Paddling the Senses
Story by Blair Paterson
I myself … gave the order to the rest of my eager companions to embark ships in haste, for fear someone else might taste of lotus and forget the way home.
WWe knew we weren’t allowed into the tyre tip at the back of the caravan park, but my cousin Glen told me about an inner tube he found the previous weekend which was big as the back wheel of a farm tractor. Just try and keep us out! For two barefoot young boys starting to really enjoy the taste of adventure, the attraction was too great. All we needed to do was sneak away without our parents noticing, dig the tube out from the dumped tyres, patch up some punctures and inflate the thing.
I’d eaten Coco Pops for breakfast. My teeth were still coated with chocolate milk from the cereal as we began to unbury the tube. That changed when I plunged my black-rubber-residue-coated fingers into my mouth to pry a rogue Coco Pop out of a molar. The sweetness of my morning bowl of cereal was replaced by a taste so yucky I caught my breath. I spat eight times. Glen laughed.
Surprisingly, the tube was in perfect condition – the long, hot hour spent pumping with our foot-pump in alternating shifts was not spent in vain. The tube retained all its air; we were ready for the water. Before getting underway we shared five frozen Zooper Doopers – I ate orange and green, Glen ate red and green, and he had the remaining purple (I never really liked the grape flavour anyway).
We knew we weren’t allowed also, but nothing was going to stop my cousin and me paddling our tractor tube across the river and back. The tide was going out at a great rate. We decided to enter the water from as far along the upriver end of the beach as possible. We figured we would arrive over the other side of the river on the tide at the downriver end of the beach, and roll the tube up along the beach for our return paddle. Very strategic for two boys so ill equipped, it must be said, for such an ambitious adventure across a quite wide and treacherous river.
Glen jumped onto the tube first. Then it was my turn. I launched and landed beside him before bouncing over the slippery black surface and slid off face-first and open-mouthed into the river. Another sweet taste in my mouth was overpowered by a yucky taste when the sugary cordial of the Zooper Doopers was replaced with muddy river water. I spat some more; Glen laughed … again.
Who knows how long it took to paddle over, but our arms were killing. The best technique we found was to lay belly-down beside one another and dogpaddle. It was slow going. The tube was bigger than the length of our bodies so kicking the water behind with our feet at the same time was out of the question. The weight of the two paddlers forward on the tube meant it frequently tilted down and dunked our faces into the water. We both swallowed several mouthfuls which at least afforded me the chance to laugh at my cousin. Small revenge, yes, but at that point I grasped any opportunity.
There had been a flood upriver a couple of days earlier and all manner of debris was washing down. We saw a watermelon float nearby on our return journey, which we both wanted, but how were we to get such a big round heavy ball of fruit back to land with us? The answer straightaway became obvious: we plonked the tube over the watermelon and paddled it back floating within the hole of our big buoyant donut.
The tide was ripping. By the time we collected the watermelon, we had floated further downriver than we would have liked. We had to work. Who knows how long it took on the way back, but we struck land in the weeds and reeds downriver of the beach. Our little arms were dead. We beached the tube in the reeds (nicely out of view of our parents) and trudged out through the muddy shallows with our watermelon.
To avoid raising any suspicion about our tractor tube paddle across the river we opted against fetching a knife to cut open the watermelon, so Glen picked it up instead and dropped it on a nearby rock. Red, juicy, fleshy fruit exploded everywhere – our great paddling odyssey was thus finished with the sweet taste of victory and secrecy, and of watermelon too.