Three bucks a person.
Solid trade for an inflatable tube to whisk a family along the Chattahoochee River through the Georgia hill-country town of Helen and beyond.
A couple more bucks for a stick, and a bit of bungee to connect mom, dad and the youngest child, tube to tube to tube; another stick and a bungee strap to connect the tubes of two 13-year-old cousins, another son and a nephew of the family's man and woman.
Recent rain had slicked the rocks and moss of the river bank.
Though the rain had stopped, clouds did not keep a horde from ginger-walking, pigeon-toed down to the river balancing their pink tubes and sticks, hiking up their swim trunks, adjusting their bikini straps, tugging their ball caps hard around their heads.
One by one, they stuffed their bottoms into the inner-tube holes, spinning away from the shore, washed away by rushing waters.
The man, woman and youngest son coordinated their similar entries into the waters. Their tubes connected so that one entered and the waters wanted to spin away without the others, then two entered so the waters tried even harder to leave the third person behind.
The man being that third person so he had to hold his wife and son steady in the water while aiming his own behind into the third inner tube.
He fell into the tube. His bottom sank deep into the rushing waters. His knees level with his shoulders. His feet high and out from the tube.
The three swirled away from the bank. The older cousins entered together. They spiraled past the man, woman and younger boy. The man's behind striking the first of many stones beneath the waters.
Three bucks. The man believed for three bucks he would get a lazy adventure. A calm ride on a tube down a river, but the first rock to smash into his backside and hip warned him otherwise.
Looking behind for the rock that struck his rear, he turned in time to see he was about to crash his face into an overhanging tree limb. A quick push of the stick, he saved his face, but not his rear-end. It struck another rock beneath the surface.
His wife needed the stick so she could push away from another limb. He passed it to her with a quick overhead twirl. He, she and the boy would repeatedly pass the stick during the next hour-plus on the river.
Two minutes into the journey, they passed a round, grey grandmother and her grandson stuck on a small island of rocks. The grandson may have been 4 or 5. He wore round glasses too large for his face.
He looked like the boy from the "Home Alone" movies. Except the look on his face wasn't the O of shocked realization but a shrieking quaver of terror. He screamed as if he may die on what was supposed to be a vacationing hour of fun.
The man reached for the grandmother's inner tube. He hoped to pull them free. His hand slipped. His three connected tubes continued down the Chattahoochee. The boy's shrieks echoed along the river until they were lost to the sounds of rushing water and other voices.
Dozens of voices. Hundreds of voices. People hunkered into pink inner tubes clogged the river. So many people that one could easily feel becoming too intimate with half-dressed strangers bumping into one another then flowing along until bumping into some other stranger.
The man felt ridiculous with his long legs thrusting his bare feet and toes into strangers' faces, but he could do little to help it. He could do nothing, either, to keep strangers' feet and toes from suddenly being thrust into his face. Then a second later, everyone parted and swirled away to smash into someone else's faces, toes or tubes.
After many moments of dealing with feet, buttocks-smashing rocks, overhanging tree limbs, saving a few strangers stuck on jutting rock islands, missing others, keeping themselves from tipping out of their tubes, twirling the wooden stick one to the other to the other, the man, woman and youngest son had lost track of the teenaged cousins.
They had last seen them floating and talking to two floating girls; the man appreciated the teens' graceful ease of dealing with the river's unexpectations while he handled every new encounter with awkward irritation.
Now, the teens had vanished. Or had become camouflaged as two more people with pink inner tubes on the river with hundreds of other people in pink tubes. The man finally smashed one end of the wooden stick deep into the water, deep being the full depth of only about three feet, which accounted for the many times rocks had bruised his behind.
The stick dug into mud and rock and dug until it anchored them, stopping the flow of their three tubes. They stopped on the flowing river. Other tubes bounced into them and bounced from them. More naked feet struck the man about the face, head and shoulders.
They stayed until the two cousins were visible on the river. One of their tubes had burst; one teen wore the deflated tube around him. The other teen towed them both along the river. Pulling near the bank, they released the dead tube. The youngest son shared his tube with his teenaged cousin. They reentered the flow to finish the last leg of the journey.
Three bucks per person. Not a bad trade for a near epic adventure, though the man could use a lazy river ride to recover from this trip. Though if offered a lazy river ride, he likely wouldn't believe it.
Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times.