Writer’s note: This cherished memory is dedicated to my dear friends, Bob Moser and Ed Layne, both who passed away a few years ago.
“I think I’ve lost the brakes,” Ed said pumping the pedal for more pressure on our borrowed motor home.
I thought, well that’s not too good considering we’re going down the backside of Sam’s Gap gaining speed on every curve.(The very steep old highway to Asheville)
I could read the headline now. ‘Local Men Killed By Runaway Mini-Winnie Only Minutes From Home On All Male Trip To Sunny Florida.’
“Didn’t you get the brakes checked before we left?” I inquired of our nervous driver. White-knuckled passengers gripped the nearest handholds in the swaying motor home.
“Hey, slow this thing down. We can’t see our poker cards. They’re jumping all over the place. My lemonade is spilling,” sang the passengers.
Thankfully, we ran out of mountain and reached the bottom in one piece, not a very auspicious beginning. We pulled into Asheville and headed south. Our close encounter with the mountain was soon forgotten giving way to continuous interstate miles. Ed had taped a sign on the inside of our motor home picture window. It read… “The BEACH Trip” with the letters underlined, B-brotherhood, E-mancipated, A-nd, C-harismatic, H-eterosexuals, a very creative addition to the Carolina interstates.
Years ago our group of friends including Greg Cox, Chuck Bolton, Ed Layne, Bob Moser and I took annual “all male” adventure trips to somewhere. Others joined when possible. This particular year we decided to snorkel down the Ichetucknee River in Florida south of Gainesville. Of course, our trips were planned to increase our knowledge of American culture and history. Having a few days of male bonding and total freedom had nothing to do with our jaunts.
After driving all night, we pulled into the Ichetucknee River State Park about 6 a.m. It was raining in sunny Florida. We decided to sleep for a few hours before attempting our adventure.
The Ichetucknee River is a virtual paradise with crystal clear water flowing at 1 knot. It empties into the Santa Fe River. We planned on snorkeling with mask and fins to enjoy the fish, turtles and other abundant wildlife. The river also contains dinosaur fossils. The river’s spring pours out 233 million gallons every day.
We traveled to a local dive shop to rent wetsuits. The clear 73-degree water was chilly. We were told our six-mile swim could be dangerous if we developed hypothermia. Bob Moser, being a large man, had a difficult time finding a good wetsuit fit. We finally got him stuffed into a suit. It was so tight his arms stood straight out from his body. The storeowner said Bob was the largest man he had ever seen in a wetsuit. We agreed. Bob decided to leave the suit on as we left the store to head back to our camper. Bob walked stiff legged with both arms straight out unable to bend in the tight-fitting rubberized attire.
The air temperature was 65 degrees. Wetsuits provided warmth as we entered one of the most spectacular and gorgeous rivers in Florida. We floated slowly, pointing out to one another the darting fish. The white sandy bottom outlined largemouth bass, turtles and other fish. It was unnecessary to swim. The gentle current pushed us along as if floating in air.
It took six hours to finish the trip. We were exhausted and cold but it was an adventure we’ll never forget. We stopped by the dive shop to return our wetsuits. It took two of us to peel Bob out of his wetsuit.
Our next stop took us south to a Crystal River dive shop. The owner who got the impression we were a bunch of hillbilly yokels told us there were real live mermaids in the river. We, of course, didn’t buy that malarkey. We were college grads, military veterans. We knew Mermaids live in the ocean not the river. These Mermaids were actually the protected sea cow or Manatees famous in that part of the state.
After a night of singing camp songs around our little motor home, Greg Cox decided to head north at 4 a.m. He assumed our entire merry band was asleep in the back of the motor home. They were, except me. I was in the shower house sprucing up for travel. I heard the motor home’s engine start. I grabbed my towel and flip-flops. Greg was pulling out. I chased after the slow moving Minnie-Winnie yelling. I made it to the side door banging as loud as possible. I barely made it. Greg stopped and let me in.
“I thought you were in the back asleep,” he said.
We both agreed it would have been hours before the others awoke to discover they had left the guitar player behind and bare. Snorkelin’ can be dangerous.
Near Gainesville Chuck Bolton complained of a sore throat. We all conferred and decided he might have caught a serious water borne snorkeling illness. We stopped at the University of Florida emergency room and escorted our ill snorkeler to the nurse. She took his temperature and pronounced him ill. Our group diagnosis was correct. While Chuck was getting checked out we decided to enjoy the Florida sun and opened our lawn chairs on the hospital’s front lawn. We grilled hot dogs and sang a couple of songs. Four hours later Chuck walked out having just received a hypodermic for strep throat. Chuck felt better in no time.
After another day of travel we headed up the North Carolina side of Sam’s Gap. As we cleared the summit and headed down, Ed and I looked at one another and both said, “Slow.”
When I walked in the door Judy asked me what happened on the trip.
“Oh, nothing. We did increase our knowledge of American history and culture, though,” I revealed.