RAINBOW RIVER STATE PARK, FL — They say that any dead fish can float downstream. But so what? If we discovered a live fish that managed to float downstream of its own volition, choosing the simple pleasure of idleness on a sunny afternoon above the sisyphean drudgery of fighting the ceaseless current, we’d applaud that fish as a first-rate existentialist. That fish would be cheered, not jeered.
Away, then, with the petty morality of those petulant scolds whose scruples are offended by going with the flow! Let them stay at home and toil in the yard on a sun-burned summer day (or fight the lines at some overstuffed Orlando theme park). We’re going to rent an inner tube to float down the refreshing, stunningly beautiful Rainbow River in Dunnellon.
There may be no more relaxing day trip in central Florida. There’s certainly no better way to protest the sort of restless vacation that is bought on credit and frenetically consumed as if it were a Burger King Triple Whopper Combo.
We are not monks and we won’t be communing with nature in solitude. We’ll be surrounded by noisy children, teenage slackers, feckless European tourists, assorted rednecks, pallid overweight travel writers, and the apparently unemployed. We’ll be in the company of the great masses, yes, but not the great unwashed.
Here we’re all baptized in water as clear and clean as the soul of Mother Theresa. There is no rank or distinction among us as together we’re swept by the inevitable tide of events to the same destination. As in life itself, we’re all in this trip together.
There are other choices we could make. We could rent a pontoon boat and stand aloof from the stream of human flotsam. Steering a pontoon boat, we can agree, has all the advantages of sitting at home on the couch — yet with the added pleasure of more vibrant scenery. Still, driving an internal combustion engine seems just too industrious for our purposes today.
But why not kayak or canoe the Rainbow River? Here’s why: In theological terms, kayaking seeks beauty and redemption through the merit of our own effort; tubing is all about sola gratia. In the vernacular of the damp evangelicals floating around us, today we will “let go and let God.”
And as we float downstream in grateful submission to the laws of nature, we’ll be carried along by regenerative water that springs up from the center of the world as if it were the mysterious River of Life itself.
Tubing is nothing if not an expression of joyful humility, a simple acknowledgment of our place in the universe. Tubing accepts without protest that our free will and experience of control is largely illusory. Kicking against the current is not an option today. Who can seriously argue for the Will to Power while wearing garish plastic shoes, sipping sweet tea from a plastic bottle and sitting on an inflatable plastic donut?
No, today we are mystics. We are finding rapture in letting go and looking up. Overhead, leaning back against the inner tube, we’ll enjoy the crisp blue of heaven itself, fringed with white. We’ll pass through wild, primeval forests — perhaps contemplating the mystery of evil as we pass over submerged labyrinths wherein lurk monstrous reptiles with teeth like razors and jaws of steel.
(My sister asks me, “Aren’t you afraid of alligators?” Of course I’m afraid of alligators, silly woman!) But then we’ll drift some more and float past manicured lawns, lazy boat docks, and somnolent residents dressing and keeping their gardens.
Everyone looks ridiculous in a face mask, but we are philosophers today and we’ve drifted beyond pride. Small price to pay, too, since it gives us a clear view of the world below: ribbons of water grass dancing in the current; ancient limestone caverns both dark and foreboding; largemouth bass too dumb to float downstream; the astonishing site of our own bare feet and waterlogged toes, magnified by the magic of water.
Today we’ll take a deep breath and admit that we’re floating along in the tide of history, adrift in a stream of circumstances outside of our control. This is humility. This is wisdom. The time may indeed come for kicking against the current. Monday, perhaps. Meantime, we’re going with the flow.
This Just In: Tubing Burns Calories!
According to an article in the venerable Wall Street Journal, the average 150-pound person will burn 78 calories after 30 minutes of tubing. Moderate kayaking burns more than twice that, coming in at 170 calories. Which is better for your health? The answer is clear: Skip the the measly half hour of kayaking and go tubing for an hour and a half instead!
Rainbow River Tubing Information:
In the words of contemporary thinker David Byrne: “You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” The answer here is simple enough: You took the Rainbow Springs State Park Tubing Entrance (not the Head Spring Entrance) just north of Highway 484 in Dunnellon. The state park offers a convenient shuttle service and tube rental. The cost is $5.00 per vehicle (up to 8 people.) The park operates a tram that takes you upstream for the beginning of the run. The cost is $10 per person (with tube rental) or $8 if you bring your own tube. The state park is open 8 a.m. to sunset 365 days a year.
Watch the weather. A sweltering afternoon is a great time for tubing the Rainbow River, but it’s also the season for afternoon thunderstorms. The shuttle won’t operate during periods of lightning activity, but if you’re already on the water your options are severely limited and trespassers are not welcome along the residential portions of the river.
Rainbow Springs State Park
19158 S.W. 81st Place Road
Dunnellon, FL 34432
Tubing is also available at K.P. Hole County Park, also open daily year-round. The park is located a mile and a half south of Rainbow Springs State Park. The entrance fee is $3.00 per person, and $9.00 for a tube rental (additional cost for shuttle.)
KP Hole Park
9435 SW 190th Ave. Road
Dunnellon, FL 34432