Tammy Curtis, Publisher
There are two types of people … river and lake people, but one can never be the other.
Being raised camping, fishing and swimming on the Southfork, Strawberry and Spring Rivers would make one think “She is a river girl.” Even owning a paper with the name “river” in it should prove that point. Let me tell you, that is DEAD WRONG for a variety of reasons, most of which came in the before mentioned years of my raising.
Early in my life, unbeknown to me, I was forming a love/hate relationship with rivers. As an Aquarius, I am a natural water lover. So, my early years of swimming at the Saddle Mill Pond and camping at Slick Rock near the Old Kia Kima were the first memories I recall of the rivers.
Today, I am an avid LED lit, double air conditioner equipped fifth wheel camper. The canvas tents with little more than thin and aging comforters for floor padding, no electricity and eating hot dogs we cooked on a stick were part of my evolution, and a chapter to which I never plan to return. Albeit, I will treasure the memories.
When the summer sun was at it’s the hottest, we would load up my Daddy’s old truck with a tent, coolers, blankets and fishing poles and of course – chicken livers. We would head to the very rural area still known as “Slick Rock” along the Southfork. Enter bad memory number one.
It was here on one of our trips that a river almost took my life the first time, or so it seemed in my young mind. As a vibrant bull-headed 8-year-old, the thought of floating on top of a go-cart inner tube on my stomach was ridiculous. We had a go cart track and so we had inner tubes. Me and all my lanky four foot, 80 pound body decided, instead, of laying across it, it would be smarter to place it around my ankles and attempt to squeeze my body into the center and float out safely into the deeper water where my little brother couldn’t go.
I promptly began a rigorous series of hops in the water as I attempted to squeeze myself into the four inch center. It was my hope to use this as a my free pass to the deep, big girl, water. By hop four I knew I was in trouble. The current carried me a bit further from shore with each ill-fated hop. I suddenly and quickly went upside down, feet up and began floating off in water over my head. It seemed like an eternity until my dad caught me and jerked the tube, still attached at my ankles off. I was gagging and coughing, full of tears. I was terrified and didn’t want to even be near any water– especially the river for the rest of my life.
Apparently that memory faded as quickly as the sunburn I obtained that weekend. Within a few years, as an even smarter and likely more bull headed 14-year-old, I reasoned with my mom that she should drop my brother and I off at Saddle. After all, after four or five camping trips in our young lives, I was now an expert in river navigation. We would float in a two man boat, minus any type of food or water to the place my parents were camping, at Slick Rock. We entered the water in the early morning hours equipped with two paddles and orange life jackets. We quickly shed those when we got out of our parent’s sight… after all- we were experts.
Bear in mind, we had no earthy idea how far it was by river, but by road its only about 10-15 minutes. So, in our excessive knowledge filled brains we were thinking it may be a two or three hour leisurely float. After seeing two snakes quickly and scratching and bruising my knees on rapids escaping them, we resorted to drinking water from the river … where one of the hundreds of cows we passed likely did their business. We were starving. We reasoned we had been out for a few hours and should be close to camp and the thought of devouring some roasted hot dogs and chips and slice of ice cold watermelon gave us renewed hope. It was only a short time later that we realized it was getting dark. Luckily some angel in the form of a fisherman found us and drove our smart little butts, beaten and hungry to our parents camp, we learned they had been looking for us when we didn’t return. I was terrified of the river and never wanted to go back for sure this time.
I guess I am a slow learner, because when my friends suggested a huge float trip with four canoes I was game. I was now 15 and the missing persons incident faded from my young mind. My friend and I were so excited, we wanted to be tan and ready. We quickly applied the infamous QT to every square inch of our little white bodies and likely put on that two piece swimsuit preachers always preached about. Within an hour we looked like pumpkins with eyes. That stuff wouldn’t even wash off. But, who would let a little fake tan ruin the day? Off our little orange bodied selves went, meeting up with our other pale skinned friends at Dam 3 to float to Hardy Beach. In those days, everyone did it and didn’t take out where the rapids ended (I thought).
It was about twenty minutes into the big girl float and on the first set of falls that my “seasoned” river self realized I had no idea how to canoe. The words “paddle” or “steer” the long silver vessel of which we were now captains were Greek. We quickly found ourselves upside down with a quickly sinking canoe, fighting for life and to save our cooler… a lesson I did learn from the last incident.
After finally uprighting and emptying it, we reasoned that one person who knew how to canoe in each boat would be best and apparently, I got the job of “steering”because apparently even morons can do that. I had no idea what that meant but we were in the middle of nowhere with one way to get out…paddle and steer. Off we went.
It was merely an hour later that my third near life ending experience set in hard and fast. We rounded Dead Man’s Curve (Yea it was given that name for a reason) and I promptly “steered” us into a root covered bank. The canoe tipped sideways, I went under, the canoe hit me in the head and the rapids shoved me against the bank entangling my foot in an underwater root. I could see the sunshine at the surface but I was penned under.
It was then that angel number three reached his hands below the surface, grabbed my shoulders and pulled me free. Choking and breathless I laid on the edge of the river for a what seemed like an hour reasoning with God if he got me out of this one I would never be stupid enough to do it again. I supposed the saying God protects the young and ignorant is true. I was alive and hated the river even more. I vowed that was it.. never again.
But as I said before, I am a slow learner. By 2010, my near death memory must have faded somewhat. My friend begged me to float in a raft this time, because “rafts are different and don’t flip”. Off we went. This time didn’t bring any near death experiences- unless you count the bug spray eating, biting, black flies that feasted on our bodies the entire three hours of hell.
Fast forward to 2012, my sister-in-law, daughter and son-in-law decided we should have a “fun, family float” to Taylor Camp from Riverside, via tubes. Four hours in, popped tubes, cussing spouses, and my husband and adult son now floating together in a one man raft, we learned we were no where near our destination. They promptly evacuated the river, opting instead for land. They left my sister-in-law and I and walked down the railroad tracks toward the camp. They then had to come back to find us and we all walked forever to reach our destination. I really was out that time.
So, you all enjoy your freezing cold, fast moving, ever changing body of rocks, sinkholes and snakes and I will lay comfortably on top of my air mattress in a pool or 200 feet of water on a still lake. As long as I don’t have to touch the bottom. I will remain where I can see snakes long before they slither over me and never get cuts, bruises and concussions or feel that gross stuff under my feet for the rest of my life because a river girl I am not. (And I didn’t even tell you about the whole trot line, snake, snapping turtle, night river experience).