The trip was to the Buffalo River in Arkansas, which is just beautiful. Yup, it's a national park. We left from the work parking lot and drove like, um, eight million hours because there were 14 people in five cars and there's just no way to have a fast trip like that. Someone's always having to stop or taking a wrong turn... big mess. We had radios but even that doesn't solve all the problems. So we rolled in at like two in the morning. Half the group set up tents and went right to sleep. The other half of us set up tents, drank some beers, talked for a while, then went right to sleep. I mean, we're young, we can do that, yes?
The outfitter we went through was Buffalo Adventures Canoe Rental. We kind of picked them at random. They were charging us $40 per canoe per day (two people per canoe) and ferry service was an extra $20 per car, so we opted to shuffle our own vehicles around. So it took a long time to get in the river in the morning... driving around in the hills takes forever because the roads are so insane. But we made it.
We had five women, nine men, a cooler of beer per canoe (yes), gear to camp out that night. It was slow going, but the outfitter told us that the 26 mile trip was about eight hours so we wanted to take our time, sort of spread it out between the days. Our group got kind of spread out and separated, but there were six of us that did a fairly good job of staying together. I rode in the front of our canoe for a while, then decided to ride in the back to try my hand at steering. I suck at steering. We saw the river from every angle all the time.
After we'd stopped for lunch I started feeling bad. I had this terrible headache. I'd been drinking lots of water and couldn't figure it out, so finally after like two hours I asked if anyone had something I could take. Gary had some motrin but I didn't know what that was so I opted to take an advil that another guy had. He pulls it out and it's been in the bottom of this bag all day, soaking in river water and spilled contact lense solution. I took it anyway. Threw up as soon as it was in my mouth. I threw up a lot. It was bad. We got back in the canoes though and kept going.
A little while after that, another pair of our guys got stuck on some rocks and their canoe got this foot-long split down the center of it. Big mess, they had to bale water out for the rest of the trip.
The river was beautiful though. After I threw up I felt a whole lot better. We just floated down eating chips and trail mix, admiring the perfect day and talking. Swimming every once in a while. We found this little stream coming out into the river at one point, and we got out and followed it and there were all these beautiful waterfalls. I took lots of pictures with this little waterproof one-time use camera that I had (which I can't find now, by the way).
We pulled off on a pickup point as the sun started going down and learned that we'd probably gone a bit too slow, since we'd only covered eight of the twenty-six miles. oops :) Our friends who split their canoe found the outfitter and explained that it had broken and they'd need a new one for the second day. We figured he'd just give us one, maybe make us pay for a patch at the worst. But oh no.
He told us that we owed him $500 for the canoe and we weren't getting a new one until he had our word that we'd give him the money. There were patched up canoes all over the place, but this guy insisted that their canoes "never break" and can't be patched, we'd just have to pay for it. We must have been doing something wreckless and stupid to break it. When we explained that it was just an accident, he said we were all liars.
Things sort of went downhill from there. Lots of arguing. Lots of the guys standing around talking to this guy, who didn't want to hear a thing we had to say. It sucked. Finally we were just like, "Well fine, if you won't give us a new canoe just take the rest of these, we can't go a second day and leave two of our own behind." He said that was fine, but he was keeping all our money for the second day's rentals... deposits, rental fees, the whole deal. Then he called us liars again. Nice.
By this time, all the regulation campsites were taken. We sent a group out for cars... some perfect stranger just handed one of our guys his keys to go get them. Dealing with a really nice person sort of renewed our sense of humanity. We waited in the gravel loading zone by the river for the drivers to get back. We were tired and dirty and hungry. Then someone was like, "You know what? We've got little camp stoves. Let's fire them up and make some food while we wait."
The drivers got back just as we were getting done with (get this) the chicken and rice. We knew of a grassy area where we could set tents up, so we decided to just stay where we were, even if it was illegal. We hung out in the gravel cooking food forever, and talking. Yes, it was a ten minute loading zone. Yes, we were fighting mad at these canoe people. But we had lots to eat and drink... bratwurst, hot dogs, s'mores, chicken, rice, briscuit, cereal. It got fun. It got funny. Some of our group went ahead and went to sleep but the rest of us stayed up talking and drinking and looking at the stars. We had some funny clouds overhead at one point that framed the big dipper perfectly, it was amazing. We finally went to sleep.
In the morning we went back to the outfitter. He threatened to look up all this information to take us to court, so the guy whose credit card we put all this stuff on negotiated him down to $300 and bought the canoe. We took it home with us, too. Strapped it to the top of a bronco, dammit. We also learned that the Buffalo Adventures people were selling their business. That made it a little more clear why they didn't give a crap what customers thought of them.
We stopped at another outfitter on the way home to see if we could sell him the canoe. He didn't want to buy it. He said he bought canoes wholesale for $300. He did tell us how to patch it though, and said if we came back next year to call him up... he gives group discounts and doesn't mind eating the cost of a broken canoe, because hey, it happens.
It was a great weekend spent with good friends, I'm glad I got to go. Wish I could find my camera. It might turn up somewhere, in somebody's stuff, who knows? But it's good to be home again where there are showers and beds, too.