"Okay, I want you all to stand in a circle and tell each other your names and why your names and why you're going on this trip."
It was eight o'clock on what seemed like the first cool, overcast morning in weeks. And here we all were, a disheveled band of sleepy and somewhat apprehensive adults about to set off on a Howard County parks and recreation wilderness adventure.
Our mission: to float down 3 1/2 miles of the Gunpowder river in an innertube.
Those 3 1/2 miles would include a small waterfall, several sets of rapids and intermittent rain. There would also be stops to pick wild raspberries and many long streches of tranquil, idyllic, almost dreamlike beauty and solitude.
"I'm Mike," one adventurer offered, "and I'm going because I think it will be exciting." He wasn't disappointed.
Originally I'd pictured a quiet float down a slow-moving river, but the Gunpowder, which winds through Gunpowder State Park north of Baltimore, has a lot more to offer than that.
Aboard our innertubes we swirled through rapids, glanced off boulders, got hung up in fallen trees, and were sometimes unexpetedly jabbed by rocks hidden just below the surface of the shallow water. It was more exciting than bumper cars at an amusement park and a lot more memorable.
In fact, after one particularly exhilarating joyride through rocks and waterspills, several of the more intrepid innertubers in our party hiked back not once, but twice to do it over again. On the last trip three thrillseekers locked legs and came down in tandem -- screeching gleefully all the way.
The innertubing began at Pretty Boy Dam. There the leaders, Ken England and Marta Sylvester, left us to paddle around in the (at that early hour) deserted pool at the base of the waterfall while they took a car down to the pickup point.
Our object was to learn to maneuver our craft, but very few of our party became expert in the art of innertube guidance. Innertubes seem to have a will of their own. Mainly you just settle into them and hope for the best.
It was nice, though, to float around in that quiet pool admiring the falling water and the spray from the fountains. Occasionally we would inadvertently bump tubes, smile and drift apart.
There seems to be something about floating on a rubber doughnut that increases the tolerance-and-good-humor quotient in the average adult. At least, it worked that way on this trip.
"It's like being a kid again!" one man shouted. The others in the party grinned and nodded agreement.
"I'm going for the scenery," Ken, one of our leaders, had told us. And scenery there was!
When you spend three hours floating down a river you see a lot of things you don't ordinarily notice. But perhaps more remarkable was what we didn't see. Except for an occasional hiker or picknicker, there was no sign of civilization. For three hours we floated untroubled by traffic, gasoline fumes or noise pollution.
The Gunpowder is a narrow, winding, rock-strewn ribbon of cool, green water thickly overgrown on either side with trees plants of every description.
There are tall, bright-red tiger lilies, yellow-and-white daisies, Queen Anne's lace and, most wonderful of all -- red raspberry bushes.
By the time we drifted down to the raspberry bushes we were all hungry. Gratefully, we curbed our innertubes and paused to pluck the ripe fruit.
"Now comes the mellow part of the trip," Ken told us we rounded a bend into a wide, tranquil expanse of slow-moving river. It was obviously time to relax, and people arranged themselves in various positons of repose. Some lolled on top of their tubes, while others sank down inside their craft, put their heads back and closed their eyes.