Tubing the Salt River is like Mardi Gras, except it takes place on inner tubes in a river, and instead of beads, you throw marshmallows. I didn’t know any of this going into it. I just knew we needed to bring water shoes, snacks, and a hell of a lot of beer. Oh, and sunscreen. Gobs and gobs of sunscreen.
The Salt River is a short drive from Phoenix, located in the Tonto National Forest near Mesa. Upon arrival, it was hard to believe such a beautiful, mountainous, untouched-by-man place could exist so close to the city. I was reminded of Zion National Park, the Narrows hike—a river surrounded by two sheer cliff faces. Once we had our tubes (a fifteen dollar rental, which includes the bus ride to the “launch site”), we were ready to go.
Or not. See, first you have to make your raft. Jake and I went along with five other people. You don’t want to lose these people (which, trust me, did happen once or twice, thanks to unexpected rapids and one cooler rescue mission). Using rope, you must tie your inner tubes together, ideally with the coolers tied in the center for easy access. I watched all this happen while drinking a beer in a bikini on a beach at, oh, eleven AM, under the scalding Phoenix heat.
Another thing: you gotta cover your inner tubes with sheets to keep them from getting too hot. I also learned that the sheets acted as a support system, which allowed me to balance in the middle of my inner tube, Indian-style, for most of the trip … whenever I wasn’t going Navy Seal-style on marshmallow attack missions.
So what’s the deal with the marshmallows? I honestly don’t know. I know we were told to bring marshmallows, but I didn’t fully understand the fire-fight (or pastry-fight) that was due to ensue. Strangers, complete strangers, barrage you with marshmallows all the way down the four-hour river ride. Of course, retribution is sweet. By the end of the day, I was like Upton throwing a run-saving line drive to Montero at home. The huge marshmallows were like prized possessions, and several of our group often went diving halfway across river to grab one of those monsters.
As I mentioned, there were moments when people were almost lost. The Salt River is not, I repeat, not free of rapids, and they have a way of sneaking up on you. All you can do is hold on tight—to each other and to the coolers—and hope for the best.
If I could spend every Saturday tubing the Salt River, I would. It felt a lot like the Rockville Regatta in Charleston, South Carolina, where a bunch of strangers tie their boats together and have a day of romping. On the Salt River, you’re best buddies with everyone. You do strange things for beer (things that will not be mentioned here) and make great friends with funny lesbians (don’t ask). You get body-slammed into deep, blue water, and it’s great. It’s all great!
The Salt River is a place where fully grown adults can pretend, for one afternoon, to be kids again. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, I would suggest you go, as soon as possible. Don’t forget your marshmallows, and be sure to buy more beer than you think you could possibly drink—because it’ll be gone by the end of the day. Just remember to have fun, relax, and pretend, if only for a moment, that you’re a kid again on summer break, and school doesn’t start for another two months.