Each of Florida’s state parks has a different profile and a special reason to visit. At Ichetucknee Springs State Park, it’s tubing, that summer activity that involves wedging one’s derriere into a giant inflatable donut and floating downstream.
The tubing season starts in May. Evidence that it might be a free-for-all is displayed on a board at the south entrance, which features pictures of teenagers crammed cheek to jowl across the river while others leap off platforms into the water. In the upper-right-hand corner of one picture, an elderly couple tries to navigate their canoe around the madness.
Also posted is the standard warning sign about the possibility of developing hives, rashes, or other annoying itches if one should come into contact with “vegetation.” What the vegetation might be isn’t made clear; there is so much vegetation in the water that it is probably impossible to avoid all of it. If you feel ill after brushing up against the unspecified “vegetation,” then you are supposed to report it. I like these warning signs. Obviously at least one person has become itchy or ill, and the vigilant (paranoid) mind wants to know the exact cause: Is it the eel grass or is it the brown, foamy scum that floats on top of the water? Just what is to be avoided here, if anything?
I am not one of those “it can’t happen to me” people, or one of those “it’s never happened to any of my friends, either” types. I assume warning signs are there for a reason and I never assume that a lack of warning signs means that there is nothing to step around, jump over, or outright skip. I have seen evidence to the contrary, but at the same time, I realize that hyper-vigilance makes for a dull life and that one simply cannot be warned about everything. At some point, personal responsibility and smarts need to come into play.
The burden is then mostly on the individual.
For this reason I allowed my companion to trail his hand through the water as we stood at the deserted launchpad. The weather was glorious and about as bright and sunny as I can stand (69 F); the water was three degrees warmer and stays that way year round. There was no one but us in this south side of Ichetucknee. I tried to imagine myself not just stuffed into a tube but also into a bright pink one-piece swimsuit, but I couldn’t. I had too many rhetorical questions, like what happens if you need to use the bathroom during the four-hour adventure? It did seem a good testing ground, though, for basic survival skills. The way the world is going, you never know when you might need them. A mullet flashed out of the water and interrupted this cheerful reverie. Are there happier fish anywhere? They make a damn fine cracker spread, too.
Still, tubing looks to be a lot more fun than belly-whomping into the pool and the sheer beauty of the setting cannot be overstated.
Kudos to the park for having its bathrooms open on the first day of March, thereby allowing me to take this stunning self-portrait.
Imagine this water filled with hundreds of people in tubes and others in canoes and kayaks. It soon becomes clear why the tubing trip takes several hours. Traffic jams are inescapable even on waterways. And the line to get in? I’ve heard it’s the stuff of legend, just like at Disney.