Non-Khaki-Scouts Seek Aquatic Outdoor Adventure
February 26, 2015 7:01 AM   Subscribe

This summer, my nine year-old son and I want to journey down a local creek on some form of inflatable vessel. Help us have a watery adventure! Difficulty level: we are nerds, NOT grizzled outdoorspersons.

Last summer, Wee Thumbscrew (age 9) and I spent a lot of time hiking/playing around the Neshaminy Creek. We looked this creek up on Google Maps, and it apparently meanders all over our area and directly through the recreation area of a nearby state park. We started talking about how it would be SUPER-COOL to hop on an inflatable raft (or conjoined inner tube) near our house, then make our way downstream, eventually disembarking and catching a ride from a friend in the state park.

What I wanna know is: IS this goal achievable? How do we achieve this goal? What do we need to know before we go? What challenges might we face? Where can we learn more about how to do this?

Relevant info: as far as I know, the creek has no raging rapids or waterfalls along its length. It's pretty shallow and gentle. Wee Thumbscrew and I are not strong swimmers, nor do we have much outdoor experience. We do have people who'd be willing to pick us up at any point along the creek. We are willing to incur discomfort and mild risk, but not to flat-out DIE in pursuit of our impromptu lazy river trip.
posted by julthumbscrew to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's information from a meet-up for kayakers.

It seems that this creek is navigable by kayak or canoe, and doesn't really seem to lend itself to rafting or tubing.

You guys interested in taking up kayaking?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:17 AM on February 26, 2015

Before you go off on your own, I would suggest going through a kayak/innertube outfitter who will rent you equipment, provide transportation to & from the start/end points as well as give you guidance on the route to take.

After you've done that a few times, you might consider your own adventures, but i certainly wouldn't start with that, despite how "cool" it would be.

The creeks that aren't used, also generally aren't maintained as well for trees/other obstacles that are blocking traffic downstream.
posted by TheAdamist at 7:20 AM on February 26, 2015

With your reference to being nerds, maybe a guided trip would be a better option? At least that way you are with others in the event you need assistance. A tandem kayak or canoe, possibly with outriggers for stability until you get used to things, might be a good choice as they can't deflate at inconvenient times.
That said, get out there and have fun with your son!
posted by a3matrix at 7:22 AM on February 26, 2015

How many miles are you thinking about going? Do not underestimate how freaking slow a river can flow. I have gone tubing on the Saco River in New Hampshire (generally regarded as a good river for tubing - you can rent tubes and go on organized tours and such) and spent all afternoon going just two or three miles. It was fun, but we actually ran out of beer and water because it took so much longer than we expected. We were going like one mile an hour. And for what it's worth on the same river, in a different summer, starting a few miles further down we went much further and much faster.

I agree it would be a good idea to try an organized tubing/rafting adventure trip first. A good outfitter will teach you skills for avoiding trees and such, and teach you what to do if you fall out of your tube, etc.
posted by mskyle at 7:23 AM on February 26, 2015

Apparently my link didn't work.

Try that. FYI, this is about 4 years old, but I thought it had some good information in it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:27 AM on February 26, 2015

Former professional whitewater guide (Ocoee, 1989-1995) here: Along with hypothermia, the primary concern in whitewater or running water is entrapment. This comes from two major sources:
  1. Foot entrapment, where the victim attempts to stand up in running water, gets a foot caught, falls over, and is dangled downstream underwater by their foot. This will kill you in water no deeper than your wrist to your shoulder, and it takes a team of people experienced in rope work to extract the body.
  2. "Strainers", or water running through trees or brush along the side of the river.
#1 is both easy and hard. It's easy because there's a simple solution: Don't stand up in running water. Let your PFD/life jacket float you, turn your feet downstream and get your toes above the water. Let your butt hit the rocks, backstroke 'til you can get to shore. Never been a case of buttock entrapment.

It's hard because it's easy to be the adult. I had a harsh wake-up when there was a boat full of guests pinned to a rock in the middle of the river and I was making my way out. Traversing one chute I had this moment of "damn, I hope we can get the boat free and don't have to evac them, because if they were doing what I'm doing right now, the... oh shit. What differentiates me from them is that I'm supposed to know better!"

#2 is easy: Don't get on rivers at flood stage, when water is running through the trees. Except that often when it's not, rivers are rocky difficult walks, not beautiful pastoral floats.

One other danger: With a raft or boat, getting caught downstream of a boat and upstream of an obstruction.

With the safety stuff out of the way, assuming you're talking hot summer day when you can stand up to warm up, and that you'll have PFDs to go along with whatever raft/tube you ride.

Note that the Seyvelor or whatever they are cheap vinyl rafts won't last more than one rock hit. You're really talking innertubes. Serious whitewater paddlers will suggest that tubers are a superclass of potato, but I think the only real issue here is what mskyle suggests: This could turn into a 5 mile walk down the creek, and walks on rocky slippery surfaces have a tendency to be distinctly not fun. Definitely try to do a shorter stretch first. A mile or so of careful picking your way along rocks can easily be 2 hours of frustraction, enough distance to give you the feeling of bad-ass adventure, but not enough to be melt-down freak-out territory.

Understand who owns the property along the creek; the fact that you can get a boat down it may make it a "navigable waterway", but convincing armed property owners of this legal detail is an experience I can highly recommend avoiding.

I'd do this with two prerequisites:
  1. Take a guided trip first. This can be bigger water than you'd run alone, but it'll give you an awesome thrill, teach you basic safety, and be fun. If a bit pricey.
  2. Find some place to do a rented shuttled trip.
  3. Now that you have a feel for water, yeah, go out and explore! And this may be where you consider finding some old kayaks, or a basic raft, and start to take this up as a serious hobby.
But if you're stuck on big adventure right off the bat (and I've had some amazing adventures that have left me saying "holy crap I'm never doing that again", but I've got some damned good cocktail party stories):
  1. Good fitting PFDs.
  2. Get a high quality dry bag, put in polypropylene or other synthetic long underwear or warm tops and bottoms for two people, and a bunch of energy bars or other calorie source, just in case everything goes to hell (and if you don't pursue the hobby, throw that dry bag in the back of your car, a good rescue kit will get used at least once more than you expect in your life).
  3. Wear good river shoes.
  4. Don't buy a pool raft and expect it to last more than a few hundred feet on a creek.
  5. Start off with way smaller stretches of river than you think reasonable.
And have fun.
posted by straw at 8:08 AM on February 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

(Oh, one other big hazard on rivers big enough to have them: Undercut rocks. The pictures suggest that this creek doesn't have the slope to really kill you, but... yeah. There are plenty of very easy rapids with what we termed a "high fuck-up factor", as long as you used the 95% of the river that was safe, no problem, but get in that one place, and... entrapment'll kill ya.)
posted by straw at 8:11 AM on February 26, 2015

Tyler State Park (map) has canoe rentals.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:17 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might want to contact Tyler State Park or your local water quality agency to check that the water is safe for swimming. If the creek passes through farm areas it could have high levels of E. coli or other bacteria. If it passes through industrial areas that could also create pollution you would not want to swim in. It's possible areas upstream of farms/industry have acceptable swimming conditions but downstream is unacceptable. Check it out. Plenty of people still swim in polluted waters, but you may want to understand if it is a risky waterway.
posted by littlewater at 8:37 AM on February 26, 2015

I go tubing a lot. I love tubing. I wish someone had taken me tubing when I was nine. I can't speak as to your particular waterway, and whether it's safe or not, because I'm in a different state and generally only tube on rivers that have a innertube/canoe rental business established. But I can talk about how to have an awesome tubing trip!


rope for lashing tubes together, cut into lengths so you don't need a knife or scissors

a cooler tube & cooler (this particular model has lasted me plenty of trips & doesn't strictly NEED a cooler inside)

sandwiches (i like to take a whole loaf of bread out of the plastic bread bag, make them into sandwiches, put them in individual plastic bags, then place the sandwiches BACK in the bread bag, "reassembling" the loaf of bread; it saves space and gives a double layer protection against wetness)

waterproof speaker case for listening to music (if you do not go this route, make sure you have an alternate plan for keeping your phone dry!)

a dry bag (I've survived without it but they're really nice to have)

a zillion beers and ice (or you know, pop for the kids)

waterproof sunscreen

bug spray

watershoes or sandals that buckle onto your ankles! the water WILL suck flip flops off your feet and stepping on a sharp rock with the arch of your foot is a million times worse than stepping on a lego!


I'm not gonna tell you to disregard straw's advice - I am not taking about whitewater rafting here, but lazy river tubing - but when you need to get your flotilla over/around an obstacle, it's soooooo much easier if everyone gets out of their tube and helps versus one person trying to drag everyone else to safety

bring way more beer than you think you need (this advice is for future tubers who might be reading this, not your nine year old, obviously)

you will be STARVING afterward and need a hamburger, even if you ate sandwiches the whole time
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:39 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of the fondest memories of my childhood was when my non-outdoorsy family and another non-outdoorsy family canoed our neighborhood creek. It was a wonderful adventure, and none of us had any idea what we were doing. All of the precautions above for whitewater and such make good sense, if that's what you're facing, but if it's really more of a neighborhood creek scenario, I'd encourage you to be brave and try it out! You can always call it quits if it seems to be overwhelming.
posted by judith at 12:04 PM on February 26, 2015

Try tubing down the Delaware River starting just outside Frenchtown, NJ. There are a couple of tubing outfitters in New Hope and Frenchtown. I had gone a few times with them then figured, hey I can do this on my own! I organized 10 friends to buy tubes, pack lunches and drinks and had a blast. Bulls Island State Park and Washington Crossing has river access so you can also bring tubes and wade around the water while picnicking. Me mail for details,if you'd like.
posted by IndigoOnTheGo at 2:47 PM on February 26, 2015

When I was eight, we went tubing a lot on a local gentle river. We honestly never even went a whole mile, and yet it was super cool and felt like an adventure. I think even if you do a couple of short "trips" first to get the hang of it, your son will find it lots of fun.
posted by lollusc at 4:40 PM on February 26, 2015

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