“Tubing is a thrill ride; we don’t do this on a lazy river,” says Harry Jameson, owner of Town Tinker Tube Rentals in Phoenicia. “If you want a lazy river you should go to a lake or something.”
Since 1980, Jameson has been sending people floating down the Esopus Creek on giant inner tire tubes that have been converted into flotation devices, some of which have wooden seats in their centers to protect derrières from hidden rocks under the water. Customers rent their tubes and life jackets, and also have the option to rent helmets and wet suits (the water temperature is usually on the cool side, even in the hotter months, so one is recommended). The package also includes a bus ride to the start of the course. Though there used to be two courses people could ride, Hurricane Irene altered the creek bed, so Town Tinker now only offers one path, which begins two-and-a-half miles above Phoenicia and ends back in town. The rentals are good for the day and only require an extra $5 for a second bus trip if you want to give it another go. Old sneakers are the best footwear, as they protect your feet well and are less likely to be lost in the waves.
Rapids on the Esopus are usually between one and three feet high, and the river is on average two to three feet deep. “At three feet deep you’ve got a few sets of rapids that you get a little kick out of,” says Jameson. “But the water can get up to six feet deep and then it becomes an Olympic sport.” He notes this most often happens on designated “release days.” Four times a summer, NYC and the Department of Environmental Protection release water from the Schoharie Reservoir to give the city more drinking water and help keep the ecosystem balanced. For tubers, this extra volume means a more exciting ride. “You have to do your best to stay on that tube. But getting tossed off is part of the fun,” he says.
For Jameson, observing the wildlife as you float is one of the highlights. “I’ve had some fun times tubing with a bunch of ducks, and it’s not uncommon to see eagles fishing. I saw a bear one time,” he says, noting that blue heron, mink, deer, and beaver are also common sights.
Contributing Editor Hilary Sparling notes that tubing can very easily turn into a full day’s event. “One of the great things about it was the deeper and calmer water holes where you could stop and bob around to prolong your ride,” she says. “And the ride itself is both relaxing and exhilarating. You can’t always control where you’re going so you might bump some rocks, but if you’re with a good group of friends you end up laughing.”
Tubing season begins on Memorial Day and lasts through the end of September. The Town Tinker runs seven days a week and only cancels in the event of thunder and lightning storms. Yet even during rain showers, Jameson still sees a steady flow of customers. He says: “People ask if they can go on a rainy day and I tell them, ‘Well, you’re going to get wet anyway.’ ”