Entertaining a Small Town Part 1: River Float

Entertaining a Small Town Part 1: River Float

A newly printed license securely tucked into an otherwise empty camo poly-velcro wallet, casually tossed onto the dash of late model modified 4x4. Bro-country blasting from a partially blown speaker as the fresh faced country boy drives from one end of town to the other; occasional stops in random parking lots to chat with other wandering teens. Having been so excited to get a truck and license, he neglected to assemble a plan as to what he would actually do once he acquired his long sought freedom. “There has got to be something more than this…”. That self inflicted discontentment is remedied by a star filled gaze directed toward big city lights and all the excitement and anonymity of skylines defined by crisp lines and glowing neon. So much to see, so much to do. 24/7 entertainment. I believe Pinocchio touched on this…

 

It’s true, I fell into the same mindset and ultimately acted on it. I moved away from a small town in search of the aforementioned “more”- Nashville, TN. Though any travel, cultural shakeup, or new experience is soul cleansing and inherently good- no matter how “bad”, what I found was a fast paced high octane race in the direction of some loosely defined monetary goal that usually included a few nights I can’t talk about with a few minor successes sprinkled on top. Ultimately, along with so many others, I longed to return to the small town where I could quietly lick my wounds and receive at least a sincere nod of understanding and a no-words pat on the back from the elder generation. They know, because they were me once. “Welcome home.”

 

So here I am. Back in small town America. It is not what I remember it to be, or maybe I’m looking at it differently now that I’ve experienced the alternative. Allow me to walk you around this town for a minute and introduce you to its methods of entertainment so that you might better understand why and how ‘folks’ could be so content in this little river town. We will logically start at the river itself:

 Tubers on the River

We begin on the banks of the Muskegon River. This river is unique and beautiful and accommodating to all who seek her. From the bank on a summer day, you’ll witness an endless stream of tubers lazily drifting through the crystal clear water with a backdrop of hardwoods, from one of the many drop in points up river. People travel from great distances to experience this phenomenon and it’s difficult for me to put in to words exactly how magical it is to float the Muskegon River, though I’ll try:

 

Park your car and grab your necessities- lotion, flip flops, cooler, sunglasses…. Yeah, that’s all you need and a few of those items are debatable. Youand your family and friends make the short walk to the riverside business that rents tubes. They are friendly and excited to see you again- they remember you from last year! The sun is warm and a few stray clouds drift overhead, but they cannot compete with the grandness of that big blue northern sky and that radiant sunshine warming the early of the day. There’s a nervous kind of excitement mixed with an eagerness to tear into the cooler snacks as you anxiously await the short bus, appropriately named “cool bus”, to arrive. It doesn’t take long because there’snearly a dozen buses running on a busy day.Don’t worry, there’s plenty of river for all. You load the short bus and the hot dusty vintage green seats fill up quickly with excited and incurably happy summer bums adorned in bathing suits and sunscreen. You’re sitting next to a complete stranger but she’s cool and just as excited as you- new friend! A short drive brings you to the wooded drop in spot of Thornapple landing; just one of the many drop in points up river from our little river town. Here you see adventurers aplenty among the yellow, pink, blue, and green flotation devices of all kinds- kayaks, canoes, tubes, drift boats, etc. Some have launched and already begun their slow lazy float down this prehistoric river, while others are participating in their pre-float rituals and socialization on the sandy riverside. You unload from the bus and a friendly guide helps you to your tube- the day has warmed significantly and you’re anxious to feel that cool current beneath you. Your group enters the water and there is a brief and fleeting chill from the contrasting cool of the river.And then, you float. There is nature, pure and unbroken, beautiful and serene. The warm of the sun, the cool of the river, the song of a bird, the gentle breeze, and the slow steady drift of your tube toward the next bend in the river. For a time, you are quiet and simply take in this magic. You suddenly remember your party and call out to the closest member to you, “wow, this is nice…” is all you can think to say as you close your eyes and look to the sun, taking in every drop of vitamin D with gratitude and appreciation. Turtles line the fallen trees on the shore, a majestic crane is fishing in the shallows, a bald eagle soars high overhead. The crystal clear water beneath you shows you current polished river rocks and the beautifully painted fish that live among them. You’re surrounded by forest and the fresh air is almost paralytic as you settle in to a state of complete relaxation. No phone, no worries. You almost can’t see the fly-fisherman in the knee deep water casting gentle arcs of line toward that shady spot near the half submerged fallen limb downstream. It’s like watching art in motion; a dance with nature and you are fortunate enough to witnesses it in its purest form. You quietly watch as you gently float on. The next half hour is quiet and peaceful with slight changes in the depth and current, but you are comfortable and accepting of the difference- no worries. You spot the rest of your group washed up on a small island in the middle of the river and you gently paddle to them. Drinks, food, laughter, sunshine, swimming, and sunbathing. You close your eyes and hope you never forget this moment as this moment has shown you what true happiness looks, feels, tastes, and sounds like. It is perfect. You continue your float and the next couple hours are much like the first- indescribably perfect. You view the Newaygo bridge after the last turn in the river; after passing by a few cottages and a riverside park you swear you’ll stop at next time you visit, and you feel a sense of relief mixed with disappointment. You are sun burned, waterlogged, and overwhelmingly happy. Not sure you ready for it to end, but you casually hand paddle over to the shore and a friendly guide helps you as you reengage your land-legs. He takes your tube and you slowly walk back to your car a short distance away. Your group is lethargically and contently walking with you as you laugh about your newfound peace of mind. You pile in to your hot car- someone forgot to crack the windows, and the warmth reminds you of the hot summer air on the river though it is no where near as fresh. You sigh in complete satisfaction as you head back to your reality.

Geese Floating

And that’s it. You did it. You experienced one of the many forms of entertainment this small town has to offer and it is magic! It is unlike anything anywhere and we are fortunate to feature such magic right here in Newaygo! See you on the river and make sure you watch for my part 2 of this blog series about entertaining a small town!

 

-Gabe Schillman

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