Larry was a serial sports enthusiast. There was no law
against that, but there should have been. Although he was an equal
opportunity enthusiast, sports requiring partners prompted him to drag
me into his latest sports craze. Being naturally unathletic, I didn't
mind disc golf or bowling too much. But after he subscribed to an
extreme sports magazine, I tried to avoid him like the dentist. It wasn't
all that hard, since Larry, although much more an athlete than me, had
a high enough Klutz Factor that his enthusiasm for a sport would end with
a stay in the hospital, so he wasn't generally around long enough to sequester
My musings were interrupted by the phone. I was off-balanced sufficiently that I didn't check the caller ID.
"Uh, Larry! How's it going! Catching a lot of air on your mountain bike?" I said, hoping to steer him from uncharted waters...
"My bike is 3/4's of the way down Mount Baldy. From what I could see of it from the tree, it wasn't worth trying to climb down to get it. And the chopper pilot said there was no way he was going to let me try to get the bike, what with the broken ribs and all. So that's over... But did you get the email from the ZRA?"
I have frequent dreams that I am floating down a river, often getting caught in a rapids, or going over a dam. Generally then I wake up, go use the bathroom, and my dreams become much dryer. I've had enough experience canoeing flat midwestern rivers to be totally leary of the Zip River.
"Say, Larry, ZRA. Aren't they the Druid Fascist Terrorists?" Rather than listen to his own enraptured description of the email for 5 minutes, I admitted I'd read it. After that it was only a matter of signing a few insurance waivers and credit card vouchers, and we were on our way.
We left our cars at Buck's Tavern, at the confluence of the Big Zip and Little Zip rivers. Buck's Tavern had partially burned down some years previously, but some of the patrons hadn't noticed, and were staring at us out of the holes in the side of the building. Or maybe they were staring at the ZRA Express, which was pulling into the lot in a cloud of smoke and dust.
Larry said, "The last time I went we
only did the Little Zip river. I had to bribe the guides to let us
do the Big Zip, and even then two of them quit the company rather than
accompany us. I told them you were made of sterner stuff..."
"You're absolutely right about that. But I don't want to steal your glory, Larry. To show you how tough I am, I'll brave Buck's Tavern while you take the first run.
Just then the chief tour guide emerged from the old school bus which was the ZRA Express.
"Hallo. I am Heinrich, your float guide. Today is a glorious day. May we all live to see the sun set! This will happen only if you follow orders precisely. If I say rodeo roll, you say Yeehaw and do it. I do not like questions. It's a long drive to the put in spot, so get on the autobus now!"
Larry and I got on the bus. There were no others. Heinrich came after a few minutes. "I was just putting on the chains for the snow fields. All is in readiness."
We started up the road, which constantly was switching directions except for upwards, with only occasionally a glimpse of the froth we were supposed to navigate sometime in the future.
Heinrich called back to us, "If you brought your video camera, now is the time to use it, to record your martyrdom for posterity. There will be no opportunity for cameras when we are on the felsen, I mean river..."
"Say, Larry, he said no questions. So I have to ask you, what's a rodeo roll, and why does he think I should know how to do it?"
"Phil, he wasn't going to let you on this trip unless you were an expert kayaker, so I had to pad your credentials a little."
"Like you mean he thinks I've done this before?"
"Like he thinks you're a professional..."
"Like, Larry, you're out of your mind!"
"Phil, I'd never tried kayaking before the Little Zip trip, and it was a gas. I know you're a quick study. Think of all the sports you picked up instantly."
"I've still got some confusion about Cricket, Larry."
"Look, Phil, all you've got to do is keep going down the river, and steer away from the rocks. You've got gravity on your side... You can even stay facing forward, if you feel nervous about it..."
We finally reached the snow fields. The bus careened about but kept going higher. I could see the tree line far below. The bus came to a halt.
Heinrich started handing out gear. "Put on these crampons on your boots now, so you do not start your descent too soon. Remember to remove them before entering the kayak, or you may make the little holes in the bottom of the boat, which would be bad for all of us. I don't like to lose kayaks..."
"Umm, Heinrich, this isn't a question but an observation. There's nothing but snow here--no river..."
"That's correct. This will be the first time descent of the Big Zip from its source exactly here on the glacier. Due to the slope, it is theoretically possible to start sliding down on the snow, and hit the river as it emerges from the bottom of the glacier. That will also be one for the record books. A glorious day!" He started humming a military march as he removed the kayaks from the back of the bus.
Larry said, " I wonder how the bus will get back down. The other day there was a driver."
Heinrich replied, "The driver refused to drive. If we make it to Buck's Tavern, Buck has promised to carry us back up to the bus on the shoulders of some of his faithful patrons."
I said, "That's awfully generous of him."
Heinrich said, "I think for him it is a business proposition. He has been taking bets against our success, and if we make it he stands to win a packet..."
"So he thinks we can do it," Larry said optimistically.
"Buck likes to play the long shots. He always picks the Cubs for the World Series..."
I remembered, before entering into
the kayak, to remove the crampons. It was, after all, practically
the only instruction besides calling out "Yeehaw" when doing a rodeo turn.
After that, everything is pretty blurry. I remember thinking, as
I shot down the glacier towards the rivulet, at least there are no trees
up here to hit... Then I hit a rock embedded in the glacier,
and I had to concentrate on where my paddle, arms, and brain were...
Just before hitting the water, I caught my first air, as there was
a large dropoff where the snowfield turned to a little torrent.
Then I was on the chalky river, facing up looking into the menacing sky, menacing glacier--everything was menacing. Larry was a small dot behind me, and Heinrich was standing by the bus and waving his hat. All of this alerted me to the fact that I was heading downstream swiftly going backwards... So I began to use my paddle to turn around. I was helped by the many small rocks which attempted to make me into a floating pinball, but by so doing occasionally pointed me down hill.
Ahead was a placid mountain lake. I slid into it, yelling Yeehaw!
It was then that the storm broke, with
lightning and thunder in perfect proportion to the wind and the rain.
It was a good thing I was wet already, or I'd really have lost all hope...
As it was, once you're wet, what's a little more wet? At the
shore, I tied up the kayaks to a bush and tried to figure if Larry could
have survived the plunge over the falls without his kayak.
I heard a rustling noise behind me. I fully expected it to be a bear, since it was that sort of day, but instead it was Larry.
"I'm so glad you got my kayak for me, Phil. I pulled in to shore to take a leak, and the next thing I know it was out there bouncing around with you. Heck of a storm, isn't it?"
The thunder then made chitchat impossible, but finally the storm passed, and we stared glumly at the rising river.
"I was looking around for a way to hike out while I was in the bushes, and the canyon walls are sheer along here. The only way out is down. It can't be worse than what we went through already."
I was going to argue the point, when a bear came tumbling down the falls, and started towards us, looking very unhappy.
It was nice to be on the river again...
Life is lovely on a kayak...
Except for the moment when I broke my paddle in half (see photo above, taken by Heinrich), the rest of the trip was relatively uneventful. And that was really the problem. We should have come upon Buck's Tavern by now, yet that event steadfastly refused to happen. Although there was no tavern, we did finally come to a bridge, lit with headlights in the growing dusk.
And there on the bridge was Heinrich!
"You fools, you did not wait for my instructions. You did not return when I yelled and waved my hat. You spoiled the perfect day for the perfect paddle!"
I said, "Heinrich, this is too much! Here we risked death, came down the source of the Big Zip River, making history, while you chickened out and didn't even make it to the lake... You've got a lot of gall!"
"Pah, you did not wait for proper placement of the kayaks, and went down the wrong drainage. You went down Pussy Willow Creek, a class one float for beginners."
"Oh yeah?" said Larry. "What about the falls?"
"There are no falls on Pussy Willow Creek. At one point the creek starts down a slight rapids, where the children like to put in their inner tubes. Perhaps that is what you encountered.
"I will return you to your cars at Buck's Tavern. But I advise you to get out of the bus before our arrival, and try to quietly start your cars. Buck is greatly disappointed in you..."
|7. The Ravine Runner||8.
|11. The Secret Six||12.
|13. The Old School|
Lost in the City
The Curse of
Pirates of the Puget Sound
Building a platform, plank by plank
How I spent
Help I am trapped
in the future
Nose of Death