We spent the weekend in Helen, GA, a re-created Alpine village in the north Georgia mountains about a 5 hours’ drive north of Tybee (really more like 6-7 hours when you factor in a gas stop, pee breaks, stopping to eat, construction en route, Atlanta traffic, etc.). This is the 4th year we’ve gone there and we always rent the same (awesome!) cabin about half-way up a mountain in Cleveland, GA. What makes it especially awesome is the beautiful knotty pine throughout; big, back porch with jacuzzi and outdoor fireplace; indoor fireplace with floor-to-lofted-ceiling stone hearth; two master bedrooms with their own bathrooms plus an additional half-bath (for those of you doing the math at home, that’s one bathroom per family member, not including Krypto, as opposed to one tiny bathroom for all to share on Tybee); a loft with pool table (Jack has mad skillz); and a fridge with ice and water dispenser (I know, it’s the little things in life…). We usually go up in the fall to get a taste of “fall foliage” and cooler temperatures, along with corn mazes and other autumnal fun, but decided to go up in the summer and “shoot the ‘Hooch,” which refers to tubing through Helen on the Chattahoochee River.
When I was a kid, my parents would pile my brothers and I in my dad’s Lincoln town car and we would likewise head north about the same distance to Pelican Lake in upstate Wisconsin. We stayed at a family friend’s “wooden cabin” that was really more like a lodge in scale and the adults would drink and play gin rummy while us kids jumped off the dock into the chilly lake for hours on end. Evening fun included looking at the stars and driving to the dump to see if we could spy a bear (we never did). The highlight of the trip was always a whitewater rafting adventure on the Eagle River, which included the rare opportunity to wear our tennis shoes in the water for traction on the rocky, slippery riverbed. We would float for hours and find a sandy shoal to beach our raft, devouring sandwiches and cokes from a cooler and waiting 30 minutes after eating to swim in the cool, clear water.
I say all of this by way of explaining my expectations for tubing in Helen. Granted, I knew floating in a tube would be vastly different than whitewater rafting, but what I didn’t anticipate were the HUNDREDS of other people simultaneously floating down river with us. There are a couple of restaurants right on the river where you can sit and watch the tubers go by, and we had done just that on our previous visits in the fall. So, duh, of course there would be exponentially fewer people tubing when the water temperature dips to hypothermia-inducing ranges. But on a Saturday in July? It was literally a sea of humanity as far as the eye could see. Having said that, it was an interesting mix of people. It’s very family-friendly in that no alcohol is allowed, and we went early enough in the morning that I think we actually missed the really big crowds. I saw all ages: toddlers snoozing in their tubes tethered to a parent; one high school aged-looking girl valiantly attempting to read a paperback book; college-aged coeds clearly sneaking mixed drinks in their allowable water bottles; what was probably a big church youth group or maybe a family reunion with matching t-shirts stopping to swim in a particularly deep area. The water wasn’t low enough to necessitate walking in shallower areas, but it wasn’t exactly high either. We didn’t purchase the optional sticks to push off shallow areas, but most people who had them were more than happy to help out cheapskates like me who occasionally got stuck, usually because I was careened to the side by them in the first place, as they were tethered together into an ungodly large blob of tubes.
The rules stated that no more than two tubes could be tethered together, but clearly we were the only ones following the rules. So Tyler and Jack tethered their tubes and I drifted nearby for a while…until suddenly, I no longer was. With the exception of showering and using the bathroom at home, I am rarely alone (and even in those two examples, there is always a chance that the dog or another family member will barge in nonetheless). I have a fairly long commute to work, but driving requires attention, so I don’t really count that as alone time. Our dog is one who occasionally forgets how to dog and hates driving in a car, so I spent the ride up to Helen with a nervous dog in my lap and a bored 10-year old scootching as close to me as he could. Such comfortable travel!
But suddenly on the river, I was literally just going with the flow. I laid back on my tube, getting slightly dizzy as the current spun me around and around in circles. I occasionally looked up to spy Jack’s fluorescent orange swim shirt and Ty’s bright orange ball cap, content knowing they were tethered together. I closed my eyes, listening to snippets of conversations in different languages all around me, summer bugs buzzing in the trees on the river banks, and birds flitting about overhead. Just as I started to doze off, I recognized the excited shout of my one and only son, “Mom! We’re right here! Grab my hand!” We floated together as a threesome for a bit until Jack decided he wanted to be on his own again and, just like that, I was on my own to simply go with the flow.
All in all, it was a great experience, although I think one that doing once is plenty. Of course, I had nothing but “nice” flip flops that I didn’t want to risk getting wet, so on a couple of occasions I pushed off the rocks with my feet or got off my tube to dislodge from being stuck, so my feet hurt by the end of the line. How could I not have known to bring tennis shoes for the occasion? And did I mention the bugs? Ty got stung by a wasp in the hot tub and there was a spider literally the size of a kumquat hanging out in its web on the back porch. I think we’ll stick to enjoying Helen in the cooler seasons!