Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Tough Lesson

One of the guys I canoe with likes to drink - a LOT. On more than one occasion, I've seen him down a gallon (yes, a gallon) of Jim Beam in a 24 hour period. That amount of alcohol would probably kill me. He tends to binge drink... staying dry for a while (weeks or months), then falling off of the wagon, and falling hard. Our canoe trips tend to be a drink-fest for him. Sometimes it's not so bad, sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's sad, and occasionally it pisses the other two of us off. (Okay, it's a drink-fest for us too, but nowhere close to the same extent.)

For several years, he's had a habit of getting drunk to the point of passing out. Just before hitting that point, he always says, "I'm going to lay down in my canoe and pass out. You guys go ahead, but wake me up if you see me floating by." Every year, I end up staying back and babysitting his drunk ass. This year I decided that enough was enough, and so did my other buddy. That's right, we let his drunk ass pass out in the boat and we continued on downstream. I've always been the one to make sure that nothing bad happened to him, and I'd had enough.

We paddled on, going through some water rough enough to tip him if he wasn't paying attention, but not rough enough to injure him. We finished our day, pulled over, set up camp, and ate. We never saw him. Nightfall came, and we never saw him. The next morning, we made breakfast, broke camp, loaded our canoes, and he still hadn't shown up. He didn't appear until noon.

We found out that he pulled over on a sandbar just upstream from us. Not having a tent, he tipped his canoe over, and slept under that. He also had no fire and little food. Meanwhile, my buddy and I worried that he was genuinely hurt.

Our actions had the intended impact though. He stayed relatively sober the rest of the trip. In fact, he didn't drink at all for the next day and a half. When he did finally drink, he only got slightly inebriated. He gave us a little crap for ditching him, but we both told him we were tired of babysitting his drunk ass. I went further and said that I didn't want to hear another word about ditching after having babysat his sorry unconscious body for the last several years straight. He said "fair enough," and that was that.

He suffered the physical effects of his stupidity. We suffered the guilt of wondering if we were doing the right thing. It was a tough lesson for everyone. I wonder if it will have a long-term impact on his drinking pattern. Probably not, but I can hope.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I Need to Apologize

On the way to the put-in spot, I ended up behind a pair of pickups towing large catamaran-style boats, going about five M.P.H. under the speed limit on a hilly, winding two-lane highway. I wasn't in a hurry, and I certainly wasn't road raging, but I did want to go faster than they were traveling.

After following these guys for about ten minutes, things fell in line for me to pass... the vehicles in front of me got far enough apart for me to leap-frog between them, the highway flattened out a bit, and the double-yellow lines became a single stripe. Seizing the opportunity, I tromped on the gas, made my way into the other lane and started my pass. I was about 1/4 past the guy when I saw another truck towing another something-or-another, headed right for me. I slowed down to get back to my spot.

Unfortunately, so did the I was trying to pass, though I didn't really notice that specific aspect at that exact moment. I did see that I probably wasn't going to be able to get back into my lane, and began evaluating the options. I had considered going into the ditch, but it was too steep and I definitely would have rolled. I filed that in the back of my mind as a last resort though.

Eventually, the guy I wanted to pass got the idea that I was slowing and gunned it, allowing me to get back in my lane. During this whole thing, I never panicked. My blood pressure never went up. Immediately afterwards, both trucks in front of me pulled over, allowing me to pass.

Thinking that was pretty cool, I gave the guys the thank-you wave as I passed. In return, I saw red-faced, shouting, angry faces, answering my wave with a one-fingered salute. Apparently they thought I was a crazy, reckless driver trying to pass them at whatever cost. And on top of that, they probably thought that I was an obliviot for waving and smiling at them while they were yelling and flipping me off.

It's really kind of unfortunate that my attempt to pass caused that kind of anger in them. It's too bad that they didn't understand I wasn't just some idiot in a hurry, I was a fellow motorist who happened to make a mistake. Sorry dude.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Little History About the Trip

We've been doing these canoe (and occasionally kayak) excursions for about fifteen years. It all started out with the three of us hanging around in my living room (many years ago) lamenting how we miss the boating and camping that we used to do as boy scouts. One of us said "Hey, instead of whining about how much we miss it, why don't we just do it?" And we did... a three or four-day trip down the Upper Iowa River. From there it became an annual event.

Our trips initially took place on Labor Day weekend, but we frequently ran into problems with low water, so somewhere along the line we changed to Memorial Day weekend. The water is much better, but I tend to get a little cold at night and early in the morning... especially when we go north. Fortunately, we went south this year, and I loved the weather. Next year should be back to the same old stuff though... we're planning on going to the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota and Southern Canada. I think I'm going to have to start purchasing my warm gear now.

Over the years, we've done a lot of different rivers. We've repeated the Upper Iowa once or twice, and we made repeat trips to Northeastern Wisconsin during our whitewater days, but for the most part, we do a different river each trip. I think back to our early excursions and see how much we've grown and changed over the years... and how much we're the same. We used to intentionally try to sink each others' canoes and play pranks on each other. Those days are gone. Now we talk... or sit together in content silence. We reminisce. We used to carry a lot of stuff that we didn't need. Now we carry a lot of stuff that we do need.

I think that we all see our trips coming full circle. The tradition was started by remembering trips to the Boundary Waters, which is where we're going next year. Furthermore, during this trip, I asked the other guys if they'd consider doing something completely different... something like a motorcycle camp trip. They were both open to the idea. One guy even suggested a trip to Vegas, because he's "never been anywhere."

I took some video footage of the trip. I plan to edit the footage and turn it into a video, which I'll probably post on YouTube. I will also be talking about the trip itself over the next several posts.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stand By Me

A couple of friends and I did our annual boys' trip last week. I'm working today, so I won't be expounding on the trip, but expect a few posts in the near future.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An Early Memory

Last night, I caught a wild hair and started thinking about writing a book. I don't really know whether it would be semi-autobiographical, a series of essays, or what. But I had the title picked out... Sh!+ Town. It would be a book about where I grew up. I even had the cover designed. It would look like the proverbial flaming bag of poo on the neighbor's doorstep. The flames would partially envelop the bag, and in place of the first word of the title, there would be a hole burned in the bag, and you could "see" the word.

Next, I started rolling backward through time in my mind's eye. I zipped right past my adulthood and entered my teenage years, a couple of memories at a time. Suddenly I found myself in my early childhood... in a different city. Before reliving the memory, I briefly realized that I would have a difficult time writing Sh!+ Town because I wasn't born and raised there. In fact, I didn't move there until I was almost twelve.

That thought faded, and I was back in my early years. I must have been four or five. It was Christmas, and my younger brother and I had just received the coolest presents ever... one of those sit-in pedal-style cars. (They've now been replaced by the electrical version, which in all honesty I think is a little less cool than the cars we had to pedal.) One was a sports car... I think it was a Jaguar, but I can't remember for sure. The other was a firetruck, with a far sturdier build and removable ladders.

I sat in the sports car, thinking that it was the coolest thing ever. The doors even opened! I was just about to lay claim to the car, when I noticed that a door didn't work quite right. Enviously, I gazed at my brother in the still-perfect firetruck. I needed to convince him to trade with me. Though still brand new, and really cool, there was a flaw in the sports car, so I had to have that firetruck. I don't remember exactly how I managed to do it, but I convinced him to trade.

Fast-forward an undetermined period of time... I'm pedaling the firetruck around the neighborhood on the sidewalks. We lived in a trailer park, on a cul-de-sac road, not quite at the end. I remember a gentle incline on that road. The street was new black asphalt, and the sidewalks were perfect concrete. One of the ladders was missing from my firetruck, but I didn't really care. I only needed one ladder to rescue the ... well, who or whatever needed rescuing that day.

One of the interesting things is that I remember that Christmas in the first person. But when I see myself riding on the sidewalk, it's primarily in the third person. When I notice the ladder missing, I'm back in first person, looking over my right shoulder to where the ladder should be. But as I ride the firetruck, I see myself through today's eyes... the adult me is standing in the cul-de-sac, watching the younger me ride on the sidewalk without a care in the world... occasionally stopping, putting the ladder on something, climbing the three rungs and rescuing something.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Let's Talk About my Stupid Dog

I've got two dogs, but I'm only going to talk about one today. She's a sweetheart. She's an escape artist. She invades your personal space. She's around eight years old and still thinks she's a puppy. She drinks out of the toilet and then tries to lick you. She loves laying at people's feet. She hates going outside in the rain. And she tore her left rear paw last week.

The cut went from just above the ankle down to the end of the paw, between the two outer toes. I took her to the hospital and it took about two hours to clean and stitch her up. I still don't know how she did it. I asked her what she did, but she wouldn't tell me.

The vet said to keep her paw bandaged for the day, and then remove the wrap and let things air out. She didn't understand how exuberant my dog is. Realizing pretty quickly there was no way to make her go easy on the paw, I chose instead to keep the paw wrapped for about five days, changing the bandage every so often. I figured it would keep the paw protected and prevent stitches from being ripped out, while still giving enough support to let her run and play in the back yard with her sister. I think I'll take out the stitches today.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Grass is Greener...

Like Paulius, I recently purchased a new lawn mower from Lowe's. My experience, however, was the total opposite of his. Before I start that aspect of the story though, let me back up a bit...

When I first had to start mowing the lawn, I lived in a rental house with a lawn virtually small enough to mow with scissors. The house was directly adjacent to an alley... no lawn there. The "back yard" was a patio... no grass there. The only grass in the front yard was the area between the sidewalk and the street, and the side yard was no larger. I purchased a mower because I didn't know the neighbors well enough to feel comfortable asking them to borrow.

The mower I purchased was one that had been salvaged, scavenged and rebuilt. I paid about $40 for it. Since I had such a small yard and cheap mower, I never took care of it... never changed the oil, sharpened the blade or anything like that. Heck, my storage of the thing consisted of throwing a tarp over it during the winter.

When I moved into a place with a real yard, I didn't see a need to buy a new mower (the old one worked fine) but I did sharpen the blade occasionally. Last spring I finally changed the oil and spark plug... several years (I don't recall exactly how many) after originally buying it. A month or so before the first frost, the handle broke. I'm usually pretty good at figuring a workaround when stuff like this happens, but this time the handle snapped in such a way that the only viable option was replacing the handle. I was unable to find a suitable replacement in a brief period of time, so I bought a new mower. I felt bad about ditching the old mower simply because the handle had broken. It seemed really wasteful. But whatever.

The new mower was about the same price that Paul and Sunny paid for theirs. I don't know what brand they bought, but mine is a Bolens -- a brand I'd never heard of before I purchased the thing. I was a little disappointed that I went from a 22" radius to a 21" cut, but in exchange, I got a mower that will mulch or bag from behind. The old mower would only spit the grass out the left side, which was a little restrictive.

Here's the part that was unlike Paul's experience... my mower was pretty much assembled. I merely had to put the handle together and mount it to the base, and put the oil into the engine. I was up and running in about 15 minutes. (This includes the mandatory beer consumption that accompanies any manly project.) Since then, I've mowed the lawn ten or so times. The mower has performed as expected. (NOTE: The assembly time didn't include the time needed to put the grass catcher together. That alone took as long as the rest of the assembly.)

By the way, I did not purchase a self-propelled model. My yard is the typical suburban lawn... not big enough to truly need a self-propelled mower. Besides, actually pushing the mower is one of the ways that I get my exercise during the summer, and every bit of horsepower devoted to moving the mower is a little less cutting power.

It's a little ironic that Paulius posted about his mower today. My grass is really long.