Turbulent Tubing: A True Story of Nonsensical Courage

The last day at the lake meant six sunburned and tired bodies on a nineteen-foot boat laden with camping gear. Other than swimming in the middle of the lake, an all-time family favorite, the tube remained available for one more ride before heading to the boat ramp.

Down by the Glen Canyon Dam, the crystal clear water called to me. So when Dad asked if anyone wanted to tube, I couldn’t resist. How the others did, I still don’t know.  As I climbed out of the boat and stood on the back platform, I looked at Dad. “Not crazy.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, nice and smooth.” His hands cut through the air with a slow gliding motion, but his suspicious smile left me unsure.

I eyed him. His track record mimicked his smile. “Let Mom drive.”

“No-no, Kam, I got it—nice and smooth.” He nodded, still smiling.

“Don’t bounce me out of the wake.”

“I know, I know. Trust me.” He was not giving up his seat.

The last buckle on my worn ski jacket clicked and I jumped in, the cool water bubbling around me as I resurfaced. I laid back, my hair floating behind me, and took a minute to comb my fingers through the windblown strands before climbing on the tube.  “Dad, easy,” I reminded.

He gave me a thumbs up, and I nodded. Mom held the flag, and as the boat began to glide through the choppy Lake Powell water, she dropped it to her lap.

True to his word, Dad kept the ride comfortable—pleasant. The wind whipped through my wet hair, but not enough for it to sting my face. I bounced along, enjoying my ride. Then, I saw it.

The dreaded tour boat.

Tourists without boats enjoyed riding these ocean-worthy beasts. Able to hold a couple hundred people each, they also had the power to create a wake taller than our boat was long. Without good maneuvering, the wakes could crash over the front of small boats, flooding the floors with an inch or two of water. We called the floods sam-sueys.

I told myself Dad could turn the boat. There was plenty of escape time. But Dad enjoyed tormenting me. I watched as he drove directly into the tour boat’s wake. I froze. My brain commanded my hands to hold on. Fingers clenched the two blue handles. My body secured itself closer to the front of the tube. Don’t let go. The mantra fed my nonsensical courage.

Our boat climbed the wave and fell below the horizon. A mountain of water formed in front of me. I gripped the handles tighter. My body soared through the air, legs and torso dangling several feet away from the water and the tube, but my fingers clung to their mark. An internal argument raged within me. Let go! No, Don’t let go!

I closed my eyes as my breath lingered within my lungs. Sensory input bombarded my body, slowing time. Through my decent, my body rolled back to the tube, arms, torso, legs. I bounced twice before finally landing on the tube, my breath leaving my lungs in a rush.

The boat stopped, and the flag flew into the air. I lay my head on the tube, waiting for the thrumming of my muscles to stop. My arms and legs shook like jelly. My back ached with a newly found tension. The tube started moving toward the boat. Someone was pulling me in. As I neared, I slipped into the water and hung on the boat’s lowered step.

“Dad! A tour boat? I caught air!”

“Sorry Kam, I couldn’t avoid it.” He laughed. I doubted his words. “You did great. Boy, you flew through that air.”

Mom handed me a towel as I slowly climbed out of the water and sank into a shaded seat. “Why didn’t you let go?” she asked.

What answer could I give? Why didn’t I let go? Where had my ridiculous mantra come from? I shrugged, unknowing.

 

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