
I witnessed my son go over the waterfall head first. His tube had gotten away from him. It was nice knowing you little PETE, Pete, pete… He came out of the water smiling. He’d survived and it looked much worse than it was. Oh good, it seemed 98% of the group was having a ball!
I was stuck half way around the waterfall with lil Red, a nine-year old, who was crying because she was carrying her inner tube and being poked by tree branches. Floating a shallow Frio is fun business, folks.
On a side note, if you had decided to walk around the waterfall, you’d better have the heads up that no one walks leisurely round it. If you need to walk around it, then you’d better wait for everyone else to go first. It’s hard to manage a tube and river rocks mounted in the earth, they’re still tricky.
Yes, yes they are. “Oh, sorry, Ma’am.” I’d said to the woman whose day I was wrecking, just by being alive. I wish we were all such natural beautified outdoorsy types, Lady, but we’re not, so back it off or take the waterfall.
Thank goodness I had decided hours ago to start wearing my tube around my waist in an effort to brace my falls. Nothing like an adult woman with a floatation device around her, which makes her look like she’s playing in an infant’s exersaucer. But hey, I was staying safe and let’s be honest, we’d done a lot of falling on this trip.
I was bruised and broken.
I was wearing my floatie.
(An Epic Journey to be continued…)