For the first time in a few years, we all once again took a family vacation. In years past, we have visited Gilbert, Arkansas, and also some place in the middle of nowhere—known to the locals as “Oklahoma.” This time, our parents decided to visit our neighboring state of Arkansas. It’s like Kansas, now fortified with … AR! This time, however, they decided to skip the busy metropolis of Gilbert, population 43, for the exciting town of Pencil Bluff, population still too small to matter. As with the aforementioned trips, we are staying in cabins near rivers. We like to canoe—a lot.
We left the house by 8:30. We took our mom’s Ford Escape; Chad decided he should drive. Somewhat exciting. He drove us out of the great city of Tyler and to the TacoBell/KFC (yes, they combine them) in New Boston, TX. Chad and I both ordered the #6: two tacos, two chicken strips, potato wedges and a drink, served with a side of delight at combining two of our favorite restaurants. Our dad drove the rest of the way. We pulled off the highway onto a smaller road, then onto a still inferior gravel road. Eventually we made it into the “office” (actually just another house) of the proprietor, Rebekah. We paid our money and she pointed the way to our cabin on the bluff. The web site had mentioned this bluff and I guessed they were likely bluffing. They were not, however. I had no idea an Escape could go off-roading on such a steep incline. Seriously, it’s absolutely insane. We were level, and then we were severely inclined and treacherously proceeding up to perilous doom. At the top of the rocky road, we made an immediate sharp left, leering frighteningly over the quite impressive bluff. We unloaded our stuff and went down to the water. The canoes were just waiting there for us to sort of paddle around and get some “practice” in. Tomorrow the people will drive us several miles up the river and we can paddle down. We paddled up the river a bit and found a rope swing attatched to a tree hanging over the water. Stupidly, I decided I should go on. I was mere seconds away form plunging into three feet of muddy water ill-dressed for swimming, I planned to shimmy up the boards nailed to the tree and descend down the rope into the canoe, which Chad was to hold in position. I successfully, though with difficulty, completed my task. Chad, however, proved somewhat less reliable. I made it down the rope until my feet were hanging free. Supported only by my awe-inspiring arm strength, I hung there as the river pushed Chad downstream. Motivated by my desperate yells, he finally made it under the rope and I, exhausted by my incredible feat of strength, lowered myself into the canoe. I was mere seconds away from plunging into three feet of muddy water, possibly infested with snakes and most decidedly infested with numerous giant spiders. We went back down the river to our landing point and pulled our canoes out. We then took extended naps and ate chili dogs. Then it rained a little. We then watched Spider-Man on my computer.
We awoke at a reasonable hour, ate breakfast, made sandwiches for lunch, liberally applied sunscreen and packed what we would need for our canoe excursion. We then headed back to the office, paid our money, and hopped into the bed of a pickup truck, which was pulling a trailer with two canoes. Those poorly-made, narrow gravel roads that we slowly drove on while going to the River Haven Resort were traversed far more quickly on the way out. Indeed, the driver seemed quite at ease on the roads and quite unconcerned with his passengers in the back. I generally enjoyed our ride; I would have hated if he had gone too slow. That being said, a little caution isn’t a bad thing. We made it to the highway without incident and after driving a short while, turned onto a larger highway. An 18-wheeler was quickly gaining on us. Instead of speeding up, however, we slowed down suddenly and turned off onto a small road. Either the laws of Arkansas are more lax or our driver was breaking them because the trailer did not have any brake lights or turn signals. The 18-wheeler had no prior notice of our sudden deceleration and, consequently, almost ran into us. It certainly got the blood flowing.
Having survived such a journey, the canoe ride would surely be less scary, right? Let me note that at no point were the currents really severe. Indeed, they were barely exciting. Steering while in certain parts, however, could be almost impossible. Where the river became very narrow, we went wherever the current took us. Often this meant directly under or into a low-hanging tree. Please note as previously mentioned that spiders are rampant along the river. Chad and I were in one canoe and our parents in the other. At one part, the river split into two divergent paths, reunited a little downstream. At my urging, Chad and I took the more narrow path, hoping it would have faster currents. It did, and they took us directly under one of those low-hanging branches. Spiders were everywhere. We flailed about wildly, swiping hands all over in a desperate attempt to get the demons off. We succeeded, though we did have to stop a while longer to get some out of the canoe.
The journey proceded somewhat smoothly for the next hour or two. We did a better job of dodging the trees. At one narrow section, our parents were ahead of us and ran straight into one of those low branches. Instead of just gliding out from under it, as expected, their canoe turned sideways and the current flipped it over. My dad managed to stay with the canoe, turning it right-side up but my mom, courageously if not somewhat foolishly leaped into the river to retrieve belongings and, pushed by the current, went another hundred feet or so until the river widened and she was able to make it on land. Chad and I easily avoided the branch and paddled downstream chasing our possessions. We retrieved our dad’s hat but couldn’t recover a lost shirt. If you’ve never been canoeing, there is one crucial thing you must have. It is as important as the canoe itself. You need a pickle bucket. It’s five-gallon plastic bucket, invariably green, with a very tight-sealing white lid. Restaurants receive pickle shipments in these containers; ours had a Chik-fil-a label on it. Can you imagine five gallons of pickle chips? Insane. Thanks to this bucket, our food and other possessions stayed perfectly dry, despite being submerged. We decided it was a good time for that lunch. Chad and I finished first and went paddling around in the area. Shortly downstream, we noticed a tiny area off to the side. What we found was a pile of cars. It resulted in what I believe to be our best picture of the trip (taken with the camera safely dry in the pickle bucket). The remainder of our canoe trip was uneventful. It rained on us occassionally and we eventually made it back to our landing. Chad and I decided to do a little swimming before we went back to the cabin. We swam across the river to an area in the flood plain. There were millions of river rocks there and we skipped stones for a while. Eventually we got tired and headed back, taking with us one rock that Chad had decided he wanted to keep. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing.
This was originally to be a four day trip. But, having done all that we wished to do, we decided to leave a day early. Before leaving for good, we took a little road trip to a neighboring town. Our mother had read that they had a diamond mine there. All we found were some very shady looking places where you could dig around. Littering the highway were shops selling quartz crystals. We did not stop. We went back to the cabin, packed up our things, checked out and started the long drive back. We chose to take a scenic road along the Ouachita Mountains into Oklahoma, then south into Texas. The drive was very nice. Along it were frequent vistas and we pulled into every one and took a picture from it. At the state line we pulled into an area where there was a historical landmark. Chad and I followed a short path down to a large metal stake, about three feet high, marking the state line as surveyed in the mid-1800s. At another landmark site, we followed another short path down to a very old cemetery.
The rest of the drive home was just a boring drive. We stopped to eat at Chili’s and did nothing eventful when we finally got home.