The Yadkin Death-Float of Twenty Nineteen.

They say the best way for your kids to appreciate their upbringing is to spend money on memories, not things.

They won’t remember that $43 remote control car, but my kids will never forget the time they thought they might die on the Yadkin River back in 2019.

Before we get there, let’s rewind back to August of this year, when my middle child turned 9, and Jacq and I decided that (due to his love of all things fishing) we’d purchase the largest boat you can own in the state of North Carolina without having to license it: A nice 12-foot inflatable raft.

We planned a fishing/rafting trip for the weeks following, but the wind and rain turned it into a fishing-only trip.

The trip was a success, but we still needed a chance to test out the new boat.

Enter this past weekend.

The joy of a raft is floating down the river, and not having to propel yourself down the river. In our area of the state, all the rivers have widened out to the point that, while they are moving, they are not moving fast enough to prevent a strong case of arm fatigue. So we, with the help of my brother, planned to head west toward the foothills where the water is still deep enough to not pop the float on the rocks, but moving steadily enough to propel us down the river relatively quickly.

I mean, after all, we don’t want to be stuck in a 12-by-8 space with two kids for 6 hours.

We mapped out a put-in/take-out location with just a few miles or so of water between them, and embarked.

My mom and dad kept the 2-year-old who we briefly entertained the idea of taking with us. If the title of the post and multiple foreshadowing elements were not enough: That would have been a catastrophic mistake.

Here’s how the day went:

10:30 AM: Arrived at put-in point after dropping off our getaway vehicle (with the lunch cooler) just a short 15 minute car ride away. We’ve begun pumping up the boat.

Selfie of Jacqueline with Ben and one child in the background pumping the boat while the other child plays in the water.
Jacq documenting the beginnings of the adventure.

11:30 AM: We’ve put in and anchors away for the short journey back to our car. Much fun is had on the first 3 sets of “rapids” and floating, playing and journeying commences. All is well. The first rounds of snack have been consumed.

Small raft with 2 adults and two kids in it. Oars on one side being handled by dad.
All smiles as we embark on the journey.

12:45 PM: We’ve travelled about three bends in the river, and should see the bridge that indicates the “taking out spot” at any moment. The kids and parents have both had fun, made a memory, and cooled off in the unseasonably hot September weather.

We don’t have any sunscreen (it’s just just going to be a couple of hours!)

The snacks in the boat have been almost completely depleted other than the emergency stash for Jacqueline’s Type 1 diabetes control.

View from the boat with two children and wife floating in the distance.
Enjoying the sun, cool water, and 90-degree temperatures.

1:41 PM: We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve rounded a bend expecting to see a bridge, but feel confident about this next one.

One of the oars snapped off the end on a rock, leaving us using the other oar as a paddle. This has resulted in much spinning of the boat in a circle, as it is a rudderless craft. We are now fully dependent on the current, but have found that with all 4 humans in the vessel, it does not progress at even the speed of the current without assistance.

One of the children has jokingly suggested calling 911 and being rescued. We all laughed at the thought.

3:15 PM: One child who decided to “float alongside the boat” has somehow ended up nearly out of sight behind the boat. Jacqueline has made the “I don’t want to fight about it but you’re going to need to stop and wait on him soon” face, despite the fact that the child was specifically instructed that we would under no circumstances stop and wait on him. Keep in mind we have been travelling for much of the time at a rate slower than the current. He can keep up by committing to just not touch the bottom of the 2-foot-deep water, and allow his Personal Floatation Device to live up to its name.

All he has to do is NOTHING, and he catches up. You see my issue here, reader?

We find a sort-of-shady spot, I grumblingly hop out and use myself to anchor the boat and wait. I turned and used my outside voice (I’ve never been accused of even having an inside voice) to bellow “HURRY UP” to the child. The child made exasperated arm motions and whines something shrilly.

3:20 PM A child just asked “hey dad what would you do if I hopped out right now?” To which I replied “Outwardly, just fuss and make you get in the boat. I’d also glance at my wife, who would make a ‘please don’t kill him he’s just a child’ face back at me because she would know that inwardly, since I’ve not eaten anything since 7 AM other than a diet Cheerwine about 3 hours ago, I’d be considering ways to injure you in a way that is covered by our insurance plan at 100%.”

The child decides not to jump overboard.

3:27 PM The GPS on Jacqueline’s phone refuses to locate us correctly, and says that my phone (in the getaway car) is still a “45 minute walk” away. We are comforted by the fact that it also doesn’t currently have us on a river despite the clear fact that, if we are anywhere, we are on a river.

The river is our only reality now. This river, 4 humans, 1.5 oars, and the distant sounds of what might be a bridge but also might be a tractor in the nearby field.

One child has switched from “call 911 as a joke” to “but seriously, call them and rescue me I’m so bored and hungry.”

The other has formed into a sunburned ball coiled up in the muddy puddle that is the bottom of the boat.

3:42 PM: Somewhere, a distant car horn rouses the youngest from his slumber. He rubs his eyes, unable to make them focus. He’s not sure what day it is, but he’s clutching his trusty half-oar, whose splintered end will serve as a spear to both capture fish to eat and ward off predators.

As his vision clears, he sees his family, baked in the sun and only holding one or two of the emergency carbohydrate bars that will literally save his mother’s life. He must not eat them. He can’t.

Dad appears to be asking him something, but the words rumble against his eardrums like a bumble bee trying to come through a window.

Brrzzz Brmmm bZZZrrr

A leaf floats past the boat’s edge, mocking him with its progress toward THE BRIDGE. The fables of the bridge have passed down from one generation to another. The legend of the bridge has grown over time, and he imagines it to be thousands of feet tall, gleaming in gold against the backdrop of early autumn green leaves.

He resumes his daily task of bailing water from the inside of the boat using an old Diet Cheerwine bottle, a reminder of the good times.

He leans his head on the starboard gunwale, feeling the sting of its sun-scorched heat on his temple.

He fades back off to sleep.

4:19 PM: The GPS has begun defaulting us to the closer of the roads to the getaway car, and we’ve started to travel in a more southward direction. Both of these are good signs.

Thanks to the sacrificial love of my wife (and her 300+ blood glucose level thanks to the early defensive snacking) I’ve eaten the last of the snacks, giving me a second (14th?) wind of emotional energy.

I’ve begun making “on the bright side” comments.

These comments have not been met with joy from my children, who have been emptied of all bright sides by solar radiation and lack of YouTube.

4:30 PM: After fighting through a narrow pass fraught with storm-felled trees ripe for puncturing an Amazon-purchased raft, we rounded a corner to a concrete monument to our liberation.

Its sun-bronzed pillars shot up from the center of the river, holding aloft not only NC Hwy 67 (connecting travelers from East Bend, NC to Tobaccoville NC), but the hopes and dreams of the lunch cooler nestled securely in the back of an Acura SUV.

We had MADE it.

Just a short 45 minutes later (after deflation, consumption of easily the best turkey sandwich ever crafted, and packing of the things into the car) we pulled out onto NC 67, and turned left toward Tobaccoville.

I leaned over to Jacq and smiled, saying “Just imagine if we’d brought the 2-year-old!”