"This place is like 'Redneck Florida'," said my friend Eric, a part-time wildlife biologist.
He was right. Sunshine, alcohol and water were not in short supply. But here, the scenery looked more like the cheap-seat crowd at a NASCAR race, to include sunburn-red beer bellies, faded two-piece rebel flag and Budweiser bikinis, straw cowboy hats and about 3,000 drunk people. The only thing missing was a beach.
For my "going away to Albuquerque" shindig, my guy friends and I decided to float Current River, a spring-fed Ozark
riverway located within the Mark Twain National Forest in Southern
Missouri. My expectations included only a sunburn and a couple of
laughs, but what I got was an authentic experience.
Upon arriving at Van Buren, Mo., the popularity of a Saturday float became evident. People were everywhere. Dome tents covered the riverside campsites. Hundreds of people sat around in a large gravel parking lot, waiting to hear their name announced and then transported upriver to a drop-off location. Large colorful coolers were being packed from place to place. Nearly everyone was carrying a beer, drinking beer, talking about drinking beer or "yee-hawing" in excitement about drinking beer.
I wondered how hard it would be to "have a good time" here without drinking. Inside my head, I questioned my choice of this over camping on a sandbar in Kentucky Lake. Either way, it was too late for regrets. We paid our $16 fee for a "cadillac tube" and began to get ready for some kind of fun. We just didn't know what kind of fun.
"Hey Jon, I'll put sunscreen on your back if you'll put it on mine," said Derek, my 275-pound actor friend who once played Elvis. Hindsight is 20/20; I agreed too quickly to this deal because his back was at least three-foot wide and covered in the classic-black, curly stuff.
As I squeezed the SPF 50, a group of 40-year-old, chunky, redneck women screamed, "WOOHOO, MAN LOVE!" Everyone around us started laughing, and I knew the jokes had just begun.
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