Epic Conclusion: Danger and a Losing Fight
Located about 30 miles Northeast of Gainesville GA, Helen is quite an interesting place. When the logging industry in Georgia found itself struggling, Helen -which relied heavily on that industry – completely transformed itself into what is now a neat little tourist destination.
To me the most intriguing part of that transformation is that a “hillbilly” logging camp decided to convert itself into an Alpine Bavarian Village; this is an amazing example of entrepreneurial creativity from otherwise simple folk.
When you drive into town today you actually feel as if you were magically transported into Bavaria. The buildings, the street names and even the Huddle House and Wendy’s appear to be German versions of themselves. That, combined with the fact that it is over 30 miles from anywhere with a substantial population, make it a charming little getaway.
Other than the Appalachian scenery the two biggest draws are the Oktoberfest celebration and tubing on the Chattahoochee River. Oktoberfest includes all of the things you might expect: beer, lederhosen, drunken bikers, German style festivities, wenches, dances and of course more beer…for an entire two months.
Best of all (or so I thought) is the tubing on the Chattahoochee River, which is something I’d always wanted to try. Floating through the countryside and village with the occasional small excitement of a rapid had seemed dreamy. Early in our marriage my wife and I lived only seven miles from here, but during that tenure we never actually went tubing. The Fairy Princess (our now six-year-old daughter) was just too young and a regular babysitter was non-existent so our outings were scarce.
Now was our chance. The Fairy Princess was old enough to swim, the weather stiflingly hot and the water cool, gentle and clear. The perfect opportunity…
So on this day, after boarding our inner tubes and setting off along the river, I soon began to feel like Charles Marlow heading up-river in Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness. Like Marlow, (I would love to vent all my anger, frustration, rage and general fussiness over all that came to follow) it was my decision after all and as Conrad once said, “I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.”
“The horror! The horror!”
In my defense the deck from our rented condo overlooked the “Hooch” and by all appearances the river seemed extremely tame. As a matter of fact, if it weren’t for the occasional swirl of water and the happy “tubers” floating by, one might assume that it was…well… barely moving.
Based on this very limited view of the river – which was only about 73 yards of a 450-mile tributary river that empties into the Gulf of Mexico – we decided it would be just fine to place our little Fairy Princess in a rubber donut and send her screaming down a greased ditch of mountain water.
The adventure started out innocently enough. We followed almost all the directions. Soon the placid water revealed a seasoned killer filled with turmoil and jagged boulders. This monstrous adversary’s first strike utilized these weapons to flip the fairy princess out of her tube. She was fine; this was manageable, as long as I used my guiding stick to muscle and fight our way through the “right” passages. It was still fun. This first episode was merely a warning. Remember the 80’s horror film where people enter a house and they hear a whisper saying “get out”? Yep. I believe this was the Chattahoochee’s version of that clear warning.
Like the idiots in that film, we definitely should have heeded this warning. As a matter of fact, we should have immediately left that crazy water and headed to the closest Gasthaus (German word for Pub)….but OHhhh NOooo, we pressed on. This is fun. We are brave. I can fight the river and I can win. Eventually the water smoothed, the adrenaline began to fade and we grew comfortable yet again. With comfort comes complacency…and that’s when it struck again.
Here is a bit of advice should you ever decide to go tubing: never tether three tubes together; two tubes maybe, but three is asking for punishment.
We could see the attack coming, but there was nothing we could do…no defense…no sanctuary…no escape. You can’t fight a river with muscle. The speed of the current increased to a pace rivaled only by the newest fighter jets. I think I actually heard a sonic boom but it’s possible it could have been my heart. In addition, the boulders seemed to be breeding like rabbits and of course we were heading right towards them.
As fast as the current was flowing, something weird happened. Within a foot of the offending boulder time slowed. Like a slow motion replay, everything was moving at one quarter normal speed. I could see what was about to happen and no matter how fast I tried to move to save her, I couldn’t go any faster than the guy in the play booth would let me. I was helpless and my daughter was about to be badly injured…and possibly die.
With the Fairy Princess’ tube tethered between those of my wife and me, she was heading straight towards this jagged, jutting boulder with the wife and I heading to opposite sides. My strongest and most panicked efforts (even combined with language that my daughter had never heard) could not change that arrangement.
I was jumping from my tube and working my way back up stream as my daughter’s tube started to flip. The current being fast and rough made each step a struggle. This caused my fear to grow as I knew that her tiny legs would be swept from under her. If the current were not enough, the river bed was tiled with jagged, slime-covered rocks. I fought through the pain of the rocks on my bare feet, but the current and slipperiness made it impossible for me to exceed a snail’s pace.
Still in slow motion, I looked up to see her flying out of her tube. She was hurdling towards the exposed boulder head-first. But then something happened…something that I hadn’t accounted for or even imagined…she caught herself. Like a pro. On her side of this demonized boulder the water was shallow enough and the current tame enough for her to gain her footing.
Thanks to the Good Loafer above my little girl was ok. She was frightened and had a small boo-boo on her shin – but she was not dead, not horribly mangled, not knocked out, and not floating uncontrollably down river. Needless to say, we made as hasty an exit from the river as soon we could.
Did I mention there were other friends with us on this adventure? The entire trip down the river one of those friends- who is a full on Phishead and dread locked style hippie – kept zooming past us in perfect zen: cross-legged, perfectly balanced, with her hands on her knees and eyes closed. Nothing phased her. No panics, no worries.
A side note of additional stupidity: Guess who was stupid enough to have carried his wallet and phone with him while tubing? Thats right! The guy to your left! I naively thought that putting them both in a zip lock bag for waterproofing was sufficient protection against the elements. Needless to say both miraculously dissappeared during the ordeal. As you can imagine these two items are essential for anyone, and especially one who operates two internet-related businesses. I would obviously trade all of the treasures in the world to ensure the safety of my little one…that’s a no-brainer..but apparently no-brainers are the types of decisions I make best.
The rest of our trip was pretty cool as a result. Due to the lost wallet (and license, and money cards, etc.) the wife drove me around. What would usually be big deals with the Fairy Princess were over-shadowed by the quiet feelings of safety. Thanks to the lost phone, I was actually able to relax like I hadn’t in years. The wife’s cousin had a nice wedding followed by an even better reception that featured an open bar as its center piece. I considered it the centerpiece anyway.
Our first trip to Asheville was hindered by rain, so we didn’t get to see much…but at this point, I was just
thankful to be with my safe and healthy wife and daughter. GoodTimes! (Great perspective.) But Asheville, watch out. A contented perspective only lasts so long.