One of the best things about summer is the freedom to kick back and be lazy once in a while. In the Appalachians, that doesn’t mean sipping sweet tea in your backyard or on your porch. That’s an activity better suited to the rest of the South. In the mountains, people like to get out into nature — even when all they want to do is relax and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding countryside without a lot of effort.
And so some enterprising mountaineer — or maybe just a bored teenager — came up with the idea of free-floating down a river in an inner-tube. Let the current do the work. Few experiences compare to the feeling of floating down a lazy river, sunshine overhead, bathed in cool water, listening to the birds sing and feeling the breeze gently blowing across the water.
Inner-Tubing as a Business
In the Asheville, North Carolina, area, tubing means Zen Tubing. Zen Tubing takes all of the work out of your tubing experience. Simply park at one of their two locations, pay for your trip, and they’ll shuttle you up the river with an inner-tube to their easy put-in spot. From there, you’ll float serenely back down to where you parked and hop out of the river.
Zen Tubing provides everything you need for a wonderful morning or afternoon trip, freeing you from any logistical headaches. Each of their tubes comes equipped with a backrest and a cup holder. Several tube sizes are available, so you’re ensured a comfortable ride. Life jackets are provided at no cost.
Expect your trip to take between two-and-a-half and three hours, depending on the wind speed and river height. As long as you’re back to the takeout point by 7:00 PM, though, you can stay on the river as long as you like. That gives you the freedom to stop along the way to wade or swim, have a picnic on shore, or just park your tubes and lie in the sun.
The French Broad
The French Broad River, which eventually empties into the Mississippi River, is actually older than the old mountains it winds through. The Native Americans called it “Long Man” and the many bubbling streams that feed it “Chattering Children.” By the time the river reaches Asheville, it flows, curiously enough, from south to north.
The French Broad provided this mountain city with fresh water and a navigable waterway that was important in the region’s early years. Although it was polluted at one time, conservation efforts by groups such as RiverLink have helped restore the river to its natural beauty. These days, the river isn’t used much for commercial transportation. It offers a gentle, meandering ride, with no heavy rapids or waterfalls along the way.
Zen Tubing and the French Broad
Zen Tubing’s free-floating inner-tube route takes you through the River Arts District, where former warehouses have been renovated and turned into artist studios, galleries, restaurants and breweries. You can hop off the river to enjoy a drink or a meal — just make sure to bring your tubes with you. Speaking of drinks, remember to bring plenty of water (or your beverage of choice). If you want to take a cooler along, Zen Tubing has cooler tubes you can rent. Just tie it on to your tube, set your cooler inside, and you’re good to go.
As you float along, it’s easy to see what attracted settlers to the Appalachian Mountains long ago. The owners of Zen Tubing, Jen and Heath White, are committed to conserving and improving the French Broad by sponsoring and participating in clean-up efforts year-round. In addition to working to preserve the environment, the Whites also believe strongly in helping to provide a better quality of life for those less fortunate, offering free trips and gift certificates to several charitable organizations.
You can find Zen Tubing at two locations: 1648 Brevard Road near South Asheville and 608 Riverside Drive near downtown and North Asheville. For more information, visit their website or call them at 828-667-8977 or 855-ZEN-TUBE (936-8823).