White Water Rafting

Now, part two of the four-part series.

Just a quick remember from last week, that this story is out of order. So, while it remains the third chapter in the series, it is still the second story in the telling sequence, (come to think of it, it’s the second story in the events sequence as well). Hmm… Whaddya’ know.

The Cast: Erich (Supplier of lumber), Myself (supplier of design), The Crick (Supplier of fun).

Thinking that the least I could do—after the horrors of the night before—was to check-in on Erich, I headed over to his home. It was about mid-morning and looking to be a beautiful day. The kind of day that would be perfect for play and exploration. The sun was out, not a cloud in the sky, and already the temperature was rising. This would be a perfect Water Day.

Water Days are those days where you sweat ever so slightly, just because you exist. It’s warm, but not stifling hot. The sun is out, but not burning. The kind of day where a dip in a cold swimming pool is welcome. Or just running through the sprinklers, and then sitting on your porch, eating popsicles while you dry. That’s a Water Day. You gotta play in water on those kinds of days. It’s a rule.

As I walked, I lamented the loss of such a perfect Water Day. Erich would be laid-up for who knows how long, due to the terrible incidents of only a few hours ago. I also figured Erich’s mother wasn’t going to let me hang around, given my involvement in her son almost losing his leg. But, if I could see him to know he was alright, just see how he was doing, that would be good enough. Then I would leave. I wasn’t going to ask for more than that.

To my surprise, Erich was the one who answered the door. Full of energy, he greeted me with, “Hey! I was just about to come over.” The near-death experience from the night before didn’t seem to phase him in the least. (also, his mom was very forgiving and didn’t blame me for the previous night’s events)

After some discussion, it was decided that surely we could figure out something we could both do—given Erich’s limited mobility—on such a fine Water Day. At that, we began to walk about town in the warm sun and to our great joy and glee, we found The Crick abundant with water. The water was deep and the current was strong. This had the potential to be a lot of fun. If only we could get in it. But, with Erich’s fresh wound, I knew that wasn’t happening today. Shame. The Crick wasn’t usually like this.

Author’s note: The Crick was the name Erich and I had given to one of the large irrigation canals that ran through town. The water it carried was mountain run-off, and the canal cut a diagonal swath from the South-East corner to the North-West. Along the way, small channels—running East and West—took the water to the rest of the community via small ditches next to the roads. This water was used for all kinds of things, watering gardens or lawns (typically), or sometimes for animals such as horses. We did have plumbing and running water—the town wasn’t that mid-evil. The name The Crick was pronounced upon it by myself and Erich, as we thought a backwoodsy/hillbilly name was best. Considering the very agricultural setting. Many a time I have told people about The Crick and they respond with a, “You do know it’s pronounced ‘creek’, right?” To which I politely come back with, “It’s the name of it, you moron. I know how to say ‘creek’. The name ‘Crick’ identifies it from the other ‘creeks’ in the area. The name is The Crick. Not just a crick. Like I’m some sort of ignorant stupid-headed imbecile who doesn’t know how to say ‘creek.’ Duh!” They usually have nervously walked away before I get to finish. Anyway…

The Crick had a large section that ran for a few blocks, underneath Main Street.

“It’s a shame we can’t go in.”

“Why not?”

“Um, you’re knee?”

“What about it?”

“If it gets all wet, the stitches might pop.”

“Well then, let’s not get it wet. I’ll just wrap it up.”

“Well okay!”

With that idea thoroughly fleshed out and dealt with, we began to plan what we could do in The Crick. Even though Erich was willing to submerge his injured leg into the cold water, full range of movement was still difficult. His knee just wasn’t responding too quickly because deep bends hurt a little. Besides, last time we went in when the water was high and fast I almost drown—but that’s another story. So, we needed to be careful. (pun intended—get it? ‘needed’/’kneeded’)

We followed the flow of water, as The Crick had a few ‘sweet spots’ and a few rough patches that we wanted to check on. These areas were where either a lot of rocks (small boulders—seriously) had been dropped in, as well as patches of no rocks where it was deep and moved almost too quickly. The second sections were the most concerning as slime and gunk had developed and might pose a walking hazard to the injured (not to name any names *cough* Erich). What we needed was something we could just sit and float on. Like an inner-tube. But they were too wide and our butts would drop through and hit the pointy rock tops as we bounced and floated over them—more bounce than float, but still. Also, and more importantly, we didn’t have any. If only we could build a boat or something like a boat…

“I got an idea!”

Somehow through discussion, we devised a sled/ski-like design that would allow us to ride over the boulders, while the water pushed us along. After several design changes, we settled on the perfect build. Now, all we needed were the parts. Erich said that he had some scrap wood. I had some tools. And between us we had the nails and screws to make it work. YES! So, we split up to collect what was needed. I headed home to get what I could, while Erich hobbled back to his place to find the scraps.

The design was simple, effective, and pure genius. It was like something out of one of those cheesy teen-boy 1980’s stories (like The Mad Scientists’ Club by Bertrand R. Brinley—I loved those books, they inspired me). Measurements were dictated by what we had. By that I mean, we had two 2×4’s and we needed four skis. So, each board was carefully measured. And then cut in half. That’s how long each ski was. The seats were done the same. Erich had a spare plank that had fallen off the roof of the dilapidated barn in his backyard. That too was carefully measured. And then cut in half—after the rot had been trimmed off the ends. That’s how wide each seat was. Also, the seats were as deep as the board had been wide. Next, we needed supports for the seats. This took some thought.

We knew that the more mass we added to our Crick Sleds the less likely they would be to float/slide down The Crick. So we had to be cautious. Also, our backs were to be the ‘sails’ for the ‘wind’ (water) that was to push us. See, a boat can have a stern that is flat, where water might naturally push it. We figured that if we put a panel on the lower part of the seat the water would do that, but then it might catch on the rocks. So, we compromised and decided that if we lower the seat into the waterline more, our bodies would act as that panel and help propel the Crick Sled (and we would get splashed more—that’s important on a Water Day).

The finishing touch was like magic. Erich had two wooden barrel boards. Two! Like a scripted movie moment where the heroes need a specific item to thwart the enemy, and they just happen to find that one special thing at the last second, buried in the closet of a kooky aunt, who just happens to invite them in for cookies or something like that.

“How…? Why…?” Was all I could offer in words of wonder and awe. Seriously, who has spare wooden barrel boards floating about?!? Tell me. I would love to know! Sorry. I digress.

As they were Erich’s he got to choose the better of the two for his Crick Sled (one had some rot in the middle, making it, um… less stable). This was only fair. Although at the time, I didn’t really agree. But it was fair. They were his. Like the rest of our cuts, these boards were measured and then cut in half. Woodshop would be so easy if more projects were like this. “Just cut it in half, man!”

We mounted the ‘ski-tips’ to the underside of our 2×4’s so that as we encountered rocks and such the curvature would help move our pathetic (but wickedly-awesome) rafts over them. However, one of mine wasn’t all that stable. Due to the rot—that happened to be just off to one side of the middle, so as only to affect one ski—I had some difficulty securing it to the 2×4 (the nails and screws were limited, so I had to work with what I had).

We had procured a couple of wooden dowels from my house, to use as ‘oars’. We knew The Crick well enough (as I mentioned before, I almost died in it). The water would push us enough that we would have no need to paddle. But we would need to be able to break, or push off of stuff. We needed a sturdy stick. Like a compressed wooden dowel. Finally, all set! Almost.

There was still the issue of Erich’s leg and the deep gash so recently sewed together the night before. “No problem. I just need some plastic to cover it.” And Erich retreated into his home, only to return with a plastic bread bag and some tape. I thought he was going to wrap the bag around his knee and then tape it. No. He cut the bottom off and then slide his leg into the bag, folded it back over itself, and then taped the top and bottom directly onto his hairy leg—with duct tape.

“Off to The Crick!”

The Crick Sleds were light enough to carry the short distance to The Crick. We weren’t that particular about what our entry point was, we just wanted in. In no time at all, we were at an entry point. But this was a slick spot and if we just dropped in, we would be goners. We needed a better spot. Fortunately, we had one (remember we knew The Crick really well—I did almost die in it, you tend to remember those kinds of things). Not too much farther from where we were (located near Dr. Armstrong’s office—the place where Erich’s hand got sewn back together, and his leg the night before) there was a small dam that slowed the heavy stream of water considerably. This would make a better entry spot.

We did a short test run in front of the dam—in case the plan failed, so there would be something to stop us—but it didn’t fail. The Crick Sled’s worked! So, we moved to the other side of it. Once Erich had lowered himself into The Crick, to not only test the waterproofing of the bread bag but to also stand in front of the sleds so that they wouldn’t go downstream unmanned, I lowered the sleds. The water was doing a great job of trying to take both sleds and Erich without me on a wet’n’wild journey, so I scrambled down into the cold mountain run-off. Ahhh… Nice!

“Mount up.”

“Yup.” As soon as Erich sat down, he launched. I quickly followed suit.

With one foot on each ski, butt in seat, and dowel/oar to push and/or navigate we were quickly on our merry way. As the first boulders began to come close we saw the water churn and swirl about. We used the poles to push up, off The Crick’s bottom and the barrel boards took over. The Crick Sleds jumped and bumped over and around the rocks and sides, while the rushing water pushed us along at speeds we did not expect. It was a poor-man’s kayaking Grand Canyon ride. It was a blast!

We whooped and hollered and on a few occasions, I overtook Erich and slammed into him. This was the greatest gadget we had developed! (the P.A.W.s and Claws had not been built yet) It may have even been the first…

We shot down open portions and under a few of the bridges—which were the fastest sections (since there were not boulders under them), people stared, children shouted out in joy, parents shamed us in front of them (in order to dissuade the children from attempting to do what we were doing—even though we were being safe, and having the best time!) The cold foamy waters churned about us. Spray rained up and then back down upon us. We were jolted and tossed about as The Crick did it’s best to give us the time of our lives. The debris within, however, did it’s best to throw us from our rides. No chance. Nothing was going to stop us!

Apparently, we forgot about a law that we should have kept in mind. Murphy’s law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And my rotted barrel board broke free.

With no curve at the end of the 2×4 to move me over the rocks, I was slammed to a halt when the end of the board struck a large rock and I and was thrown from my ride. For the second time, I was tossed about, helpless, within The Crick’s clutches. My raft rotated and was sent after me. Not again!

Fortune (God) was with me (again) that day and I was able to find stability with the help of my dowel. “Erich! I lost my ski point!” I shouted at Erich, over the water’s roar, as he continued downstream, without me—quickly. Erich managed to stop, we regrouped, then decided that if I went first, he would just control his speed behind me, and we could stay a group. This worked out alright—but just slightly better than the first plan which was for Erich to go first and try to call out the obstacles and point out where I should drive my Crick Sled. The best part of this particular pause was that Eirch happened across a little bit of poetry inscribed on one of the chunks of cement—that little testimonial would change our world forever in only a matter of hours.

This was about the location where Erich found the tribute to our soon-to-be-friend Barbara.

Sadly, I still kept hitting rocks and when those suddenly occurred, Erich would sometimes hit me—it couldn’t be helped. After not too much of this, we decided that we should probably end our journey (I wanted out—it was hurting my back). Also, water had oversaturated the tape on Erich’s leg and the bread bag had begun to fill, tear, and ultimately lead to Erich ripping it off. This allowed for the tissue on Erich’s knee to become soft, squishy, and rend. So, the recently stitched injury began to open once again. One stitch, two stitch, three stitch, pop! Daylight come and me wan’ go home.

As we approached another bridge, we found a good location to bail, with lots of rock to drive our dowels into. We gained footing. Stood against the torrent that was assailing us—stronger than expected. One of us climbed out in order to haul out the Crick Sleds, the other remained to hand them over. The Crick had other plans. The Crick took one sled, then the other and sent them over the nearby falls, where they exploded amongst all the other flotsam shattered by sharp rocks, at the bottom.

“I didn’t realize this dam was that high.”

“Me either.”

“Hmm.”

After that wonderful watery jaunt down The Crick, we now needed something else to do. So there we were, dripping wet, a little tired, a little muddy, Erich was bleeding (Adventure!), and we were just, “So what should we do now?”

Epilogue: Over the years, less and less run-off has been sent through The Crick as better plumbing and irrigation sources have developed. Most of the ditches that regularly ran water (even when I was a teen) have slowly filled with dirt and grass, and are all but gone. Over the years, as I have passed through this lovely little town, my heart aches just a little when I see The Crick void of water, but never of memories.

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