Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Moon River

Last weekend was the annual float trip for our company. The past several years it has taken place on the Huzzah River at a facility where we shared a cabin with another couple.  I am not a fan of sleeping on the ground anymore, especially in Missouri in August. The younger associates and their families pitched tents or brought campers along. This year the organizer selected a campground on the Niangua River near Lebanon, Missouri. Unfortunately, all the cabins and rooms in the lodge were already taken when our group signed up, so I called every motel in Lebanon only to find out that they were all booked as well. This was the first indication that the river would be packed with floaters on Saturday.

I am suspicious that all the campsites were already full when the organizer called, judging by where they ultimately put our group. Located by the porta-potties and the dump station for the RVs, I'm convinced that they created space for us once they found out how many were coming. It's all about the almighty buck, after all.

Still not interested in tent camping, ultimately I found a house for the four of us on AirBNB, and as it had a two night minimum during the summer, I booked us for Friday and Saturday nights. The house was perfect for two couples, and it backed up to a city park so it was nice to sit outside and enjoy coffee or another beverage. We drove separately from the other couple as we wanted to take some time to explore the area on Sunday and they needed to get back. We grabbed dinner to go in town and took it out to the campsite Friday night. Most of the group had arrived, with only a couple driving down on Saturday morning, so we sat around the fire until 10 or so before going back to our house.

Niangua River
Saturday morning dawned cloudy and cool, with a revised forecast of rain. By 10:30 we were on the water. Most of our group chose to float in individual kayaks, but a few had rafts or canoes as they had children or dogs with them. I have never seen so many people on a river before! It was packed, and a number of groups had their rafts tied together, creating logjams in the middle of the river and making it difficult to get around them when the channel narrowed. We were on the water maybe 10 minutes before the rain began. At first it was light, but then it poured. We kept thinking it would stop, but it never did. We later learned that they were expecting 4-6 inches of rain that day. The operators had no business sending anyone down the river on Saturday.

With the cool temperature, the rain was not refreshing, but we muddled along. When the thunder and lightning began, it got scary. Jim and I had long since separated from the others in our group as our thought process was to get the heck to the ending as quickly as possible. There was no safe area to leave the river mid-route. We were on the 6 mile float, which normally takes 4-6 hours to complete, depending on how often you stop. We pulled over under a tree for a short break, thinking we might be able to eat our lunches, but it was just too wet even under the tree. We grabbed a protein bar and gobbled that down, but we began to shiver uncontrollably as we were no longer exerting ourselves. We quickly got back in the kayaks and on our way.

Passing the 3 mile marker was very disheartening as we knew we were only halfway done. A lot of people pulled off there, so the river was more open for the second half of the journey. As I came up behind a raft, I saw a young man walking in the freezing river. That can only mean one thing - he was peeing. After he finished he belly flopped onto his raft, causing the other passengers to fly up in the air. Unfortunately that maneuver also caused his swimming trunks to come down. And that is how it came to pass that, despite the clouds, rain and the daylight hours, there was a full moon (as in VERY full) over the Niangua River on Saturday. And I had a front row seat, much to my dismay.

We finally reached the 6 mile marker and drug our soggy selves out of the water. We had paddled the route in 2.5 hours! Thankfully a bus was waiting, though it had all the windows open and no heat going despite the temperature being 59 degrees. Only the intern from our office, her dog and her boyfriend were on the bus from our group. The route back to the campsite was up steep hills on a barely-there, deeply eroded gravel road. The driver had to back down the hill one time to let another bus come down. My only thought was it was possible that we survived the lightning on the river only to die on the bus ride back to camp. We later heard that one of the buses slipped and tipped over, and another one hit a car on the way back.

As  we approached the campsite we were surprised to see that most of our group had either packed up and left, or were in the process of doing so as it was still pouring and predicted to do so throughout the night. How had they beat us back? As it turns out, they all got out at the 3 mile marker and hoped that a bus from our camp would take pity and come and get them. Indeed it did, but they waited 45 minutes in the cold and rain for it to show up. They actually did not get back to camp that much earlier than us.

Back at the house, a hot shower never felt so good. We ate our late lunch, then read or watched t.v. for the rest of the afternoon. That evening we found a really good Italian restaurant where we had dinner, and then played cards up until bedtime. Following breakfast the next morning, the other couple took off for home, and we went to Bennett Spring State Park. Neither of us had been there before, and we wanted to check it out and watch the fly fishing. Of course it had to rain on us there as well.

Bennett Spring State Park
In a fitting end to the weekend, we stopped at Uranus, Missouri, a tourist trap along I-44 where the jokes just seem to write themselves. What a hoot! The general store, in addition to containing the Uranus Fudge Factory, also sold nostalgic toys and candy in addition to fishing equipment, guns and ammo. There was even a shooting range in the back. One stop shopping...

Uranus, Missouri

No comments: