Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tube Be Or Not To Be

Riding an inner tube down the Pembina River is something many people would list as the hallmark of a typical Alberta summer. And yet, it is something no one in our house had ever done until this past weekend, despite the fact it is just over an hour's drive from our doorstep.

Back when the summer started, I booked three nights at the Pembina River campground by Evansburg for the long weekend, something else we had never done. Friday night we set up camp, and when the rain began falling the next morning, we cancelled our plans to be on the river by 11:00, and went out for breakfast instead. (Sammy's Restaurant in Entwistle serves up something called a Ukrainian breakfast; it's kind of a pyrogy omelette which is quite hearty and delicious.)

Around noon, the sun started to peek out, so we changed into our swimsuits and made our way to Pembina River Tubing. Thanks to perusing their website, we had a pretty good idea what to expect. There was no lineup to speak of, so the four of us quickly filled out our waivers, got briefed on the ins and outs of the river tour, and rented a couple of tubes. We had already purchased one for Glory as well as a small raft for Audrey and Nitti (that we eventually named the Pawtemkin) at Canadian Tire.

Once we had all our gear, we made the 8 minute trek down to the waterline. The rain made the trail a little slick, especially while carrying a 53 inch inner tube while walking a dog and wearing Crocs (the preferred wear for such activities), but we made it down without any mishaps.  At the end of the trail, wooden steps led down to a tiny beach by the riverside.

We took a few moments to get ourselves situated and to place socks on Nitti's paws to protect the bottom of the raft. It was probably only 20-21 degrees Celsius by this point, and that water was brisk, baby, but before too long, we were all in the water and tethered together. We pushed away from shore and began our journey.

The majority of the tube route is a gentle float, where you can lay back and appreciate the scenery.

Some of the riverside bluffs and cliffs appear quite massive. They are striped with sedimentary rock, and festooned with tiny cylindrical swallow's nests.

The whole trip usually takes 2-3 hours, which gives you plenty of time to get your Zen on and just "be here now."

But from time to time, the languid roll of the Pembina is punctuated by rapids. Not truly whitewater, but made to feel much more prominent by your proximity to them, as well as the relative fragility of your craft. 

Or perhaps just the disposition of your passengers.

Nitti, on the other hand, handled things with his typical canine stoicism, even enduring the indignity of wearing baby booties.

We had brought along a cooler with some sodas and juiceboxes, some sausage sticks and cheese, so we had a light lunch while afloat. Not long, after our riverine repast however, we encountered one of the few landmarks of our journey.

This is the second of two parallel bridges, the first of which holds up the Yellowhead (Highway 16). This one bears the CN rail tracks, and as luck would have it, a Via Rail passenger train passed over us just after we crossed its shadow.

At some point between rapids and snacking we took a moment to grab a group photo.

And immediately after passing under the little bridge, we quickly used the paddles that came with the raft  and the frisbees tethered to the rental tubes to make our way to the sandy shore of the day use area of Pembina Provincial Park. Once out, we caught the shuttle bus back to PRT, returned our rentals, and headed back to the campsite.

Tubing was a great experience, and one we will undoubtedly do again. In fact, the very next day, I purchased my own tube and Glory and I hit the river again while Audrey returned to the campsite with Nitti to read her book.

This was a far sunnier day, and there were way more people on the river, but it still didn't feel crowded. The river was also running much higher than the day before, which we knew thanks to Alberta Environment's constantly updating web page which tracks such things. Where Saturday's flow had been only 17 cubic meters per second, Sunday's was actually 22.

The river is safe for all ages up to 35 m3s though, it just runs a little more quickly. We ended up at the second bridge at about the 100 minute mark, compared to the previous days 2:20. This time though we drifted right past the day-use area and rode around two more bends before arriving at the gravel beach of our campground. 

The strength of the current and the slipperiness of the rocks made it more difficult to stop than we had anticipated, meaning we ended up about 60 metres further downriver than planned. Ah well, less distance to walk back to our campsite. I joked with Audrey that next time we will equip her with a sturdy rope she can cast out to us as an arresting device.

With two floats under our belts and another probably happening at month end, I am confident we will return to the Pembina before too lone. After all, you can start your float by noon and still be back in Edmonton in time for supper

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