Tubing and chilling on a Sudbury summer afternoon

Chillin N Tubing located in Chelmsford

While it's a good idea to don sandals or water shoes while tubing downstream, the author opts to go barefoot for his maiden trip down a stretch of the meandering Vermillion River. The shoreline and river bottom here mostly consist of sand, so it is not an entirely reckless choice. Jim Moodie/Sudbury Star jpeg, SU

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It’s been a while since I’ve boarded a school bus, and I am pretty sure it’s the only time I have done so barefoot.

About 40 of us — many sporting sandals or water shoes — are packed into this big yellow rig, which is driven by actual school bus driver Don Lalonde, although in this case we aren’t kids headed grudgingly to class. We are tubers, happily bound upriver — where all that is expected of us is to float back down.

“I just do this on the side,” says Lalonde, who resides in summer at Hidden Village, a campground just downstream from the Chillin N Tubing site on the Vermillion, north of Chelmsford. “I like it because everyone looks forward to this ride.”

It certainly seems to be true with this group. Just before we hit the road, one of the Chillin N Tubing staff climbs aboard, stands in the aisle, and asks: “Are we going to have fun?”

“Whooo!” we answer.

It’s about a 20-minute ride to the put-in, up sparsely populated Lumsden Road, its sides thick with replanted red pines and mixed forest, then down a narrow, sandy track, which doesn’t seem to have been graded or brushed out any day of late. Branches rake the window, and we bounce through the ruts.

Lesley (waving, front right) and Kevin Mertens of Newmarket, along with daughters Allison and Caitlyn, set off on a float trip down the Vermillion River. Jim Moodie/Sudbury Star jpeg, SU


“We’re off-roading in a bus,” laughs Katryna Bryon, here with friends Logan Blanchette and Mikayla Valentine.

All three are from nearby Val Caron, but this is their first taste of the Chillin N Tubing experience.

“I’m liking it so far but I’m kind of surprised it’s like a quad trail getting here,” says Valentine.

A few bounces later, a male voice says: “The good news is I see a river.”

This would be Kevin Mertens, who has come all the way from Newmarket, along with wife Lesley and girls Allison and Caitlyn, for a family float, although they didn’t know they would be doing it until they arrived in Sudbury.

Chillin N Tubing clients lug and drag their floppy craft down to the water at the launch site off Lumsden Road. Jim Moodie/Sudbury Star jpeg, SU


“We came here for Science North and stuff like that, but then a friend from Hearst told me about this tubing thing, so we thought we would give it a try,” he says.

When the bus shudders to a stop we all clamber out onto a sand beach, where a few people and a couple of dogs are sunbathing and swimming. The fleet of tubes, most of them red and blue, are awaiting us here, shuttled up earlier in another bus, painted blue, by another Don with a two-syllable French surname beginning with an L — Leroux.

“It’s a fun job,” he says. “The best part is I’m done at 2 p.m., so I can go back to camp and open a cold one.” (Like Lalonde, Leroux summers at a spot quite close to the job site.)

We’re actually the third group of the day, but Chillin N Tubing has enough of these floating donuts to go around.

Chantal St. Germain, co-owner of Chillin N Tubing, carries a tube out of a bus at the headquarters of the summer-fun business, located on Nickel Offset Road north of Chelmsford. Jim Moodie/Sudbury Star


“We only had 12 tubes when we started five years ago, just doing it with family and friends, but it went viral,” says Chantal St. Germain, who operates the business with hubby Sylvain. “Now we have 105 adult tubes, 30 for kids, 15 for toddlers, and 25 cooler tubes.”

I had noticed a few parties lugging coolers onto the bus, and now I see how they are going to make their way down the river — not in someone’s lap, or bobbing randomly nearby, but towed along on their own little inflatable trailers.

Me, I’m travelling light. No food, no footwear. Just a notebook, smartphone in waterproof case, towel, and a tiny tube of sunscreen. Oh, and a litre of water in a Nalgene bottle, which won’t fit in my cupholder, so it has to just roll around by my hip.

I’m the last to leave because I’ve been preoccupied with getting pictures of everyone else departing, in their red-and-blue craft. As I watch them float into the distance, Leroux presents me with my tube — a pink one.

That scene from the movie Reservoir Dogs springs to mind. Steve Buscemi protesting: “Why am I Mr. Pink?”

There’s no time to get touchy about this, however, so I wade my floppy, fuchsia craft into the river and climb in.

In case you don’t know, there is no elegant way to get on a tube. Two words: Flop in.

And start floating, although the Chillin N Tubing folks do provide a handy kayak paddle, intended mostly for pushing yourself off a snag or shallow area, as there is no real need to propel yourself on this trip — the flow of the river does that for you.

Me, I’m behind everyone else, so I have to paddle to catch up. This is where I learn that there is no easy way to paddle a tube.

I am a canoeist, and occasional kayaker, accustomed to a boat that is narrow and pointed, often keeled, and just generally designed to track forward when manually encouraged to do so. Now I am in a round, spongy thing that spins.

Eventually, I figure out an approach that sort of works, keeping my hands close together on the shaft of the paddle, and doing short, brisk strokes. It’s exhausting, but I am gaining on the pack, even overtaking a few.

Also, I am thinking about my coworkers back in the office, rolling their eyes at the thought of me spending a whole afternoon lolling on a river. I feel like I should put in some effort, and get back in time to write something.

St. Germain says tubers should budget three hours for the trip, longer if you want to stop and picnic, or swim, on one of the many sand beaches along the way.

It’s only a kilometre or so, as the crow flies, from the launch site to the take-out, but the meandering makes it more like 5 km, and the current isn’t that swift in mid- to late-summer.

I’m sure it was faster in the spring. As I paddle along, there is evidence of the torrent that came through earlier — mounds of driftwood stacked up here and there, and what I originally think is a bird’s nest on the trunk of a cedar leaning out over the river, until a fellow tuber helpfully points out that it was stuff that got stuck up there during the deluge.

I bump into quite a few of my fellow tubers as I go.


It’s an inevitable part of the Chillin N Tubing experience. You can’t really steer very well, and the current wants all of you to go through the same bottlenecks and bends, so there you collide.

I pull ashore for one quick dip off a beautiful sand beach, where the water is deep enough to dive in — this is an exception, as in most places it is only a few feet deep — but mostly I paddle, thinking of it as a kind of challenge to get back in some kind of record-breaking time, which is really the opposite of what you should do if you are going on this trip.

Chillin, it’s the first word in the name. Let the current do the work for you, and soak up the scenery.

It’s certainly a picturesque stretch of river, mostly encompassed by Crown land; you pass by one place where people live, or cottage, and that’s pretty much it. Otherwise, it’s all trees, beaches, rippling water and sky.

Even as I exert myself so as not to feel guilty, I enjoy the sun-spangled water and the sandy banks and the company of the many bright blue dragonflies that hover just above the water, as well as a few schools of minnows just below.

Next time I go, on my own time, just for enjoyment, I am definitely going to ship my paddle and drift. I may even get one of those cooler tubes.

— For more information, go to chillinntubing.ca or call 705-665-1084.