The Varying Degrees of Tubing.

For family vacation this year, we went to a mountain “resort neighborhood” that might have been the most confusing place we’ve ever visited.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about yet.

While we there, my mom, Ali, and I decided to take a tubing trip down the river that ran through the resort.

The bus was frightening just to behold. But we realized we didn’t know what Bus Fear was until we were on the tiny mountain roads in it, groaning and jolting as it failed in the long ascents, and barreling as it felt way too much like a bus-tragedy-about-to-strike while going downhill.

But before the ride, we were left to sit on the bus and consider our future. Ali looked warily forward to the metal box hanging above the driver’s seat.

“Uh, mom, what does ‘Body fluids cleanup kit’ mean?”

My mom jumped in and started listing off all the instances that could cause a spill of bodily fluids on the upcoming bus ride.

This did not help Ali’s excitement about the ride ahead.

The Mayberry-esque driver bounded onto the bus and began to count. Loudly. Pointing to each passenger as he did so. It felt very much like a kindergarten class skills demonstration.

On the first count, he made it to 34. He threw up his hands and said, “Okay, let’s try again.”

Apparently, 34 was not the number he was looking for.

He started his second round with, “Okay. I got one guy standing up.” Then proceeded to count everyone sitting down, starting at one.

This time, he got to 31.

“Hold on, y’all. I gots ta’ get some help.”

As soon as he exited the bus, all 32 passengers agreed: he never counted the guy standing up. The guy that he singled out to remind himself to count. He was gone long enough for us to do an independent audit and discover that there were actually 32 of us.

He came back with a young guy that looked as if he could count. He quickly checked off that we were all there, and sent us on our way.

Thus began the barreling and groaning.

As we reached the top of a long country hill, the driver stood up, turned halfway around, and announced loudly: “Now I know we don’t have no real air conditioning, but this here is country air conditioning!!”

Then he proceeded to dance wildly, flailing his arms about to…create a breeze? All while the bus careened down the hill.

My cautious daughter gasped and let out a tiny scream.

My Mom, in an attempt to distract Ali, asked her what her favorite part of vacation had been so far. Ali was not ready for conversation. Her bulging eyes turned accusingly to my mom and she screamed, “I have no idea but it’s certainly not right now!!”

Once the driver took his seat again, he decided it was time for a chat.

“Okay. I’m gonna go ahead and go over the safety measures so that when we get to the river, we don’t have to do it.”

He then outlined enough information to print on an 8 1/2 x 11 laminated reference sheet.

“There will be three rapids. On the first one, go right. On the second, go center. On the third, go right. Oh – and there’s a fresh tree down over the river. I’ve heard the rapids will take you right into it – go left! DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR TUBE, and DO NOT GET OUT OF THE RIVER. The river runs through a gated community, and they don’t cotton to me comin’ to pick you up. They give two exceptions: weather and a medical emergency. If you have a medical emergency, exit to the right. If you exit to the left, there are no roads and I can’t come get you. Oh – and right after the third rapids, you need to start lookin’ for stairs on the left – that’s where I’ll be waitin’. That’s the only time you can exit to the left. If you miss them, and it does happen, DO NOT GO UNDER THE METAL BRIDGE. If you go under, you’ll find yourself in rapids that are NOT SAFE FOR TUBIN’, and you’ll have to be on the river for EIGHT MORE HOURS until you dump out into the lake and I can come get you. Got it?”

Everyone looked aghast.

So he continued.

“Oh – and do NOT take anything valuable on this trip. That includes phones. I had a man lose an $800 cell phone and I had begged him to leave it with me. This river will strip everything you care about away from you. Do you understand??”

Ali looked at me, partially horrified, partially judgey, since she knew good and well that I had my phone tucked into the top of my swimsuit.

We had talked Ali into this little adventure by promising (as the tubing employee on the phone had) that it would be a calm, relaxing float along the river – just like a lazy river! Except a real river! Neither the bus ride nor the bus driver’s ominous speech had made her feel confident in our promises.

We got out and began collecting floats and life jackets, and a worker yelled out at our bus driver, “Did ya bring any of the sticks back?”

“Naw, I forgot.”

“They woulda been real useful for the tubers! The river is movin’ REAL slow today.”

Um. Okay.

Ali grabbed a short stick for me as we got in, then I strapped our three tubes together with our life jackets. The float started off calmly, except for the 32 panicking people from our bus – everyone was a bit frightened at having everything they cared about stripped away from them.

Meanwhile, the river was barely moving. And I was doing way more paddling than I had in mind for this relaxing tube ride.

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At the first bend, we approached the first rapids. We went right, remembering our right-center-right directions. They were calm, fun, and not at all stripping away of the things we cared about.

At the next bend, the second rapids. We went center, with the same slightly quickened water pace – just enough to make Ali say “wheee!!” with no fear whatsoever (which should indicate that “rapids” was a strong exaggeration.)

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Notice the giant log my mom is holding? Yeah – she managed to steal that from the banks to help us get down this lake of a river.

We saw the third rapids ahead, right behind the freshly felled tree, and began to question ourselves. We’d only been on the river half an hour – it was supposed to be a two hour trip. Surely our trip wasn’t already over…

But there were no stairs on the left.

So we kept on floating.

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After twenty rapids that were indistinguishable in ferocity from each other and three freshly felled trees, we determined that our driver’s difficulty in counting was not limited to the bodies on the bus.

And also, it didn’t look like two hour time limit was going to happen.

Ali was done after an hour and a half. We kept trying to encourage her, telling her that any minute we’d be spotting stairs.

After another hour, this wasn’t as comforting. She had her chin resting on her fist with a blank look of death-by-boredom on her face.

So I told her, “Tubing and Canoe trips are always a little longer than you want them to be.”

She jerked up and indignantly said, “A LITTLE?!?

Just past the three hour mark, after another set of rapids in which we repeated for the tenth time “Maybe THIS is the third rapids!!”, we saw it. Glorious, glorious stairs.

And about ten feet after the stairs, we saw the ominous metal bridge that promised a waterfall and 8 more hours of tubing.

“DO NOT!! MISSSSSSS!!! THE STAIRS!!!!”, Ali screamed at us.

We paddled with all our might, little branch and big branch, and secured our spot on the return trip of what was actually the part we should have been warned ominously about – the bus ride.

Signs of Vacation.

A flock of Emus in a Wastewater treatment plant…

The Church of Holy Water/Wrestling Federation…

A Labelmakered all-caps toilet instruction – “DO NOT FLUSH ANYTHING BUT TISSUE” – to which we almost left a post-it note underneath it saying, “But where do we put the poo?”…

These are the things I didn’t manage to get photos of on our family vacation.

I hope that the things I did manage to capture will help you forgive me.

Sign 1

So many questions.

1. What were adults using it for?
2. If my son gets stuck at the top, panics, and requires a rescue from his mother, will I be tackled by the Playground Police?
3. Are there other equal provisions for adult play in your city? Or is there an issue of play inequality?
4. What about teenagers? I feel like there is a definite age bracket that is left undefined as to their play legality.

This sign was facing an automatic toilet. A toilet that flushed two times while I was sitting on it.

Sign 2

So….the sign was for me, or the commode?

I appreciated that they acknowledged that at one time they were okay with this. But NO MORE.

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And finally…I just…what to say…except God Bless America.

Wrestling Midget Match

In case you wanted to see where this Battle Royal took place, I captured that for you as well. Not at all creepy or suspect. Not. At. All.

Wrestling

We did not, however, visit that establishment during family vacation. I know you’re disappointed. So am I. It would have made an AMAZING blog post.

Instead, we took our children to Noccalula Falls Park, albeit slightly less educational.

Kids at Noccalula Falls

Ali was intensely more nervous than she looks. She adored the train ride, the petting zoo, the rock stairs, the playground, and every other part of the park – but not having a giant rock ledge hanging over her head.

And no, the logic of “It’s been here for thousands of years” did not help her at all. Nor did “if we die it will be so quick you won’t even know it.”

Escape was sweet.

Train Noccalula Falls b

And she was then able to appreciate the view from the top much more effectively.

Noccalula Falls from the top

Then we moved onward to Guntersville, where we met up with the rest of my family.

To refresh your memory, my family exchanges no gifts during the year (except for the children of course) and instead, we go on a trip together once a year.

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We failed miserably and didn’t get a formal group shot this year, but the above picture sums it up pretty well, except for missing Chris-the-picture-taker. Yes, Noah is still shirtless even on vacation, and yes, Eli is still fantastic at photo facial expressions.

This year, we stayed in a house on Lake Guntersville in beautiful North Alabama, and really didn’t do too much else aside from relaxing on the lake, including “fishing” with Gramamma,

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Paddle boating, for which I discovered I was extremely fond of and maybe even a little obsessed,

Paddle Boating

(and it was made all the more rewarding by my mapping and logging it like a dweeb,)

Map My Run Paddleboating

And playing an intricate mermaid game in the water – one that was too secretive to be photographed.

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Inside the house, there were games of Rummikub and Uno, which are, at the age of the children involved, only games that grandparents have enough patience to carry out.

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And of course, the kids did plenty of what kids these days do best.

Kids on Devices

Thanks to my Dad who unofficially volunteered to be my evening chauffeur (most likely because he wanted a moment of silence), I was able to catch the sunset every night.

First Sunset

Second Sunset Later

Second Sunset

Third Sunset

I even broke my most important rule and…got a sunrise picture.

Sunrise

While running with Chris earlier than I even like to acknowledge exists.

Sunrise Run

Because I’m that obsessed with running. It’s like sleep doesn’t even matter anymore. But more about that in a later post.

Sunrise Third Picture

When you’re in a place as beautiful as Guntersville, it’s best to break a few rules to get to appreciate it at its finest.

Wayne Feeds

………….especially since vacation ended with health death for half the family.

Bored at Doctor Visit

Noah and I were the first to crumble, to what the doctor told us was “just viral” but turned out to be quite bacterial and in need of antibiotics. Why do doctors hate me so?

Doctor Visit

Others have since fallen, Ali included, and Noah and I are on our fifth day of impending fatality. Family vacation has its price.

While Noah and I were at the doctor, we ran across a couple more fantastic signs – such as, the most depressed looking stick figure ever created. I want to be the kind of person that can convey such depth of emotion with so little detail.

Can't Go

And yet more puzzling flush instructions.

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I don’t even know what a toliet is, but I’m assuming it’s French.

But nothing…NOTHING I SAY…will ever compare with this.

Wrestling Midget Match

God Bless America.

I Saw a Bear.

Need I say more?

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Oh wait – yes, yes I do.

Because I saw a bear – and her tiny, precious newborn bear.

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Less than thirty feet from our car.

If it weren’t for the phrase “Mama Bear” being common vernacular, I would have totally scooped that baby up into my arms and cuddled with him – just for a second.

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Instead, I so totally disturbed the wildlife by squealing like a tween girl spotting Justin Bieber in his natural environment.

So OBVIOUSLY, that was the pinnacle of achievement of our family vacation last week.

But here’s how it started.

Ali spent three day’s worth of quiet times packing for our trip.

She had plans, as she is, after all, the oldest cousin and self-appointed Activities Coordinator.

But as I was finally getting around to packing and she presented me with her own multiple “suitcases,” I had a vision of our cleaning deposit sifting through my fingers.

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And of keeping up with all. That. Stuff.

I began delving farther into her bag of preparations. It included a tin that, upon opening, sprayed me with crepe paper crumbs.

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(“But Mom, it’s for crafts!”)

Then another container, housing an entire family of mosaic stickers.

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(“But Mom, I just can’t travel without stickers!!”)

Yes, yes you can.

I explained to her the precious gift that is a mother’s sanity, and then allowed her to pick two out of the three trillion items in that bag to actually take.

Downcast Activities Coordinators are the worst.

But I cheered her up by showing her fantastic photos of the Princess House we were going to stay in on the way to vacation – The General Woods Inn.

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This was the first time we’ve taken the kids to my favorite hideaway spot, so we got two rooms. .

(We cannot, will not, do not sleep in the same room as our children. Call us infidels if you must.)

As soon as we got there and Ali ran up the fantastic staircase, she gasped at the bed in one of our rooms.

“A Princess Bed!! A REAL PRINCESS BED!! PleasecanIhavethisroompleasepleaseplease??”

We agreed, and she quickly got ready for bed, fixed her curtains “just so,” dug with much effort to get underneath the massive pile of covers, and wanted me to take her picture.

“I’ll do a Princess Wave.”

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When we came to get the kids up the next morning, she had closed all of her curtains. A Princess needs her privacy, after all.

We sat on the front porch and enjoyed the majesty of the views,

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then ate a spoilingly luxurious breakfast provided by Ali and Noah’s favorite innkeeper of all time, Kaitlin.

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After breakfast, Ali joined me in my usual appreciation of their wedding setup,

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where she noticed the photo bridge, and pondered wide-eyed, “Wow. I wonder if there used to be an ocean under there…”

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The kids and Chris swam in the pool for a bit, then we headed on to our ultimate destination, but not until Ali left her own entry in the guest book.

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Riding through the Smoky Mountains is always an awe-inspiring drive, and one that we don’t do often enough.

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They really help solidify the fact that Birmingham has hills and hills alone.

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(But I can live with that reality since Birmingham also never makes my ears pop.)

The house we rented was in Wears Valley, Tennessee, and across the street from this view.

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…and the owners had a very special love affair with their label maker.

Labels

(If they ever read this, I’d like to state that the Yahtzee Pencil bag was empty when we arrived, thankyouverymuch.)

We did the things that every family does when on vacation in a cabin in the mountains: we watched YouTube videos on our iPhones.

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…And on our laptops.

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We did get out and see the sights,

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Ali never wavering from her Princess Roots.

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My kids climbed cautiously, looking back every other second to make sure that I was okay with their progress.

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…While their cousins climbed with superhuman speed and complete lack of fear, requiring my brother to scramble up after them to prevent doom.

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We then took the paved but steep trail up to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smoky Mountains National Park.

Some required rides,

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and some required hands,

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But we eventually all made it up to the top, with only a dozen or so complaints.

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And the views were spectacular, despite the growing cloud coverage below us.

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The children, of course, were impressed. Or not.

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To celebrate the pinnacle of our success, we managed to squeeze in family unit photography before (or while) the kids were begging us to leave.

 

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And then all of the energy that the kids lacked going up flowed freely through their little bodies, causing us to have to chase them all back down the mountain.

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The next day, we somehow found ourselves on another hike – to Grotto Falls. This trail was not paved, over twice as long (1.4 miles instead of .5), and had twice the elevation growth.

And it didn’t start out so great, as there wasn’t enough parking on its one-way road. So my brother had to drive over half an hour just to circle the parking lot.

We did not wait for them.

We began our ascent, and it was slow, treacherous (the trail drop-offs completely freaked me out), and long.

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And it was the LEAST worthwhile hike we’ve ever taken.

The crowds indicated that it was The Taj Mahal of the Tennessee Mountains,

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But the falls were a trickle and that trickle was impossible to photograph due to completely unjustified crowds.

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Even Noah disapproved entirely.

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After we made the 1.4 mile trek back down, we went on a Ferris Wheel ride to mitigate our anger issues.

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And then our remaining disappointment in the falls made us believe this somewhat creepy sign,

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where we ended up eating dinner. It was called Friendly’s, and it was a restaurant perched precariously above a waterfall which they were very careful to block anyone seeing from the road.

You know, because they’re friendly and all.

But for a 0.0 mile hike, their falls were SIGNIFICANTLY more impressive than Grotto’s.

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Even though they took issue with nicotine-addicted dogs,

No Smoking Pets

and offered this for the bathroom,

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albeit outfitted with helpful accessories.

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And lest you haven’t gotten the complete feel of this eating establishment, I present to you Toby. And his kitchen.

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But they did have really nice waterfalls. And tasty french fries.

After three glorious days of being together, the cousins worked through all of the necessary iterations of goodbye hugs,

Cousin Goodbyes

and then we posed for our annual family shot.

Family Vacation Photo 2013

And did I mention that I saw a bear?

Because I did.