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One river. One tube. Two people who shouldn't ride on a tube together

Columnist Steve Lange recounts a Zumbro River tubing trip gone horribly, horribly wrong, in so many ways.

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Ten years ago this summer, at a private campground near Whitewater State Park, wife Lindy, our three kids and I spent a long weekend camping with another couple – Danny and Clara – and their two kids.

I have changed the names of the other couple, for reasons that will become painfully apparent shortly.

We rented tubes for an hour-plus trip down the Zumbro River.

We all started down the river, laughing and splashing each other. Just like the beginning of "Deliverance."

Emma, our 4-year-old daughter, was in her own tube. Nine of us; nine tubes. We floated and laughed, laughed and floated.


Then something went terribly, terribly wrong.

One by one, everyone in front of me was carried by the rushing river around a blind corner. Then I heard Lindy yelling. Then Clara. Then Emma crying.

A fallen branch was hanging low across the fast-moving river and, as the tubers grabbed the branch to maneuver underneath, their tubes tipped over. Lindy's tube tipped over. Then Clara's. Then Emma's. Clara and Lindy ran to get Emma. I jumped out of my tube to help out.

The next thing we knew, Lindy and Emma were safely back on one tube, being carried quickly downriver.

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Clara and I were left standing in the middle of the Zumbro. We had one tube between us.

We were maybe 20 minutes into the hour-long tube ride. We were in the middle of nowhere.

"You take the tube," I said. "I'll just walk back." Then I took about three barefoot steps on the rocky riverbed and realized I'd never make it back alive.

Clara realized it, too. This had become a survival situation.


Somehow, we had to get down the river on one tube. Which – trust me here – is much more difficult than it sounds. I dare any of you to pick any one of your friend's spouses and try to get both of you on one tube.

We tried everything: Back to back. Side to side. Front to back. Front to front. Side to front. Her front and side to the back of my front.

Every attempt, the tube tipped over. Or just felt too wrong.

Finally, we decided Clara should sit in the tube like she normally would and start down the river. I'd get on any way possible.

Here, then, is how we ended up: with Clara sitting in the tube and me lying face down with my stomach across her lap. I was blocking her tube handles. That is not a euphemism. I was, literally, blocking her tube handles.

We bounced over rocky rapids, spun past sandbars, ducked under branches.

At one point, two men stared at us from the riverbank as we floated past. No one said a word.

After 15 minutes or so, we caught up enough to see Lindy and Emma on one long stretch of river. Lindy was yelling.


"What's she saying?" Clara asked.

Lindy was yelling she wished she had a video camera. To post this on YouTube.

Finally, we floated around a corner and saw my son, Henry, 9, who had managed to not only catch up to my lost tube but also was able to stop himself along the river's edge to wait for us to catch up.

Then Henry saw us. He saw his father lying atop his friend's mother. The look on his face was the same look I'd seen a few months earlier, when I let him watch part of "Poltergeist."

I jumped off Clara's tube and onto mine, and we made it back to the pickup point just in time to meet the truck to take us back to the campground.

That night, over the campfire, we decided to tell scary stories.

Mine started like this: "One day, two families decided to go tubing."

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

Opinion by Steve Lange
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