From incapacitating Deliverance flashbacks to angry birds defending an island of poop, here's what you need to know about tubing the wild waters of the Potomac.
On the Fourth of July, a couple buddies and myself rented a car and took it to Harpers Ferry, W.V., where we snagged some tubes from Butts Tubes (whose home on the web is inexplicably Butts-free). A summer must-do for lovers of aimless drifting and "cold beverages," tubing on the Potomac also carries unique hazards. Let our pratfalls help you during your next inner-tube expedition away from the big city. Print out this map and stick it in your bathing suit, and you may just avoid being scorched to death by solar rays, bashed to pieces in a stone labyrinth or attacked by peevish geese protecting their treasured mound of poop. (A key is located at the bottom.)
1. Drop off. After navigating many a hairpin turn and West Virginians-are-toothless joke, the happy driver of the Butts bus lets you off here. Note: The fallow ditch along the river that is the C&O Canal is not the place to drink. A park ranger here keeps close watch on all and will ticket you if you pop a can or, presumably, approach the canal with bad intent.
2. Rock maze. This is the place to drink, whether it be cola or "cold beverages" and "heavy sandwiches," as the Butts people sneakily call beer. A stomach full of alcohol will give you fortitude to steer through this pinball-bumper maze of snail-encrusted rocks. One of our team got caught up here for 10 minutes.
3. Bleeding hippie. After the rock maze, you will sometimes find a starry-eyed fellow with a gaping head wound. Unlike yourself he seems not to mind all the blood.
4. Snake! Yes, there are snakes perched on rocks in the river. And they don't mind swimming.
5. Log jam. Sure, dislodging that log by ramming into it seems a smart thing to do. But what you didn't realize is that log will be your constant companion for the rest of the ride, floating at the same speed and jamming sharp branches into your thighs.
6. Island of shiftiness. If you brought anything stronger than "cold beverages," here's the island where to partake. There's enough shrub cover to dissuade the lazier park rangers.
7. Is that banjo music?! All those Deliverance scenes you've been trying to keep in the back of your mind come rushing out at about the halfway mark here. Seek the center of the river.
8. UV limit exceeded. Ever seen a life-jacket sunburn? Not stylish.
9. Angry birds! A flock of aggressive geese have claimed this sector of the river as their own. They will swarm you from all points of the compass, paddling feet away while honking and hissing.
10. Poo Island. It looks like what they're defending is this smelly sandbar of excrement and feathers. Stay away from Poo Island!
11. Drinking limit exceeded. Let your can-filled trash bag act as an anchor while you imperceptibly drift down this stretch of river.
12. Dragonflies mate on your inert body. Turns out your passed-out carcass is a really great place for amorous insects to meet each other.
13. Pick up. Better wake up before reaching this point, because if you doze through the rendezvous no one is coming to look for you. "YOU WILL BE LOST," said our driver.