Tubing in Confluence Park without a tube

“Where are the tubes?” I asked my eldest sister as we arrived at the Platte River. “I didn’t bring any,” she shrugged, “but I have these!” She proudly presented two lounging blow-up pool rafts.

It was the fourth of July and Confluence Park was filled to the brim with families, college kids and dogs. Most of which who were wading in the river enjoying the nice weather.

She has always been a fun sister. Never one to turn down an adventure or a good time. I trusted that if tubes were needed for tubing, she would have bought tubes for tubing. ‘She arrived without tubes, we must not need tubes for tubing,’ I thought.

We began blowing up the rafts, giggling about how light-headed we were and admiring how colorful our pool mats were compared to the other black inner-tubes. “Dibs on the hot-pink one!” I exclaimed.

I stood at the edge of the river, glancing down at my flip-flopped feet. ‘I feel like I should have water shoes. But if water shoes were needed for tubing, I would have bought water shoes for tubing.’ My body was filled with adrenaline and I was convinced that I was as ready as I needed to be.

It was the summer of my sophomore year of high school and my best friend and I did everything together. We were glued at the hip. He was standing behind me at the ready holding the less attractive but arguably better inflated orange pool mat. “This is such a bad idea.” he said while laughing excitedly. He was the smarter one, but I was the stronger influence. “It’s fine. Let’s go.”

‘That was a cool thing to say,’ I thought as I tightened my toes around my flip-flops and hopped in the water.

If the adventure wasn’t enough, the looks we were getting from the innocent bystanders would’ve made this a day to remember. A teenage boy told his mother that what we were doing looked like fun and that he wanted a raft like ours. I was glowing. Once again, I was a strong influence.

We took turns using the two rafts. First it was my best friend and me, then it was my sister and her friend, then it was the two sisters, then the two boys. Each time we tumbled out of the river laughing hysterically and tripping over the river rocks. I remember thinking, ‘that was a close one, I almost hit my head on that rock.’ In retrospect I should’ve been more concerned with this whole situation.

Then it happened, one of our pool rafts popped.

We thought it was the end of the day. We better pack our bags and get going. “It’s not even 2:00 p.m.!” my sister’s friend announced. “Maybe we should go pick up another raft?” someone chimed in. “What if we just take turns with the one raft?” I suggested.

“No.” my sister said looking fearless as ever, “We will go without rafts.”

I could tell that the group was hesitant, even I, the appointed influencer, thought that the idea could use some work. ‘The way she said no was so cool,’ I thought, ‘If we needed rafts for tubing, we would have a raft for tubing.’ My best friend, who was smiling bigger than I had ever seen him smile, was the first to volunteer. “Let’s do it!” he shouted.

We were no longer restricted by rafts and could now go down the river as a group not in groups of two. We discussed holding hands on the way down, but the moment my legs were under water the current grabbed me. At this point I was far from my sister, her friend, and my best friend. My thoughts were in a loop, ‘I might die. I am not a very good swimmer. I lost a flip-flop. I am not a very good swimmer. I might die.’

Who knew that a floating device, even just a thin pool raft, is better than no floating device at all? Looking back, I think all of us kind of knew that.

I crawled out of the river and stood up on the sidewalk, one flip-flop on foot, one flip-flop in hand. The group was making their way to land with a look of shock in their eye that I will never forget.

I slowly raised my flip-flop in the air and screamed in triumph. The others followed suit and threw their hands it the air with joy.

Tubing in Confluence Park without a tube was the dumbest, coolest thing I am proud to say that I will never do again.