Knowing and no-nos

Having spent a fun weekend at Buffalo Point, I thought it appropriate to record a few significant thoughts, events, and memories.

We were in Loop C, of course, site 46. It’s the long skinny one with the major rock walls, on the non-river side, with the little gravel trail up to the bathroom that’s up some steep steps across the street. It’s not our first choice site, but when we went to reserve it over a month ago, it was one of only two sites left. The Whittakers camped in the one next to us, in their new, MASSIVE, gorgeous camper that is more like a mobile home. Nevaeh Ritter was with them, and Mark and Chantsee Jones with their kids, Lykin, Kamber, and Tallia (3 months) were in the nearest tent site, just a good hard stone’s throw across the road from our traditional “corner” site.

In our nearly 28 years of marriage, I don’t think we have ever before gone camping on a holiday weekend, but we did this time, compliments of our now being (or at least becoming marginally) “normal,” due to Andrew’s being in school. I assumed that on Labor Day weekend the campground would be packed with noisy, wild-partying folks, but it was very pleasant. Although all the reserved sites were reserved, a few of them were actually empty and the folks around us were nice.

Between us and the Whittakers, we brought ten kayaks and several inner tubes, but it turned out that the river was reportedly too low to float. Of course, that is to be expected in the first week of September, but being ever hopeful, a few of our folks, including Mark and his older girls, did do a short little float/swim/tube from the bluff to the campground on Saturday.

Now, there are places in the world where just about anything can be done, and conversely, as we have learned by experience over the past year or so, there are several things that absolutely cannot be done at Buffalo Point, or, evidently, anywhere in the vicinity of the Buffalo National River, which things I will now present in no particular order.

  1. Loyal readers will remember that Scott and I were nearly ticketed to the tune of $155 when pulling our kayaks out of the Buffalo at Kyle’s Landing. Our grave illegality that day was NOT being drunk, stoned, or obnoxiously loud, as had been approximately 58% of the four thousand other floaters that day. Oh, no. We simply were floating sans life jackets, and doing so is an enormously large no-no.
  1. Mark and Chantsee did not have a boring weekend. They arrived at 11:00 PM Friday to a site Scott had picked out and reserved for them. They had borrowed a three-room tent, Mark had never been camping before, and Scott helped them get set up in the dark—there, in the dark—till about midnight.  They ran an extension cord from the nearby pavilion in order to have a light that night and to make coffee in the morning, but the next day they were accosted by a park ranger who informed them that that was strictly against the rules and that if they continued to use the pavilion’s power, they would be fined $50. Therefore, that was the end of electricity for them. Using power from a pavilion you have not reserved is also a no-no.
  1. Last year at Buffalo Point, Shane was moving a group of kids and teens from Point A to Point B some fifty yards away. For this extensive journey, the young folks all piled into the back of his truck with—horror of horrors—the tailgate down. Alas, a park ranger beheld this situation, stopped the truck, made the kids get out, and threatened Shane with a ticket. Now admittedly, that threat may have had something to do with Shane’s “but this IS Arkansas!” comment, but in any case, transporting any humans in the back of any pickup is a big no-no.
  1. On Saturday afternoon, Shane and Georgie took their own two kayaks up to the Highway 14 bridge to put in for a little float. An officer of some branch or the other of the law was standing there, not far from a pile of hundreds of items of concessionaire’s gear – canoes, life jackets, kayaks. This officer watched Shane and Georgie unload their boats and get things set up. He watched Shane go park their truck and walk back. He watched them put in and shove off, and only when they had paddled some twenty feet—and knowing full well the answer to his own question—did he ask, “Do you have life jackets?” They did not, and so he told them they were not allowed to float. “It’s against the law to float without a life jacket. People drown here every day.” Shane thought (but did not say out loud), “This must be a very dangerous place!” The officer told them they could rent life jackets at Wild Bill’s for $10 each. They were steamed and disappointed, but thankful he didn’t give them a ticket. so, lest any of us had harbored any doubts, this situation confirmed the fact that not only is it illegal to pull your kayak OUT of the Buffalo without having a life jacket on board, it’s an equally massive no-no to put it INto the Buffalo in the first place without said personal flotation device.

Later that same afternoon, Scott and I drove up to the bluff to swim, Scott taking with him the old, beat-up mesh lounger he found a couple months ago on Bull Creek. After doing the long hot hike pst the pavement and over the huge gravel hill, we finally and with deep gratitude (both the temperature and the humidity were in the upper 90s) submerged our bodies in the water on the upstream end of the gravel mound, nearly up to the cliff from which Scott has jumped off quite a few times (“Aye-yee!”), and while he was floating and I was swimming/wading, many other hot, sweaty folks came floating by, either in canoes (dragging a lot), kayaks (dragging a little), or inner tubes (not dragging much at all).

But here’s the amazing thing: not only did every canoe and kayak have a life jacket affixed and visible, every inner tube had, too! So, wait a minute. . . are inner tubes now considered watercraft, too?!?  I thought inner tubes were themselves designed to keep people afloat(!), so where would one draw the line? If inner tubes are “vessels,” then what about those $0.99 blow-up rafts that ladies lie on to tan? Would those require life jackets, too? And was Scott in fact also breaking the law by lying in our mesh float without a personal flotation device?!? And what about me swimming beside him? Is the day fast approaching when I will be required to wear a life jacket to swim?!? Or to wade?!? And what if I choose to simply stand on the shore and gaze pointedly at the water? Must I wear a life jacket then? Honestly, when I think of the ramifications of this slippery slope, when I take it to its logical conclusion, why, it strangles even the Olympics! Could Mark Spitz really have won his seven golds while wearing a life jacket?!?

I clearly needed factual answers, and in researching Arkansas laws, I found the following gem on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s website under “Laws for Canoes, Kayaks and Inner Tubes on Arkansas Waterways.”

Life Jackets

Every vessel must have one type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device for each person on board. All life vests must be:

                United States Coast Guard-approved,

                in good and serviceable condition, and

                of proper size

Children 12 and under must wear a life jacket, which must be securely fastened while on board any vessel.

I also found one website that said PFDs must be “readily accessible.” While I am still not sure how to determine whether a floating item designed to hold one or more persons is or is not a “vessel,” at least I now know more than I did.



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