I had never been to the Salt River and in my fourth and final year at Embry-Riddle I decided it was high time to make a trip out to the traditional Arizona college student destination.
We left on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend for the two hour journey south with an ice chest full of refreshing cold beverages. We were pretty pumped. The 107 high for the day in Phoenix sounded a bit intimidating, but the promised 60 degree water made up for it.
After we parked, I cracked the windows on my car so that it could vent in the Phoenix heat, then left to rent our tubes for $15 each. Tubes, cooler, sun block, and keys in hand we hopped on the shuttle in our swimsuits and flip flops.
The tubing was great. The slow moving water was cool and refreshing. We were very relaxed as we drifted down the river watching globs of people float by on tubes tied to stereo and cooler barges. You lose track of time when you’re tubing down a river, so I don’t know how long it took us to hit the first patch of mild rapids. As the second rough patch of rapids was just before the station 2 bus pickup and drop off point, I’d say we hit that one at about 2 hours in.
I didn’t expect the rapids to be as rough as they were. I hit my tailbone once on one rock and felt a pain shoot up my back. My travel companion hit his hip on a rock. The water rushed over the tops of our tubes, drenching us as our tube ran up against swells in the water. In the chaos, several things came loose from our tubes. We were able to recover my flip flops and the cooler and one of my travel companion’s flip flops from the rushing waters before we pulled off to the side to evaluate our situation.
With the exception of the missing flip flop, it seemed like we had everything. I decided it would be a good time to reapply sun block before returning to the water. That’s when I realized the bag containing my keys and our sun block was gone. The fact that we hadn’t seen it anywhere on the water meant that my keys were now likely at the bottom of the Salt River.
Losing your keys at the bottom of a river is a very sobering experience. For me, it meant that my mind jumped into focus. I began to realize how many ways the situation could have been prevented had I the foresight to predict it, but hindsight’s 20/20, right?
My reaction at that point was to go into analysis mode. I was missing my keys, and I couldn’t drive back to Prescott without them. I wasn’t even sure I could get into my car. The first step to a solution would be to gather more data about the situation. To do that, I had to get back to my car.
In a bought of frustration with the situation, my travel companion chucked his other flip flop into the river shouting “I sacrifice my final flip flop to the river.” He regretted it when we started on the trail back up to the bus stop. Between the sharp rocks on the trail and the searing blacktop road and parking lots, his feet were a mess at the end.
“Next time I see someone who is accepting donations for people that do not have shoes, I’m going to help them out because this totally sucks. It feels like the fires of hell are radiating up at me from below!” my travel companion shouted in pain as he ran across the blacktop for as long as he could before throwing down a towel for a short cool down break.
When we reached the tube rental/return building I walked up to the window and with near laughter at my situation and spoke to the first person I could find. “I need help. We lost a pair of shoes and all of my keys in the river,” I said.
“Oh man, that sucks,” said the tube rental guy. “There’s a locksmith parked out behind that bus for situations just like this.”
And that locksmith probably made a killing because there are apparently a lot of keys lost in the river everyday and he wanted $50 to break into my car and another $250 to make me a new key.
Before paying the exorbitant prices I decided to see if I could break into my own car. Apparently you can push your cracked windows down another inch before it causes permanent damage to the window, or at least that’s what my travel companion told me. That extra inch was just enough that I could reach my arm in down to my elbow and pull up my door lock.
After breaking into my own car (and saving $50), I had access to my phone, wallet, and most importantly my AAA card. My AAA membership is quite possibly the most valuable Christmas present my parents have ever gotten me. It has now gotten me out of two tight spots in just the last six months.
AAA said they’d have someone out to help me in under 45 minutes, and it was only going to cost me $75 to make me a new key. As there was nowhere we could go inside to wait, we set up a temporary lean-to in the shadow cast by the back of my car and began to guzzle down water to wait it out in the heat. It was a survival situation.
After our friendly AAA locksmith, Tom, showed up, we found out why locksmiths cost so much. He had to carve out the key by hand with the tools he had with him. It was interesting to watch the very involved process.
Then after another 45 minutes, I heard one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. At that point, the sound of my car engine starting sounded more wonderful than laughter or good music.
In order to stay sane is this chaotically, unpredictable world, I’ve found that when I can, the best way to handle situations like this is to let it roll off my shoulders while I laugh. I’ve gotten pretty good at laughing at myself.
In the lyrics of Owl City, “every mushroom cloud has a silver lining.” Our adventure was not without its silver lining. Through a fluke, I had a spare pair of flip flops in my car. By the time the car was ready to go again our swimsuits were bone dry. When the AAA guy arrived he offered and we gladly accepted cool bottles of water. If I hadn’t been standing by the car waiting I may not have experienced a truck full of guys shouting out “you’re gorgeous” to bikini clad me. We were also very lucky I had cracked the windows on my car.
We also found that the parking lot is very well patrolled after sitting next to my car for almost two hours in the heat. We found a great classic rock radio station on the way out of Phoenix and had Chipotle for dinner as a consolation for our troubles.
So, farewell my keys! May you find your way back to me or lay in peace, no doubt covered in moss within the water grass, at the bottom of the Salt River.