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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Tubing On the Upper Guadalupe

Tubing itself has always looked like a lot of fun to me, but never have I driven past the hordes of teens and twenty-somethings schlepping their tubes from one end of the local spot known as the Horseshoe to the other and wished my middle-aged self was among them. That is probably a big part of why it took me and my wife more than a year of living around Canyon Lake, Texas, to get around to doing it ourselves.
When my two cousins Dominik Varchola and Gabriel Gavigan visited from Slovakia and England, respectively, a few years back, however, I wanted to get them out on some characteristic local activities and so started looking around for some good tubing opportunities. 

Their visit notwithstanding, I was sort of dreading the wild-and-crazy party atmosphere of the lower Guadalupe, the area so popular for tubing below Canyon Dam. And so, on a whim, I decided to scout the upper Guadalupe, the stretch of river flowing toward the lake, and was pleased to discover an outfitter, Guadalupe Canoe Livery, right where Highway 281 crosses the river.

We picked up five tubes — one for each of the people in our group and one for our cooler — loaded them onto the GCL trailer, and then rode four miles upriver to Nichols Landing, just off of Spring Branch Road and one of the drop-off points for the Texas PaddlingTrails.

Thereafter we enjoyed a beautiful, four-and-a-half hour float down the turquoise Guadalupe, past stands of ancient cypress trees, through lush riparian forest, and by looming cliffs beneath which people have lived off-and-on for thousands of years. We quickly left behind a large group that had ridden up the landing with us and were surprised how much of the time during our float there was no one else around.

“The upper Guadalupe is less crowded,” Bill Johnson, proprietor of GCL, told me during a recent chat after our float. “It’s more back-to-nature, scenic, not as trampled ... this is a family-friendly atmosphere.”

It was also a pretty relaxed atmosphere and I was pleased that we did not have to pull our tubes out of the water and haul them overland at any point.

“We will take you right up to Nichols Landing (shown below), put you in the water, and then you’ll get a four-or-five-hour float and get right out at our camp here,” Johnson said. “You can take as long as you want. We’re not saying we need you back in three hours. And if you want to do it again and you have enough time we’ll take you back up there.”

So tubing really was a blast! But for reasons that have included work and being gone much of the summers that followed I have not been back out on the Guadalupe River since. With it shaping up to be a particularly hot year, however, and my having no trips planned until the fall, I am thinking that I need to make happen again soon.

Tubing Tips
* Apply sunscreen — and then apply some more! I do not traditionally burn and thus do not tend to worry too much about doing so. After four hours of floating in a tube, however, my ankles looked like they had gotten a bit too much sun, and by the next day they were painful and blistered (and, as of this writing three days later, they still are).

* Go during the week if you can. Local outfitters are much more likely offer deals on non-weekend days during the season and, unless you want to sit in a floating parking lot with kids that are not your own, it is much less crowded then. “We have a different special every day during the week, Monday through Friday,” Johnson told me (e.g., Mondays they give $3 off on tubes until 3 p.m., Wednesdays are half-off, and Fridays kids 12 and under tube for free).

* Take sunglasses but not ones that you care too much about. There is enough glare off the water on a bright day that you need sunglasses and maybe even a cap or visor. At one point, however, I had my sunglasses off and, apparently, securely wedged in some twine wrapped around my tube. It flipped in some rough water and they were gone.

* Get the tubes with the covered bottoms! They are only a couple of bucks more than the open-bottom ones, and that is a small price to pay to keep your backside from being periodically dragged across rocks during your float.