Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Rafting with Kids

I was going through my folders over the weekend to clean them out, and I came across this article I had written for Wyoming Elements.  It came out in their 2012 issue, but I can't link to the site because it seems the magazine is no longer in existence.

Either way, rereading it made me think of that day, and I laughed.  It seems like ages ago when this trip happened, and so much has changed since then.  We no longer have the raft, and I can't tell you the last time we went camping.  The boys have gone, but we haven't.  Still, it was fun to take a trip down memory lane.

Rafting with Kids

My husband and I have always enjoyed the outdoors. We spent our honeymoon camping at Rob Roy. Whenever we had the desire to get out of town for a while, we threw some clothes in a bag, loaded the cooler with whatever was in the freezer, and grabbed the camping gear. It didn’t take long to get ready to get out of town. If we forgot something, we lived without it or made do with what we had.

As time went on, and we got careers, it became more and more difficult to get out of town. Then, we got pregnant with our first child. We tried not to let it hold us back. If we wanted to get out, we’d still get out. But those times got fewer and farther between. I wasn’t particularly fond of having to get up in the middle of the night to feed the baby, especially in a tent. My in-laws offered to let us use their camper, but setting it up seemed like such a hassle. Our oldest was just reaching the age when I felt comfortable taking him out when I got pregnant with our second. Again, it put our outdoor adventures on hiatus.

One of my husband’s and I’s favorite past time is floating the river. We had an old raft that was inherited from my husband’s dad, and we outfitted it with a new frame and oars. The floor leaked, it had different colored patches on the pontoons. It didn’t look like much, but it did the job. I even did some fly fishing from the stern seat. Not a lot, mind you, as I enjoyed just taking in the scenery and being very lazy. Occasionally, I would take the oars so my husband could fish, but that didn’t happen often, either. Most of the time, I didn’t do it right.

Like camping, our float trips were put off for a while until the boys got bigger. If I was nervous taking them into a tent or camper, it was ten times worse taking them on the boat. There was no protection from the sun. They couldn’t lay down if they got tired, and they definitely didn’t make life jackets that small.

A few years ago, my husband got a new raft, made specially for him. He had the company paint the entire thing black. It has a self-bailing floor, and no patches on the pontoons. We even had a bow seat put in, so now everyone who goes can be comfortable. It was a year before I got out onto the new raft. Mainly because someone had to stay home and watch the boys.

Now, my children are 3 and 5. The youngest started camping when he was 18 months. That was a real treat. He had just learned to walk, so he wasn’t quite steady on his feet, and he hated to get his hands dirty. I’m sure he thought camping was a form of torture. Every time he fell over, he freaked out. The trip wasn’t exactly relaxing.

Packing for an outdoor adventure is no longer a quick task, either. It takes me at least 2 hours to make sure I have everything we need. Sunscreen, extra clothes, snacks, drinks. All of it has to go into a bag, or several bags, as I found out. Recently, we went for a float down the North Platte River up by Alcova. “The Reef” my husband tells me it’s called.

The weather was ridiculous hot. In the upper 90s with very little wind. There was a small breeze, and it was wonderful. The boys had been on the raft one time before, but it was only a short trip. This was my first trip out, and the longest for the boys. It was going to be interesting. By this point, though, they had life jackets they could fit into, and both of them had swim lessons, so I didn’t worry too much. Besides, I wasn’t going to let anything happen to them.

I started packing for the trip the night before. I made sure we had plenty of water, pop, snacks, chips, sunscreen, hats, and clothes in case the ones the boys had on got wet or if the weather suddenly took a turn for the worst. We didn’t have everything we needed, so we stopped at the store before we left town to get sunglasses and fishing poles. We made it to the drop in spot a little later than anticipated, and it took longer to get the supplies in the boat. There was a lot more than we normally take. Cooler, fishing poles, dry bag, bag with snacks, everything we needed, and some stuff we didn’t, all had to go in. My husband even commented about how much stuff we had, but we had an entire day, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.

The trip started out great. The boys were excited to be on the water, although a little nervous at first. I’m sure they were just picking up on my vibes, though. Once we were on the river, everyone just relaxed. The current wasn’t flowing quickly, about 3500 cfs, so the trip was going to take us several hours. I was okay with that. When I’m on the boat, I want to enjoy it for as long as I can. The boys, however, were a different story.

Immediately after getting on the water, they wanted their fishing poles. I had the 5 year old in the stern with me, while the 3 year old was in the middle with Dad. Several times, he attempted to cast the line himself. He swung it back as far as he could, and I watched the hook arc through the air, coming dangerously close to Daddy’s head. I had visions of the hook anchoring itself in my husband’s face, so I had to take matters into my own hands. I helped the 5 year old cast and he reeled in his line. He was determined to catch a fish, and he was going to keep it up until he did. The 3 year old felt the same way. His Spongebob fishing pole was going to land him a big one.

After half an hour to 45 minutes on the water, we decided to pull over for lunch. We found a public spot and pulled up to the bank. The husband and I ate, the boys didn’t. After all, they’d already filled up on chips and granola bars before getting in the boat. They decided to wade into the water and fish. They stayed fairly close to the boat, but we also tried to keep enough distance between the two of them so they didn’t hook each other. At one point, they drifted closer to the boat and to each other. The next thing we hear is a blood-curdling, ear piercing scream echoing across the landscape. The 3 year old hooked the 5 year old.

From the way he reacted, I thought for sure he had gotten him in the eye or the ear. They were closest to my husband, so he picked up the 5 year old, and I had the 3 year old come to me. By this point, both of them were crying. Upon examination of the 5 year, it became apparent he was hooked in the meaty part of his shoulder.

Normally, I don’t handle crises situations very well. I’m apt to panic and my panic causes everyone else to panic. But in this situation, I wasn’t worried. The hook was buried in his skin up to the bend, but he wasn’t going to lose anything vital. That’s not what the 5 year old thought, though. In fact, he was pretty sure his young life had come to an end. He was screaming and crying and shaking. He didn’t want Daddy to touch it, but it had to come out. I told him take deep breaths, and he did, calming him down slightly.

After a few minutes and having to cut his t-shirt with a knife, my husband was able to get the hook out. I was being slightly insensitive and trying not to laugh. Seriously, another boat drifted by at the beginning of the debacle, and I’m sure they thought someone was dying. The 5 year old’s scream was that terrifying. Once the hook was out, he headed toward me on the boat, and I cleaned it off with water. Of all the things we packed on the boat, we forgot the First Aid kit. It was fine, though, since I had tissues, so we stopped the bleeding, the very minuscule bit there actually was.

“I hate fishing!” the 5 year old declared loudly. “I’m never going to do it again!”

“Oh, come on now,” I soothed. “You’ll do it again. You’ll just have to wait until you’re a little older.”

He sniffed a few times. “Yeah. I’ll do it when I’m older.”

The 5 year old was, of course, very mad at his brother. His brother, also, was mad because we told them they were done fishing for the day. They might have been fine, and no one else might have gotten hooked, but we weren’t going to take the chance. That made the rest of the trip tedious. Since the boys didn’t have anything to keep them occupied, they got bored. We had brought squirt guns, but those were only so fun. The whining started. It was hot. They were bored. So Daddy suggested the next best thing: hanging off the side of the boat and dipping their feet in the water.

Oh, I was thrilled. I had visions of the boys slipping into the water and I’d have to jump in after them. So, I made them come right next to me so I could hold onto their arms. Unfortunately, their life jackets didn’t have handles on the back. That would have been nice, on many different levels, but we made it work. The boys were happy and not bored, which stayed the whining, but I wasn’t relaxing. It was a small sacrifice to make to ensure the kids’ happiness.

My husband and I still enjoying getting out as much as we can, but we’ve discovered it’s completely different games taking the boys. It’s always an adventure. We figure out new things we need to add to our list of things to take. One day, I’m sure we’ll have a trip that doesn’t involve any crying or something bleeding. Until then, we’ll just make the best of the trip we can and hope to instill the love of nature into our children.

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