The Date that Almost Killed Me

On a fine Saturday in July, I ended up in a life or death situation. Since our trip to Nashville was canceled—thank you CORONA, the one who ruins everything!—I still needed some excitement. Stanton told me he planned a date, but it was a surprise. Well, I hate surprises…. See, I am the type of person who plans things. By this, I mean I plan every single minuscule detail. I am pertinent and punctual, and I need to know what the hell is going on in my day. I set seven alarms just in case. I strategically plan bathroom stops into a road trip. I need to know what kind of condiment I am going to pack on my sandwich for my work lunch. You get it. Type A to the extreme.

Luckily, he told that night about the day he had planned: He ordered this nice two-person raft, in which we would use to lazily float along the Sangamon River from a bridge nearby to a park outside of town. At that park, a picnic would be set up—wine, cheese, meat, the works. It sounded perfect. I’m highly interested in hanging out on floating objects in nature while being greeted by grape-based alcoholic beverages and tasty dairy products at the finish line. I was looking forward to this all week.

After a week of anticipation, it was Saturday. We were sleepy and sporting mild hangovers, courtesy of excellent food and drinks from Seven Saints and Barrelhouse. But plans weren’t about to change. I had a new swimsuit, the temperature was perfect, the sun was shining and I wasn’t going to waste the day being a blob of snot on the couch.

***The swimsuit was originally purchased for the weekend prior, the Fourth of July. It was a flattering one-piece with white and black pinstripes. Unfortunately, I hit a roadblock: the ink tag, which prevents shop lifting, wasn’t removed from the suit. Thus, I could not adorn said garment. I got the tag removed on Thursday after work, because the cute striped number wasn’t going to go to waste. I was going to wear it on a cute date with my new husband***

We made a quick run to the store for food to pack for the picnic, post lazy river excursion. I packed it in a cooler and threw on cute striped swimsuit. Getting the raft in the vehicle was the difficult part. This sucker was large. Our two brain cells thought, “Let’s strap it to the top of the car.” But, we had no rope. What did we have, though? A long extension cord. It would have done the same job. A gold van parked next to Stan’s car as we were pondering ways to transport the floatable object to the river.

“That’s not going to fit. Let out some air and fold it in half,” a guy, maybe 75-80, said to us after exiting the golden chariot.

A smart man, indeed. We did as he said, and it worked. Thank you, kind stranger.

We lathered ourselves with sunscreen and took off for our adventure. Step 1: Place cooler inside of my vehicle and drop it off at the park. Step 2: Take Stan’s car, with raft located inside, to the bridge. We followed the steps.

Stan blew air into the raft, since the flotation device guru shared his magic trick with us. The one involving letting air out of it so it would fit inside of the vehicle. We trotted down the wooded path toward the bridge. A group of three younger boys were on the bridge, one jumping off into the river.

“Hey, do you guys know if this is a thing? Like can we do this?” I ask the teens, gesturing to the tube.

They said it was fine. We trusted their professional opinion, so we got on the raft and took off. The current was minimal… As in, there was hardly a current. This was okay, because we planned to just have a relaxing float trip.

The water was cool, but not too cool. The sun was hot, but not too hot. Within the first 5 minutes, I knew it was the best date I had ever been on. Very naturey. Very summery. Very simple, yet fun.

The raft looked like this:

The netting allowed your tush to be submerged, without really being in the water. I liked this, because I don’t particularly enjoy being ignorant to what’s underneath me. A 10-foot gar could be there and I’d have absolutely no clue. The unknown spooked me. I liked this style of raft since I wasn’t fully committing to being in the murky river, but could still enjoy the coolness of the water.

About eight minutes into the float trip, fish began to nibble at my butt. Either this happened or I was imagining things. Stan said some nibbled at his toes, too. That was red flag number one. The water in the river was quite low. We weren’t completely familiar with the area, but we could tell it was low because about two months prior it was flooded. The low water level caused issues.

Trees. Trees were everywhere. I’m completely fine with that. Trees rule. However, if I am attempting to relax peacefully in a river while dodging fish nibbling at my booty, I’d like trees to cooperate by staying out of my way. Nope. This river was FULL of trees. It was basically an underwater forest. Quite annoying.

We splished and splashed away from visible branches and logs in the water, and we were on the lookout (or should I say, the ‘feel out’?) for trees underneath us.

We curved around the bend and tons of trees were in our path. It was sort of like playing pinball. We had to dodge these nuisances strategically. It wasn’t easy. We were going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, to get out of the way of these branches and logs. All of a sudden, I kicked off of one fallen tree and we were coming close to another. I tried to doggy paddle us the opposite direction.

It was too late.

We hit a pokey edge of a branch.

I heard a slow sizzle and saw a rip in the raft. Welp, fart. The tree limb had poked the raft, ripping a hole into our new investment. We were about a quarter of a mile into our journey, so not very far at all, when this happened.

I was disappointed, absolutely.

I informed Stan of the situation, because he wasn’t entirely sure what the deal was. I saw it happen and put my pointer finger over the dime-sized hole to keep the air in.

“Uh, let’s go back,” I suggested.

“No, it’s fine. Let’s keep going,” my wonderful husband replied.

So on we went, with the raft slowly, but surely losing air. I kept my finger over it until the next bend in the river.

“Yep, this isn’t going to work. We need to go back,” I said.

“It’s okay. We’ve made it this far, let’s keep going,” Stan said.

I get it. Our goal was to make it to the park. He had this wondrous date planned, so we persisted.

As we kept going, the hole was growing larger, and I was growing more impatient. We came across a point in the river where we absolutely could not get through due to the amount of fallen trees and branches. We got off the raft, leapt over the 257 trees and got back on— all the while attempting to cover the hole to sustain as much air as possible.

After traveling 100 feet or so, I saw three kayakers behind us attempting to get over the fallen trees as well.

We made it another quarter mile, until the raft was nearly deflated and sad looking. Stan had hit his big toe nail on three or four logs, paining him. We pulled over to the river bank, blew up the raft some more and got back on. All the while, I was low-key scared. I was kind of panicking inside. I was not interested in swimming the entire way to the park, or the entire way back. The group of kayakers caught up to us, and we were nonchalantly acting as if we weren’t stranded. Stan asked them how far we are to the park.

“Oh, it’s probably a mile and a half or two more miles,” one of them says.

Oh, wonderful!

Stan finished filling the raft with a little bit more air and we kept going. Finally about one mile into our trip I exclaimed, “I CANNOT DO THIS ANYMORE.”

The raft was flat, I was annoyed and Stan had probably developed gangrene in his toe. We needed to head back to the bridge or I was about to freak out.

 “Okay. We can ditch the raft, but let’s keep walking forward,” Stan says to me.

So what do we do? We keep going. We make it possibly nine feet, and a panic attack ensues. Thoughts race through my mind: What if we are stranded here? We may be staying overnight in the middle of the woods. I’m kind of like Kya from ‘Where the Crawdads Sing,’ but we might f*cking die here.

He finally agreed we needed to turn around, tried to calm me down and then we headed back. We were walking on the river bank, ever so slowly because one wrong move and Stan’s toenail was a goner and it was going to bleed like a b*tch. I didn’t need him bleeding out on this trip. We were covered in mud. We were slipping and sliding everywhere, but we were making progress back to the bridge.

We walked, we crawled, we swam. We came across some recognizable fallen trees and heard some rustling in the nearby brush. Stan threw a log. Out came a beaver, waddling its way into the river. It was huge, with a flat tail. I don’t think I’d ever seen a beaver that close in real life. It got into the water, dove beneath the current and then resurfaced. It was adorable.

We kept trucking along, swimming across the river from bank to bank, attempting to walk as much as we could when possible. Stan crawled when we were close enough to the bank, attempting to keep his toenail intact. It was a hellacious journey. It really was.

Then we saw the most beautiful sight in store:  THE BRIDGE. We continued our walking, swimming, trotting, crawling method. It took a while, but we were finally to the shore.

All in all, I lost shorts, my water bottle and our raft. Somehow, Stan left with his toenail still attached, and neither of us got poison ivy. My swimsuit was pretty much ruined. Mud and white don’t mix well. I have two splinters in my left foot from climbing across dead trees.

But, we made it out alive. And guess what? After we showered, we made it to the park for our picnic.

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