“We’ll be there in about an hour.” Howard says over the phone to the Kittatinny registration woman. “Yeah, the three-hour tour. The three-hour tour.” Howard sings it the second time to the tune of, what else? Gilligan’s Island. Amazingly, she had never heard that before. Why is everyone getting so damn young?
Howard hangs up and addresses his troops.
“We’re going rafting!”
Howls and cries of pain answer him. Both Michael and Julius vie for loudest dissident, only Tyler is on board. “I guess I shouldn’t have told them all those “scary” river rafting stories this week.” Howard quietly confesses.
I’m appalled. “You did not!”
Howard shrugged. “They wanted scary camp-fire stories so I thought since we were going rafting this weekend, I’d make it…”
“It wasn’t so bad. I had some people falling out of the boat. Maybe one of the boats got away with just the kids, losing them down river…”
“Good going dad.” I am shaking my head so fast I look like I’m shivering. “Well this is going to be fun.”
“You hear that boys!” Howard yells loudly and winks at me, “Mommy just said, this is going to be fun!”
I shiver some more.
Somehow I manage to get them dressed, fed and into the car. I sucker my mom into coming. It wasn’t hard, she’d do almost anything to hang out with the boys. It’s mostly for my entertainment though. My mom’s a screamer, and I was pretty sure I’d need some humor stranded on a raft for hours with crying children.
We drive the half hour or so, cross over into Pennsylvania and arrive at Kittatinny Tours, where a very serious safety rep informs a busload of us antsy adventurers the rules. “We are heading six miles up the river. You will be given life vests and a raft/canoe/kayak. Wear your life vests. Always. Normally the six miles takes around three hours but because the water levels are low today, it could be more like four. When you go under the black bridge you’re almost done. Wear your life vests. Have a great trip.”
The bus peels out of the parking lot. We’re on an amusement park ride called Crazy Bus Driver. We speed the 15 minute drive with a mountain on one side and the river looming below. The road is a never-ending series of S’s which she takes like an Indy 500 hopeful. There may be life vests for the water, but there are no seat belts on the bus. So apparently it’s okay to die on the road.
We make it alive, and are rewarded with a raft and vests. After a series of false starts, we are off. Julius, usually so tough, was very afraid, mostly of the rocks; especially after the first few times Howard and I rammed directly into one, got stranded and had to propel ourselves off with our oars. He kept crying and saying over and over with obvious distress, “You don’t know what you’re doing!”
“My story may have had rocks tipping the boat,” Howard whispered. I grit my teeth. It just keeps getting better.
My mom is cowering in the back of the raft. When she came aboard in her cute gold sandals, jeans and perfectly applied lipstick, she didn’t realize what she had signed up for. “Maybe you could drop Julius and I…?”
“On the side of the river, mom?” Her face fell. She was crying on the inside.
For the next few hours, we float and row. Row and float. The rapids are not really rapid, but it is a long trip and each child does his part to add to the crying. Occasionally my mom screams. We pass time trying to assess how long we have to go. We know we’re in trouble when Tyler breaks down. He had been the lone supporter on the escapade and watching him crumble was unnerving. “I just want it over already!” He bawled. “It’s forever!” We all agree and blankly set our sights ahead on the same tired, gorgeous scenery.
Then out of nowhere, Michael bursts with excitement and we all turn. “It’s the bridge!” We all cheer. With renewed energy, we plunge the oars into the water. Almost there! After four hours, I can no longer feel my arm, but I row, row, row my boat, to get myself off this river!
And then, cheers again from our boat. We see the parking lot. We have survived! We steer our raft to the gravelly shore. Rubber kisses rocks and we have docked. Howard takes one last poll before we depart. “Come on everyone, who had a good time?” Julius tentatively raises his hand and the other boys slowly follow. “Really, Julius? Would you want to go with daddy again?”
Julius quickly shakes his head. “No way! But at least no one fell in!
“Yeah, no way daddy!” Michael and Tyler concur.
“Let’s plan another adventure!” Howard suggests.
“No way!” We all chant, but I sense something brewing in the back of that man’s head. I really wish I could lift my arm to hit him with an oar.