Howard County Times

Fourth of July on Potomac leaves Janet in a whirl

Ten years ago, if you were to ask people my age if they liked their beverages on the rocks, they would assume you were taking their cocktail order. They would never think you were offering them a water bottle to enjoy while coursing down the Potomac River rapids on an inner tube.

My, how times have changed. And not necessarily for the better.


Admittedly, it was my idea to go whitewater tubing to celebrate America's birthday. I felt certain that our forefathers would have approved, because tubing is the sort of adventurous activity that George Washington would have embraced had he not been concerned with jettisoning his powdered wig and shattering his remaining teeth.

I signed my family up for the ultimate whitewater tubing experience in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. We drove about an hour to the adventure company's headquarters and stood in line at 11 in the morning with many patrons who appeared to have driven directly from an all-night bachelor's party. When we got to the counter, we presented our prepaid reservations and signed broad indemnity waivers that basically certified that we had the intellectual capacity of the inner tubes. Then we marched up to a pavilion to watch a safety video.


The video was filled with schematic people encountering unfortunate whitewater situations. In America, any time there is anything dangerous depicted in training films, it's generally obscured by scientific facts and jargon. So the video was replete with elaborate diagrams, superimposing complex arrows and lines indicating water flow, illustrating how you should curl up into a ball when going over steep waterfalls. I thought, "If I find myself going over a steep waterfall, I sure hope I remember to let the helpful arrows of science point me toward the surface or I will surely flow into a death spiral and join our forefathers in a better place, where 'on the rocks' has a happier meaning."

The video also cautioned that you should never stand up in water deep enough to swim in, because your feet could get caught and you could end up not celebrating John Adams and the rest of his gang at the Fourth of July festivities but celebrating with them.

My favorite part was when the announcer stated: "Finally, if you don't understand something your instructor tells you, ask him to repeat the instruction until you are confident that you do."

When the video was over, our instructor told us where to board the bus to the river's edge.

"Where again?" I asked. She repeated her instruction until I was sure I got it.

My family marched gamely onto the bus. We arrived at the embarkation point and got into our tubes, paddling with our arms to the side of the river where the current was swiftest. My family glided away, while I was immediately pushed onto a series of rocks in the shallows, where I remained for quite some time. This situation was not addressed in the video.

"Hey, Mom," my son yelled, "what are you doing way over there?"

"The river took me here," I shouted back. "It knows what it's doing!"


Eventually, I started paddling to join my family, thus activating the whitewater version of the classic kiddie teacup ride. I'd go over one small rapid, then head backward over another, bump a rock and spin in the opposite direction toward yet another series of turns. I started to wish I was wearing a motion-sickness patch. I began to feel really, really nauseated.

Fortunately, I was treated to pristine, distracting scenes of lots of wildlife, including groups of guys chugging beers on rocks and listening to "Bad to the Bone." This made me realize that if I were to become violently ill over the side my tube, someone would probably just float by and hand me a beer.

Ain't that America?