Woods and Water: Tubing down the Deerfield River

  • Recorder photographer Paul Franz floats on a tube down the Deerfield River with his dog Dixie on his lap. For The Recorder/David Rainville

  • David Rainville

For The Recorder
Monday, August 14, 2017

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I quite literally found myself up the creek without a paddle, navigating rapids with only my hands to steer my craft.

It worked out just fine, since the craft in question was an inner tube, and I was out for a leisurely float down the Deerfield River.

It was my first trip this summer, and I was joined by Recorder photographer Paul Franz, his daughters Bella and Jocie and his dog Dixie, and my friend Kelly. We got together at Paul’s house, lashed five tubes into his pickup, and headed for the Zoar picnic area in Rowe, where we’d begin our trip.

We got there at about 1 p.m. We’d learned a lesson from last year, when we got to the launch two hours before the water did. This time, after shuttling Paul’s truck to the Shunpike rest area downstream, we got to the river just after the water had risen.

That way, we were out behind the massive fleet of tubers who’d been waiting for the water to catch up to them, making for a little less hectic of a time.

Though the water was cooperating, the clouds weren’t. The sun was nowhere to be seen as we climbed into our tubes. Feeling cold, I sat straight up in mine in a short-lived attempt to stay dry, rather than lounging back as I usually do.

Bella had insisted on bringing the family dog, Dixie, and the two shared a tube. Being one of the smaller ones, it sat comically low in the water. If I were a betting man, my money would have been on them falling out at some point.

The run starts out a little rocky, and goes through several transitions between rapids and flatwater. Even in the smooth spots, there’s always a rock waiting somewhere just under the surface to trip you up.

Soon after the start, we went to the left of a long, narrow island. Fast water and a shallow bottom here weren’t quite rapids, but they still spun you around and guided your tube toward high rocks. I shifted my weight to my elbows to keep my rear end out of harm’s way.

I was also bringing up the rear of the pack, with Bella and Dixie just ahead of me. I kept an eye on them in case they went over, but they made it through just fine.

Once we were into the clear, we came upon two fly fishermen on a large raft. They worked the shoreline with lackluster casts, just passing the time while they waited for hundreds of tubes to pass. Poor guys.

We floated on, and eventually the sun came out — but never for more than a couple minutes at a time. We passed others, and others passed us, some in cheap plastic tubes they’d just bought, some in little rafts, groups in bright blue rental tubes, inflatable kayaks rafts full of whitewater rafters.

I always feel a little bad for the rafters — they’ve paid for a whitewater adventure, and here we are, braving the rapids in pool toys with dogs on our laps.

Dixie never did go overboard, though she did get passed to Paul for the latter part of the trip.

Some people weren’t as lucky. We watched one woman fall out a couple times, and she had a heck of a time getting back into her tube, though she was laughing all the while. As we took a break on an island, one man trudged through the water clutching a deflated tube, trying to blow it back up and telling himself it would work.

We made it down just fine, which is why I’ll pick an inner tube over something fancy any day. The toughest parts of our trip were getting Paul’s youngest, Jocie, to come along — and then trying to get her to leave the water when it was time to head back.

David Rainville is a former reporter and editor for The Recorder, who now works as a machinist. He enjoys hiking, kayaking, biking, and finding new ways to explore the outdoors. You can reach him at daverain82@gmail.com.