All summer, I have wanted to take the family tubing on the Ottertail River. Unfortunately, our summer weekend weather didn't cooperate and the one time we had firm plans we ended up having to cancel. I was worried with Fall fast approaching, we wouldn't be able to get this activity done this summer.
Since the weather looked like it was going to cooperate after church (Aug 23rd), I announced "We are going to go tubing today!" I was on a mission. This WAS going to happen no matter what! As it turned out, the girls were able to invite their friends JB and Kallen to come with us. So, we have a group of 4 kids and 2 adults ready for our River adventure by 1:00 PM.
Steve and I didn't have a very clear plan where we should get in and get out of the river. We had been to the Broken Down dam in July and had seen a large group of tubers playing and jumping from it. We looked on-line and found a detailed map. We decided to enter at the public access at mile 61.4 near Wall Lake and to get out at mile 53.4 before the Mount Faith Ave/Main Street Bridge. At least that was our plan.
The whole tubing idea was rather loosely thrown together and at the end, I thought I would pass on what we learned on our tubing adventure in terms of How NOT to tube on the Ottertail River.
1. Quickly glance at a map on-line, point at the monitor where you think would be a good place to enter and exit the river and then get in your vehicle and go. We drove around for 20 minutes trying to find that public access point and Steve finally stopped a guy on his lawnmower to ask for directions. (Lesson learned: Print out your map and take it with you, so you know exactly how to get to the Public Water Access and save a bunch of time.)
2. Just grab whatever you have that floats, blow it up and jump in the river. Turns out, you should use a real tube when tubing on the river. Loungie, half tube sling thingies (like the blue one Kippy is standing next to) are not a great idea because you ride way too low in the water, they are hard to control and you will get bumped and banged up by rocks and other debris along the way.
3. Safety, shm-afety. Don't bother with life vests. The river isn't deep. Only one kid had a life vest on and he was also well protected in a real tube with a bottom to it. In hindsight, I would have had all of the kids wearing life vests for the simple fact that if you got tipped over in your tube (which happened to me) and then hit your head (didn't happen to me) or whatever, it would be nice to have a vest on.
4. Go tubing barefoot. Guess what? Sometimes you have to stand up with your tube and walk on some jagged, rough rocks and bare feet hurt! Steve had water shoes on and my girls had their crocks on which were a good idea. Kallen and I had flip-flops with, but we couldn't wear them and just had them thrown inside JB's tube. I ended up with huge bruise in the arch of my left foot. Wear WATERSHOES! See also point number 6 below.
5. Don't be bothered with checking the weather forecast. Turns out, it takes almost 3 hours to float 8 miles down the river. The once bright sun was eventually covered with clouds. Our two kids got cold. Mostly because they didn't have tubes but loungers and were almost fully submerged the entire time, thus all their body heat got sapped by the water. The clouds eventually released rain on us, but thankfully that was just at the time we had gotten back into the van at the end of our adventure. It would have helped if Kippy would have worn a t-shirt. On the positive side, we did at least put sunscreen on everyone!
6. Don't read the map ahead of time or have your route planned out. As we were getting closer to Hoot Lake Dam, Steve saw an orange warning sign which had a picture of a canoe broken in half. He quickly grabbed Abby and JB's tubes and stood up in the strong current, which was just below his knee, while shouting to me to grab the Kallen and Kippy. We got the kids stopped and had to help them in them scramble across rocks and climb up a steep bank all while managing the tubes. We ended up walking through weeds and across gravel to get past Hoot Lake Dam. We thought we would find a good place to just get back into the water, but we didn't. And since our van was only a 1/2 mile away, we ended up schlepping beside the river with our tubes until we reached it. Later, when we got home we looked at the detailed map again and it specifically says, "54.0 Hoot Lake Dam and Power plant. Depending upon water conditions, experienced paddlers can make it through. Others should portage on the left (difficult portage)." You could say that again! Next time, we are going to exit at Broken Down Dam. Period!
Despite, bumps, bruises and leaches we actually did have a lot of fun. (I forgot to mention the leaches... Kippy had two leaches on her foot and Steve had one on his foot. Not a big deal, but something to be prepared for when wearing shoes in the water.)
Next time we go tubing; however, we will do things a little differently based on what we learned. I'm am also thinking a water proof camera would be a great idea!
We also want to make sure we continue to:
1) Have friends with. There was a lot of laughter and fun that with just our family wouldn't have happened. Friends make everything better. (I can only imagine the amount of whining my kids would have done if their friends weren't along with).
2) Enjoy the beautiful scenery while floating down the river.
3) Keep a good attitude about the adventure. The kids were all amazing! We didn't really know what we were getting into, and were grateful to have happy, flexible, adventurous kids with us.
4) Enjoying ice cream cones and reliving the adventure together after we were done.