We didn’t care about things like SPF back then. When you’re brushing your teeth and spitting into a ditch in the morning, you don’t really think about slathering on sunscreen for the impending trip down a river in southern Missouri. It’s onto the junky retired school bus driven by the canoe outfitter’s scroungiest driver as you pop the first beer by 10 am.
The girls’ weekend float trip -- our freedom on the river.
The kiss of the sun was not a gentle greeting of welcome. Its glare bore down on pale flesh and cooked the epidermis to a fine scorch. Soothing any blisters would happen later that night after stumbling to the filthy bathroom, complete with cobwebs in the corners, broken toilets, and overflowing feminine hygiene product dispensers. You were lucky to not step in someone else’s vomit or fall down on the inevitably wet and scummy concrete floor. Being very lucky meant someone else had enough forethought to bring aloe vera to soothe your over-baked body, aflame with the after effects of too many hours in the elements.
You don’t know misery until you spend the night lying on top of a sleeping bag to seek a little relief from its slick, cool surface. A campground with that sunburn in a stuffy Midwestern July is the last place to find solace for crispy skin. Claustrophobia comes around midnight when the spinning tent walls start closing in. Funny how the front flap zipper was always more difficult to find on nights like that.
Only a gulp of fresh air upon flinging the vinyl opening to the side would quell the nausea. A freezing-cold soda in the cooler’s melted ice helped, too. Clutching a flashlight and willing the old batteries in it to illuminate the inky darkness outside, you’d look for the closest tree behind which you could squat to pee.
Looking back, we were probably irresponsible. Such alcohol binges seem dangerous in hindsight. But, damn, we had fun.
Before gaining our sea legs, my partner and I went bank to bank while figuring out how to rudder the boat and steer it straight along with the current. We’d been canoeing many times before but with the luxury of a brother, boyfriend or someone else more skilled at the helm.
Slapping paddles on the water’s surface to echo their smack against limestone cliffs never got old. Neither did banging the handles on the sides of the canoe to obliviously mock Indian chants. We proved it was possible to take the girl out of the city but not take the idiocy out of the girl. We sang as loud as possible and took dips in the water for bathroom breaks between beers. Red-eared sliders perched on submerged trees didn’t appear to mind as long as we kept our distance.
Walnut tree fronds sticking out of our swimsuit tops were meant to draw attention, no matter how ridiculous they actually looked. Short channels of tiny white caps capsized canoes when the people doing the paddling were too drunk to handle the miniature rapids. And the day always flew by too fast.
Sandwiches eaten at a sandbar meant our toes were nibbled by minnows if dangled in the shallows. We watched crawdads swim small tide pools, too afraid to touch their clipping claws, but almost touch and pull our hands away quickly. We’d brave the current to wade out into the swift moving water and almost be swept bodily downstream, with many butts bruised on the bed of slick rocks.
Before the end of the trip, everyone turned over their vessel - or “tumped,” as we called it - from some mishap or other. Two girls even sunk their boat, which is pretty hard to do floating such a shallow river. We were there for the laughs, no actual skills needed. The waterproof bag brought along never quite did its job.
Campfire smoke brings back traces of those days, although the smell never quite matches that of a summertime wood-burning fire pit ablaze more vividly than our parched skin. Other sensory memories stored deep in the recesses of my subconscious get stoked to the surface from time to time.
One is melted rubber from shoe soles being drug behind the pickup that delivered us back to the campsite. Creating a cloud in the gravel to follow us “home” was hilarious at the time. Our clothes were coated in dust, hair matted to our heads, and the best-tasting, yet disgusting, hot dogs ever cooked over a fire awaited us at our makeshift base. A couple bags of crushed potato chips, worse for the wear of a two-hour drive, and s’mores finished off a delicious post-float meal for our ravenous group.
A few extra six-packs might still be back in someone’s car at the end of the day, left by those ultra-planners who anticipated we’d drink everything else earlier. Well past saturation point, many of us still had the fortitude to stay up late. No one wanted to miss the usual retellings of “remember when.” Old war stories are always the best.
Especially the telling about being struck by lightning on the Niangua during the sudden onset of a thunder storm. The last place to be was in a metal canoe on the water. But that’s a tale for another day.
This bunch of longtime friends looked forward to such an adventure. Amy even found herself collapsed on a chaise lawn chair next to smoldering coals as sunrise woke her the next morning, but that story is also meant for a different time.
Some of the best memories of my young life, a budding adulthood, were born upon those river banks. I can’t help but cringe to think back to all the near misses and potentially broken limbs. We escaped fairly unscathed with most memories intact. If only I’d thought to indelibly capture every single frivolous moment in my mind, as those times could never be recreated.
*Studio 30 Plus prompt - kiss of the sun from KG Waite's original post.
(image via photobucket - source linked)