Beer Float: two words that, for some, would conjure up the unappealing image of a dollop of vanilla ice cream afloat in a mug of their favorite ale. For me, and for a small group of people with whom I share the experience year after year, the words Beer Float inspire joy, freedom and beauty.
Beer Float. Quite simply, it is an annual pilgrimage to a spot in Southern Missouri, to camp and to float on the river. This year marks the tenth such trip: BFX, for short. One weekend a year, we escape the humdrum, leave the kids with Grandma and head off to a little patch of ground near Eminence, Missouri, right on the Current River. The weekend's focus is a daylong canoe trip followed by a campfire, singing and usually more than a little, you guessed it, beer. For St. Louisans not enamored of the Ozarkian (not a word, but used with alarming frequency on Missouri State Parks web sites) lure, float trips conjure up Deliverance-like images of Billy Bob teeth, wife-beaters, full-body tattoos and beer guts on women. I'll admit, it is some of that, but that is part of the charm.
For most of the ten, this trip was THE vacation for my husband and myself. A honeymoon-like getaway, it would be our only weekend sans kids for the entire year. Both busy with work and school (over the last 13 years, either he or I have always been students as well as full-time employees) our lives were not well suited to vacationing. The Beer Float was our luxury, and we have prided ourselves on our collection of BF gear, upping the ante for groovier camp gear each year. Now that we're "grownups" with actual vacation time, we still get giddy when the BF approaches, shooting each other "T-minus the number of days left till the trip" messages, a countdown we relish, for a trip we hold sacred.
We've been making this trip since we were all in our early twenties; now we approach our mid-thirties and some of the details have changed. We drink a lot less, there's more material in our swimsuits and the conversations span colonoscopies, fiber and potty training. We used to plot our careers; now we try to come up with ways to get out of them, to spend more time on the river, and with each other. Our pre-trip packing list used to be shorter and included lots of mixers and snacks. Now we check with each other to make sure we remembered our medications and the emergency list for babysitters.
A tight bunch, we (most of us anyway), met freshman year at the University of Missouri. Some go back further, to middle or even elementary school. But somehow we all bonded and have made this trip our Mecca. Like a family, we've been through births, deaths and bad hair together. In fact, I've been known to say (without the influence of alcohol) that in some post-apocalyptic universe this would be the group of people with which I'd share my bomb shelter.
We used to give an award to the canoe that traveled the furthest to come to the BF. Now it is a toss-up. We've had floaters from Texas, Colorado and Wisconsin. More than you'd believe actually fly in; some are regulars. Most of us are from around these parts, and chances are, no matter where we live, we'll return to the Current year after year. The plan is to make it to BFXXX or beyond, using walkers on our hikes, all wrinkly in our bikinis.
I've only missed one BF trip. I gave birth to my daughter just days beforehand. It was tough to do without that year. Some people look forward to Christmas. Not me; I'm not a big fan of the retail holiday. Some like birthdays, or even Thanksgiving. For me, the thought that drags me through the gray gloom depression of the thick of February, the glimmer that pulls me through too-busy spring and summer is the thought of that rushing river, and a little piece of land near Eminence, Missouri.