When Texas heats up, people from all over the state flock to the Hill Country in Central Texas. And despite my near-death experience on the Guadalupe, toobin’ on this beautiful river is still one of my all-time favorite Texas experiences.
The lower Guadalupe shoots out of Canyon Lake and runs south through Gruene toward New Braunfels. This stretch of the river attracts kayakers and canoeists, but is famous for its toobers.
On a beautiful summer weekend, the Guadalupe is full of men, women, children, and even dogs, floating down the river in rented black inner tubes (aka toobs). Armed with essential provisions like coolers, hats, water shoes, and sunglasses, toobers are prepared for a full day of fun and some of the best people-watching opportunities to be had.
For about $20 a toob can be rented from any of the dozens of outfitters lining the area. You can also rent coolers, buy ice, and of course, beer. You can’t have a proper Texas river floating experience without the beer (Disclaimer: If you’re 21).
It’s worth spending a little more for a toob with a bottom; it’ll save your rear end from getting scratched by the rocks. These toobs are also great for carrying a cooler. And for most river rats, having a cooler is more important than sunscreen. There’s no Styrofoam, glass, or small containers allowed on the river; stick to plastic coolers and canned drinks. Don’t even think breaking these rules, unless you’re ready to fork over about $500 for a fine.
Floating trips can last anywhere from two and a half hours all the way to eight hours, depending on which one is chosen. The longer the trip, the further north you’ll start on the Guadalupe. The level of the river also determines float times. After a good rain, the Guadalupe can be quite fast, and after flooding, it is down-right dangerous. Given flooding conditions, the river is closed. Conversely, during a drought, you could find yourself picking up your toob and walking across dry patches. Still, a “bad” day on the river is better than a good day doing most anything else.
Weekends tend to be a raucous time, especially on holidays. Beer flows as freely as the river and with that often comes obnoxious, drunken behavior. Authorities do patrol the area in an attempt to keep people safe and curb the lewdness. Floating the river is often a giant party on the water, but it’s still seen as an activity for families to enjoy.
Campsites and picnic tables are located at various parts of the river. Groups can take a break from floating to eat lunch or just watch their fellow toobers float on by. Ropes hang from tree limbs that stretch over the Guadalupe. The daring (and drunk) play Tarzan and swing out into the river. Flips and often belly busters off of tree trunks delight onlookers. Country music blasts from speakers along the banks.
Although the lively weekend experience is what immediately comes to mind when thinking of floating the Guadalupe, there’s something to be said for having the river to yourself. When I was a teacher and had my summers off, I’d head to my parents’ place near Canyon Lake during the week. On a Tuesday or Wednesday, I could float along and not see another soul for twenty minutes at a time. I enjoyed taking in the beauty of nature rather than being distracted by the people surrounding me.
I’ve spent many hours on the Guadalupe, but haven’t been back in several years. The last time I floated the river it’d just been reopened from flooding. The river was extremely high and running very fast. Going through some rapids, my toob hit a tree in the middle of the river and I flipped. The current pulled me under and I was sucked beneath the hollowed-out roots of the tree. I scratched the tree with my hands and gripped it with my legs trying to crawl toward the light, but I kept getting pushed back under. My head was violently beaten by the rushing water. I remember looking up at the darkness and breathing out my last breath. At that moment, I thought I was going to die.
Suddenly an arm latched onto mine and jerked me from the water. I coughed and gasped for air. I trembled. I was so shaken that I didn’t even realize my bathing suit top wasn’t where it was supposed to be. I profusely thanked the young man. Stuck in an island in the middle of the river, there was only one way off, and that was to jump back in and continue the float. Somehow I found the courage to not only jump in, but also finish the rest of my three hour journey.
I’ll go back to the Guadalupe again. I’ll float it with my friends, drink some cold beer, and sing along to the music from the river banks. And if you want a truly Texan experience, you will too.