A novel by Peter Karwacki
Where Ideas Come From
The snow capped peaks rising above the horizon reflecting the early morning sun tell a story of birth if one cares to listen to it. They speak of the great cycle of life and the source of life which is water. All living things require it. Once it gave rise to life itself in the murky depths somewhere a complicated of life giving cocktail of protein elements, chains of molecules formed. Simple peptides at first, mindless and driven by simple attraction and an uncanny symmetry. The frozen ice of those mountains had existed for who knows how long. Not as ice, perhaps once as the elixir of life of the desert some where in a balmy oasis. As the precious drops of rain feed a farmer's field or the lurid sweat borne of an uncontrollable heat under the fullest of moons. The sun, and overseer was to start a new dance one snow flake and ice crystal at a time. Some would perish immediately, sublimated into the ether. Vanishing with barely a lifespan. Many more, however, would live to brighter days, faster days, heady and powerful days upon a tortuous jouney to the sea, to once again join with their brethren. Warmed and liquified those begin that path of least resistance. Drawn down by the invisible forces only recently understood that power the very universe that is the mother of all. The path of the many through the history of time. Sliding down sleepy brethren, still in deep freeze, off icycle tips and off into the abyss, or soaked into a stone for another 1000 years. Other still in ice roll down, perhaps urged on bya climbers boot or a birds wing or the wind itself tumbled downwards, falling thousands of feet and diving into rivlets. Some say that the holy of holy, the Ghanga is the lifeblood of India. That would be correct for without it millions would surely die and many more, the great unwashed, would be even more unwashed. So it is in the cool morning air that disciples of the the water cycle start yet anouther day. High up in the head waters of Alaknanda and Bagarathi in the North Gharwal region deep in the foothills of the Himalyas. Home of the Gods. The objective was simple enough, or was it? While many would never consider leaving their home towns and the comfort of their precious television converters at least one would not be satisfied. Life had become toopredictable and threatened to become worst still, boring. There was, of course, a solution but a very personal one. Some would be content to start a hobby, needle point perhaps. But this solution was to go to India and not as a tourist but to paddle down the holy of holies itself and purge what otherwise would have become a life of no consequence. At least when that trip was done, no one could stay it had been a boring life, dead or alive the baggage that would be carried, memories held in the deepestand dimmest corridors would be as life giving as that mighty current. Why should it be that a choice made in the back of the mind should rise forth like that? The thoughts were part of the same lifegiving energy that created the river itself and were as old as time. Sticking to the old convenient way was never to be. Thats not the way of the universe after all. Uncommon is common. Unpredicatable is predictable. Going back in the history of men there were always those who would not be satisfied with a warmbed and a full belly. They craved for more and were plagued by vague desires, longing for adventure, for knowledge of what lay beyond the furthest horizon. Probably in full knowledge of the perils that accompanied such challenges, thirst, starvation and disease or an inhuman end, swallowed whole by a whale or impaled and pickled on the end of pigmie's stick. If it wasn't dangerous, if it wasn't potentially deadly well, ... it wouldn't be fun. Years previously in another life he had experienced those vague desires. Be careful what you wish for he thought, you just might get it. In his case in was a deceptively predictable existence behind a desk counting beans, and patient day trading death by starvation, or exposure with death of the spirit. In this world, nothing is free and abundant save for the perils that surround all men. At the young age of 23 sitting behind a desk many would have been more deserving and certainly more appreciative which is true of any thing that falls on one's lap. Isn't it typical that we devalue the things that come too easily, devalued because a total lack of perspective. The simplest things of all are devalued, fresh air, fresh water, a private moment. That desk was devalued and as a result it was held in contempt but it was also the basis for the source of the challenge. It was the origin the idea which was to paddle the Ganga.
Somewhere in the great state of Texas a family compact had done for itself in the silver market. The price of the metal had been so devalued over time that the brothers Hunt had decided to buy up about as much as they could, a scheme called "cornering the market". Predictably the price of silver went through the roof. When the price of anything goes through the roof things start to happen. Gone are the appearances of decorum, the most demure and well manicured will go quite looney. Its not the kind of reaction you'd get when the price of say, wheat germ went up a cent or two a bushel. Silver was another storey for it had uses and applications far beyond the necessities of life, being forged into currency, or plated to glass as mirrors. But more than any of this were the pictures. Silver was the basis of photography, not just the grainy little 5x7's most of us see but the big foreboding images left by high energy particles passing through the human body, slowing ever so slightly and then energizing silver nitrates on sheets of mylar plastic. These x-rays used huge amounts of silver which, most ironically would be washed away in the developing process.
When the Hunts decided to stamp their name on the silver market, the price of tea in china was considerably lower. The value of silver rose from a paltry $2.38 a troy ounze to well over $50 dollars US an ounze. Everything made of silver became expensive. The value of silver coinage exceeded its face value. Coins were gathered. Dusty old collections of dimes and quarters, pre '66 mostly were bartered and sold to the foundries. It was a hell of time. That's what brought Roger to Kirkland lake.
Roger Chadha, probably his first name was not really Rodger, it may very well have been Rajha since he was India and he was a devote and practicing Hindu. He had been in Canada only a short while and secured suitable employment in the field of silver recovery with the Ontario firm of Fischer and Goldsbie, a licensed founder of precious and recovered metals. Thats what brought Rajha to the town with no Lake back in 1981.Once fairly dark evening in December it was that he had arrived on a typcial northern swing, scoopingthe blackened silver crystalite off the anodes of the silver reclaiming units he had plugged in to the developers of almost every radiology department in every clinc and hospital in Northern Ontario. A dirty job to say the least the hypochlorate was acidicand toxic. It probably would have killed him if he did it for too long. There in lies the irony of working in and around hospitals. Oddly, they are the worst place to be if you want to stay healthy.
His swings though the north country in his cargo van were timed to arrive late at night so as not to be bothered by hospital officials and his cargo was getting more and more valuable thanks to the hijinks of Bunker Hunt and family. More or less at this time our hero was finishing up another late night of hisapprenticeship as Financial Director and chief bean counter. He had been reading about the silver market fluctuations and its effect on the price of radiograph supplies and films and was interested in finding out what was happening right under his own nose and before long had Rajha sitting in front of him somewhat sheepish and almost bemused that anybody would be taking the time to intercept him at that late hour, precisely the reason he was there at that hour! It came to pass that the details of the business relationship were revealed. Basically there were no details. The hospital would receive "a share" of the recovered material in the form of a monthly cheque. The weight of the recovered material was provided by F&G, as was the assay and trust was paramount. But at fifteen past midnight trust didn't seem to ring in too true to the bean counter.
That was the beginning of an interesting relationship between the silver runner and the bean counter. On every subsequent trip to the hospital he would always stop in before extracting his payload and have a chat and with time and conversation the visits became as rewarding as the silver business and a friendship was forged. Rajha told stories of his life in India, of his family and of his desire to leave the silver business. The bean counter took steps to help him do so and it mattered not that those steps were unsuccessful. As usual the simple act of attempting to do so was all that mattered. It was during one conversation that the subject of traveling to India came up. For one that had left to find a better life it seemed odd indeed that another, sitting behind the desk would wish to go there. Still it was the wish and it fostered a respect from the other and a sign that parochial thought had long since flown the coop. Rajha, a devote Hindu encourage spoke as though it was written on the wall overhead that one day they would meet there together. It was Kharma he said. If it was meant to be, it was to me. And somehow he know it was.
Years later, advanced from Bean Counter to Hospital Director from hospital to another our hero had fallen into a kind of personal hell of professional success and spiritual hell, surrounded by catholic ninnies and adult children of alchoholics. He worked minutes away from one ofthe country's finished whitewater paddling schools and no one who lived in the locality paddled preferring softball and golf in the summer, snowmobiling and bingo in the winter. Polish and Irish rivalries had been continued since the lumber boom of the mid 1800's when these rough hew immigrant's arrived in Renfrew country to develop what was to become the great rural slum of Ontario each with their own septic, well and garbage dump surrounded by stone or split rail fences. That hospital had been the stagefor a great many human plays and it was once again set for another. Physicians had grown tired of working on call at the hospital's emergency department through the weekend leashed to that dreary facility by their pagers, family life in tatters and sleep deprived they had decided that enough was enough. They needed more money to pay for locum tenens to come and take those shifts and give them the rest they needed. The price tag, $1000 a night, about $500,000 a year with transportation and lodging thrown into the mix. In the past the provincial goverment was likely to have thrown money at the problem to make it "go away" but in those heady days the common sense revolution was at the doorstep in the final hours of the NDP goverment and no money was coming. Rather, the hospital was left hanging out to dry and left to find 10% of its budget to pay for the priviledge of having a physician sit and twiddle their thumbs seven days a week until something more than a fishhook in the cheek necessitated transport ofa true patient by helicopter to Ottawa, or even Pembroke or Renfrew.
And so it was that our hero, sat in his office on night and hatch a plan to solve his problem. He would reorganize himself out a job, take his golden parachute and go elsewhere. It didn't take long to roll together. Upon releasing the plan which called for transforming the community hospital into a glorified nursing station administered by a much larger facility out of the district the board met predictably and gave him his walking papers, and cash.
Well that was a solution but a source of another problem. Over the years that bean counter turned administrator had married and had two children who had become accustomed to a very comfortable living. While the bean counter was out slaying fiscal mismanagement and departmental skulldudgery there were side trips to the local school and latte’s at the corner coffee and pastisserie. These things are the essence of luxury. Its one thing to enjoy these things with a well padded income but psychology is so important here. Live a life of hardship, hard work, hard play and hard living in general one takes these things for granted, possibly seeing another life through glimpses on TV or in speaking to others but generally accepting one’s lot. We trained from an early age to do this. The same is true for other income brackets. The trick is adjusting. Living with less takes such adjustments. It can be done but the transition between having and not having is an education in itself fraught with self doubt, difficulties and adjustments.
Fortuneately, humans are, in general, uniquely qualified to adapt and adjust. Many of course are not but in this case the adaptation took about five years. After the golden parachute openned up its glorious and shimmering billows of protection one had to consider what would happen next. A few letters of application to different propective employers had brought predictable responses. Vague descriptions of other candidates, more qualified and more suitable. It was the beginning of a litany of similar such correspondence. Desperation had not really set in at that point, rather, a cheerful disdain for the process and not much else. It was a golden age then and had the right choices been made things could have turned out very differently, except for a summer vacation.
The body moves towards what the mind secretly dwells upon. Day by day one makes choices and decisions based on one’s subconscious beliefs.
Our hero had been born and raised in a small town of ill repute. Clinging link a barnacle to the northeast tip of Lake of the Woods near the Manitoba /Ontario Border a dim little hamlet known as Kenora. Kenora had been like so many other northern communities a place of respite for hardy voyageurs and fur traders. In the early years, it was known as Rat Portage a place very near the source of the Winnipeg River. Water that would at some point find its way to HudsonBay and ultimately the Arctic Ocean. In those days despite the paddle against the current, the Winnipeg river was a means of transport from the north country. Around 1865 the Canadian Pacific Railway was making its way through that region and Rat Portage was the de facto place to unwind and party down, filled with brothels and whiskey houses.
In his early years our hero had discovered many an ex brothel. If they were still standing the grand houses with large trees and usually unruly grounds had been the home to beautiful women. One house, owned by the Rapinda family before in was finally torn down and relegated to the ancient memories found only in the homes for the aged had been a particularly rewarding find. Not the house itself mind you but the dump found not more than fifty feet away from the back door. It was here that the grass clippings, lamp parts, and bottles were pitched and placed firmly out of mind ast they gayly sailed down into the ravene with every good chuck. The bottles were what brough them to the site and they operated much like archeologiest on an ancient dig site, careful with their tools and careful with their booty which usually included old liquor bottles of all sorts, and tiny opium bottles, countless Mum’s Champagne bottles, each over a hundred years old, and his favorite, patent medicine bottles. The names of these were often clearly embossed in the glass. Promisary concoctions with names like Lydia Pickham’s Medicinal Compound, Kickaoo Indian Oil, and Thompson’s Electric Oilfor Consumption. There were some beautiful cobalt blue bottles for Milk of Magnesia but the truly facinating ones were those that at one time contained poison. Usually triagular shaped sites with knurled patterns to make them clearly distinguishable fromall others, by dim lamp lite and by feel.
The trip back to Kenora from Killaloe in Renfrew Country is a long and ass squaring marathon. The distant is probably over nine hundred miles and the road itself offers up two options, well there is a third the the two main ones are westward at Northbay spliting to hiway eleven to the north and hiway 17 to the west, two routes which would eventually join at Nipigon. Either way the route is two laned and uncomfortable with bad shoulders, a lack of passing lanes, often frost heaved and depending on the time of year slowed by cars pulling trailers with boats and motores or recreational vehicles. In winter, transport trucks picking up even residual snow flakes and making the car lights burst forth with an localized snowstorm.
After three days of driving you’d be happy to arrive, collapse on a sofa, take the beer, the remote control for the television and simply decompress. This was how the two week vacation to Kenora began but it was not how it ended, it ended, well or badly depending on who would ultimately tell the tale. In this case probably well. The sister and brother and law had returned from Saudia Arabia with the prodical son about eight years earlier and had finally decided to build their home about two years earlier. A massive structure all on one level with a crawl space and attention to expensive detail. Thats where the four travelers stayed and it was to be two weeks. But something happened during that visit which was to defy logic and ulitmately lead to heartache and dispair. The wife had missed the small town life, having been born and raised in the tritown of eastern ontario. Kenora offered up possibilities of a new life and possibly a rewarding one with a small business and a life among family. Her husband’s surviving parent had offered property and what seemed to be a high price but one which could be paid over time - really an exchange of land for natural love and affection as the lawyer pointed out. The plan was hatched to protract the vacation into apermanent arrangement with them staying in that massive house until another was built accross the street. Mistakes were made to be sure in decisions and in actions but the intention was sincere and bold and that is where the story narrows. A temporary employment in town turned out badly for our hero who was paid basically to warm a seat and watch others do the same in return for cash flow from the goverment. It was painful to watch from the inside. Board meetings held in Winnipeg for no other reason than to travel, wine and dine at the expense of the government. Trips to Bemijii in the Minnesota, where coincidentally there was a rather nice casino, trips to Fort Frances, - well okay may that was all right. There was no obvious reason why they didn’t meet on the reserve. Reserves were the Canadian govermenments answer to South African Apartheid. Segregation of the ultimate order. Of course, the subjucants weren’t buying and so the board meetings often were held in the Inn on the Woods board room rather than the high school auditorium.
But that was another life, suffice to say that the fast track in native self goverment wasn’t his cup of tea. So there, poised on the brink of new home construction a plan was devised to start a small business selling and installing polystyrene insulated concrete forming and build the family home using that product as a show home. He’d never built anything larger than a dog house. That fall was spent brushing the land and commissioning a catapillar to come in and dig a bunch of holes to see what was under piles of clay, moss and deadfall. It turned out to be more clay and boulders the size of a pick up truck. Watching the cat operator haul those massive stones out of the goop was truly a sight to behold. One after another heextracted them and laid them down like pearls along the prospective roadway as another operator ploughed the clay with a small bulldozer. Until finally, $3500 lighter they had prepared a circular driveway, a clearing for the septic field and a deep holein the ground where the main building would go. It was filling up quickly with water.
The winter was settling in and construction was basically put on the back burner. Thoughts turned to would could be and what would be. Thoughts of past dreams and future hopes. Thoughts of India. The plan was announced and greeted with immediate rejection. Promises of banking the money, saving it for a future day but the knowledge of how home building projects suck such funds up had sealed the idea. The plan was to travel to India in February, travel to the North Gharwal regionand kayak down the Ganges and its headwaters. The accessory in this plan was to be an old friend and past paddling acquaintance but was going to proceed whether or not he finally made the trip. In preparation for the journey Visa’s had to be arranged, hepatitis vaccinations obtained, marlaria drugs initiated, passports updated and airfare tickets purchased. Once the tickets were purchased there was no going back. They were purchased immediately.
The thought occured that Rajha was still out there somewhere and steps were made to find him. He had long since left the employ of F&G and the intrepid traveler had met with him only once a few years back in Brampton while attending a convention of the Ontario Hospital Association.
The Ontario Hospital Association had been crying poverty for the last fifteen years. He remembered the irony attending his first meeting in Toronto and visiting the chiseled limestone line main meeting room and perceiving that the shortage of funds did not exist with the association. It was at a province wide convention he now attended and Rajha had picked him up at the airport and delivered him to his home for an authentic India supper. He was master of the home and had order everything to be just so. The dinner was followed by a viewing of authentic India movies, India being the world’s leading producer of moving pictures. They are strange to the north american viewer, filled with singing and dancing, always with a heroine and standard hero’s and protagonists, an expression of a way of life and a wish for the future - all in intelligible hindi so Rajha explained everything with a smile.
Thinking back, Rajha had explained about his plan to import India carpets and he owned a shop in Brampton where these were sold. He also published a newsletter called the News, view and music of India. That was the connection that our Indian Paddler used. Information rapidly gave the number for the newletter’s office and within minutes he was on the phone and asking what he was doing in February. “Going on a buying trip to India” was the reply with kharmic irony. After all these years they were going to meet in New Delhi at Rajha’s brother -in-laws middle hotel in Karol Bahg. That was how they were to meet. The date was set and all that remained was the rendevous.
Leaving Canada in the winter for some warmer climate is a pleasure many Canadians seek. Often the mind set is unidirectionial - towards Florida. But a 360 degree turn around the globe is a quick refresher on the options available at that latitude in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. They are many. The only thing that separates the average Canuk from them is cold hard cash of which there is always a short supply.
And so it was with great satisfaction that the sound of the landing gears retracting and the characteristic pressing of the back into the armchair was received. Outside the temperature on the ground had been about -50C just walking from the car to the terminal building. Inside it was warm but not as warm as the visions of the next five weeks, of the adventures to come and the places to be seen. Stowed below were a single duffel bag filled with take down paddle and dry suit, sleeping bag and all manner of paddling paraphernalia. Only a short stop off in Toronto to meet up with his paddling partner remained.
The short and bearded fellow he met in Toronto was a deceptively youthful 53 year old who had been falling out of airplanes in California when the other had still been in diapers. A born adrenaline junkie of the first class., he had taken up kayaking on a trip to Kirkland Lake years previously an invitation of NOLAC, the Northern Ontario Liquid Adventurer’s Club. A group of them, including our hero, had visited on February weekend. Four six footers managed to cram into the pathetically powered Ford Mustang Two on route to the annual Toronto Boat Show. It was a cold and uncharacteristically Foggy winter day and the madman who was left to drive could not see fifty metres ahead. The strategy was to simply hit the shoulder periodically toensure that the vehicle was driving in a straight line. Miraculously the foursome arrive intact and without incident around midnight, traipst through one building, two livingrooms and kitchens to arrive at the appointed crash joint. Crash they did bedrooms, couches and floor in preparation for the next days equipment purchasing expedition.
That was how the two had met and had formed firm friends over the years with many business trips to the city from the various healthcare outposts that had been assumed. This was to the culmination. Naturally he was late, had forgotten his ticket and possessed an out of date passport. Things were progressing normally.
Within the hour they were airborn again and on route to heathrow international airport for a quick stop then on again to barcelona and finally New Delhi. The trip was to take about 23 hours and they arrived in New Delhi about 3:00 in the morning.
Traveling by jet sucks the life out of the traveller. The air is bad, the food is no compensation for rest and the lights keep going on and off. People take their shoes off, and often should leave them on, Consider the shoes that are killing them if removed could very easily cause the death of others. And airlines are carefully jamming passengers into their airborn tin cans to maximize revenue not comfort safe for the priviledged few who only travel first class. For our intrepid travelers, the exciting and anticipation are enough of overcome the discomfort of the trip, besides it was to harden them for worse to come.
One of the most elementary differences experienced on the international flight was the level of security they encountered outside of Canada. In Canada one could board a flight with carry on luggage barely supervised by security authorities save for the once over with the magic wands. The story is considerably different in other international airports where certainly no bag could be left unattended in an airport for few of explosive device. Of course now any bag could be suspcious given the penchant for certain muslim extremists to dispatch themselves and others simultaneously. But it points out the convenience afforded when traveling in pairs and especially those laden with whitewater paddling gear. At least with two, one can stay behind and watch the bags while the other gets the food or whatever. Of course you have twice the cargo, a problem which presented itself significantly that morning.
New Delhi is a big city to say the least but its no new York, it is a city that sleeps, especially at three o’clock in the morning. While the two had been greeted at the airport by the proprietor of Snow Leopard expeditions coincidentally to greet a great and retired Scottsman former policeman they had learned of the general directions to their destination in Karol Bagh. They were to meet him in a couple of days and take an organized bus north but for the meantime, chose to board a city bus, still running and head in the general direction then rummage up one of the many threewheeled wonder bikes coursing through the cities veins an any given moment.
The initial ride on the bus was wonder in itself. This was a city like no other. In the depths of February the air was dry, this was the dry season, and the temperature even then was moderately mild, almost balmy. Everywhere was life - asleep on the streets, whereever a body could lay, there they were. This was India and everything was both old and new but never boring.
They found the best approach was to take the city bus, very inexpensive in a city that ran on Rupees and illegal US dollars. The exchange rate was roughly 25 rupees for Canadian Dollar and in India one could buy a cup of tea for about 2 rupees, or 10cents. That was to be the story. The most expensive part of the journey would be the getting there and afterwards and struggle to spend what was taken as meagre as those funds were. Of the bus at the Continental Circle a three wheeler was roused from peaceful sleep and the duffels were loaded onto the roof of the cab. Each of the travelers reached out with an arm and grabbed hold and off they went into the night. Even without traffic the trip seemed an interminable looping through this side street then that rounding corners enough to make it seem they were riding in circles, which in retrospect was probably happening. Never mind, there was no meter, just a rough reconoitering and dead reckoning until improbably they landed at the front steps of the Hotel Classic. Needless to say, the front gates were closed, with the proprieter lying fast asleep on the lobby couch.
With a few rattles of the gate and enthusiasm the cabby was paid and asked to return at a specified hour in the next day. They had arrived and escorted to their room up marble stairs and exotic sculptures to the large bed where the two summarily crashed for the night
In dreams we see what the mind sees but does not tell us in the waking hours.In dreams all things are possible. We enter the lioness’s den and are consumed by seduction and by passion. All inhibitions are stripped away and as we sucumb to pure lust and pure ecstasy. What dreams consumed those weary travellers under them home skies would barely scratch the surface of those to be had under those foreign stars aided and abetted by the sights, sounds and smells of such exotica.
That night the dreams were filled with such apparitions, of women, not pretty but wanting. Dark and sultry eyes and hands pulling at buckles and zippers with efficiency and skill born of years of experience. Exotic dreams in an exotic land in the minds of two, both too weary to resist them. But too early the sun rose and with it the dawning of the light on their adventure. First the task was to meet Rajha.
Rajha was a businessman and he was in India to do business. He was an efficient traveler and had brought only what he needed. His first warning to our intrepid one was to carry as little cash as possibly warning the 1000 rupees was a fortune in India. They walked together that morning and enjoyed a cup of Chai, scented and sweetend Indiatea, boiled in the the milk in which it was served. In time the two shook hands and marveled at the fulfilment of the pact that had been forged years earlier. There they stood, in Delhi, as if in another dream, one that had come true. Later, basking inthe glow of that accomplishment they walked in the memorial Garden to Mahatma Ghandi surrounded by rare plants. They walked with other early risers along the stone pathway that snaked through the memorial garden, pausing in silence from time to time to soak the vibes up and simply enjoy the peace of the place.
Rajha has business to do and the two had places to go. This meeting was not the purpose of the trip but a delightful side piece to the exercise, They went back to the hotel and enjoyed some local beer. Hindi’s are to abstain from alcohol but a blind eye and tolerance is afforded the beer drinker especially if drunkeness is not displayed. Its surprising considering that the beer is potent and served in very large bottles in locations where it is dispensed more like a pharmaceutical than an actual recreational beverage. The two sat together in Rajha’s room and consumed a couple until they were both feeling quite at ease, and after a shaking of the hands they parted.
The paddling partner, never at aloss for something interest to occupy him had made arrangements to meet up with Ajeet Baggag , proprietor of Snow Leopard. Our hero had met him years earlier on a raft on the Ottawa River. He had come to Canada to learn how to operatea tourist raft in preparation for the launch of his own wilderness trips on the Alaknanda and other first descent rivers of India. He had become the defacto expert on river running and safety in India and was the government’s designated resource for that purpose which had its advantages. The first plan was to enjoy the rest of the next few days in New Delhi which would start off with a tour of the city’s ancient installations, the Red Fort, the time museum and craft museum. It was a satisfyinginterlude and like all sites in India a visual and sensory feast. The magnificent Red Fort from antiquity, built thousands of years before these visitors had arrived. Its massive stone walls over 50 feet thick rising out of the dusty banks of the Yamuna river encircle a secure area along its five mile length. The wealth and power it represented is echoed only by the power and wealth we see today in our large modern cities, many of which would not last as long no doubt. Time will tell.
In days of old, the great leaders of city states of India included those that had visions of grandeur. None of these was greater than the architecturally inclined Shah Jahan. It was the Shah that designed and built the Red fort in preparation for the master piece that is the Taj Mahal, found in Agra along the banks of the Yamuna. When his wife died, it was built as her masoleum and remains today as her crypt. It is a crypt for sure, but like no other in the world, a muslim tribute to the fine stone cutters and craftsmen that have vanished into antiquity. Inlaid precious and semiprecious stones grace its smooth white marble surfaces at every turn. Its precise construction and esthetic symmetry are a marvel of ancient constrution techniques. It is but one of the many and facinating sites that greet the intrepid travelers on their journey. More of that later.
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In search of Purity
The brief tour of the architectural installations of antiquity was not the reason for coming to India, more of a side note and a setting of the stage so to speak. But moving around the city, whether it be by Tata commuter bus or via three wheeled Bajaj taxis the impression that India was a country on the move was unmistakeable. There was a sense of excitement and energy - a sense of urgency that things had to get done. The net effect was organized confusion. It is said that if the English discovered the notion of bureaucracy then the Indian's perfected it. Like so many other cultural influences that entered into this portion of the asian subcontinent the locals looked at it, perhaps have it a sniff and if they liked it, then proceeded to consume it or reject it, all the while maintaining its own distinctive approach to things. In all, the tour consumed us, with the Red fort, the astronumical lab, mayamar’s tomb, Quetap minor, India Gate and the Presidential Palace, and of course, Ghandi’s tomb.
The net effect to a newcomer to this place is the tendency towards whiplash with the vigorous "What's that" or "look at that" or possbily "what's going on over there". The senses are overpowered. True, English is prevalent but Hindi is predominant so the air is filled with unintelligible words, phrases and sounds. The food is basic fare usually, and in the country setting even more so. India is a country which feeds itself, no mean feat for a population of over a billion and a birth rate of 50 million a month. Still, based on rice, califlower, lentils, cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes to which is added copious quantities of spice, primarily tarragon and coriander but also ginger, garlic, green fennel, fenugreek to name a few. Everywhere there are pervasive strip malls, improbable concrete structures no more than twenty feet wide linked by common walls and secured by a rolling garage type door or security gate of one type or another. The products are remarkably similar, motorcyle helmets, cookware, fabrics, newsshops, grocers, spice shops filled with bins of ground and coarse spices. All of these are surrounded by endless arrays of flags, banners, signs in brilliant colours directing the passersby in this direction or that.
Little wonder that after a day of that, and the maddening traffic one would want to seek excitement of a different sort.
There is a twelve hour differential between Central Canada and New Delhi. The effects of the flight and the jet lag left one with a buzz. I wondered if the Hindi religion was created by somebody experiencing a similar one. The story of krishna is thousands of years old and to the uninitiated may sound quite hokey. Krishna, it is said, lifted the hillside. Krishna, can do anything, including splitting himself into many (the original cloning) in order to dance with a group of virgins all at the same time. (doesn’t that seem like an odd thing for a diety to do?) Krisha it is said killed the evil king. This fellow was really more of a “Super Mario Brother”. Of course, westerners don’t actually worship Super Mario the way the devout Hindu’s worship Krishna.
Still the mind buzzed onward examining the reasons for taking the trip, happy to be doing something adventurous and felling strongly that the opportunity once presenting itself doesn’t not likely emerge again.
Ordinary sights started to look slightly bizarre. While waiting at the Connaught Circus, witness some sikh cab drivers disassembling an ambassador, lifting the engine right out the engine compartment on the street and doing a head gasket repair. In India, all the best mechanics are sikhs, and so are most of the best bus drivers. That evening, the plan was to attend the sound and light show at the great red fort that was visited during the day which is what they did, and following that, half in the bag went to a fine restaurant.
It was at the restaurant that they finally met up with Ajeet and plans were made to head up to Rishikesh the following morning for lack of a better plan and need for more rest. Up the next morning at O - dark hundred, the account at the Hotel Classic rang in at about $15 each or $30 per night which seemed reasonable considering the accommodation, however, that turned out to be the hiwater mark for accommodations to come. In a parting shot from the keeper, we were handed some dry toast as we headed out the door and into a bajaj. After a short 35 minute jaunt the two arrived at the gate of the US Compound where members of the United States International Development Agency were already waiting out front to meet the bus organized by Ajeet and Snow Leopard Expeditions.
There were about 36 on the bus in various states of consciousness as it rolled along to the north of New Delhi through more or less continuous development. the pervasive strip malls, with signs either in English or Hindi. Around lunch time the coach pulled over at a fairly sophistiated looking way station which featured a large foyer with private areas for dining, inside and outside. Grabbing a couple of the local softdrinks was the first priority, fearing dire consequences if an untreated water were consumed and the resulting “Delhi Belly”. A quaint term with much less quaint symptoms. The victim usually experiences diarhea in combination with vomiting and ultimately dry retching and dry heaves until finally the body has purged both ends and the victim prays for death prior to a slow recovery, hopefully somewhat the wiser for the experience.
LIMCA and Campca Cola turned out to be made from distilled water and fairly reliable. If nothing else the microbes would be of the weakened variety and at least would give the body a chance to adjust to the things.
On route to Rishikesh the main city in transit is Hardwar. At that point it was possible to see tthe mountains which rise starkly from the Gangess plain. The snow caps were already at the 21,000 foot level.
As the bus approached Rishikesh the roads became narrower and more harrowing. Still the driving was a hilight. Traffic moved on the left side of the road in the tradition of the British. Buses pass each other with what appears to be only inches to spare, only Kharma actually preventing the collision. The passengers slowly grow accustomed to the impression that a collision in imminent, and soon become as complacent with the near misses as the drivers appeared to have been all along.
Landing at the base camp just to the north of Rishikesh shortly pass 2:00 o’clock made the early start a bit more tolerable.. The Snow Leopard campe was located right on the bank of the river just down from the highway. To access it it was necessary to carefully climb down a 100 foot embankment but the camp itself was located on a high water plain or shelf. It was obvious that the Ganges was at low water, this was the dry season aferall. The river water appeared clear and greenish in colour from the sandy bottom. The campsite was nestled in the foothills of the himalyas. While two other companies were operating in the vicinity they were by and large out of site and out of mind, spaced far enough away not to affect the ambience afforded at Snow Leopard.
The camp consisted fof about 26 prospector style tends without floors forming a long line, sweeping from a large canopy tent made from an old silk parachute. At the other end of the sweep of tents were the all important toilets. Basically they were field pits but modify to actually hold the waste with water passing through a sand filter in a vague acknowledgment to the environment. Down stream, however, it was well known that all hell was breaking loose on the envirment and going to hell in a hand basket.
The two claimed accommodation in one of the tents, noticing that each tent had been carefully named with the name of an Indian River. Theirs was named “Bhagarathi” one of the two head waters of the Ganges. Interior to the tents wert a couple of folding cots and not much else. It was to be their temporary home. Stepping out they were greeted by “Mushroom” a Kiwi raft guide. Kiwi was a young engineer, specializing in ISO standards who had dropped out to experience a little more of life. He was sun burnt and his long sandy hair was curled and split from abuse but he appeared to be fine with it. No choice in the matter really, given the bar soap that was a luxury. He directed them to their rental boats. Our hero gave a yellow dancer a try but found ultimately it was unsatisfactory. The first attempt at accessing the water was awkward but a good preliminary warmup for the next day. The rapids at the start of the route were very straight forward except for the run known as “the golf course” as it was full of holes. It had a dog leg left an a large hydraulic hole dead center. All the other rapids were less demanding. Paddling through them all quickly the trip led them into Rishikesh. Monkies could be seen frmo the shore and the ashroms, huge multistoried buildings designed to house disciples of the Hindu faith, one said to have house the Beatles rock group in the late sixties. Stopping for acouple of souvenir pictures then paddling on to the take out, boulder yard where stood a rather elderly lady who had set up a chai (tea) stand. The water she was using was right out of the river. Truly, the water looked clear,... but was not to be trusted as clean. She had been boiling it using a small kerosene stove and the rule of thumb of a ten minute boil was improbably , but the thirst from the paddle was starting to become considerable so the chance was taken.
Indian Chai is made from unpasturized milk and water with considerable amounts of sugar, star anise and corriander. It is aromatic and flavourfully refreshing at the end of a two hour paddle. To make the chai they learned is a simple matter. Take some raunchy water and goat or cow’s milk. Add ample sugar, black tea and spices and then boil the mixture like hell for about ten minutes - if you are lucky. This is done all in one pot. The contents is strained as it is poured, usually into glasses.
Others soon gather, who turned out to be from the shuttle bus sent by Snow Leopard. One of the more gregarious turned out to be a fellow from Scotland, Ron Day, a 30 year veteran, recently retired from the police force.
That evening the best thing to do was not paddle but rather sit around a roaring campfire of driftwood listening to a cacaphony of foreign languages and the bagpipe like insturment bleating out some kind of Nepalese tune.
Many of the guests around the fire were with the USID, international development agency and were true globe trotters. They had joined the group for a day trip on the Ganges
The opening paddle had been on odd experience and drifting off to sleep our travelers were no double curious as to why of all things their facial muscles were aching , never realizing at that moment that it was the act of keeping their mouths tightly closed so as not to imbibe in untreated water from the Ganges was their primary concern that first paddle.
One of the boats had proved to be inadequate and another was to be rented, a blue Italian made Dancer with bulkheaded foot rest rather than the traditional footpegs. The boat was of an advanced design, with a keyhole cockpit designed to allow the paddler to raise his knees up without actually lifing the behind out of the seat. It was an effective way to minimize the danger of entrapment so common in earlier designs. While the boats’backband was missing the overall package would be suitable for the expedition to come.
The next day, the new boats were tried on the same run to Rishikesh. The initial awkwardness was now lifting and the run was actually enjoyable. Accompanied by the rafts this trip down afforded an extra measure of safety and therefore confidence. The weather, however, had been cloudy unlike the sun from the previous day, and many of the rafters were cold and tired. Dressed in their dry suit bunny liners both intrepid paddlers slipped into their sleeping bags and drifted off. That night blissful sleep overtook them, the first full nights rest in about three days was greatly needed.
The next morning was cool and cloudy, an inauspicious start of the trek to Theri where the expedition would launch on the ‘Bhag’ river. Rising at 06:00 the sun was not yet about the foothills. The rest had been peaceful and fulfilling. It had rained and drizzled throughout the night. Lying snug in the prospector tent named Bhagarathi was a comfort, and the sound of the Ganges rapids so close to the base camp was tranquilizing, Dreams were of the exciting challenges that lay ahead.
Preparations for the trip were limited as both food and shelter would be provided by Snowleopard and carried by the support raft and a support jeep vehicle. Only dry cloths and toiletries were needed in addtion to the paddling gear they would be using.
As the day progressed the drizzle that had started during the evening also progressing into rain. They were heading north and into the mountains, higher and higher and with the altitude, it also grew colder. By the time the shuttle jeep ( Mahindra) reached Deoprayag (Confluence of the Gods) where the Bhagharathi and Alaknanda rivers join to form the Ganges the rain was considerable and stargint to soak their dry cloths through the feeble shelter afforded by the canvas jeep canopy. The way good progressvily steeper with rhythmic horn beep and sharp turn to the left and a rhythmic beep and sharp turn to the right, and so it went for four and a half hours. The only thing that seemed to stop the motion sickness that was bound to occur was the glimpses of spectacular scenery terraced slopes on three thousand foot drops down to the river bed below.
Along the route were stands of refreshements. The fare was a concoction known as Berphy, a mix of condensed milk with the consistency of HALVA. Finally the entourage reached Theri.
Theri is a slum bucket of a village where two major roads intersect and meet at the bus stop. It was the site of a major damming project. The dam had not yet been completed but the result of the dam would be to flood out large portions of the town of Theri. In the town Russians provided technical aid to the project. They created the stark transition to the scenic mountains that had been enjoyed up until that point Roads were blasted out to service the construction sites. The construction sites served as poor replacements for the agricultural terracing that had been. But India was a country on the move and needed the electric power to drive its growing economy.
The plan was to camp at the mouth of the river, and it was partially raining and sleeting at the same time. The air was very cold and damp and the travelers and members of the Snow Leopard rafting expedition were tired and wet. The only real cover was by a concrete shed with a tin roof that was put up at the construction site to house either cement powder or perhaps explosives - it mattered not, that’s where they planned to stay overnight, right there on the dirt floor of the place, lined up in such a way to have the sleeping bags fall under the cracks of the tin roof.
By the time the convoy had stopped the rain and sleet was merciless. There was also a danger of mudslide and rock fall as the banks around the put in were steep and loose from the construction activities. Rather than putting in that afternoon as was the original plan the decision was made to stay in that tin shed.
Huddled inside, somehow a fire was started and caused shadows to flicker against the cinder block walls. Dan Roy, the Scot had miraculously thought enough to bring a refreshment, rare in India. “ a wee bit o Dram.
The team members included raft guides and sherpas, Austa, asum, Nigi, and Nakol. The Rafters would include Ajeet Bajaj, owner,operator of Snow Leopard, Ron Day the scot, and Keschar Jain , an industrialist from Deli and friend of Ajeet. The supported paddllers included Gerry Bedard, our hero, Jeb Allison of Project Raft and don Wheaton, a US aid worker.
Jeb Allison was the organizer of “Project Raft” an environmental agency that organized rafting competitions on endangered river sites. He was surveying the Bhag river with a mind to organiziing an event there inthe near future.
Environmental issues are becoming more prominent in India. Delhi itself is recognized as being the third most polluted in the world after Mexico City .
The next morning, the sky was still grey and clouded. That would be a cold way to start the day but there was a promise of clearing as the morning progressed and that would be a welcomed change when it arrived.
The put in was an improbably climb to the waters edge from the top of the ramparts of the dam in progress. Bits of Reinforcing rod protruded from the cement inprogress. Down stream was barely visible, just crashing waves and rapids as the river retreated around a dogleg to the right. Along the shoreline were smaller boulders and rubble from countless rockslides invoked by the construction. Periodically rocks would bounce down from on high making the kayak helmets to be worn, doubly useful against rocks above and below the waterline.
The grou pset off, four kayaks, and a raft after a substantial breakfast of oatmeal and banana with a cheese omlette and, of course the customary Chai. Winding down river, handling successvie class two rapids the group would cover 34 kilometers. The river water at the put in had been a horrid brackinsh brown colour from the manure and other shit like constituents washing into the water at Theri during the evenings storm. It formed a brownish scum that bubbled along. In one eddy early on were found two dead cats. The river became featureless continuation of wild rapids, The brownish tinge of runnoff from around the construction site augmented with the site of various dead animals diminished after about the first ten kilometers. The river consisted of pool drop features and the drops themselves ten to ocurr at river bends, basically screaming right or left turns where the paddle has to avoid the pillows on the corners. The trip back to Deoprayag would be 32 kilometers. the weather was starting to clear up and as the group passed a certain village along the river they were flagged down by a group onthe banks who seemed quite upset.
The story, as best could be made out by one of the guides was that a young woman had jumped into the river into one of the rapids, in a state of despair. She had drowned and the body was not recovered, to be expected downstream they said.. As a paddler that was not something they would look forward to, but a promise made that if found she would be returned to them. Why would a women jump into the river. It was learned that she was in fact naked, leaving her clothes on the river bank. It was assumed that she had become pregnant and killed herself to save embarassment to herself and her family.
The lot of the women of India was changing in those days. The more modern and fortunate of them lived I the cities and were members of more prosperous middleclass faimilies. The daughters of those were able to acquire education and the chance at a better life. The traditional Hindu family was at best patriarchal and at worst under the thumb of a dictatorship. The men ruled the roost, and the women did the work.
In the village above it was clear after a brief reconointre that the benefits of the urban settings were far from apparent. There were young women out of the home. About thirty or so were seen in a stone quarry, dressed in their sarees with baskets filled with stones in what amounted to a Hindu drag line. Basket upon basket of stones were being removed from the quary by the women. Not a man was to be seen.
On the rare occassion the women would make fleeting eye contact as they pasted the strangely dressed men that looked down upon them and as they passed them on route to the pile of stones which was being stacked at the top of the quary. The look was unmistakable, fear and embarassment perhaps with a bit of pain mixed in. How would humans come to haul stones like that?
Other women were seen as well further downstream on route to a suspension bridge which hung low over the river. They were carrying slender saplings with the leaves still attached and bundled in large faggots bigger than themselves. There must have been twenty or thirty of them. This time a male was amoung them, carrying not a stick with a great frown on his face whether it was at the site of the kayakers in their paddling gear or not mattered not he was clearly unhappy to see them.
Also in India there was the matter of the mysterious “kitchen fire” where a woman is burned to death. The cause, is very often the result of insubordination leading to immolation. Discord between a young woman especially and her parents or parents to be primarily the father or father to be can lead to family violence. In India where the dowrey system is alive and well the parents of the bride are beholding to the parents of the groom for “taking in” their female child as it were. In this way it becomes a power grab of the sexist kind to raise as many boys as possible to both increase the manpower of the family unit but to also gather maximum dowage.
These factors and more culminated in the disappearance of one woman, suspiciously caste naked into the river that day - suspicious because in such a conservative society the idea of nakedness might be perceived by some as worse than death itself. A quick read of the situation might in fact be that alternate arrangements had been made by the supposed victim and her disappearance was more likely a way to conveniently remove herself from the unpleasantness of village life with the least amount of embarrassment to all concerned.
One way or the other, Needless to say, the paddlers were happy not to have found the body by the time they had taken off the river at about 4:00 oclock, early enough to set up camp before darkness fell on them. With that , and cry cloths, tents were set up, chai prepared and snacks brought out by the raft guides with soup. anybody would have felt better after the previous night and the sun had come out. Every muscle was aching right then and a bit of head ache from the sun and air, but still in all of that little mecies, no delhi belly yet.
They next day the paddlers were up at 0600 for their constitutionals before crawling back into the bags for another hour. For those, far away from home, it would be natural to be feeling a little homesick. Sleep had been fitful, as the mind played back its histories. The river left plenty of time to consider past misdeeds. With on the mind in recollection, the personal embarassment was internal and profuse. Everybody carries with them their sins and promiss and the space of time on the river allow all to revisit them. The simplicity of life, eat, sleep, paddle, and .. think, decisions forestalled, and made are rerun, plans for the future, lack of plans for the future, repetition of the past - and so it goes.
Again up early, called to waken by the body alone, many are relieved that their systems are still functioning normally despite having taken in the odd mouthfull of that horrid brew call the Bhag. Corn Flakes for breakfast was compensated by a perfectly blue sky. The sun rose cheerily and started drying the dew from the sleepiong bags which had become dampened by the cool river air. The sun’s rays reached out and touched the village on the opposite side of the river. This was the kind of day that any paddler would welcome.
Covering about 35 kilimeters was made doubly easy by the fast and clean moving currents until the beach was hit at Naga. the two significant rapids ocurring prior to the confluence were named Table Nook which was run to river right. It was followed by the falls. the falls is a notced flow with two channels . the left channel is very constricted by runnable. It is followe by seething whitewater. Closer to Deopryah are two back to back rapids and each a good and challenging run. Often as is the case it is possible to walk around particularly challenging runs but in this case both were run, one in pursuit of Ajeet who had beckoned the others to follow.
Deopryyagh, the town at the confluence of thehead waters of the Alaknanda and Bagarathi rivers is perched on a hillside. It is here that as the sun sets the golden glow lights up the clusters of white buildings. From the river or highway looking back upstream at the alpen glowing site, it is little wonder the place was given its name.
Deoprayag, or “God’s Confluence” is considered a very holy spot in all of India. Yet of the billion or so inhabitants of India, very few had ever seen it, fewer still had actually been there and an infinitisimal number, such as the paddlers there present had actually paddled down stream to reach it. 250 million or so directly depend on the Ganges for water and life on the river. The group stopped at the holy shrine erected immediately at the confluence where the water still rages white. A Pundit sadu greeted them and annointed thenm each with a colourful Bindi or mark on the forehead and garlands of marigolds.Each in turn was invited to grab a very chain installed at the apex of the confluence and gradually lower and then submerse themselves in the raging current. Many Hindu’s come and participate in this ceremony, not usually dressed in paddling gear.
The kayakers, dressed in their colourful lifevests and dry suits had in fact attracted quite an audience by this time. After the initiation or baptism they got back into their kayaks and proceeded to entertain the crowd by front surfing the waves at the spot , immediately tranforming the raging current into a riverwide playground. They would swing around and surf on the alaknanda and then come around to the other side and surf the Bhagarathi, two rivers at once.
The show had to end eventually and the group, charged from the days activities paddled on to the evenings campsite. The water was now more subdued on the Ganges , no longer sharing the pool drop qualities of the upper headwaters.
back to the top
Three full days had past on the river and while the Ganges was much sleepier than its upstream pecursors it did have its moments. One thing was certain, at the end of the third day the team was greeted to one of the most picturest of camp sites. The beach was multitiered with shelves formed by various flood levels. Some of them reached about forty feet about the current water level. The site chosen for that evenings camp was across the river from the so-called holy trail. While there were some passers by on the opposite shore, roughtly 300 feet up from the river on a slope which itself was more like 900 feet high. Anyone seeing the group below might have talked and gaulked at them.
Downstream the sites were somewhat less romantic. In fact, in the distance now it was possibly to make out the lines of buses and TATA lorries gearing up and down on the mountain roads. With those signs of civiliation and life as usual feelings of normalcy reign again and insecurities disappear.
In his usual manner, Gerry Bedard had found an old rubber boot along the river bank and proceeded to fill it with stand and station it on a rock formation nearby so that anybody else coming around the corner would naturally see it and wonder about the boot and the block head who put it there thusly.
It stands to reason, however, that any one seeing a shoe out of place, out of a closet , on the street contemplates the story that shoe has to tell. How did it get there, who wore it and how did they come to lose it? A single shoe without companion has a host of stories to tell if one only asks the question.
At the end of the day a new cook joined them from an access point on the road above the river. He prepared a wonderful and very spicey supper having brought additional supplies down for that purpose.
Don Wheaton met up with his driver at that point. Therefore he missed the hot rum toddys and story swapping that occurred around the campfire. It turned out to be the most enjoyable of evenings with the warming of the air with the lower elevation and the warm fire.
That evening, was part of an fulfiling self examination by our hero who took the time to ponder personal truths about this trip to the Indian Subcontinent. It seemed clear to him that despite the exotic location there was simply no running or hiding on this small planet. What ever problems a person has there is no solving or personal release from personal demons simply by a change in Geography.
For example, if one has trouble getting along with people, that problem transports to the end of the universe. Personal warth, and humour are not, and had never been his strong point and reflecting on that various resolutions began to take shape, decisons about making making major changes, changes in thought and action that would result in a new future. Perhaps these decisions were reason enough to bring him to India.
The next morning the bright sun was not enough to raise the sleepy crew from their late night of story telling, and rum toddies. They all slept in and breakfast when it was finally presented was a wonderful melange of banana pancakes and sunbathing on the warming beach sand of the Ganges. The plan for the day was simple enough. Head back onto the river on a lazy float back to base camp.
Sitting on the water starring up and the villages that moved by it was clear that many were made of concrete but the methods of construction were quite primitve. There were no cranes or pumps to move the material and much of it arrived at the construction site by hand bombing it or bucket brigade.
Much to the chagrin of some a bit of Diarhea had begun to set in. Everyone had it in one form or another but it wasn’t the severe delly belly type. Still, it was disconcerting to have to get up at 0500, darkness still over everything and find a place to eliminate away from the camp site..There was no problem as long as there were no severe cramps. The usual thing when that happens is to just live with it and not resort to taking anti diarheal pills right of the bat. One never knew just how bad a problem could get. As a courtesy to others, the crap pit was covered over and a rocky cairn placed over it to prevent a nasty surprise to others.
AS the day progressed, a late lunch was had and the group continued to sit and sun bath on the site. The group finally hit the water just after lunch but the run was not primarily flat water against a light breeze heading up the river gorge. A few rapids were typical pool drop ending in a crash against a rocky shore, easily missed. The most interesting spot of the day was at the part of the river known as dead man’s eddy. It was a unique and somewhat anomalous formation caused by the occurrence off a small island on river left which split the current into the main and smaller side stream. Because of the speed of the water at this point the smaller current formed a powerful eddy behind the island which tened to bounce of the main current heading down stream and forming a rather high eddy fence. Anything caught in that eddy current behind the island tended to stay there in the resulting large and powerful recirculation. In years of paddling the members had never seen anything quite like it. Most of all, within the eddy, were all manner of flotsam and jetsam, not the least of which was a dead cow and .. a dead human body, bloated beyond recognition. Oh joy.
The lateness of the day led to another late camp set up with play high on the list of things to do including forming rock sculptures akin to Inukshuts along the river bank for others to come later and marvel at before getting swept away with the imminent rainy season and its higher and more powerful currents.
Out came the homemade Bocci balls, stones found along the shore and used like the original Italian version except that instead of being rolled they were thrown. The interesting part of the game was achieved when each person in turn called out a different method of tossing the stones, overhead, backhand, over the shoulder and so forth until finally , they grew tired, had a quick supper and once again headed into the tents for the evening.
Possibly because of the advancing of spring, and partly because of the lower elevation and proximity to base camp the temperature had been rising steadily. It was a welcome contrast to the horrid first day. The main rapid encounterd was called “the wall” which presented no major challenge. After stopping for lunch there was an opportunity to explore a small cave up from the river a short distance. Within the cave itself were Stalgmites ( which Mite touch the ceiling one day) and Stalagtites (which were already tight) to the ceiling, attached, that is. That being done, and seeing the religious connotations, once again, with small pictures and icons of Brahma, and Krishna and Shiva compared to the visitors own lack of decorum being thusly attired in rubber and so forth, they left. Back on the water there were two major rapids remaining, three blind mice and cross fire and relatively easy and enjoyable compared to the challenges that had presented themselves on the first day on thewater. That, and the fact that when one is constantly paddling on unknown waters there is a honing of skills that is unmistakeable.
After another day of paddling under mild conditions the group attained the base camp. As they stepped out of their boats the cook staff handed each of them a tall glass of iced lemonade. The thing that was desired most of all, however was to get out of the dank paddling attire, and take a warm solar powered shower. That evening would be the first time in a week where the kayak gear would get to fully dry before the next paddle.
It was time to relax. The next morning Ajeet had taken those that had signed up for a trip up to the Chila national Park and then onwards back to Delhi. Our hero and that mischievious paddling partner were to tackle the next river on their own power. The issue of the bill for the services of the camp was left outstanding. Ajeet had carefully avoided speaking about the issue. This was the Indian equivalent to sending the colour TV home on trial with the customer. It was good as sold.
Sitting and speaking with the river guides provided some insight into what the trip down the Alaknanda might hold. Sir Edmund Hilary had made an attempt to drive a jet boat up that river years previously and got as far as Nanprayag, Past that point the rapids were simply too big and too powerful. On the downward decent from Piple Koti that is likely where the two would take out. Relaxing and thinking about that aspect of the trip with a glass of sweet chai the, milk and cardommon more aromatic than ever, the prospect of paddling again was still quite attractive. This time they’d be on their own, taking buses up stream and carrying their dry clothing with them instead of having a support raft to carry them.
Those thoughts were put on the back burner momentarily to allow reality to sink in and direct one’s attention to the single change of clothing that required washing and drying.
Even in India’s temperate northern climate, the evenings are sufficiently cold that evening wear might rightly include a touque and neck warmer, perhaps a pair of long johns and woolen sweater. But the evening was for sleeping and during the day the temperature ofter rises past 80 degrees Fahrenheit. So the cloths at hand would have to do, simply washed with a bucket full of warm water, bar of detergent soap in hand and one simply goes at it, scrub a dub dub style. Clothes rinsed in the Ganges then hung to dry in the dry air.
The standard kit for a self contained paddler would include a dry suit, two piece is ideal because it allows for variation in paddling wear. Underneath that is worn a fuzzy bunny suit, an underwear like garment only of much thicker material. An undershirt of polypropylene is normally worn beneath that which has long sleeves and back with a high neck. Rubber booties are essential and they must have a good sole for walking along shore and even climbing rocky faces. The bottoms should be made of sticky rubber so that purchased can be achieved on the slipperest river rocks. The kayaker seals themself into the kayak using a neoprene skirt that is worn about the waist and locks around the cockpit rim of the kayak call the coaming. The paddle is a two piece variety for easy of packing.
Dry cloths are caried in inflatable stowe bags that double both as floation and as storage. Carry lightweight polyester pants that are also quick dry material. Under that would be long johns and poly propylene top, warm and lightweight. Usually a shirt is brought along, socks, and dry boots with hankerchief.
One also brings the usualy toiletries and the essential medicine bag, sleeping bag and mat and as much food and water as is practical.
Everything has to be of such a size and weight that it can be carried in the most unaccommodating of places but not so voluminous that a camera is excluded, for one must take the mandatory pictures simply to prove one did what they said they did.
A short trip was taken into Rishikesh to pick up a few items, a woolen sweater to double as a paddle sweater and some oddities. The beetle nut is sold in small packages and is a form of tobacco containing nicotine but a very aromatic flavour. It is often taken after meals as an apertif. The problem, of course is that it is also somewhat addictive and so best left alone. Walking about on the streets of the markets and along the Ganges was experience enough. In town there were tailors that would put together a suit of cloths from scratch, made to measure for a paltry about $15.00.
A short trip was taken between the main townsite across a suspension bring over the Ganges to the other side of the river where most of the larger Ashrams were located. The bridge is populated with Macau monkies who were quick to take offense lest one should look at them too long.
Within town a marriage procession was weaving down the narrow streets preceeded by a small and cacaphonous brass band, making more noise than music. Snazzily dress musicians, indeed wore black uniforms with gold lamé acceents. Truly horrible music has a purpose. Coming with it were floats with all manner of person in costumes, dressed as Krisha, Brahma and shiva. Children waved from atop the various floats in the procession who also tossed out garland of marigolds to the onlookers.
On this trip our hero had taken some small pins from home, canadian flag and canadian maple leaf pins which he handed out at every place he stopped. Each member of the Snow Leopard team received one.
Of all the strange sightes in town, none is more strange than the sight of the holy man or Sadu. Very often his skin is coloured with ash and the hair, perhaps unwashed is a mess of rastaferian dread locks, The Sadu walks in bare feet usually, and loin cloth or simple cloth robe and walking stick with variouls religious artifacts hung abou the wrists neck and ankles. More than any thing is the shocking appearance, and wild look in the eyes. Almost always is the Sadu followed by others acting in the capacity of disciples, Sadu in training as it were. The Sadu, wanted nothing. He owned nothing and had no home, living off the generousity of strangers, who appreciating that life of both chastity (who would have him) and poverty would give whatever they could.
The buzz of rishikesh had grown to be unbearable and the two retreated to the base camp. Public transit in the form of TATA bus was constantly coursing through the mountain passes. There at the door of each bus was a conductor who would take the fare. It was enought that the driver would keep his eyes on the road.
On this trip back to the camp, however, it was a simple matter to simply flag down a lorrey driver and get dropped in exchange for a few rupees. Forever the businessmen.
Preparations were well underway for the trip to the source of the Alaknanda. The idea was to rise at an early hour and catch one of the many buses and lorreys heading out that time of day. The mountain roads were closed during the evenings to further departures for safety reasons, that and the fact that India and Pakistan were not at a point of harmonious relations and it guaranteed no invasion by truck.
They were us at 05:00 hours to pack the kayaks up the enbankment up to the highway. The cook , Roger had prepared chai and bagged egg omlettes and sandwiches for the bus ride. The crew helped load the kayaks up the hill thankfully. It was hard to judge exactly how much cash to take along. Back in Delhi Rajha had said that 1000 rupees made one a wealthy man, 1400 was a princely sum and that is what was taken. The bus trip alone up to piple Koti turned out to be 300, really only about ten dollars for the price to two to travel.
They managed to flag the first bus that came along, and it was among the first few that had left new Rishikesh on its trip north into the mountains at 08:00. The procedure was to have one hop on top of the bus and do a rodeo style rope down of the equipment with carabiners. It simply had to be quick and good. The gear was stached inside the boats. Without adequate tie down the boats and gear could overturn spilling their contents and sending them down to the river below, in some cases that would make them unrecoverable. It was a three thousand foot drop. As one handed the equipment up they also prepared to pay the conductor for the fare then quick as a bunny into the bus, find a seat and get ready for the trip.
The bus trip was particularly brutal from Shivpurir to Deoprayag, or “God’s Confluence”. It took about eight hours to cover that distance and onwards to Piple Koti normally but as it turned out the bus required a radiator repair and a tire change so an extended stop took place. The queasy traveller always takes gravol at a time like that. Gravol to start and another after about four hours. At the very least that would straighten the corners and flatten the dips. Onward they traveled, snow leopard to Deoprayag, further still to the plain sity of Sringar and The repair stop at Radraprayag and then onwards to Gochar.
The small town of Karnaprayag would be revisited on the way back as would Nanpryag and Chamoli, the last stop before Piple Koti. The last stopping point, piple Koti, was high in the mountains. Snow capped members of the Himalyas were visible at dusk. The plan was to stay over at simple guest house or tourist flat. These provided simple accommodation for as little as 250 rupees having only one rather large and shareable bed. It had hot water and in any case was far superior to the tin shed that greeted them at the top of the Bhag. The setting was beautiful. A short walk from the tourist Guest house , really only about four blocks was the path leading the 900 feet down to the suspension bridge and the put in to the Alaknanda river below another 125 feet. The boats and gear had to be carried that distance the next morning.
That evening they at at a common dining spot in the village. The meal consisted of the usual Dal or lentil soup, served hot, with chick peas, califlour and cabbage and potatoes in one great stew and the standard Chepates or flour pancakes.
The Chepatees are very much a dietary staple throughout the Gharwal region. They are made by flattening out flour dough over a clay oven. Inside the over burns a hot fire and the top of the oven is the cooking surface, made into a dome shaped form upon which the pancake is laid. Part of the local show is the flattening of the dough requiring a tell tale pocketa pocketa as the substance is flattened by passing it from one hand to the other in with more and more flourish depending on the chef’s techniue. The pancake is used as a substrate for all the other dishes - all of them quite hot and made so from the large quantities of curry which are applied.They were consumed until the sweat started rolling from the brow and until no more could be consumed.
After Dinner strolling through the village a post office box was found. It was an unlikely looking thing with the appearance of a water fire extinguisher overturned with a slot in the top and a red paint job. From the post office which was surprising ly open, two aerograms where purchased and sent out. (Ironically these were received by the recipients back in North America two weeks later it was learned.)
Heaters were available in the rooms, but the two thought better of it having brought warm sleeping bags with them. Even so it got cold that night, possibly below freezing. The room was going to be cold - very cold- as conditions were alpine with very cold evening temperatures as a rule.
The two had thought to bring water filterand hoped not to have to use it given then bottled water was available. Nonetheless, dehydration through physical exertion demanded consumption of large quantities of water.
After the cold night the two were up at 0700 and by the time the porridge which was ordered was ready it was closer to 0800. The plan was to carried the boats two at a time with a makeship rope yoke worn around the neck and connected to the grab loops of the kayaks.
The hike to the bridge commenced by 09:30 they had arrived. Still from the bridge was a brutal bushwhack through xerophytic plants, complete with unkind thorns, either stinging nettles or thorn bushes seemingly everywhere but somehow they collected themselves at the waters edge.
The river basin was still immersed in shadows and still cool so they quietly and quickly changed from their dry cloths into the paddling gear stowed in the boats, resealing the dry bags with the dry change, balancing the loads and slipped into the grade two rapids at the entry point, senses heighted as they passed under the suspension bridge they had just crossed, 125 feet above them. They could see that several of the villagers had in fact followed them down and were now peering at them curiously from the bridge, suprised that anyone would be attempting such a stunt.
But this was no stunt. The plan was to paddle down the Alaknanda, whatever may come, and stop only to rest at the end of a full day of fun and excitement, purging the soul of fear and evil properties as progress is made on one of the headwaters of India’s most holy of holy rivers, the Ganges.
The site of villagers gawking would become more and more familiar as progress was made back downstream through the towns they had passed by bus earlier the previouslday. The entire trip from Piple Koti to Chamol was invested in a deep canyon. the grade of the water encountered was 3+ to class four with some class V rapids which had to be portaged for safety reasons. They arrived at one of the first major rapids of the day, a nasty looking affair, It consisted of a large boulder garden straining the current on the left and the main flow ran through a series of three hydraulics. Our hero projected that the first hole if run would slow the boater down, and result in the hapless kayaker getting stopped dead in the following hole only to surf and ditch into the third and strongly advised, once again because there were only two of them and for safety sake to walk around. Mr. Bedard would have none of this and decdied to run the stretch. The other had to watch as he executed the exact manoever that had been predicted and forced the other quickly into his boat and charging after the remains.
He had gotton caught in the exact hole that had been predicted and he surfed by was unable to maintain that attitude. He was stuck The rescuer now aware the route was unsafe opted for the less sticky but possibly just as danger for fear of entrapment, broaching or pinning throught the boulder garden. As usual, what appear to be relatively small and minor drops from the vantage point above proved to be considerably larger in the actual running of them, fully up to five foot drops through narrow slots. He could see Gerry on the left bank and he wave him on to collect the kayak that had been separated from him. It was, fortunately lodged on a rock in the middle stream of a Class three rapid. All that could be done at that point was to find an eddy and beach his own boat and try and empty that beached whale of the water that had accummulated within it. Gerry was to learn that his own throw bag and safety line had not been clipped into the boat, and neither was his first aid kit. They had washed downstream which complicated matters somewhat given that rope could have come in handy at that point.
Both the first aid kit in its Pelican Case (or hard sided water tight case) and rope were later found about seven kilometers downshtream and held in an eddy of a different rapid. The throw bag was recovered by a villager.
Our hero’s first effort was to retrieve the kayak. A line had to be thrown across, unfortuneatley it was in total, ten feet too short. That damned throw bag was rearing its ugly head. finally the plan was hatched to ferry across the stream to Gerry’s position.
The ferry manoever is designed to allow the paddler to cross a moving current from one side of a river to the other without losing much distance downstream. It can be executed in one quick movement if an extreme angle is made to the current but most commonly the paddler retains an attitude which is almost parallel to the current and a slight lean towards the shore and angle slightly off parallel. The force of the current itself helps move the boat sideways thereby requireing effort to maintain attitude rather than to power the kayak across the current per se. Our hero had managed to ferry over to The island locked paddling associate. He was not too bad for wear and tear, only a slight cut to the chin, which as it was, was still bleeding as it had cut to the bone of his chin. The decison was made for him to grab the back of the the rescuing kayak as a swimmer would in the water rather than trying to bring his boat to him. This move had its dangers because the water was moving quickly and he had to carry his paddle which he had somehow managed to save with himself.
They recovered the boat. Gerry in retrospect, had come very close to a serious mishap and was bound to be more careful for the rest of the trip and more bound to listen to the prognostications of his paddling partner. His chin had taken a nasty gash, there would be fear of infection and he had also taken a nasty and exhausting swim. the day had not started off very auspiciously and there was still quite some distance to go. They decided to stop and sleep at Chamoli, only seven kilometers away. The rapids were difficult and numerous, mostly screaming around blind corners, very difficult to boat scout and these were, afterall, low water levels!.
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The Rhythm of Live
In the fullness of time it is said that all mysteries will be resolved into the body of human knowledge. Starting from the discovery of fire and later the wheel, unto modern times where it is scarcely possible to keep of with the speed of advancements and new achievements. The notion that these things have always existed is a tempting one. Do humans invent things or merely discover them. Did the wheel always exist in concept attaining its physical presentation through human action or was it devine intervention?
Once asked the great scientist, Nikola Tesla the discoverer of the alternating current engine, said that his ideas came to him in dreams, allegorical dreams that his professional training allow him to perceive.
Perhaps it is that we find ourselves in just the right circumstances to have great truths revealed to us - that we do not actually invent anything at all, rather we through our lives and our actions prepare ourselves as vessels for the next great truth.
Intuitively this is appealing. It strikes to the very heart of the notion that any body, any human has the ability to achieve greatness by being in the right place at the right time. However, it seems more likely that it is the one who is best prepared to take advantage of an opportunity that presents itself that will succeed. From that paradigm, perhaps it is true that in the case of the wheel, the notion had presented itself over and over again until precisely the right moment.
The voyage of personal discovery can be a bit like that. And while chance truly favours the person most prepared to take advantage of it, it also presupposes that things have to be working just right.
The universe we live in must operate like that on large and small scales. We live on a planet located just the right distance from the sun so that we have a temperate climate. The earth is not close to the sun like Mercury or too far like Pluto. How lucky is that? The earth is surrounded in its orbit by the moon which is large enough to cause tidal shifts in the ocean and precisely large enough and at the right distance to completely obliterate the sun from time to time. Yet the moon is too small to hold an atmosphere and clearly has been pocked by meteors as if it was sucking them out space in order to save the Earth from harm. In fact, the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter has been shown to do exactly that when it took a hit in recent memory by the Shoemaker-levy comet. Had that body struck the earth, this writer wouldn’t be here to talk about it.
The ability of largest planet to drawn celestial bodies away from the earth and avert collisions is a blessing of astronomical proportion, how likely is that, How often could that configuration occur in all of the universe?
Lying on the beach alongside the Ganges river, staring up at the stars the mind tends to wander, contemplating subjects larger than oneself, striving for a grain of wisdom, and nugget of gold but according to the law of discovery, the mind will receive only when there is fertile ground that has been prepared to receive, it will discover, only when chance, circumstance and effort have mustered their combined presence. In the end luck plays a much bigger factor that we perhaps would like to admit.
A newscaster met his end that way. A successful sports broadcaster stepped outside his office one evening, having worked late. Little did he know at the time that a disturbed man, lay in waiting outside, disgruntled with the media for some god forsaken reason and fully committed to killing the first person to walk out of that broadcaster’s building. It was that newscaster and he met his end that day. What kind of luck is that?
A man, old enough to have lived through a multitude of hardships and crisis in his own life, giving birth to children, raising a family , educating himself, maintaining relationships, paying his taxes steps out onto a crosswalk and is hit literally by a bus. Within hours his life force leaves him. How unlucky is that?
The history of man is filled with examples, not so much of brilliance but also of luck, people in the right place at the right time and people in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is no rightness or wrongness about the event itself, just a bizarre coming together of forces that lead ultimately to a consequence.
Intuitively we understand that things don’t go the way we would like them, People get sick, that get viruses, they have accidents, they are injured. Sometimes this occurs through their own stupidity and carelessness. That can be helped or can it. When an intelligent man working towards his PhD in forestry decides to celebrate the millenium by swimming between to hold cut in the ice in the middle of the night, and surprise , dies in the act its hard to determine if stupidity and careless or bad luck are involved because people perform risky activities all the time.
More likely his luck just ran out and people should be careful how they test their luck. On large and small scales, the luck we experience often is contained in limited quantities according to our lot in life. Thinking of luck as a commoditiy that can can be graphed according to its occurrence within the human population we’ll see that some people have the worst luck. They are at the bottom of the curve. They just can get a break. The problem is that they are found in a statistically predictable bracket that says that a certain and small proportion of a population are in fact incredibly unlucky, just and their mirrored cohort at the opposite end of the spectrun have horseshoes permanently lodged in their keesters.
In our daily lives we experience this phenomenon, each of us. Some days are better than others it is said. There is a reason for that because the phenomenon of luck varies on the level of the individual’s own experience. That member of the dismal cohort is going to have bad luck, that’s true but it is also likely that some days are going to be truly abominable.
At the end of the scale that other of the kin of the horsehoe is going to have some days that are clearly better than others, they won’t win the lottery every time out, but they will win with incredible frequency.
The rest of us fall into that mass of mediocrity, the 60% of all of us who fall within a couple standard deviations from the cursed mean. We are up, we are down, once in a while having a breakthrough, occassionally having a trauma, and eventually things just seem to work out. They know better than anybody that when they flip coins, the more times they flip heads, the likelihood of flipping tails increases. That shouldn’t be the case, the likelihood of getting a head or tail should always be 50:50 but the pressure rises doesn’t it. Too much good luck then, to them is a bad thing. It makes one suspicious, leery, spooked. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Our hero contemplated the universe from his exotic reach on the far side of the earth - contemplating as Rajha has said, his Kharma - the factors that led him to be in that precise spot at that precise time. Was it good luck or bad luck? sometimes the true meaning of events is unclear at the time they unfold.
What could be more natural for the person to seek meaning in everything they do and in everything that happens around them. A religious person might seek the face or hand of god in these things. A better question might be, how do these events tie into all else that has happened in their lives. How did it happen and what are the consequences.
But could never see that truth and hold on fast to it until that moment No fractels spinning off in space could ever contain it or forces that have led them there in time enough to claim it
The trip down the Alaknanda was such a moment. Was this a moment in time where the forces of luck were being tempted. Was the envelop being pushed. When Gerry persisted and headed his kayak into the rapid, how is it that he survived whereas another at another time may have been pinned, broached or drowned at that very spot. Was the trip to India good luck or bad luck? What was the meaning of all this? Thoughts that may have been pointless raced through his mind with the speed of light.
It occured to him that perhaps the event was too big or too small. We humans are severly limited by our perceptions by our limited senses. In this universe we now have telescopes. we can see into outer space and glimpse the surface of planets millions of miles away. We launch space probes into the great beyond to extend the reach of our senses, sending photographic images of rocks we’d never be able to see with our unaided eyes. Every human sense has been aided in this way but none so much as the eyesight. Imagine the use of high speed photography that when slowed down to real time finally gives us glimpses of the ball meeting the bat, or the water striking the water or the bullet passing through the apple. How limited are we in our perception of the universe and how limited are we in our perceptions of the events that surround us without the extendors that we so greatly need.
Tesla said that the greatest investions are those that extend the ability of humans to communicate and understand one another. He might just as easily said that that great invention, unknown to him at the time would be the device that extends the reach of our minds, and not just our muscles.
The computer, developed and then came the internet, a truly mind expanding and extending achievement in the history of mankind whose implications for the future are in fact as yet unknown.
The abilty of our hero to grasp the situation he found himself in was only limited by the tools he had been given, and perhaps in the fullness of time, yes the fullness of time, that thought that ran through his mind until, blissfully he passed into a restful sleep.
Gerry had run the Alaknanda before on a previous trip to India he had taken . He did not recognize the features of the rapids that had threatened to consume him. The pace of river running had been exhausting, rapid after rapid challenging the two like at no other time. When the two finally had landed at Chomali, a mere seven kilometers beyond the devil’s rapids where the rescue had occured the two of them were both exhausted. Landing on shore on concrete steps or burial Ghats they contemplated the most minimalist of accommodations given their fatigue. They were at the foot of a very simple Ashram, home to a wild eyed Sadu. Gerry simply sat at the waters edge, numbly staring into space, too tired to even remove a piece of paddling gear. The Sadu, by this time, realizing that he had company poked his frantic head out of his door stoop. He went back inside and shortly thereafter reappeared with a couple stainless steel cups of Chai.
the Chai was most excellently sweet and nourishing both in liquid and sugar content and soon the two could raise their heads and begin to look around them. Stripping off their paddling gear and leaving at the foot of the Ashram they climbed up the embankment at Chamoli and found of all things a guest house, called the Darbon Hotel
They bid farewell to the Sadu, leaving their wet gear tucked into their boats at the foot of the Ashram, fairly secure inthe knowledge that the Sadu would keep an eye out for them and that in any case none of the locals was going to be going anyplace.
The Darbon was a space concrete building, whitewashed and plain with wooden support poles located at strategic points in the main bar/hall where they chose to eat that night. As if the Darbon had a reputation for lively guests, they encounterd a Dutch traveler, something right out of the Midnight express, a film about a couple drug runners held in a Turkish prison, a Dutch traveler by the name of Jens appeared to them. He was actually a travel agent in another life and had acted upon the impulse to hit the open road, tired of arranging travel for others, he decided to arrange travel for himself and that was in part what brought him to th Darbon that night.
Jens was full of stories and had a fairly substantial inventory of Munari, a form of hash. Sitting up in the third level of the hotel, feeling no pain at that point, the effects of the Munari slowly sinking in, the three of them sat out on the balcony in the cool mountain air looking up at - what were they, stars?
At night they could see the lights of villages located higher up in the mountains. They flickered from the alternating current power and could very easily have been stars save for the fact that they seemed to be flickering at the same frequency. Because Chamoli was located so far up into the mountains, where the mountain sides were dark and shapeless, those village lights may have well been suspended in space instead of firmly anchored to the mountains themselves.
The food at the Darbon had been too spicey finally. In fact with the profuse spicing of foods in India, indescriminatingly so, in the view of some, ultimately it became unpalatable no matter how humber its beginnings. Cauliflower?, Cabbage, what could youdo to those plain vegetables, and yet it was certain that literally bags of curried spices were added to them at some point in the cooking process. Both Gerry and Jens consumed large portions but our fearless and appetiteless hero could not get much past his lips. That was the first night there was no alternative to turn the taste buds to the local staple, unpasteurized yoghurt, a white and slimey affair called DAI. They discussed the relative merits of the stuff and concluded that the bateria sure to be overflowing within the mixture was likely the good kind, friendly microbes of a sort. If one was to literally fill their guts with them, then any other really and truly nasty kindred would be muscled out by the sure volume of them. An so they ate copious quantities from that moment on.
The Dai actually helped to settle the unsettled state of his stomach, though, all through the evening he belched the hot spices he had consumed, but never came close to vomiting or for that matter getting the runs. The Dai was working its magic. He dreamt of a battlefield internal to himself where the forces of light and darkness were lining up on opposite sides preparing to do battle. The dark force of spice and bad river water welled up with fierce armaments, slings, and mace at the ready, swords drawn. Across from them the multitudes of the armies of light and goodness, of Dai, moving smoothingly around in their flowing white garb free to move and wield their weapons of goodness, all the whle playing harp music and preparing to throw themselves onto their declared enemy and simply smother them with love through their sheer numbers.
It might have been the Munari that cause those dreams but the next morning all three of them were moving slowly. They didn’t hit the water again until 09:30. Stopping at a local shop a few candles and odds and ends were purchased and later given to the Sadue for his help and assistance the previous day, mostly for allowing them to land and park their boats at the ashram and his most delicious Chai. Donning their wet gear, cold and clammy from remaining in the boats overnight, they steeled themselves for a hard day on the Alaknanda, they got back into their boats and slid into the current.
As if to compensate for the lack of a long carry from Piple Koti down to the river the previous day, the river was even more challenging than on the previous day. Rapids were continous and challenging, too numerous to count. Throughout the trip from Chamoli to Nanprayag, a distance of about 17 kilometers as the crow files the two intrepid paddlers worked very hard boat scouting rapids from eddies, straining their necks to see down stream to find the paths of deep water running through rocks , for the downstream V’s they could attain and then quickly find another eddy to fall behind, rest and plot their next move.It seemed at one point that the rapids were simply too numerous and challenging to comprehend. The progress seemed so slow, every hundred yards could take up to a half an hour to navigate but onwards they plunged, down, down ever further towards their goal that day of reaching the small village of Nanprayag.
By the time they reached the village they were again exhausted. This time the walk up to the buildings was more exhausting than before, there was no Ashram to receive their gear or Sadu to look after it. In retrospect it would have been better to contract a local to look after their gear. The boats and gear were left near the river, overturned. They just walked up to the local tourist guest house in town. Both were suffering the effects of the extremely spicey food the night before. The Dai had worked wonders but another meal of hot spice was hardly going to do the trick this time around. Finding a local eating place they talked the proprietor into letting them boil up their own vegetables. He simply provided the vegetables and a pot of boiling water and left them to their mission which was to cook their own meal. After a short while, the food was near read to eat when he cam back into the kitch with a plastic bag filled with curry spice, there must have been five pounds of the stuff. Almost in unison four hands shot up, ni!, ni! they cried and the restauranteur looked at them as if they had lost their mantras. That boiled cabbage and potatoe was very good for the change it presented, they ate heartily and their stomachs thanked them with a very pleasant night of sleep.
It was late the next morning when they returned to their boats that they discoverd that some locals had stolen Gerry’s shorts and our hero’s green Bunny fleece suit worn normally beneath the dry suit. Gerry later learned that he was also missing a polypropylene top. In total this heist was not enought to stop the trip or warrant a trip to report the incident to the police. The offenders had clearly gone through the inventory of belongings very carefully during the night. Careful in that they took what they needed. To take a pair of underwear one must be desperate, and lets face it, in the mountains, what a practical item those would be. He concluded that the thief likely needed them more than he did and in the full ness of time he would often think back to that trip to India imaging a villager, perhaps in his late sixties by that time, warming by the fire in an aging and slightly smelling set of fleece coveralls. And so the initial reaction of being very pissed off about being robbed tranformed into a very kharmic pleasure that the trip to india had turned into a very pleasant opportunity for a local peasant who quite likely could make use of something much better than he could. fortuneatly nothing else was taken, not the boats, or the take apart paddles, not the life vests or rubber skirts. any one of things would have put the expendition to an end.
After those first two days on the river the decision was made to start filtering the river water to drink. This was a big decision and as Gerry pulled out the water filtration device that he had brough along he admitted he hadn’t even tested it out before he left. In fact he didn’t even know how to assemble it. This was a dicey affair. The thing didn’t seem to be working properly. Fortuneatley a portable filter was brought along. It consisted of an activated charcoal filter, some how iodizing the filtrate. That was the water they started to drink. It looked clear coming through the device... but was it clean?
Rather than using the filter on river water the plan was to put it to good use filtering tap water from the villages. It seemed a bit irrelevant, no ill effects or delhi belli were contracted however, because during paddle that day, several good mouthfulls of water were consumed, quite by accident and over several long rapids which -caused kayak upsets and requring the use of kayak self rescue techniques, the eskimo roll.
The eskimo roll is to some a mysterious activity that is part magic, part science, part athleticism and part grace.
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Value is on the Ass of the Beholder
The Eskimos probably invented the Eskimo roll, they invented the kayak. Its pretty easy to understand why an Eskimo would want to roll their kayak, the early whale bone and seal skin versions were paddled in ice water. The paddler probably accidently achieve the roll by bracing off an ice flow or something similar.
The modern craft used on the Alaknanda expedition were made of plastic, fairly light, even when loaded with gear and paddles made of complicated fibreglass and carbon fibre layups. In one smooth motion the paddler sweeps his blade at a climbing angle in the water, and rotating his hips to start the boat rolling in the water coming ultimately out of the water leaning quite far forward or back thereby keeping the overall center of gravity low to the axis of rotation of the boat.
All in all the number of times our hero had to roll his craft was few, perhaps three times in all, but in each case it was a clutch situation with severe consequences on failure. In those situations an extra added rush of adrenaline provides the power and energy to fight extremely strong current.
The last day of paddling took the pair from Nandprayag where items of their clothing had been stolen to Gochar, a total of 31 kilometers, as the crow flies was covered in about 4.5 hours, aided by a rapidly moving current. Those were good paddling days, very often boat scouting was required and was used to pass through large boulder strewns sections of the wider flowing river. The adrenaline was really pumping through them then.
Having reached Gochar they landed upon a sandy beach and looked up at the nine hundred foot bluff that lay in front of them after the grueling day of paddling. It seemed a super human effort would be required to make that trip, possibly three times in all, once with kayak and again with thegear. Fortuneately there were by the river a couple of locals who were enticed to carry the boats up for a paltry sum. These sherpas used a simple rope sling around the cockpit of the boat with the opening of the cockpit facing up and laying sqarely on their shoulders, bow pointing to the sky. Step by step in simple rubber flip flops they made their way up to about the 600 foot level before pausing to rest. One of them, an older and much shorter one claimed to be 62 years old. At hearing that there was a tinge of embarassment. Back home in North America, it would have been scandalous to hire an fellow past retirement age to attemp that load. They would, however, have been in such excellent condition. They were each given twenty rupees for their trouble, slightly less than a dollar each.
In Gochar the local villagers were astounded at the sight of two white travellers in paddling gear approaching them, first because of their white skin, second because of their paddling gear and mostly because the one sitting before them had blue eyes, extremely rare in this portion of the North Gharwal region of the country. Mostly school children pressed in to have a good look. The press of them was somewhat disconcerting but they were fortunately just curious. Gerry had been seconded away to have Chai with one of the fellows he met on the river. He'd just taken off without given any indication of where he was going. Highly unreliable fellow that Gerry. And so he was no where to be seen. The other , now just sitting and waiting removed most of the wet garments and deposited him in the mesh bag he'd brought along for that purpose The crowd's interest in him had diminished once the sun glasses were put back on.
When Gerry finally showed there was a sense of urgency to find something to drink. The local vendor must have found it surprsing when to anglos walked in and proceed to to purchase six bottles of Limca and Thumbsup and drink them right down before him. The last remaining bus leaving for Rudprayagh shortly afterwards. At Rudprayagh they'd have to wait until morning to catch the next bust back to Rishikesh. They found a room there and more soft drinks having pulled into Rudprayagh around 15:30. the Tourist Guest House was near by, and a couple of local porters carried their boats from the bus stop to their rooms where the gear that had been wet now for the last week was allowed to be strung up and giving a proper drying.
Settling in for a bucket wash they headed out for dinner, which again proved to be spiced far to hot to consume. Indiscriminately so, they thought and so couldn't eat much of it. Fortuneately they had thought to bring along packets of pounded nutrient. Normally consumed with milk it could be mixed with water or even yhogurt. That proved to be sufficient. That touriest guest house was located close to several barber shops and although they had become accustomed to their beards, the plan was hatched to go in and have a proper shave and haircut. Both Gerry and he had haircuts, shave (except for the mustaches) and in addition, quite invigorating body massages, administered with great fanfare and grunting noised by the barber officiating. They also received detail facial treatments. The overall effect was both decadent and relaxing and all at a cost of about 40 Rupees each, or about two dollars.
The trip costs had dropped considerably since they had embarked on their decent down the Alaknanda. After the bus and the guest house at piple Koti they were finding it difficult to spend more that 200 rupies a day in total.
They evening, perhaps due to the noise of the village or the warmth of their surrounding he woke around 03:00 in the mornging and had great difficultyu sleeping. Trying to meditake seemed to help and induced a feeling of peace - a kind of buzz. with ideas flowing - wild and crazy ideas of what he might do when he got back to Canada. It was no wonder he couldn't sleep.
More than anything else was a real fear that somehow he'd become unemployable, too independently minded and perhaps too bitter about the whole business of going to work for somebody or some organization.
He thought back to the types of jobs he'd had in the past and wished he'd taken more time to travel and see the world when he was younger. It might have given him better insight into his true passions. But in the end he realized it was the travel and the adventure that he loved even though at times it was these things that frightened him.
They enjoyed a dangerous sport, one that was fraught with real dangers, pinning on rocks, broaching between two rocks, sliding down the face of an undercut, strainers, waterfalls, so many things conspiring to do them in and at the same time, providing the exhilaration of facing danger and in the face of that danger playing upon the current and waves.
After zipping and snapping and popping his way into rubber and plastic and nylon that day He slid into to current to head out to play in water that was foaming and rushing away....
The saying went that the paddling was dangerous, but people could get killed simply crossing the street. They could be hit by the proverbial bus. He remembers at time when he had stood before a man and saw that exact thing happen - an elderly man was killed crossing the street, at a crosswalk by a bus whose driven and overlooked him and struck him soundly enought while making a left hand turn to smash the driver's side windshield. How unlucky is that? he thought remembering the incident. His view of death was considerable more appetizing than laying on a cold road, and falling into shock with hundreds of transit workers and passengers gawking down upon him - undignified to say the least. His princely version was to be in a sumtuous bed - naked mind you, with two equally sumptuously naked women, who would work him over until he died with a smile on his face.
It could happen.
By Friday morning at 0700 they had been up, had breakfast and waited for the first bus to Rishikesh. The bus pulled up and using the routine that had served them so well, one scampered to the roof of the bus using the ladder at the rear and pulled up each boat as the other hand them up and then tied them down "Rodeo Style" to quickly scurry down and collect his ticket and seat. They arrived at the Snow Leopard encampment at the Ganges by noon where they hauled their gear down to the campsite.
They washed their cloths including jackets. The plan was to head back into Rishikesh to either purchase long underwear for under the dry suit or to have one made. It was off to Rishikesh for another day of conspicuous consumption. They flagged a ride into Rishikesh with Shroom and Nari. Walking between the stalls in the markets a large blanket was secured, a red white and blue multicoloured check was the only type he could find that would offer the kind of insulation he required. With a zipper in hand he found a tailor that would take on the job. That tailer must have found it impossible to comprehend what such a garmet would be used for. Arrangments were made to have the new bunny suit ready by the end of the week.
The streets of Rishikesh werre bussling. A business man approached him. He seemed more of a loan shark or conman than an actual business man but his brother it seems ran two hotels in town. Running into him at a hotel while changing cash he spoke excellent english.
Later in the day some material was purchased for the purpose of designing a banner for the Snow Leopard camp site, a lovely skyblue colour and silken material. It was taken to a sign painter to transcribe the firms logo. The final result would be quite attraactive to Ajeet.
Back at the Snow Leopard base camp an new problem was rearing its ugly head. A group of locals, proclaiming they were students had arrived on the beach, later in the day, around 4:30. They were in any country and at any age, true assholes. With clients already on the water , four of them who had paid to be their, these took boats and gear and simply left with them. Finally, realizing they were not appreciated and weren't haveing fun anyway they got off the water and left as abruptly as they had arrived.
The plan was to travel southwards and take in some site seeing. First however, they were to accompany a raft load of guests down to the Rishikesh site. they'd leave their paddling gear with the Snow Leopard staff and head to the buses from there. Up at around 0600 for the rafting trip and a group of sikh businessmen who had arrived from Delhi and Bombay. One was a stockbroker from Delhi who was also studying law. He recommended a large Indian Corporation as an investmenet - Reliance industries.
Other other of interest was involved in the Plastics industry. He had just come from a large dealer show in Delhi, so large it is only held every four years - a kind of Olympics of trade shows he had said. He left his business cards at the camp. In India everything is a business oppotunity. The rafting trip, however, was less eventful, almost boring really but it was good to be back on the water again. The contrast between the hectic travel on buses and the bustle of the pedestrian and bajaj traffic on the streets and the busy markets was stark. There floating on the river, with fresh air and sun and the mountains all around was peaceful and reward enough. It was good to be boating again.
I must go out and boat again, my north is calling south again and fish are swimming home.
The two kayakers took out just before Rishikesh, changing into dry cloths and leaving paddling gear and boats on the raft to finish the journey. they were at Laxshman Khula beach. it was already noon. It had taken them threee hours to do the complete trip from Snow Leopard Basecamp to that point. They set out immediately for the bus terminal aided by motorized Rickshaw, the bajaj.
Arriving at the terminal they learned they had moments to spare before the next bus left for Hardiwar, the city they had passed on the way up. The fare was a pitance but the distance was short and they arrived in a flurry. Hardiwar was a major center and the bus station was packed. It was also extremely dirty with the public washroom in uncoverd and open outdoor stalls that had the encrusted crap of a thousand - make that a hundred thousand travellers and had the stench of it as well. Welcome to civilization.
The fare from Hardiwar to Pushkar in Rajistan was to be 300 Rupees for the pair of travellers for a bus ride which was to be about fourteen hours long. The road were pocked with pot holes and washboard - extremely rough. The seats offeren no legroom and the bus was packed, too packed for words. The Bus driver and conductor were no doubt being paid by commission and they packed the crowds in and what a crowd it was.
On route to Rajhistan, a large and desert like province of India located on the mid west coast the locals have distinctive dress and style. Almost always clothed in light silk, the men wearing huge and colourful turbans of brightly colour silk and usually with immense mustaches. The women equally vibrant with chains running cheek to jowl as decorated piercings. On that bus were the Rajistani and with their billowing garmets beneath one could find their children. On that bus trip the legs were trapped by the children sleeping on the floor beneath them.
The bus ride had turned out to be a full seventeen hours, an exhausting trip to say the least but both travellers, though tired were not so bad for wear and tear that a good nights rest would not solve the problem. Somehow, during the night Gerry had lost his camera. The two prepared to walk back to the bus station from the Natraj restaurent where they had finally stopped to have a breakfast of Toast and Jam and curd yoghurt with banana pankakes. It was the most westernized food they had had since arriving in country. They had arrived at Pushkar and now they had the problem of finding that camera. That was to be a futile effort in a country where most people are basically honest, with 1 Billion of them, even with that sorry and small percentage of thievess is a huge number.
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Away to Pushkar
The expedition to India was never planning to include paddling exclusively. The bus ride to Pushkar was the price that had to be paid to access the interior. Pushkar was a tourist town - an oasis sitting in the middle of the desert that is known as Rajistan. This is a place where the day time temperatures can exceed 40 degrees Centigrade during the hot and dry season. It is also a really nice and somewhat laidback community, and a stark contrast to the two weeks spend in cold and wet in the mountains of the North Gharwal region. Up early the next morning, pleased that all systems were functioning according to normal parameters, and well rested after the bone jarring trip in the two were ready for some exploration of the area. The Hotel Poorsoorie, a rather classic example of a tourist flop house was extracting about $2.5 per night. It had become rather clear at this point that except for the fact that they were not working it was almost impossible to live back home for what they were spending to travel. He remembered at trip he had taken to Princeton, New Jersey where he had spent about $200 in one night for a room at a pretty basic motel/hotel. In India it would have been possible to stay at the Poorsoorie for almost an entire year!
A large part of the ay was spend listlessly at the Restaurant NATRAS eating and listening to the music - wathcing ht e crows at the shop’s below from the third storey restaurant. The chairs were the big wicker type with comfy pillows that attached themselves to ones posterier and exponentially increasing the force of gravity, compelling one to stay there, and simply sleep. Everything they served at the NATRS was delicious and mercifully spice with rationality.
Finally they left to firm up their hotel room for the evening advised that since the town was overflowing with foreign tourists the availability of rooms would be slim. The town - a virtual mecca or hash - though formally illegal is to be found everywhere. For example, a drink of it at the local NATRAS is not on the menue but available as a Bang Lassi, essentially chocolat flavoured yoghurt and ice with hash mixed in. At the Poossoorie a room was obtained and this time they had been given a padlock to secure their room allowing them to travel about unencumbered by packs. The Inn keeper had assured them of a peaceful night, not advising them of another tourist in the room next door who had quite a different evening in store for her. She was a tourist who had contracted the dreaded delly belli and had already gone through the diarhrea stage and was about to start the vomiting and totoal purging stage. All through the night, she retched until about 0700 in the morning where the dry heaves had left her exhausted and she collapsed in her room.
During the next day the two were even more suspicious of anything they put in their mouths, but still somewhat less guarded. Our hero had taken to walking out of town towards a rather high hill outside the city. It appeared to be more of a butte or mezza not unlike something one would see in Montana or South Dakota in the United States. It was hot and dry yet on route several large Banyon trees, deciduous plants with huge roots and large leaves which grow to enormous size and live to extremely old age. The locals were going about their business although slowly and in time with the sun and the heat - their large turbans and saris reflecting vivid colours in the mid day sun. Their animals equally photogenic were oxen and camels, goats and sheep.From the distance it was clear that Pushkar was an authentic oasis, circling a lake approximately one half a kilometer across. The Lake had not been visible from within the town because it is entirely surrounded by Ashrams. Pushkar is also the site of religious pilgrimages like so many other sites that combine water, food, shelter and markets. The trip to higher ground had made that oasis more clearly defined now and even more exotic than one could image as the sun heated the sand causing noticieable heat waves rising all around in stark reflection off the whitewashed buildings circling the oasis.
Starring out at the sight was pleasing but not entirely gratifying. The solo traveler often is able to access sites and sounds that may be difficult to attain when traveling with a partner. Partners very often have different agendas, wishing to see different things running country to a common plan. Its not unlike paddling down a river but once on a river the general direction is downstream, not necessarily to paddle a rapid, - some in fact are walked - and that sometimes is a point of controversy but generally the diretion is uniform. Other aspects come into play, the level of fatigue, the desire to stop and rest or for that matter simply empty a boat of accummulated water.
But one dry ground with the limitations to options removed and so many other things to see and do the variations in personal agendas grows. So this view that was enjoyed in a strange country and quite exotic location could only be enjoyed by one whose sensations could not be heightend by the experience of verbalizing and sharing that moment with another. It limited the ability of the mind to strengthen that image for future reference.
That was the downfall of the solo traveler for nothing will traveling is less satisfying than seeing such a spectacular site but being unable to share that experience with another person. It was a basic truth he had come to understand on this trip that the experience, however, powerful was not enough for him, it had to be shared to be truly gratifying. It turned out to be a critical aspect of his personality that he had been unware existed. Not until that moment had he seen it in himself and he wondered if that was a revelation that was kept from him until this moment.
Often the basic truths about one’s personality are kept hidden from them. One of the reasons is that very often others are loath to reveal their perceptions of another to their face, instead keeping these things to themselves or perhaps sharing them with another behind their backs. Things like speech impediments, personality flaws, poor hygiene and the like progressing to more intimate details like perceived coldness, or aloof bearing. Things that one may or may not be aware is communicated to others.
Up on a hillside overlooking an oasis in Rajistan that is what was going through his mind.
Slowly he made his way back to the main townsite, having worked up a proper appetitie from his trek up the hillside. Back at the NATRAS restaurant he stared down the menu. It was a good selection of western choices which was greatly appreciated considering the ubiquitous DAL (lentils), rice and chick peas that had sustained them until that point - indiscrimiately spiced. Instead -the choice was towards chocolate -0 two ice cold Banana Lassi’s, and spaghetti with chai, washed down with Teem soda pop and the remains of another tourists Pizza and french fries of all things - which had been generously donated by a dutch traveler who had succumbed and simply ordered too much.
Following that most substantial dinner the need arose to walk yet again and so he set out to stroll through the shopping district, finding a few odd pieces of clothing, shorts and pants that seemed not to make any dent at all in his cash reserves. The things were simply not that expensive. The day progressed. Meeting up with Gerry, they joined at the Rainbow Restaurant and decided to have more pizza, which while very good lacked the classic italienne spices. Ironic in a place overflowing with spice. Stuffed nonetheless they made their way back to the motel and crashed. It had been a full day overflowing with visual and gastronomic delight and they slept well with full and most importantly stable bellies.
The next morning was a slow start. The plan was to make their way back to the large center in Rajistah called ASJMER where they would take a train to Agra the home of the Taj Mahal before returning to base camp in Rishikesh. They planned to complete their paddling on the upper Bagharathi River or possibly the Yamuna river.
The train was not organized to accept telephone bookings and as a result they headed out by bus to AJMER, a city of 250,000. The bus was to take them right to the train station but stopped about a kilometer short of that destination and they set out to cover that distance on foot. Making their way to the station they could see all manner of transportation on the streets, the three wheeled motorized rickshaws or Bajaj which they had found in New Delhi were not so numerous. Fortuneately this reduced the air pollution in ajmer with few oil buring and gas spewing two cycle engines. In their place were other three wheelers with large passenger compartments to the rear of the driver with large wheels and large windows. There were ambassador sedans, all beige, carrying roofracks loaded with baggage. Camels and oxen pulled carts, some with wooden wagon wheels others with pneumatic tires, drivers on foot, driver on cart. The city of Ajmer was alive with transportation but the two found themselves strangely, on foot.
At the train station they learned it wasn’t possible to purchase tickets until 17:30 and it was only noon. That meant they had five hours to kill and that they’d have to carry their bags with them. The station itself was not an option. It was a filthy hole in which people lay on the flow and languished in the heat, with pigs and cows trotting in and out eating fallen orange and banana peelings. One sow had an entire contingent following her, learning the train station ropes at a young age. The cows and pigs had the run of the city. The devote Hindus did not eat meat and believed in reincarnation. Those pigs could be the incarnation of some relative on route to enlightenment. The cows were considered sacred, the embodiment of the top level of existence. The muslims, and there were mosques in Ajmer, did not eat pork and acquiesced to the ban on killing beef stock and so religious detente exisited within the city.
Standing outside the city was a true photographic opportunity, with camels, carts and taxis passing by every second. Gerry parked himself at a cafe and order some yoghurt with banana and his companion decided to do the same. They planned to visit the Palace of Akbar to pass the time. The palance had been converted into a museum and contained offices of the curator and staff on its second level. While the items on exhibit were very old they were also in very poor condition. After a disappointing hour there they left for th Daraugh Bazaar in a horse drawn riskshaw since the moto they had hired to take them to the palace was no where to be seen. The horse driver adviced them to walk to the mosque entrance to the bazaar in respect to the dignity of the place and so they disembarked and walked down the promenade with their shoes removed.Within the Mosques walls there were almost as many Soukes or shops as there were outside selling good and fabrics. The mosque itslef was only one part of the complex. while they did not enter the inner part of the mosque they did deposit a few Rupees as a donation which was the accepted thing to do in that place of muslim holiness. An enormous copper cauldren had been set out in the courtyard for the expressed purpose of receiving donations from all who entered.
They proceeded back to the trainstation where the ticket office was finally open. The trip to Ajmer to Agra was to cost them about 80 Rupees but that price included the right only to board the train. It did not include the price of a seat on the train, for that one must pay extra to the conductor. If one wished to sleep, again there was an extra fee to be paid to another train official. the Train system in India is run like a complex Dutchy with every tin pot bureaucrat exacting their pound of flesh leaving the average citizen, as one might imagine quite thin.
Throughout their travels the sight of poverty was pervasive. India is a country of enormous contrast, from the very rich to the very poor. There is a middle class which is growing in size and in influence but the crush of humanity is great and the poverty stands out in its visibility. It is a common sight to see women holding babies gesturing their hand to their mouth as if requesint food. they are in fact, asking for money and very often those infants have been rented out, unbelievably for the strict purpose of evoking the sypathetic response one might predictably get from tourists which is precisely why these beggars locate themselves in parts of the cities where tourists are expected.
A story was told also of the invalids, those missing arms and legs, who impossibly are said to have had limbs removed to increase the beneficance of onlookers. India is a strange country and the sight of beggars, professional and otherwise is one that the traveller wishes not to be immune to but must as a matter of course, become indifferent to. No amount of money in the world is enought to change the economics of a country the size and scope of India.
The conductor had been reached and paid off for both seat and berth on the train to Agra. The train would run all night. In preparation for the trip it was decided to seek out a store that sold beer and have a good pint prior to departure. A cabbie was located who confessed to knowing where such a store was located and took them there. The beer was sold in extremely large bottles, and was warm as piss. Having purchased the beer, they found it could not legally be consumed anywhere including in the small restaurant they found where the owner was quite adamant that it could not be consumed and were instructed to go to a tourist guest house. Of course, that was not going to happen for they were on route to Agra and the train would be leaving in short order.
Both were feeling more at ease in country getting used to the food and the odd quirks of the society they had temporarily entered. Their minds were getting used to the barrage to the senses by stimuli of all types. The smell of shit, still pervasive in the air but somehow the noses filter it out as the baseline condition. Yes, India is dirty, the light cottons the two were wearing had become grey from the dust and grim from the buses and the rickshaws.
Finally on board the train at 20:00 hrs, having met with the grievance officer, to complain about having a ticket with no accompanying seat. Finally a berth was secured as well. Due to the graft and corruption, any gain that we had made came at a loss to others who had made other arrangements with the train officials. As a result the trains were overloaded and double booked in a pathetic state of organized confusion. It turned out that they had now been reduced from two berths to one that they must now share, an upper berth that would carry them to Agra. Both ended sleeping flat out, with their feet in the others face on a flat bench aproximately two and a half feet wide and seven feet long with flimsy padding. Amazingly enough they were able to sleep which was more than what was achieved on the seventeen hour bus ride into Pushkar from Hardiwar. By 0742, the train still on the move, both had been up and attended the trains lieu. The train had stopped briefly on route and immediately swarmed by CHAI vendors who ran to the trains and served up their tea in clay pots. The tracks were strewn with the broken fragments of those pot which were tossed out the windows after being emptied.
Pockets were double chequed for belongings. A few items that had fallen out during the night from pant pockets were found on the floor and then retrieved to the relief of their owners. Finally the train arrived at the Agra station. It was 0830, they were rested, more or less, hydrated with chai and the whole day lay before them. A cab was hired to drive them around the city for the entire day for the princely sum of 50 Rupees or about two dollars. The first planned stop was at the Red Fort of Agra. The red Fort of Agra was built in the 1600’s by Akbar but subsequently finished by his son, the famous Shah Jahan. The fort shows the Shah’s attention to detail. He had been born with an architect’s flair that was not to be rivaled even until today.
The fort’s battlements covered a perimeter of about 2 kilometers and the walls themselves were 20 or more feet thick. While on tour of the sight the two reach a lookout which oversaw the yamuna riverbed and in the distance they could see the Taj Mahal itself which was the ultimate act of love of the Shaj to his dead wife. For the Taj Mahal is actually a mausoleum for the Shah’s beloved whose death had so moved him he seconded the services of the countries greatest craftsmen and artisans for over 20,000 man years to construct this wonder of the modern world.
Rejoining the hired motorized rickshaw, they proceeded to a fresh Dai shop and onwards to visit the Taj itself. Passling through the battlements, soldiers greeted them and request they leave their bags behind by military personnel as a precaution against terrorists planting bombs in this most significant of Indian landmarks.
No written description of the Taj Mahal can do this installation justice. On a clear and sunny day the first glimpse one has of the Taj in the morning is of a brilliant dome reflecting blinding sunlight off its white marble exterior. Standing almost a full kilometer away from the entrace it stands monumental and large yet so well proportioned to its surroundings that the retangular pools leading to its entrance strangely diminish its size. The stunning sense of proportion and design cause one to stop and wander at the love the Shaw held both for his dead wife and for architecture for him to have created such a monument. Twenty years in the making produced the fine white marble structure inlaid with both precious and semiprecious stones. the Star of India Diamond had been placed in the archway of the entrance but was stolen by the English conquerers years ago resting in the royal crown jewels, a persistent irritant between the motherland and its newly independent colony.
Within any given marble panel one could see leaves and flowers, vine tendrils and branches creatively laid into the substrate using agate, jade, ivory, carolstone and other such delights.
The day of touring neared an end and the cold marble was beginning to have its predictable effect on the ailementary canal but they had to walk outside the complex. Pausing briefly for photographs our hero pointed out to his companion that the picture he was about to take had cost about $3000 so he had better not screw it up.
Outsid the compound almost paradoxically lay at franchised shop for United Colours of Beneton the provocative clothing merchandisers from Italy. The sign of the store was clearly visible near the entrace to the Taj. The cab driver asked the two to visit a carpet manufacturer and they decided that they would do that as a favour to the man who had driven them around the city that morning. The prices were at a high and there was no way they’d be lugging those carpets around the country with them so they declined profusely at every offer. No doubt, even at $500 for a 6x8 carpet they were worth it. Taking anywhere from six to eight months to complete the carpets were indeed beautiful and works of art. As a result the meetings with the carpet dealers were brief, they weren’t buying so it was on to the bus station.
Again the problem of purchasing tickets reared its head. It seemed to be easier to simply flag a bus down once it had actually left the station rather than formally by a ticket and wait to board it prior to departure. Waiting for the bus was interminable and the two went in search of a cold lassi and predictably lapsed in consciousness forgetting that the ice that went into those drinks was made from the local tap water. It was risky consuming those drinks, they had been in Indian now for almost three weeks without incident and didn’t want to break that record. Unfortunately they had consumed them and though they felt somewhat safe were now vulnerable. In Shalla, god willing they would be safe.
Now after a good crap they both wait for the worst if it is to come hoping of course that it never does. In keeping with the theme the bus stop in Hardiwar is its usual shit hole. Human piss and shit in an amalgam of animals including the ubiquetous cow dung rises up in a hellish fumé. But public sanitation, there is a total societal disregard for the privacy of bodily function here. On the bus they watch incredulously as a young woman, beautiful in all respects physical firmly plants a finger up her nose, gives it a good rhyeme and successful in her mining expedition flings the buger across the sidewalk. Never mind - that’s Inda.
On the Bus from Agra to Rishikesh, at least as uncomfortable as the one they took in the opposite direction, they prepare now to sit up for the twelve hour trip. But the bus ride is uneventful and largely painles although tiring. Arriving in Rishikesh early in the morning there was one of two choices to make. Try and gain a cab to take them to the remaining distance to camp or find a room. Our hero chose the later. Stubbling upon the Mehta Hotel at that hour the only regard was for the bed which fell into with absolute abandon. It seemed, however, as an instant, when he was awoken by the infliction of loud indian music. It blared at an alarming decible level. Irritated but exhausted he strived to sleep through it by burying his head into the meager pillors and under jacket and any manner of clothing and with eyes closed tightly he somehow slept through it.
It was only later he was told that he could control the volume of that music coming through the PA speakers in his room with a simple switch. That music normally came on at 0600 to awake lorry drivers. the Manager must surely have found it odd that that music was allowed to blare on for so long. such was the extent of his fatigue he could sleep through it.
Exhausted, a pail of water was orderd up and he washed up. There was some diarhea but no cramps and so was manageable. Naturally concerned about the integrity of ice waer used in the lassi consumed in Agra but after almost 24 hours it was felt that he’d probably be all right.
After a couple of stops in the local market he made his way back to the base camp via thumbed Lorry. Plans were being made now to continue on and paddle the Yamuna river. To access it required another trip up into the mountains to a resort area near the town of Musoorie.
The next day they were up at 0630. No ride was prepared for the trip back to Rishikesh but they flagged down an army truck after the boats and gear were carried up to the road from the Snow Leopard Base Camp. Despite some gravol that was consumed, the grunt work of taking the boats up the hill incombination with the scarffing of the egg ommelette took its toll. By the time they had been in the army truck but a few minutes with the exhaust filtering into the back of the Indian Army trooper truck he started feeling sick. Within a few more minutes he was literally barfing out the back end of the tailgate. This was an image his traveling partner would recount with glee many times in the future.
They stopped in Rishikesh before the turn off to the bus stand. He went to the Pandis Road tailor shop but they are closed. Just as well, the fresh air and walk settle his stomach. Back to the bus stand they board a bus to Dehra Dunn where they actually miss the next bus stand and have to put the kayaks and gear on the roof of the moto rickshaws back to the Musoorie Bus Stand. Drug induced sleep, largely from the Gravol make the trip to Musoorie sleep by smoothly.
By 13:30 they arrive but learn there would be no further buses north to Naugoon so the decision has been made to put up for the night. The town of Musoorie is a mountain resort. all there are currently preparing for the busy summer season where the heat in the cities such as Delhi and Hardiwar drives the citizens into the much cooler mountain regions. Many renovations are underway. The town has all the amenities and they decide to have dinnner and are greeted with the customary hot and spicey cuisine. At least that has not changed. The town is quiet yet that evening there was the constant sound of dogs barking and construction underway. It seemed as though a truck had unloaded an entire box of bricks in the room next to the one they were sleeping. Still, it was a beautiful sight up there. The lights from Dehran Dun were flickering below and in the distance. Both were up at 0730 and met up with a group of people from Middle Town, New York, who , also touists were most fascinated by the concept of mountain kayaking that these two had undertaken.
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Regroup and consider the Error of One's Ways
That night they dreamed. Of past transgressions and sins some vivid, some weird and misty and troubling. Filled with positive and negative images. It might have been the mountain air or something in the Lassi’s they were drinking but both were plagued by visions of the past, present and future.
It might have been a tad late but the thought occured to them that once that trip was done the river manager for Snow Leopard was to take the gear back at base camp to New Delhi in preparation for their trip back to Canada. Strangway was a reliable sort and they had little doubt he would do as they had requested but if there was a flaw in their plans, that would be it. Those bags contained their passports and airline tickets. It occured to him equally that there was a vested interest to see the two of them again, they hadn’t paid their bill to Snow Leopard.
They have been waiting at the bus stop for about an hour, and none stopped for them. The Hindi magazines they have procurred were next to useless distractions and there were no takers for an offer to swap. It was learned finally that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The two had found the bus stand one of two and as you’d expect, it was the wrong one. They gathered up their gear and carried uphill to the next stop. The bus was to arrive at 13:30 for departure to NanGoon. By the time they had reached Nanibag it was the basic problem they had before them was quite simply that the yamuna had no water in it. By the time they’d reached Nanibag it was clear the situation wasn’t about to improve.
Another problem was that our hero had discovered to his horror that his spray deck was missing from his paddling gear. Without it , it was impossible to paddle even the most modest whitewater. How it turned missing was itself a mystery since it was in the gear bag with all the other paddling gear when he had last paddled. That was with the sikh industrialists back at the base camp.
The plan was to kayak the Yamuna and then travel back to Rishikesh and then on to Delhi. That paddle wasn’t going to happen. Gerry had made an informal arrangment with a lorry driver to take them both and their gear back to Dehra Dunn. He was leaving at 0500 early the next morning. Nanibag was a very small village but fortunately there was one guest house and that was where they secured a room for that evening.
The next morning the rooster started crowing with the sun , it was 0400. Had the circumstances been any different that bird would have been a dead duck but here the timing was excellent. They were up and ready to meet the lorry driver. The driver, true to his word was ready for them at 0500 and so off they went. After 45 minutes they were stoped at a mandatory road gate used for vehicle inspection. Though the gate was closed they proceeded with their own mandatory tire inspection and found that one was low and bald so the driver proceeded to make a change. By that time it was light enough to see the river in the valley below. It was in fact very boney and unpaddleable. What a sombre coincidence that the spreay deck would not even have been necessary. Still they had come a long way only to discover the missing piece.
The number one rule of preparing for a paddling trip, make sure all your gear is together. The inventory goes like this: for the head: helmet, sun block, eyeglasses and strap, nose plugs, and sun visor or cap. For the body, underwear, neoprene suit or dry suit, thermal layer, life vest with whistle and river knife, spray deck also called a skirt, for the feet, river shoes, sandals and neoprene socks, and paddle.
Important safety gear also include spare paddle, first aid kit, throw rope, and carabiners. Last but not least some energy food and water.
The lorry took them as far as Dehra Dunn. It was only moments later that a bus arrived and they piled their boats and gear onto and into it.There was not, as it turned out, even time to have a glass of Chai. On the bus there were all manner of student, cramming for some sort of computer test, furiously pouring over their text books. It was one more irony about the country of great contrasts. The bus was packed with people, and it was getting hot and stuffy yet not one bothered to open a window. It was bizarre.
Many spoke english so he asked the question, “why not open a window” - “too chilly” was the reply from one not so distracted by his books. It must have been 80 degrees Farhenheit.
The bus dropped them off ust outside the Rishikesh bus depot and again only moments later they were on the bus to Rishikesh, and this time the transition was even smooth, one to the top of the bus, life up the boats, tie them down then hop down and into the bus for a nice smooth ride through flat and pastural surroundings. By the time they had reached Rishikesh it was the first time they had had to hire a cab to haul their gear. Our hero stopped outside the tailor shop and picked up his bunny suit and said hello to his friend bulla next door who was enthused to see him. He wanted to buy his read jacket from LLBean and was determined to make a trade. There was no way that deal would be made because the trip back home was through London, england and the temperature there in March was not going to be very user friendly.
Back at camp there was still enough time to drop off the kayaks and snap a few pictures in the fading light.One of them was of the new banner that had been prepared for the Snow Leopard Expeditions Base Camp. It had turned out very well, with the silver coloured leopard and a periwinkel blue background. They used the extra time to clean up their gear and grime off their clothing. Unfortuneatly a jar of peanut butter that had been purchased had broken and created a mess of things in one of the bags. Note for others: Don’t haul glass in bags with clothing. Peanut butter and fine sand makes an almost inpenetrable mortar mix.
Still they were glad that both their gear and cash was intact and still at the base camp and had not been sent into New Delhi as was the original expectation. As well, the missing skirt was located. Sure enough somebody had taken it out of the gear bag before the trip - probably to dry it out. It was safe and sound in one of the gear chests. This, however, did not absolve the other of the need to check his gear kit prior to departure for the trip. Finally, though, there was no reason to assume the piece had been removed.
They sat out under the parachute tent as the sun receded on the horizon. The white sand reflecting the spring sunlight. The ganges, flow exhoribly to the interior, with its very special water glistening in the light as well. Disolved in its currents were said to be minerals and elements capable of neutralizing the filth and sewage that it had been subjected to as far upstream as Tehri on the Bagh. By the time the water had reached base camp it was running clear with a sofe greenish tinge.
That evening a side trip to an abandoned house was planned. In pitched darkness the two had been invited to visit a socalled haunted house. Rather that but on proper footwear our hero passed on his boots and dawned for the first time, sandals. It was to be a stupid mistake. Walking alongwith the group and to the rear his flashlight lost power and suddenly found himself immerse in darkness, standing on a slight trail on the side of a mountain. He missed his step and tumbled an eight foot embankment. The ground covered with xerophytes ripped at his flesh with their thorny branches and leaves. On another occasion and with worse luck this could have been fatal. Fortuneately his only injury was skin abrasion on his head and left toe. But as a result when the group finally returned and met him sitting their on the trip which he had with great difficulty reattained he had difficulty walking.
That night, of all nights with his ability to walk properly compromised discovered that he had to use the latrine, some 100 yards from the Bhagarathis tent. He never made the distance, after about 50 feet, the crap began to run down his leg. Embarrased but powerless to stop the simple forces of body and nature that confronted him he headed down to the river to wash out his shorts and underpants. It was dark enough he could barely see his hand in front of his face. The next morning he found he had the runs but no cramps.
He remembered the sage of his traveling parter gerry who, three years earlier had reached his fifthteeth birthday. “There are three things” he said “that one must remember at this important time of life, number one: It’s later than you think, number two: Never waste and erection and number three: “ and this was the odd one but its meaning had become clear to him after the previous night, “Never, ever, trust a fart” . He said the last one to the bemusement of thoe present.
With diarhea looming, it certainly was true, never trust a fart indeed. It would either be silent and deadly or runny, either way, you won’t get away with it.
The next day was spent at base camp cleaning the cloths and wounds and generally recouperating from all the travel. Typically our hero had been injured but it had absolutely nothing to do with the kayaking, rather, stupdity had reared its ugly head on that inane outing to the haunted house. He shook his head in disgust with his own stupidity. By this time his throat was getting a little sore and it was clear that he was getting a cough. It was clear that the day off from travel was necessary, for the next day they’d be on the road again with guests that had arrived from the American embassy in New Delhi. Their return trip had begun.
In his pathetic state, limping along, fighting off a cold, the memory of his soiled cloths still fresh he though about his family, finally after five weeks. He hoped they had been patient with him. He considered himself a jerk and that his life had lost any sense of purpose or meaning. He recognized that the trip had not really changed anything. That night he would be packing his gear for the return flight. The paddling was officially over. Only the basics were going into a smaller carry on bag. He thought about the need to change basic aspects of his life and try and make a fresh start.
The next morning they carried their gear up the embankment to the highway where the bus had stopped and was taking on its American passengers plus a couple rough looking canadian paddlers. Sitting at the back of the bus, on route to Rishikesh, our hero, already feeling poorly from the cold and the injured toe was feeling, as usual, queasy from the ride.He had not taken his gravol and the motion of the bus was immediately starting to get to him. Alas, on this bus there was no escape. The windows were of the type that pulled down from the top, and there was no way he could reach up and vomit out the window. He quickly took off his hat and threw up into it. True to its design specification, that gortex cap held the spew intact. The person sitting next to him perceptively grabbed a plastic bag and the thing was quickly thrown into it and sealed. It was a pathetic site indeed. Gerry would later kid him about his queasy stomach many times. He’d thown up in his presence about three times during the trip. The rest of the spew had been dumped out the window and it ran down the side of the bus, truly a disgusting sight.
Arriving in New Delhi they disembarked from the bus and hired a motorikshaw which took them to the Gandi Guest House. by 19:30 both were feeling very tired. The cold had gotten worse, with sore throat, coughing and sneezing. He just stayed put in the room. Later he went out and picked up a few souvenirs.
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Doing Business In India
Meeting with Ajeet did not go well. Ajeet who had seemingly intentionally not discussed the fees he would charge for the use of the Snow Leopard Base Camp and the kayaks, cost of the Bhagarathi raft support the food. The cost of all these things had come to much more than was expected and he wanted payment in US currency. So there was a disagreement. For something that was estimated to have cost $300 US maximum they were both faced with invoices for $900 US. Having come so far to take this trip there was no way the amount would not be paid but he made it clear that Ajeet would have to wait for his money. Ajeet didn’t know that he would have to wait almost two years before he was to be paid.
That was just the price of doing business that way. He was n’t upfront about his charges and they weren’t going to be upfront about paying for them. On top of that , he’d have to take the paddle he left up in Rishikesh with one of the Base Camp hands in partial payment. He complained that he didn’t need, that was one form of bargaining he had to deal with. Ajeet promised that he had already discounted th cost of the trip, by charging $12 a day for the boats instead of $15. But he had charge for transport days as well as water days saying the transport was harder on the boats than the river. He had charge $600 US for participatio on the Bhag expedition and on the discussions went but there was no happiness to be had from Ajeet. In the mean while his head cold was getting somewhat better but there still was a heavy cough. The big toe was healing fortuneately. He was ready for his departure to Britain. He been in Inda a month.
Up at 0300 to get the bus to the Connaught square and on to the airport. The bus was exactly on time. In progress they met another foreign traveler, Rory from Belfast, who would also be with them on the plane, all the way back to London. The procedure through security and customs was uneventful and once on board they both relaxed enough to sleep. The flight to Britain from New Delhi took nine hours and they arrived about noon, claiming their bags at Heathrow airport. It was obvious they’d need some cash for their stop over and they headed over to the currency exchange office picked up some pounds sterling and headed out to a bed and breakfast out in the Elgin Court District. The accommodation and everything else wasn’t going to be cheap and the sticker shock from the Indian experience was showing. The intention was to get the full monty as far as the Bristish experience would take them. Fish and Chips for Supper, take the tube (subway), mail some classic post cards, stop at an authentic pub and have some beer.
Now the beer itself, the thing is he found the beer, called bitters, undrinkable. He though, no wonder they’d stand at the bar and literally take for ever to drink the thing. He had to get another. He made a note to himself, do not order Young’s Bitters. It was more like some old sewer’s bitters. Heading back to the Half moon Bed and Breakfast as it was called they immediately made plans to hit the sack. They’d be up early the next morning for a bit of siteseeing.
Breakfast at the Bed and breakfast was nothing, really, toast and coffee which struck them as a humongous rip off. Still hungry they walked down the street and found a fresh pastry shop serving chocolate croissants, right out of the oven. After that it was easy to be charged for the rest of the day. Off to the subway to book tickets for a play that evening which was to be Miss Saigon at the Royal Theatre, there at 10:00 Am the line for tickets had already formed. Luckily they were able to secure tickets and the balcony seats were actually reasonable.
Back on the subway the next destination was to the tower bridge for a few photographs and then onto a double decker bus to the liverpool underground station, then back to the room for a quick snooze before the show. Unfortuneately his stomach was upset again, probably from the horrid bitters and then had to endure the jibes from Gerry. He took in a bit of melon and felt better. Miss Saigon,... the show was fine but where did that helicopter come from?
Back to the room and one last night in the city before heading back to the airport and checked the bags. The flight was delayed and so the only thing to do was sit and drink and so they did. The flight back was mostly a blurr, back to toronto at 17:00 and as the port of entry, through customs, filling out paperwork. Again more time to wait before the next flight out to Winnipeg and his wife and kids were there at the airport to greet him. It was as if nothing had changed..
It would be several years before he would embark on trips of that sort again. In the mean time he had to build his house, start his business, take computer courses and training during two winter sessions and take a couple jobs in between.
One of the jobs he took was as a census poller. The job required that he travel down every pathetic back road between Kenora and the Manitoba border and there were many. Part of the assignment included drawing maps and he partly amused himself by making these as elaborate as possible. The Other position he took up part time was as a health planner for the district health council and found that to be a pleasant change of pace and an opportunity to earn some real cash. He had been selling and installing polystyrene forms for concrete. He had actually build his own home out of the material.
He remembered the day when he had begun the job, sinking up to his boot tops in the gumbo that was the clay substrate on the property he had been given by his father. Sure the price was right but it needed a lot of work. Clearing the land was hard physical work, burning brush was the highlight. There was a sign of things to come when one of his neighbors stopped while still sitting in his pickup and snarled that he was destroying the neighborhood. That turned out to be the ill spirited Larson. The kind of guy who would walk into a bar looking for a fight. If he was dour, then his wife was doubly so. So the work went on. The first task was to put a set of footings in.
A large catapillar had to be brought in to clear the site that had been selected and dig right down to the bedrock. This proved to be much harder that it initially appeared. The rock in Northern Ontario was unpredictable with large drop offs and intermixed with the clay were huge boulders. They were pulled out of the pit and laid out like a pearl necklace along the road. the clay pulled out was used as a bas for the road that was put in along those boulders. Later it was to be capped with gravel.
One point in the proceedings the cat operator stopped and just shook his head. the rock below was almost sixteen feet below grade. That was going to pose a real construction challenge. At the far end the rock was more forgiving and formed a kind of pass, large enough to drive a vehicle but that plan was too late, the die had been caste. The footing were the next step.
For this he hired his boyhood friend to do the work, operating under the name of village construction. He was slow and methodical and charged a fair price for the work. Watching them was an education in and of itself. There was little conversation between he and his assistant. They had to set up some vertical posts, some of which sat on rock cribs. To these was strong steel wire used to maintain the line of the footings which were being poured as flat surfaces on which the forms were to be laid. A grade beam was necessary, essentially forming a beam spanning across irregularities in the surface and resting on pillars of concrete. Beneath the beam would ultimately be filled with gravel and there would always be a well of moisture sitting in what would essentially be a rock bowl but that couldn’t be helped. The first course of forms was set. It was the hardest part of the operation. Each form fit into the other like lego blocks. Reinforcing rod was laid into each one and wired into place. Row after row increased until the foundation of the cellar had been laid out. The one corner was to be 16 feet high, another corner ten feet high, within the middle a hugh hunk of terra firma, later to be known as the bat cave. It was solid rock with only one row of forms sitting on top of it. Worse yet it was sloped in such a way that almost surely ground water would seep through.
The day came when that formwork had to be filled with concrete. He was going to hire a concrete pump. He had never really built anything before in his life. Suddenly he was about to pour concrete in a formwork he had laid out which was to be the basis of his home and his business. The hours before the trucks were scheduled to arrive he went through the motions, checking and double checking. For the high wall, he had to cut holes in the form and pump right into the wall. Once that was done, he’d have to head back up to the top of the formwork and top it off. It was exhausting work but the nerves and adrenaline kept him going. That day, just as the light was fading, the walls were poured and straighted as much as was possible. The bills were paid and the beers were cracked open. Phase one had been completed and nothing had come crashing down.
The next step was to lay in the cisterns which would hold the water. At that time there was no plans to bring town water into that site but have it trucked instead. That was going to be an onhoing expense but it seemed that the water was ultimately going to be sent up via water line and only a matter of time before that happened. So in went the cisterns. They were hugh yellow affairs, large enough for a man to stand upright inside. Though not heavy when empty they were awkward required them to be rolled into place.
Some might later say that the big rock should have been blasted out of there. That a well should have been put in, that a concrete floor should have been poured, that something else should have been done, but in the end, there was the reality of the budget and the lack of knowhow which contributed to mistakes being made. Still the work somehow got done.
Once the big yellow tanks were in place the next step was to lay out the flooring trusses. There were to rest on the large center beam that had been laid into the concrete . The trusses were of the engineered type and later proofed to be too spring even though the criteria was carefully specified. He’d been let down by the engineers and it was annoying. some of the problems could have been solved with an extra supporting beam but again it was too late.
There was a simply rule of construction that he learned and later would not forget. First, things in building need to be straight, plumb, square and also level. There is a second point that it is always better to overbuild than to risk the consequences of under building. Use two nails where one would do, use three where two would do and use screws where nails would do. Use screws and glue where screws would do and so on.
The truth of the law of overbuilding would come back a few times. Building to specification is a little like tendering out a project to the lower bidder. Invaraiably something in forgot or lost in the equation. Mistakes are made.
The other basic problem in putting something like a house together is that you learn as you go. Often the job is complicated and you become an expert at it only just as the job ends. It means that one is constantly training on the actual job to be done. Some are better than others at applying their knowledge in situations like that.
The next phase was to lay those wankey trusses down and cover them with plywood so that floor could be used to construct the frame of the second level. The problem is the ends and the supports for the walls. Nobody told him about those things. What seemed like extra trusses were actually for placement at each end. Instead scabs had to be put into place to support the ends of the 5/8” plywood that was laid down. The trusses were made of 2x4 dimensional lumber. Nobody is quite clear why it is advertised as such because these are actually one and five eights by 3 and five eights dimensionally. There was so much to learn in this expedition of construction.
The problem with the trusses is that they had to be laid in plastic bags to protect the ends from the effects of concrete. They also had to be provided with nails so that the cement could adequately anchor the ends and prevent the wall from moving. The plywood has be be glued as well as screwed into the trusses. Ideally the heating coils could be laid into the trusses prior to the flooring being secured but that is another story, suffice to say that he had to lay the pipe in from underneath later on.
So it finally got to the point where he had laid the first course of forms ontop of the foundation. The floor seemed level and that was an achievement but.. it have a bit of a bounce to it. Boxes had to be build for the windows that were ordered. The windows would be screwed into those window boxes afterwards. The boxes were used to secure the openings and hold the concrete. There were to be a lot of windows, all were going to be the operating type and the order was secured on a weekend trip to International falls. It was ironic that he could order windows from the United States and pay duty and the difference in the Dollar and the Canadian Dollar and stilll pay less than what could be purchased localled. Still they were trucked in and laid out at the site. Each window box had to be treated with protectant against moisture in the concrete.
The site was visted by the fellow who had started the company that manufactured the forms. He was a dutch Canadian and had a heavy accent. He had conceived the idea of the form while lying in bed in hospital after falling off a roof while clearing snow. His back had been broken. He turned that initial idea into a forturne then bailed out. Hank turned up on site and looked at the progress of the job. He was concerned that the walls were not quite square and instructed that ropes be secured, one corner to another and pulled with a come along to pull things togehter. They used a 11 mm climbing rope that had been purchased at the MEC in Toronto years earlier for the purpose of rapelling. Now it was being used to haul some corners into square. He wondered if the manufacturer of the elderid would approve. Still the job was done.
He instructed that one of the corners was going to be weak and that care should be taken when pouring the cement. He later proved to be correct. He got back in his motor home and left, never to be seen again.
As the forms went up on the second level the site of the structure taking shape was encouraging. It was first structure of its kind to be erected and the gawkers would driver up the hill trying to look like they were only coming for a nonchalant drive then having to turn around at the end of the drive. He looked at them going through the motions with a certain sense of self satisfaction
The final course was set and vertical rods of steel were laid into place with reinforcing placed all around the window openings. The trucks arrived shortly afterwards and the process began. It was a much larger pour as more concrete was needed to fill the walls intotal despite the window opennigs. the biggest problem occurred when just as Henk Menson at predicted a form gave way on the week corner. Fortunately it was easily accessible but a full yard of cement had spilled on the ground. He raced to the corner and somewhat shocked proceeded to repace the foam and tack up the corner with 2x4’s . He instructed the pumper to refill that corner and move to another area to allow it to see. About an hour was lost in that mishap and towardst he end of the pour it had actually started to get dark. The pressure was on to level up the window boxes and clean up the equipment before the concrete all hardened up. It had been particularly difficult to put the headder boards into place and make sure they were level as the roof trusses would be secured to them. In the end it was all done and the as the trucks cleaned u pthe beear came out and thanks were sent out all around.
Later it would become clear that one wall was not plumb and been pushed out. It was too dark to see the problem and the wall cured that way. Lessons learned, too late. Perhaps he thought that should appear as his epitthet.
The roof trusses arrived a day later. The low bed truck arrived from Fort Frances and held the massive single span truses. They were fully 40 feet long. The neighbor who had since been renamed “Dickhead” had seen the lowbed come in and intentionally drove his pickup truck to the head of his driveway to prevent the trucker from pulling forward into it. The trucker could be seen mouthing the worlds, “What a fucking asshole”. While unloading the trusses, which could be carried by two men, the end of one sprung up and struck him in the left side, probably cracking or at least severly brusing him side. It was ironic, the things he had been through over the years. He had taken the most hits in the constructon trade.
The intention was to hire a crane to raise th large trusses into place because that would be safer for all the people who would come to help him install them. The most important of all these helpers was Robert “Skip” Orton. The first and last names were probably never spoken more than ones or twice. Skip was a man of few words. He was trained as an electrician but really tackled many different jobs. He was hard working and realiable.
When the crane arrived, Skip headed up to the roof. Each truss was slung up to the roof line. Skip would tack 2x4’s into them to hold them together, not really worrying about the distance between them. Finally all of th trusses we secured in a more or less up right possition on the roof. The gable ends had been send and they too were placed on the roof.
All in all the process took a couple of hours. Most important of all was that noone was injured in the process. Upon the tops of the trusses is lade exterior cladding. The ideal material is 1/2” spruce plywood but the building code allows 7/16” wafer board. Its a poor substitute. The problem with it is it is fine, as long as it stays dry, which could be a problem, depending oon the roof in question.
The plywood comes from the factory in a square condition, fortuneately. It has to span the trusses which are set in increments of 24”. sometimes nailing them into place can be a problem.
The stress on the bones and muscles from nailing and screwing, lifting and shoveling was starting to be felt. Every bone in his body ached. He had lost weight, down to 169 pounds, less than he had been in high school. There was nothing to do by keep on going step after step. This was real work and there was much more to do. He had been given instrutions to see a massage therapist who turned out to be a young girl he had baby sat as a teen ager. She worked out the ached and kinks and sent him back out. the next task was to be hauling that awful plywood up to the roof for nailing, more nailing. Then , atop that was to be placed the roofing strip and shingles. Black was the colour selected, and it was very hot to work with. Each bundle heaved upon the shoulder weighed in at about seventy pounds and one by one it was carried up the ladder and placed on the roof at various points. From up on the plywood it one corner was a good three stories up from the ground and the landing would have been quite unuser friendly. Something they done always tell the user about shingles is that they are made from recycled “everything” likely irees and have pices of steel shard in them. when handling the shingles they stab the unsuspecting roofer like the barbs of the xerophytes in the off trails of the Gharwal foothills.
All during this time the weather had held. It had not rained for weeks on end. Finally the roof was up, clad in plyboard and covered in shingles. It was then that the rain started. Not that the sky was all that dark, in fact it was a light sky and the sunlight could be seen streaming in from under the clounds illuminating the bottom with a light almost golden light, and yet those were very heavy clouds and the rain came, and it came. It poured more than five inches in the course of an hour, testing that roof and not a drop came through. There were rivers running down the driveway and actually washing out the roadway partionally from the collapsing embankment.
The bare structure of the house sat at the top of the hill and unfinished it was an imposing structure, 26x48 feet in outside dimension with a high peaked roof it dominated the neighborhood. The drive leading up to it was straight on and it circled around along the string of boulders that had been moved during the excavation.
The day came when it was time to put the windows in place. A fellow by the name of Tom Newell came by to assist in the process and the windows, held in place by a plastic moulding were quickly screw nailed in place. The whole process of installing $12,000 in windows took no time at all. Soon the entire exterior of the building was closed in except for the fascia and soffits.
At this time his wife’s mother and father and sister came for a visit from their home town in Earlton. They had traveled by motor home recreational vehicle along highway 11. That was a trip that would normally take 18 hours of continuous driving. They arrived, took a look at the place and within three hours were back in the motor home heading back in the direction from which they had arrived. It was very odd indeed.
When the time cam to start installing soffit it was obviousl that the instructions for installing this material are unclear. Much can be done to simplify the process but so much in the construction industry is secretive because so many make a living by keeping others in the dark. The process he learned was to install a channel around the building to rest the soffit. The Soffit must go on first, he learned too late, having installed the facia all around and then found he had to jam the soffit into the jchannel then back into the facia. We live and we learn and then there is home building. He cringed at the mistakes he made but questioned whether or not he’d want to try and do that again.
The issue of home building is fundamental to the human condition. All specieis of animals are inevitably taken by the urge to build their own domicile. While some take their home with them like the turtle , very often we humans tackle the task of home building. It is exhausting and exhilarating. Much of the success of the project involves adequate planning.
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Mediocrity Breeds Success
The high school years are either good or bad but usually never a mixture of one or the other according to most teenagers. Largely due to their total lack of perspective its little wonder they might perceive them so. Everything is such a big deal. One of the most common misconceptions that burden them is that they are trapped within a kind of bubblegum prison where things are preordained. You are largely type cast by those with whom you hang and perversely, birds of a feather often flock together, geeks find themselves other geeks, jocks find themselves other jocks, nerds find nerds and so on. Every once in a while an individual comes along who defies description and pigeon holes and as a result is regarded by others with a fair degreee of suspicion. “Is he with us, .. or against us” is the question that is raised in the minds, when the reality is much more straight forward, sometimes he is and ... sometimes he isn’t.
This is the story of our hero, who never seemed to sit well for long in any pigeon hole before smartly moving on to the next. As a jock there was a tendency to play basketball, he was tall and could short half decently. As a nerd, he always did his homework and could remember physics equations by heart. As a geek, he had his calculator long before others and honestly liked classical music and shakespeare. He had outside interests, studied Judo, and played chess. He had girlfriends and a part time job. To confuse matters, he smoked the odd joint, liked to dance and have a good drunk from time to time. He probably hung out a bit too much and stayed up a bit too late, being known to fall asleep in the most unusal places and positions.
This was a fellow who clearly didn’t fit in neatly anywhere.
He was spiritual without being religious, he was moral without being too honest, he was creative but not artistic and he was atheletic but never the classic jock. Never aspiring to be grade A at anything but quite content to be a solid B in practically anything.
Whether is was others perceptions that Grade B was never good enough, by way of comparison, a master of all trades is never ranked as well as the Master of One or two for that matter.
So it was that our hero was practicing as usual during the spring warm ups for the school track meet. He used the fosbury flop, a semi atheletic move where the jumper releases from a single foot and falls backwards across the bar with one arm leading the way. He was successful at 5’6” and never got any higher, but with steady practice and persistence he got to the point where he could attain that height consistently, in fact.. he never missed, not once. It got to be so casual he could walk up to the bar and still meet that height, rain or shine, windy or calm, laughing or poised, there was no way he would miss that height.
Meanwhile there were the jocks, they were the once who when through great pains to measure their paces to the bar. They ruminated, and planned, agonized and grimaced. Many times they would reach unheard of heights, they could leap like antelopes and in some cases exceed heights of six feet. They were a marvel to watch. One in particular, by the name of Roger Perry was renouned for his histrionics. He would pace off his distance, take a quick bounce in the air and prance towards the bar with great looks of determination in his eyes. The effect was mesmerizing. Taking off at great speed from what seemed an equally great distance from the bar, he would sail over like a great leapiong gnome. It was a sight and often a crowd would gather just to see him practice.
Of course there were others, and they all had achieved heights that exceeded that of our hero. It was taken for granted that they would represent the school in the regional track meet when that event was held just weeks following the local meet.
The day of the local meet arrived and most were quite happy to get the day off with a day spent largely standing around waiting for one’s event to take place. The high jump was no exception. The locals quickly had the bar up to the height of 5’5” and it seemed that everybody was making that height and that applies to our hero. One after another everybody seemed to make that height, that seemed to be the make or break height for everybody, but no. When the bar was raised once again it never looked back. Finally three other jumpers, as predicted managed to exceed the height and one reached the lofty score of 6’4”. Our hero was fifth and by the usual practice was eliminated from the regional competition. That was expected.
Two days before the regional track meet, however, there was news that one of the best jumpers had come down with appendicitis and would not be able to compete for the school. The track coach was upset and frustrated as it had seemed like a lock that his prize jumper would win the regional event and with that added prestige for his school and not coincidentally for this coach. But that was not to be. However, it was also the custom, more of a courtesy actually for those who had consistently come out to track practice, to allow the competitor out of the ribbons to attend the regional event as a substitute.
And so it was that our hero, who had taken for granted that he would not attend the meet, and work on his frog dissection instead was designated as the substitute jumper in the high jump event and would attend the regional meet. His expectations were low for he had already been beat by the others in the local competition and in fact, he knew, that his personal best, hadn’t changed in the last month of practice. It was nice to know he was selected. Like so many other sports he had participated in as second string basketball player, and second string or special teams football player or runner up in racket sports, he was fulfilling his destiny as jack of all trades and master of none.
For the occassio of the trip the school board had rented a motor coach, the kind usually used by Grey Hound Bus lines. These were a vast improvement over the rather uncomfortable yellow school buses that other teams had to use. But this was a pretigious regional event and the entire track team was to be transported to the small border town of Fort Frances, some two hours away.
He sat on the bus on the way down beside the lovely Rita who for some reason had chosen to sit beside him on the bus. She was in a running event and wanted to sit at the front of the bus where he had positioned himself and then promptly fell asleep on the trip to Fort Frances resting her head on his shoulder. Being a gentlement he didn’t move an inch the whole trip, quite content the heady aroma of her long brown hair. This was high school afterall. It was the first time that a girl had taken the initiative and sat with him and though he thought it was somewhat forward, he liked it. It had removed the need for him to show any kind of initiative. He thought that she could have asked him to do anything, and he would have complied, including giving her the seat to herself, but no, there she was happily sleeping with her head on his shoulder.
By the time they had reached the Fort the weather had become overcast and it looked like the weather would not be too user friendly. Most of the track events had to be held out on the field. There was no alternative. Meet organizers reasoned that all the competitors should face the same competitive conditions. Equality and egality for all. Since most of the events had to take place out of doors and that applied to the the high jump as well.
The venue was the parking lot beside the Fort Frances High School Gymnasium. They could have just as easily scheduled the event to be held inside but the fates were set that day and there was no changing the minds of the organizers.
When his event began it really was overcast. One by by the jumpers made the opening height of five feet. That was when the drizzle started. By the time the all of the jumpers had made the opening height, the asphalt leading to the bar was quite damp, and glistened, it even became at tad slipperiy. As the bar was raised to 5’5” more and more of the jumpers began to miss the height, toally freaked out by the slippery conditions, the generally lack of the conditions many of them had prepared under. The crowds were thin, the landing mat was wet, it was noisey and a bit cold. He turned to one of the other contestants in the track event and said to him something to the effect that he thought he might have a chance to get in the top four. But without missing a beat the retort was, “top four, no way, he said, you’re going to win!” He stood there in the drizzle somewhat shocked that somebody believed in him more than he seemed to believe in himself.
In his mind he had pictured all the things he had done in school, the girls he had been on dates with, and the things he had done. He also thought of all the dyed in the wool jocks. They always seemed to date the cheerleaders, the best looking and most intelligent and talented women in the school. This to seemed like some preordained fact of life. He saw himself on the outside, never quite making the standard, happy with his achievements but coming to terms with the fact that those achievements were never that outstanding.
By the time the bar reached 5.6 most of the jumpers had defaulted on their second jump. He was nervouse about the competition but , as you rightly know, he always made that height and approached the bar confidently as usual. Up and over and left standing to watch the remaining jumpers attempt that height and surpass him as they usually did. The thing was, that one after another, they grimaced and pouted and fretted and shook their heads, as they consistently either slipped or faulted , until one by one they missed that simple height. The competition was over and our hero, almost implausibly, had won.
So it was was after the event was over, he found himself awarded the red ribbon and it was in fact, the first red ribbon he had ever won in his entire high school career, making it even more sweet having received it in his final year. As he walked back to the bus at the end of the meet he took his seat and leaned back and prepared for a pleasant snooze on the trip back to Kenora. But just as he was about to nod off the track coach walked onto the coach. He was a large man with a fiercely deep voice and gruff demeanor exacerbated by his froth of black hair and unruly black beard.
“What’s that?” he asked pointing to the red ribbon proudly displayed
on our hero’s chest. Its a red ribbon , he replied witha grin, I got it
in the high jump! What’d you jump?, he said with an almost sarcastic tone
in his voice. It was with a somewhat ironic smile, that our hero answered.
“Same as always”, he said with a grin, “5.6”.
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So What is it You wanted to know?
The near death experience is something that people talk about objectively as somebody else’s experience for once it is heard that one has had a near death experience one is likely to react the same way as if a close friend has just tried to sell you insurance or recuit you to market AMWAY product..
Its only natural to be curious as to why a friend one hasn’t’t seen or heard from in over a decade has called them at home late in the evening. Its the business opportunity they say as the schpeel unfolds. The reality is they could give a rat’s ass about that person or the friendship if ever it existed.
People can do strange things in the name of Network Marketing.
But the real stories of near death experience are fascinating and in some cases inspiring. He knew of three people who had similar close calls. One, who had been a volunteer trustee of an an organizatio he had worked for was a case in point. As a teenager she had been swimming on the shore of Lake Ontario with friends and found herself diving underwater and then becoming disoriented. She claims she was swimming to the bottom, but in reality she was drowning. She remembers, as she swam and this is partly why such accounts are less than totally believable, that she felt warm and encountered a white and soothing light. It was only when her friends had recovered her and put her back on dry land and revived her using AR that she got quite irritated that her friends had removed her from that warm and soothing place that she had encountered. She did not want to be saved. If that death like experience was so peace provoking and in her words “wonderful” it is no wonder that her own view of death and dying was changed radically in that moment of peace and warmth. She recounted as her life unfolded , the many occassions that the threat of death or imminent death no longer caused fear in her. If affected how she made her decisions and how she led her life. Certainly, at moments when others around her seemed about to loose their heads or even panic, she was able to maintain a sense of serentity, calm and focus that may have been possible without that very significant occurrence in her life.
Naturally, with or without the memory of a near death experience to provide a foundation for one’s personality there is no substitute for a native intelligence, and other pure characteristics of personality. It could be argued that she would have been successful in her endeavors no matter what came her way.
That does not suit the romaticism of many people who simply want to believe that something exists beyond themselves which can intervene at key moments and give them the strength of conviction and even of body that normally they would never been able to muster.
Another women, purely by coincidence that he had met was convinced that she had a near death experience while undergoing an operation to remove, of all things, her teeth. She remembers a white light and a tunnelike effect where she was being surrounded by warm feelings, memories of friends and relatives, good will and a feeling of safety. On this occassion she remembers becoming conscious during the procedure and rising out of her physical body which was lying on the surgical table and unconscious. She remembers seeing that body, her body, lying there under ventilation, surrounded by bright operating lights and the dentist and anethetist and dental assistants who rushed and seemed concerned because that body had stopped breathing. There she floated surprised by what appeared to be a silver thread that attached her to her body.
He had met Florence on the occassion of the wedding of his best friend in Toronto. Florence was to become his mother in law was entertaining him during his visit and recounting this story. The details of this were almost too much from him but he was staying with them and they had been drinking a little and strangely he felt totally at ease with Florence. Her joie de vie and generally cheerful disposition had enchanted him. He found himself totally enamoured with her as she told this story of near death. She recounted how that experience had changed her life and given her the ability to face challenges without fear of consequence, with the knowledge that what ever happened, in her words, “ there is a far better place that waits for all of us”.
Those were words of motivation and hope to a man who had been emotionally flat and disengaged from himself and his own emotions for so long it had been years before he had felt anything close to the feelings that welled up within him while listening to Florence recount her story.
That was the funny thing, that he was never so close to his own feelings as when he was listening to others speaking to him about their own as if by osmosis they could be absorbed somehow fulfil an even greater purpose.
The near death experience, was not limited tothe recollections. Even though there had been the recollections of others there was the knowledge of how close he had come on more than one occassion. He had been buried alive once, in a sand pit. That was the one time that it was obvious that inspite of the contests and local lotteries that never paid out, he had his own horseshoe firmly planted.
He was 11 or there abouts, digging away in the local sandpit with a couple of friends when the sand cave collapsed and buried him with barely an airpocket to breath. His dog, a large and resourceful St. Bernard by the name of Remus began digging them out and made enough noise barking while doing it that he also attracted a man who by chance also had a shovel. His life was spared that day.
He learned, about two weeks later that the older man who had dug he and his friend Stephen out of the pit had himself died from the complications of a heart attack. Its probable that he had pushed himself in order to save the lives of he and Steve. That there was no medal and no recognitiona and probably no thanks, made that news sad. Remus, on the other hand was simply content to see his pack intact and receive a big hug and scratch behind the ears.
A few years earlier he had been picking choke cherries with his sister at the bottom of a ravine near a road when some others began hurling rocks. It may have been accidental or perhaps it was intentional but on of those rocks improbably struck him squarely on the head and split his cranium open. It began bleeding profusing as most head wounds are likely to do. In tears and shocking up he made his way up the hill and made it to the first house along the road and washed of in their rain barrel. Although the bleeding had then stopped the blood continued to seep out. His sister had made a call to their home which was a good two kilometers away but it wasn’t necessary. Their mother had had a premonition and was already on route, picked the two of them up and delivered to the emergency ward of the hospital where he was stitched up. It might have been five or ten and now that his hair is gone, the scar is there to remind him of how lucky he had been.
More Luck. Some years later it finally ocurred to him that he had been lucky in situations where others would not. He had chosen a risky pastime, whitewater kayaking, and did have a close encounter on the Kipawa River. He had been living in Kirkland lake, working as the Financial Director of the Hospital there. The Kipawa River was three years in the discovery, found by chance after a conversation on a chairlift in the middle of January. The car he had traveled in to get to the ski hill still had the kayaks on the roof from the previous night’s pool session where they had been practicing eskimo rolls and braces. It turned out that the other person on the chair was also a kayaker from Rouyn Noranda and recommended the Kipawa River because of its large number of challenging rapids.
So it was that he found himself paddling on the Kipawa River practially every weekend. He had a chance to meet the proprietors. They were a young couple from Orem, Utah. Just describing the adventures of those two would be a work in its own right. The trips were challenging in those days. The paddlers would arrange a shuttle vehicle which still had to part almost a kilometer away from the take out at the bottom of Hollywood rapid which emptied out into Lake Temiskaming about 25 kilometers south of Ville Marie Quebec. The rapids of the Kipawa river were numberous and challenging but he had the rare privilege of naming them with a paddling buddy by the name of Doug Skeggs. They had gone together on many a weekend. On one in particular, they ran a portion of the Hollywood rapid that had never been run before. It was a point of lower water volume and the day had been good and their skills had been sharp. He got it in his mind that he could run that section of the river, relayed that fact to his paddling buddy and headed down the run. It was the head of the dragon as it was later to be known and after collecting himself in the natural recovery eddy that formed at the halfway point he paddled over the waterfall, an 8 or ten foot pour over that has by now been run many times. Back then, it was as far as anybody knew, the first time. Later, when he moved from Kirkland Lake, they paddling group known as NOLAC named that portion afterhim, calling it “Pete’s Dragon”, a name which it keeps to this day.
But Pete’s Dragon was not always to be held only in found recollection. It does, in fact, provide mixed emotions. The rapid is friendly to those who travel its lines upright but many paddlers, including the proprietor of the Kipawa River Lodge, Scott Sorenson, have separated their shoulders on that run. On one occassion, paddling with a local group, our hero had upset at the head of Pete’s Dragon, attempted and missed two roll attemps at the point where only two could be attempted and was swept down the entire run, and over the water fall to the left where most boaters never go. He remembered getting banged about pretty well with his life vest and helmet absorbing several good rocky hits. But most crucial aspect was at the bottom of the water fall which had a fairly good recirculation to it and held him firmly against a boulder at its base. He was caught spread legged pushed face against that rock much like a bug against a windshield and it would have held him there underwater except that that he somehow had collected his thoughts for a moment and decided he simply didn’t want to end up dying, pinned against that rock and if he wanted to get off it he’d have to do something. With all the force that he could muster he pushed himself off and was carried downstream, the current collecting itself in the pants that had slipped off his legs acting like a great sea anchor. Fortunately he was able to grab hold of a rock mid current and pull himself up in a shocked and exhausted state.
It was a close call but in moments like that the mine was numbed, too exhausted and too shocked at the events that although had happened within minutes had seemed like hours,, with the mind racing with each second, a lake of thought flowing through his mind like the rapids flowing with the current.
That swim was held fast in his mind. It was with him every time he paddled the Kipawa. It took about two months to recover from the cracked ribs bruises and contusions that he had collected on his swim down Pete’s Dragon but the Mental scars were carried withim like an overnight bag, everywhere he went. Every time he looked at a kayak run, whether it was the University on Superior, or the Gaulley or Cheat, the question had to be asked, “what are you prepared to sacrifice”, if the answer was not everything than that river was never paddled. Since that time he’d seen others swim from their boats but none faced the kind of ordeal he had.
Karl, had a close call. He’d set himself up to run McCoy’s rapid on the upper Ottawa River, the portion called les Roches Fondu (boiling rapids). In the late 1800’s it had been the place for log drivers to test their skills but today a great recreational resource for rafters and kayakers, afficionados of whitewater. Karl thought through the moved, as it had been described to him. He was to side slip one of two holes, the first occuring on river left. It was called Satler’s hole after the Austrian slalom champion who had been the first to side surf it. Satlers hole was a monstrous hydraulic, a portion of river hydrography where the water pours over a ledge and then as water does, rushes back up stream to fill the resulting depression. Satlers was large and frothy. Any boat caught within its recirculation woudl be tossed severly and for extended duration.
Satlers was intimidating enough but just down stream of it just as the water moved quickly along side it and downstream about fifty feet was an even larger hydraulic known as Phil’s Hole after Phil Coleman. See Satleter above, being the first to run rapids often results in a moniker being applied to the river feature. The move was to side slip past satlers on river left and then was the current calmed but reversed its direction upstream due to the hydrauling the paddler was to quickly move to the left behind it and catch only the tamer left side of phil’s hole. Most begginers didn’t understand the idea of coming so close to a hazard like Satlers. It was counter intuitive. The natural tendency was to try and paddle straight ahead and further away from Satlers. Unfortunately this was precisely the wrong thing to do for it took the paddler into the teeth, literally, of Phil’s hole.
That’s exactly what Karl ended up doing. Karl was immediately recirculated, within his boats, flipped end over end and side over side, the large “tupperware like “ R5 providing more than enough buouancy to cause the ride to be even more spectacular from shore. But then an unexpected thing happend. Karl bailed out of his boat, not surprisingly but as he ejected he found that his wrist had been caught in a subaquarian crevice in the rocks of Phils Hole. It was unheard of. Karl was left to troll within that monstrous washing machine caught on the band of his wristwatch until that too was finally pulled from its mooring on his wrist.
Down stream our hero was in the eddy beside Horseshoe rapid, in his Prijon T-Slalom Whitewater Kayak. He had decided to defer front surfing the wave called Baby Face in favour of entering the Horseshoe hole on river left and side surfuing. The crowd wishing to do that move was much smaller and besides, every time he tried to surf baby face it almost always ended up as a ultra dynamic front ender where the boat’s bow is caught by the current and thrust downwards causing the paddler to be thrown upwards all at once. The net effet is must like standing up in the boat with the nose eventually finding itslef perpendicular to its normal attidtude in the water. As the bouancy of the boat catches up with the weigh of the paddler and current very oftern the boat is ejected from the water at high speed , sometimes actually being thrown entirely clear of the water or causing the boat to flip completely upside down, crashing back down in a spectacular and crowd pleasing manoever.
Karl was just above all this, released form Phil’s hole and badly shaken as his empty boat passed our hero and then no far behind the boat, was Karl. Leaving that hole he went after Karl who quickly grapped the back end of the kayak using the grab loop for purchase. The ordeal had been sufficiently traumatic that he simply hung on while the paddler frantically made his way to shore, where Karl eventually climbed out of the water and sat on a rock while others collected his boat, paddle and other gear. He shook his head, not really thinking or speaking until finally he got the energy to say.”It had me by the wrist, I thought I was a gonner”
The near death experience was one that had crossed our hero’s path. He had seen it and he had heard about it and he felt he had come close but he had never experienced it.
That was one of the real mysteries of life. Either others were a
bunch of fat assed liars or there were things that were passing him by.
In retrospect, why should it be unusal that the lives of some should be
totally foreign to him. By a twist of fate he had been born to second generation
immigrants of the Ukraine and Poland. Their lives had been difficult in
order to make his own comfortable. He was living in the best possibly the
safest country in the world. It certainly was one of the most properous.
So many others had lives that were much more difficult and short lived.
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You'll never know what hit you
We live on a planet that is at once large and very small. In this universe it presents us with a home while we endeavor to find ways to leave it and explore ever outwards into space. Had the earth been any closer to the sun and it could very well have been uninhabitable due to the heat that one finds on Mercury an and Venus. Further out, like Mars and Jupiter and the climate becomes too cold and barren. No, Earth presents us with the perfect setting for human existence, - a paradise. The moon, in orbit around our planet is the perfect magnet for interplanetary debris and with the naked eye we can easily see the pock marked surface that has received the meteors that could have cause significant damage to life on earth had that impact been on terra firma, even with our atmosphere’s ability to burn up incoming extraterrestial bodies. And we benefit from the planet Jupiter’s large mass, acting like a magnet, pulling in comet’s like the Shumaker Levy that could have destroyed life on earth as we currently know it.
We have not been good caretakers of our planet. As the human population has increased we have taken liberties with it, using the oceans as our industrial toilets and the atmosphere as a garbage can for industrial pollution.
This is a planet both large and small. The features that seem so magnificent and large to us on the surface are but tiny blips compared to the overall size and mass. Mountains present fewer irregularities to the planet than would normal imperfections on a ball bearing by comparison. The biosphere, the thin layer of oxygen, silicon, carbon and other trace elements and minerals is wafer thin yet encompasses everything we value. Only our limited powers of perception make it seem unlimted and disconnected from the whole body of the planet.
He considered where he would go on his travels. North, south, east or west, the options seemed to be limited only by the bank account. He needed to build up his savings in order to travel again but he’d been lucky in the past. On a rare occasion, the same year his first son was born he took a trip to Greece with his wife. The trip was to last three weeks and on that trip they were to meet with his sister Pat. Leaving Kirkland Lake and driving to Ottawa, their little PJ was to stay with Louise, who had offered to take on the little tyke for that short span of time. From Ottawa they traveled by bus to Mirabel airport in Quebec where many of the international flights were being handled outside the city of Montreal. Within a few hours they had landed in Madrid as a stopping over location, staying overnight only briefly and then traveling on to Athens the next day.
His sister was there at the airport to greet them. She was working as a nurse at the King Faisal Specialist hospital in Riyhad , Saudia Arabia. All expatriots were asked to leave the country during the period of Ramadan and other religious holidays. These was one of those holidays that allowed her to travel to Greece. Her pockets were flush with cash and she fully intended to spend it. She was overwhelmed to see them. It had been several years since he had seen her having been working in Northern Ontario for many years now and she had been working halfway around the planet and traveling to countries in the far east.
Finally they were together again and no sooner had they met than they started planning how their travel together would progress. She wanted to rent a car and drive around the country and hired a rental BMW 518I for the trip. They would spent a few days in and around Athens visiting the Parthenon and acropolis, perhaps a few stores and restaurants and then head out and explore the country.
He was the designated driver and after years on the two decrepit lanes available in Ontario the madness of driving in Athens was nerve jarring. Strangely in that organized confusion, there were no mishaps or very few of them. Cars worked on a simple rule, if you could get in front, you had the right of way. That was true, even if there wre only inches to spare. To add to this mix were the motocyclists riding between the lanes and in one case that he saw, up and over a vehicle that was movign too slowly. That was unusual.
The three days spent weaving in and out of traffic were free of mishap and finally they decided to head up to the northwest to the small and historical site of Delphi. In Greece, the roads are marked with small grottos that have been erected on the site of motovehicle acceidents. Its a usual site to see a small glass encased box sitting on a white picket enclosing flowers and pictures of the deceased. It did not make for comfortable driving as they wound their way through the increasingly mountainous terrain.
Delphi sits high in the Greek Coastal mountains and was a magnificent site for archeiologically significant temples and icons. The gynnasiums and olympiads were wondrous architecturally fine creations set from marble in idyllic surroundings overlooking the aegean sea. The number of temple erected in tribule to Greek Gods and mythology was significant especially at Delphi where it was felt that its situation was amenable to communication with the gods.
After securing a room they slept but he awoke, partially because of jet lag, partly due to indigestion but he walked in the early morning light and tried to capture the essence of that place, and wathced as the light came up over the ocean and the mountains, hidden as it was from the rising sun on the western face of the country.
The temples were mostly vandalized structures. It had been common practice in days past for conquerers to lay those structures to waste to demoralize the population. It did not escape him that the work of vandals has been a scourge of human civilization since the dawn of time. The amount of effort required to topple those massive ionic and doric columns must have been significant. It was sad that those in charge could not have used that energy for some more worthwhile pursuit. Fortuately enough had been left behind to provide a glimpse at their former greatness.
It was a human tendency for humans to deceive themselves with the illusion of permanency in their constructs. It was many years later he had traveled to Drumheller in alberta to see the remains of Dinosaurs. In that area know as the badlands, it was quit clear how the passage of time had been signficant prior to modern man’s arrival on the scene. It was possibly to see how primorial life had began with each fossilized record revealed as the glacial streams washed away dirt, clay and sand to reveal perfectly preserved artifacts. These were, animals that had lived and dominated the planet millions of years ago, likely extinguished by the one force of nature that had the power to stop them, a large exterrestial hitting the Yucatan Pennisula had caste the world into a deep freeze as a result of that impact. The consequences were immediate and sudden enough to fix an almost photographic fosselized record of those animals to serve as clues to the clueless men that would come forward much later.
The presence of such ancient structures was a sober medicine. In some ways it was demoralizing because of their age and immensity. Even his more grand accomplishments paled in the face of them. These were created by great men of significant intellect, appreciated of all things beautiful. It was their artistic and architectural beauty that was most uplifting. In a world of men who would pull them down there were others that would one day build again.
From Delphi they traveled further north and to the sea itself to small resort towns and fishing villages, soaking up the quaint whitewashed buildings, the deep blue mediterranean sky which had been carefully accented in the family homes throughout the country. Many of the homes had the look on them as if they were still underconstruction. All were made of steel recinforced concrete. But the upper floors, many still had strands of reinforcing steel sticking out as if waiting for the next level to commence. It was all a tax avoidance scheme on a national scale for the payment of property taxes was deferred or for that matter simply reduced had one been able to show that their homes were still under construction. Many of them, for that reason, were permanently under construction.
The single most identifiable characteristic of Greece homes was the white wash though and it was many years later, high up on a rocky dome in Kenora that he would try and replicate in his own way those quaint whitewashed structures that he’d seen in Greece. Unfortunately it was sad fact that Kenora was not in Greece, did not possess the magnificent Cerrulean skies or the equally blue Mediterranean.
Somewhere along the route through the mountains his sister got the crazy impulse to drive. She had rented the car afterall, and though she had enjoyed being chauffered in the back it came upon her that she wanted to give it at try. True, she had her driver’s licecnse, but in Saudia Arabia women were not allowed to drive and it had, in fact, been years since she had been at the wheel. Nonetheless, there, on one of the more signficant mountain roads she had decided to try her hand again. He was requested to pull over. It was an uphill grade and the car was a manual transimission. As she attempted to put the car into gear it started rolling backwards. Slowing and imperceptably at first but more so as she tried to find first gear. The edge of the road and the corner at the bottom of the grate fast approached. “I’m getting it, I’m getting it “ she commented as the gears ground togehter. His wife sat in the back seat more blanched than usual and with her fingers beginning to bite into the skin on the back of his hand. She was contemplating never seeting her first born again when Pat finally found the gear and the rhythm of driving again and proceeded up the hill. It was about an hour later when she decided she had had enough driving on those narrow and mountainous switchbacks and turned the wheel over to him again for the last time. He felt that she was wise to have recognized her limitations.
On those travels through Greece the food was found to be at once exotic and disgusting. The most common dishes were simple fare, eggplant and chicken, lamb but not too many vegetables. The use of olive oil was extraordinarily heavy. A common dish was known as Cheese pie. The first taste of it was quite refreshing but by the end of the third week it had lost its novelty. Made of pastry, deep fried in olive oil and stuff with either4 Gouda or Feta cheese, heavily laden with olive oil it was a wonder the entire country didn’t come down with Arteriosclerosis. The most offensive dish of all was known as Frappé, or instant coffee, served cold, in the morning as a starter beverage, with the cheese pie. Ghastly he thought. Only once on that entire trip, and it was near the town of Delphi had they enjoyed the cusine of Greece. It was at a small bistro/ cafeteria where the food was served buffet style and was obvioulsy frequently by the locals and not the tourist traffic. It was possibly that the tourists were being bamboozled.
Along the roads phonetic english was intermingled with the hierglyphics of the Greek language. It was possibly to pick out the town by the sound of those phonetics, Thessalonika, and Alexandropolis but it was Pafka where the Beamer finally got dinged. After driving a thousand miles and through some of the worst traffic, the car lurched forward during a parking manoever, no less, and scaped the retainin wall outside a small hillside inn. It was to be recounted over and over in the years to follow, never about how he had driving without mishap only that fender ding, in the middle of no frigging where.
They reached Alexandropolis around 4 in the afternoon. The plan was to drive to Turkey but it was discovered that one could not drive a rental vehicle across the Greek and Turkish border. Ironically, Greece and Turkey, since the time of the Ottoman empire had been at war, but a highly civilized war it was. In fact, it was a war without any conflict whatsoever. Out on the island of Cypress UN peacekeepers had been keeping things fairly quiet for years and back on the mainland, although there were trenches and sandbags at the border complete with solders and automatic weapons, tourists were considered to be assets to the population and treated extremely well.
Parking the beamer at the Alexandropolis airport, it was also discovered that there were no trains, and no planes. The preferred method of transport was to be by car for hire, and a local cabby, by the name of Yonni had offered to taken them It was going to be a twelve hour trip. Yonni was going to drive with his son and he was going to charge them something like 600 Drachmas to make the jouney. The car was an early model mercedes benze and had been specially equipped with a sound system and disco lights on the dashboard. That evening the sky was clear and the moon was full as they slipped through the countryside, the three of them sitting in the backseat. Yonni had warned them that if they were stopped, they should say that there were not going to Constantinople (or Istanbul if you prefer) but rather they were going to some small town just inside the Turkish boder to visit relatives. In that way it would be supposed that they were not weathy tourists who could pay more “ fees” commonly known as Backsheesh.
As they approached the border they noticed the battlements that had been erected. But everything seemed quite sleepy, it was one in the morning. The customs agents were taking their sweet time to receive them and were finishing off their lunches of cucumber and onion sandwiches on pita bread. “passports” was the first words out of their mouths, an of course, the question, “your destination please” and at that point they repeated the name of the town just as instructed by Yonni. Within a half an hour, they were allowed to pass. There didn’t seem to be any real reason why they dolly gatted about but finally the three and the cab were allowed to pass. they recognized the cab driver - he had been through that way many times. They smiled and waved. Some war.
IN istanbul arrangements were made for Yonni to pick them up in two days. They were to return to the airport with them and if by some reason he did not arrive they were to take the Orient express back to Greece. The time was to be spent visiting the Blue Mosque and the Grande Bazaar.
One of the things that the North American finds confusing in Turkey is the need to barter and haggle for ever purchase. Its not that one should pay any price that is asked, rather it is considered polite and expected, as if the commerce of the day was the most important task of the citizenry. The terminolgy used by the vendors, either on the street or in the kiosks was varied and in some cases hugely humourous. One carpet vendor, and there were so many carpets for sale, said, that on his mother’s grave, he was selling as only 5% above factory wholesale. That was an interesting incorporation of the term “mother’s grave” he thought, and it stuck with him everytime he found himself haggling with a vendor.
It was clear than in commerce they were no mach for the unrelenting vendors in their pursuit of Turkish Lira and US Dollars, even better. It was interesting to see, later, the VISA bills coming through with the Turkish destinations showing on the statement.
They loved the turkish food and especially the coffee with its strawlike consistency. On their final night in Istanbul they attended a large restaurant on the adriatic. The restaurant had been recommended by Yonni and Pat found herself buying dinner for quite a large crowd, but the prices were insanely economica. The main dish was a large whitefish served on a bed of rice and served in a tomato sauce with whole tomtatoes. There was music and dancing and it was a night to remember.
Finally they made the trip back to Greece and reloaded the Beamer which sat safe and unaffected at the airport. Our hero had left the car keys on the dashboard and then proceeded to lock them in the vehicle. Fortuneately the window on the passenger side had been left ajar and the keys sat on the dashboard, of all places. He went into the airport terminal to find a coat hanger. IN greece the coat hanger must have been a rare item. The ones he found finally had been wrapped in cloth decorative strips which actually had to be torn off. Once the wire was fashioned into a hook it was a simply matter to fish the keys out and gain entry to the vehicle. It was a close call, and the stuff of future stories.
On they drive to the sound along the eastern coast. The highways were in much better shape and they made good time, along the flat countryside. The cars moved extremely quickly and passed frequently. At one point he remembered seeing four sets of headlights approaching him head on inthe distance. It seemed that each car in succession had decided to past the other until all lanes of the four lane expressway as well as the shoulders were being used to overtake the next vehcile. He thought of the pathetic grottos along the highway in the northern passages they had traveled, he reduced speed and hit the shoulder as the train of lights continued on, as if expecting on coming traffic to do precisely what he had done. It was one of the high lights of driving in the country.
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Did I do that?
A man can move a mountain. It might take him his entire lifetime, and he may need some explosives, but he might be able to do it. And if he failed to move it he just might be able to at least level it and turn it into an airport.
The is nothing that a man may not do given sufficient time and resources. But a man left to his own designs and abilities is not without substantial capability and potential. Nothwithstanding raw native intelligence, the is no substitute for hard work and persistant effort. Much like the potent effects of dripping water, over the ages, water laden with minerals will form rocky stalagmites and stalatites, or through the timeless action of running water, take a stone and grind it into its substrate to creat a hollow cyllinder, or pot hole.
It defines imagination that once on this planet were sheets of ice so vast and advancing so far south that they had the ability to create praires and great lakes. So it is with a single man, who given appropriate motivation may act on his environment like a force of nature.
We have plenty of examples. The pyramids in Egypt, the mayan temples, the gardens of bablylon, Machou Pichou and wonder of wonders, the Taj Mahal. These are works that, however time worn express what is greatest about the men who built them. Not because they are necessarily that enduring but that they were built at all. That they represent the pooling of the efforts of many men towards one single minded purpose.
A single man is like that. Capable of doing great things if only he were gifted with appropriate tools and direction, most of all of the proper, positive mental attitude. The collorary is of course, equally true. Devoid of purpose and meaning in one’s life a man’s resourcefulness may atrophy and wither leading to his own demise or at least his downfall.
For some reason, these facts, as immutable as they are in accordance with our own simple powers of observation, we fight those natural forces of transformation because intuitively we know that even lesser men serve a purpose, if not only to show clearly, that there but for the hand of God and misfortune, go they.
Even the most questionable of God’s creatures, as pathetic and hopeless they seem, are not without purpose if it is only to convince others that they have talents and virtues that best not be squandered.
In the fulness of time, a fullness which mortal male is barely aware of, those with tendencies and proclivities that seem totally purposeless may prove their merit. Whether that be a mouth breathers mindless adaptation to a Sony Playstation and video controller might be quite adept at manipulating a hydraulic shovel or the limp wristed couture of a gay designer, may lead to a more tolerant society, albeit a smaller one, due to the simple reduction in the number of births. Blessed by the wondrous desire to terminate their own speciies or at least extinguish it through lack of off spring.
What is difficult in the eyes of a parent, however, is making the connection between their own ill tempered and in considerate progeny and the future of mankind. Especially when those exhibit alarming reminders of their own mispent youth. The humility borne of seeing ones own weaknesses in their children is matched only by the pride that accompanies seeing some hidden depth of character in those same wonder kind.
Looking up and pondering the vastness of the universe, our hero is dumb founded by what he sees as much as what he doesn’t see. There are no flying saucers, no UFO’s, no witches on brooms, no werewolves, no flying angles, no nothing of the sort. Still fully aware that what we see and feel is limited by our own pathetically limited and continually failing faculties. What more is there in this world besides what we can known for ourselves?
He had gone to the National Library once to listen to a presentation on the life and times of Victor Frankle. A jew who had been imprisoned during the second world war was a learned man, a psychiatrist who observed his fellow prisoners to determine why some retained their sense of human dignaty while others spiralled down into the level of lesser mortals. It was their sense of purpose, there desire to see a greater meaning and purpose for their lives. It gave them the mental drive to persist and to survive where others faultered. Others, on hearing of the death of their loved ones, died the next day, while again others still kept on keeping on with the hope, and only the hope that one day they might be reunited with their loved ones and that the whole made affair would one day end and they’d get through it somehow.
He had gone to a tutorial on the use of trancendental meditation to tap into his hidden resources. He’d studied the literature on TM and learned how buddist monks could control their heart rates and breathing, their stress levels and their hitherto considered autonomic responses while in a meditative state. He had met students while in university who had pursued that black art and found their responses muted and unidimensional and wondered what advantage that presented in a world where responses are often too flat. where life fell above and below the line in a pathetic sine wave of existence, sometimes good, sometimes bad but with a heartbeat.
He had spoken to his teachers and some of them, even the nefarious gym teacher, rumoured to have killed his wife, at least in the eyes of her police officer father. Some of them, and they seemed to be reliable, were convinced they had seen a UFO or a whatzit.
But through all that, through many a night sky, through jet flights and different countries, while craning his neck to see he never did.
One friend likened himself to a christian soul living a hedonistic life, self agrandizing by any standard. Hedging his bets that if there was a hereafter he would be thereafter. As if through simply going through the motions, devoid of spirituality he could con the creator into the afterlife. “Do you feel lucky” he would ask implying that hell was an eternity likened to the time a doves wing could take to wear down a ball bearing the size of the earth. Probability versus Possibility was a non starter for him, however. For in all this confusion of messages and surrounded by people professing they had the knowledge or they had the insight he saw only the perversion of the bell curve and of basic natural tendencies. Nature abhored a vacuum. Nature rushes in to fill the void. That rolling a dice sevens enough times increases the chances of snake eyes. That the deck favours the house, that the lottery will strike only long after the lightning does. Possibility perhaps but he’d go with the probability any time, living and dying by that rather than risking a one in a million shot. After all, his own life was a one in a million shot, as was ever living person’s on this planet.
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Life Flashes before your Eyes
The trip back to southern Greece along the eastern coast and flatlands was fast and realtively uneventful. By the time they had checked in the car at the Athens airport it was getting late in the day. They took a city bus through the city to the ports where the ferry was departing for the islands the next morning.
The hotel they stayed at was on the waterfront and populated by sailors and rowdies looking for a good time. They thought it better to turn in early and stay out of the neighborhood and the next morning rolled around soon enough. Gathering up all their things they rushed to the ticket office and got their return trips to and from the island of Mikonos, one of the more popular greek islands.
Not long afterwards they were at sea. The air was fresh and the sky clear as the ship steamed its way out into the Mediterranean sea. There were to be a few stops along the way. Most day passengers, those without cabins, were quite content to hang out on the deck, soaking up the sun and breathing in the fresh sea air. Many were also tourists with their walkabout radios blaring through earphones, they for all the world were oblivious to each other.
He noticed one in particular, a woman sitting on deck in shorts. He legs had not been shaved as was the custom in those days and they were as hairy as her armpits, perhaps a bit more so. It couldn’t help stare at them as if it was a totally foreign site. Pat quickly piped in that many don’t use antiperspirants or deoderants and feigned a hearty sniff as if she could detect those odours from across the deck of the boat.
Seagulls swooped in and about to the rear of th ferry picking up herring and other small fishes. A man standing at the rail looked out at the backwash of the boat as it made its way and commented that he had once heard of someone falling overboard and getting caught in the backwash which was then so powerful that it caused his leg to break. More likely the fall from the deck caused the break. Water can be a rather hard surface falling from forty feet or more.
It wasn’t long before Mikonos came into site. The harbour was circled with small buildings which also crept along the circling hills. All of them had been whitewashed and the effect was breathtaking contrasted against the blue sea and sky, and wispy white clouds. The sun was not yet set but a crimson hue had affected the sky and those buildings making them seem almost golden in colour as they reflected the sunlight.
Securing accommodation that evening was not difficult for June was the off season. They took a room not far from the center of town and got ready to have a bite, happy that their unfamilier stomachs had not been upset by the trip. The room was white and very clean with comfortable beds. Warm touches of cypress pine accents about the doors and windows made the room quaint. The view out the window was as breathtaking as the sunset itself had been, more white buildings illuninated by the full moon of that evening, reflecting on the sea.
One of the plans for entertainment was to stroll down by the waterfront the next day and take in the various slices of island life. Fishing was one of the major pastimes. Small motorized dorries where anchored away from shore. Each had been painted with brilliant accent colours, in addition to the pervasiive white. Further down, the pier, however were the yachts and cruisers of the rich and famous. Some were 50 or more feet long, pleasure crafts probably owned by expatriots who had skipped Canada and lived off the avails of some numbered corporation, cashing their cheques against a visa account and living a generally paperless existence.
He hired a small motorcycle, a 50 cc kawasaki combination dirt and trail bike to explore the island planning to share the ride with his wife. Sitting behind them on the back they made slow by stead time. There was no real rush, the island was small and it was quite possible to see it all in a day. One of the stops was a beach further from the town site. It turned out to be a nude beach, or at least topless which proved to be intolerable to her and they left shortly thereafter.
They went to bed early that evening, but Pat headed out to the local discotecs and partied to late into the night and returned to the hotel with a heavy hangover. Too much oozo and mextaxis had had its predictable effects, just in time for the return passage. They waited out at the pier which had a small bistro and drank coffee and soaked up more the Greek ambiance, each no doubt wondering what it would be like to stay there for a bit longer than a couple of days. Their trip was coming to an end.
The seach for meaning in life can be deliver messages and revelations that won’t immediately be clear. He remembered one occassion while living in Kirkland lake he had decided on the Thanksgiving weekend to climb up to the top of Mount Cheminus and camp out over night.
He had loaded up a large packsack with what he perceived were adequate provisions, tent, mattress, sleeping bag and food enough for a single night. He decided to take his dog, Coco with him and set out around Saturday afternoon. The drive out to the base of Cheminus was about forty minutes. As he approached he could see the pot shaped rock rising up on the horizon. Mount Cheminus was a rounded pot of basaltic rock that rose up like a mezza standing starkly surrounded by much lower hills. It was a good nine hundred feet high but over the years had been served by successive generations of adventurers to had meticulously build stairs and rock steps on a path right to it top.
Parking the car, a beige coloured two door Chevrolet Monte Carlo with carriage roof, he proceded up the hill with Coco bounding first ahead and later behind totally trusting in her master. The trek was surprisingly easy, requriing only modest effort, the only objective hazard being losing one’s balance from the heavy pack that hung on his back. Finally reaching the top it was obvious that he would be along that evening. Looking around there were piles of garbage littered about as was typical of northern locations at that time. The enviromentalist movement had not really taken hold in the North, There was simply too much space and not enough sense to go around. Someone had dismantled a picnic table and left pieces of the legs littered about. Another, still together but quite rickety provided a seat to look out at the view. It was clear and the weather was cool but not unusually cold when he had started up the mountain but as sunset had approached the temperature had begun dropping alarming so. He sat there and felt the chill and quickly set up his tent and laid out his sleeping bag. As he emerged from the tent the rising full moon fully caught his gaze. By then it was getting very cold and he started a fire using the bits of picnic table and dead fall, and litter that had fallen about. As he sat there staring out at the moon he noticed that the transmission tower in Larder lake was annoyingly piercing its way up across the rising orb. It occured to him that of all places it had to be there in front of him to disturb that most impressive vista. And it was gettnig colder and he was getting hungry. The butter tarts he had packed were gone in short order and coco had already eaten her dog food and half of the butter tart that was given her. He remembered that as a puppy the Kennel had named her porky. She was eat anything that came her way, except green grapes ... and olives.’
Now she added butter tarts to her long list of digestibles.
He had thought that that evening he could sit there at the top of Mount Cheminis and in the solitude of that place find some meaning to his life. The only meaning he found was that it was getting dammed cold and it was impossible to think about the meaning of life when he was too busy just keeping the fire going.
He say the moon despoiled by the transmission town ,and thought again about the garbage that littered the lookout which he had busily collected and burned. Technology is a double edged sword he thought.
That night was one of the coldest he had ever experience. He had brought a heavy sleeping bag with a blanket liner. He had an air mattress but even dressed in his clothes and with his jacket and touque on he found it too cold to sleep. He awoke at one point in the night to see Coco lying beside him shivering and shaking and he pulled her close to him to help keep both warmer.
The next morning, just as soon as the sun rose he was out of the tent and amazed as he looked around. Everywhere there were ice crystals rising from the rocks, like mushrooms rising from a forest floor. They had grown overnight some of them were four or five inches long. Walking about it was impossible to hear the sound of them crushing underfoot with every step. Had could had it been to create such a wondrous natural carpet of ice crystals he thought.
The trip up Cheminus had after had not lived up to the plan and it was only years later, standing on the stern of the Greek ferry steaming back to Athens that it occured to him that the messages of that evening were clear. Messages quite often are like that, coming long after the fact and quite surprisingly different than one’s expectations. He interpreted this one to mean that he had to worry about keeping a roof over his head and developing in his career before he could start a voyage of self discovery. It would be difficult for him, if not impossible to find the meaning in his life living on the inside of a cardboard box.
By the time they had reached athens almost all their money had been spent. All that was left were a few measley Greek Drachmas and a couple of turkish Lyra which they hadn’t bothered to spend before leaving that country. He laid on the bed in his hotel room the morning he was to take his flight back to Canada and Pat was to fly back to Saudia Arabia. Jokingly, he placed his eye glasses askew and she took his picture beside his wife who also acted out as the exhausted and wadshot tourist, sun burnt and tired from their adventures. He kidded them about Pat being winning the award for best shopper and her for being the best shopper in a supporting role has he held out those pathetically few Drachma bills. Nevermind, they’d be flying out the next day.
Not long after getting to Kirkland Lake he had decided to join a service club. It seemed like the proper thing for a young business man to do. It was the Kiwanis club that he started with, based on the recommendation of one of the board members of the hospital board, Ray Dionne, who was also the manager of the Weston Bread plan at the end of Main street.
Kirkland Lake, ironically named after a lake which had disappeared afer being displaced by the Gold Mine tailings from the many mines in that town was on a downward spiral. The population hovered at about ten thousand down from the lofty heights of 50,000 thousand when the mines were going full bore. Those were the days when the mines each had their own competitive hockey teams, and bands and there was excitement in the air. Now it was just tired, propped up by the government services that had been established to support that population and now largely bloated and in decline as budget cuts started taking effect.
The Kiwanis Club also seemed to be largely past its prime. A mens club, as almost all were consisted of men in their late fifties and older. Ray was one of the most vivacious but the current president, Gord Hamilton, an ex professional wrestler and current mayor of the town was more typical. a particularly pleasant man was the owner/ manager of the two theatres in town, the LaSalle and the Strand. Abby Chapman was a henpecked but highly likeable man who stood in front to take tickets while periodically one could hear the shrill cry of his wife, Marge. “Abbbbbb” go do this, AAAABBBBB, go do that”. It was comical.
Years later when he heard that Abey had died it was a tangible sadness that came over him.
Other members were septagenarians, one in particular, Archie Simpson was the perennial secretary/treasurer of the club, and had been keeping the books for the last decade. He was effusive and active in every solitary aspect of the clubs operation attending numerous out of town events and every club activity. It was his life as much as anything else could be.
While a member of the Kiwanis club he became a vice President and made plans to travel to a convention with his wife to Aruba. While in Aruba he was accompanied by Austin Cooper, father of the manager of Northern Telephone, a division of the Ontario Northland Railroad Company.
The main purpose of the trip was to attend the Kiwanis International convention and represent the local club as a delegate. There was going to be time to see the island and get some fun and sun but most of the days were taken up with meetings.
The evening that his wife and he had arrived was a pleasant 72 degrees as almost every evening in Aruba proved to be. This little island, one of the Netherland Antilles including Curacao and Bonair were located right on the trade wind belt and the wind blew continuously, never stopping. The wind is so persistent in Aruba that the trees grow in unique configurations. The most common sight is that of a small tree, known as the Divi, divi which has slender branches growing down wind of the trunk and stretching improbably out to the side like the hair flying off its coiffed position on a balding man’s head.
Their luggage had been lost, or misplaced at the Miami airport so they went to the local market to purchase a few items. It was very expensive given that this was a bonefide tourist destination but a pair of swim trunks and a change of underwear with some toiletries were all that was required until their luggage was sent into their hotel the Concorde.
All the water in Aruba is obtained from distilled seawater. The fuel used to run the distilleries is bunker sea crude and the smell of it hangs in the air even with the wind. The local beverage is Amstel which is brewed on the island and is a deliciousl beer. Another of the local favorite beverages is a milky liqueur called Bolles Egg Milk, a rather unappetizing name for a satisfying drink tasting much like egg nog.
All of the hotels ran casinos. Many people, especially from Venuzuella came to the islands for their vacations and to gamble. Aruba was little more than a hundred and fifty miles from the coast of South America. This was a very equatorial location and the sun beat practically straight down at midday casting barely a shadow on the palm trees or especially at the beach.
They had made plans to go sailing on one of the big trimaran sail boats that moored off the beach. It was a short tour along the beach with beer being served. The operators wore their bandanas on their heads and with their shorts looked and played the parts of pirates.
At one point in the cruise they laid anchor and invited the guests to go snorkeling. He dove in on a calm harbour and looked about seeing tiny fish that up until that point he had seen only in aquariums. They came to his hand when he rubbed his fingers together. But down below in the ocean bed was a far less appealing site, sea urchines, big black and thorny lined every square inch of the bottom and outas far as the visibility would allow.
One of the passengers was unlucked and let his foot accidently touch bottom and got a nasty surprise with an urchin thorn in the heel of his foot. The treatment back on board the sailboat was to pour kerosine on the wound, an odd choice which seemed remarkably effective or was it the beer taking effect.
Fortunately for he and his wife there were no injuries to them and finally it was an enchanting experience to have gone snorkeling of the sail boat in the Carribean.
The meetings were boring and most of them taken up by the polical workings of those members vying for some reason or another to become international president of Kiwanis. One was a dentist who had obviously spent a great deal of money purchasing promotional items for his campaign. It was to no avail he was beaten by another candidate who had spend substantially less who seemed more genuine and was more articulate. The Kiwanians some how muddled through and got it right.
One of the days was spent renting a car and driving around the island. That was not too difficult to do but one of the benefits was to see the opposite side of the island which was the windward side. The island was volcanic. Rising from the island were dormant volcanos which some chose to climb for a lookaround. The true nature of the composition of the island was clear on the windward side where the wind and waves had revealed the black and glassy obsidian substrate. Waves crashed into shore and plummed upwards, a far cry from the placid and sandy beaches that greeted the traveller on the leeward.
Not far from that spot was a location where the resorts dumped their food waste into the sea. It was done partly to get rid of the food waste but also to attract and feed the sharks and thereby keep them safely away from the public and highly popular beaches.
Some tourists attended Aruba simply because of the beaches and they were beautiful. The water was a balmy 80 degrees. It was actually cooler out of the water than in it. Many would simply find a deck chair and sit right in the water or set up and encampment on the beach and stay their all day with beach umbrellas and so forth, their flip flops melting in the hot midday sun. One of the biggest attractions to the beaches was for wind surfers as the wind never died down.
Our hero had made the decision to try and learn how to wind surf but it was truly the worst location for a beginner. He was never able to bring his sail up, constantly being knocked over by waves and by wind, and spending much of his time either trying to hoist up the sail or himself back only the board from the water It proved exhausting.
Years later while living in Wawa he would make anothe effort to learn the art of wind surfing while on a trip to Florida where the wind was much quieter and his instructor was a leopard ski bikini clad sun goddess who gave him all the time he needed to master the fundamentals of the sport. It was a far cry from the Aruban beach bums who could only laugh at his first attempts.
On the flight back to Canada from Greece he thought back to the summer after the end of highschool. He had been invited to attend the 11th annual Montgomery Lions International Youth Camp in Montgomery Alabama.
Every year, the Lion’s Club of Kenora sponsored a local boy in attending that camp and it was his good fortune to have been selected. He was to meet delegates of other Lion’s Clubs from around the United States but delegates were also sent from Egypt, Israel, Sweden, Iceland, Germany, Britain, France, Denmark, and many more, 200 delegates all together. They traveled by bus through out the South Eastern States visiting other Lion’s Clubs and spreading the good news of fellowship between young men from so many different countries. They learned the lyrics to the song, “What the World Needs Now” written by Burt Bacharac, very popular in the mid Seventies. They performed that song at Disney World.
He remembered on delegate from Denmark, who had worked as an employee in a camera shop. Eric had shown him a simple card trick which involved sweeping the card behind his hand then flipping it forward to produce it from the back of another’s ear. Another, from Jackson, Missisippi named Carver Brown had shown him how to juggle three balls at a time. He had, in fact, become a full fleged juggler and had worked up an entire act which he performed tirelessly for the entertainment of Lion’s club members on their many stops.
Some of the delegates had no talent what soever. He fell in that number, but some tried as best they could. The fellow from Belgium had an act where he did his impersonation of a chicken laying a square egg, which involved hims squawking and screeching while flapping his arms with his hands tucked into his armpits. It was hysterical... the first time.
One of themost interesting of all, and a sure charmer, was from Brazil. Antonio Vivlo was his name and his had his own television program in Rio DeJaniero. He could play the flamenco Guitar and sing. One of the pieces that he played was Romance for Guiter, a haunting piece which was a sure crowd please.
He remembered hearing another play that on the train while traveling from Hamilton, Ontario back to kenora. By chance he had purchased a guitar while at university and immediately seized upon the opportunity to learn how to play that piece, by pestering that passenger until he finally got it right. It took him almost twenty years to learn to play it without missing a note but it was good enought for him. That and the fact that the guitar had been purchased with the money his dead Grandfather had left him was reason enough to derive great enjoyment from the instrument. Every time he played it he had cause to think of his Grandfather and he often did.
The memory of his travels with this group stayed with him as one of the most memorable experiences of his life. He one regret was that he was not able to maintain personal links to these men and follow them as they progressed in their own careers and lives. The delegates themselves were interesting but so were the families that chose to host them as billets. Lawry Smith, A lawyer was the head of the household in Montgomery where he stayed. He had an eleven year old son who was a competeitive tennis player. They had a tenis court in their back yard and he took advantage of it to play. The kid was a wonder at playing the net and could swat back most almost every shot he took. His dauther, Judith was on her way to Radcliffe finishing school. The money was obvious in the household. He remembers sitting to breakfast with the family and discussing the resignation of Richard Nixon who had been finally cornered after the testimony of Dean one of his special assistance in response to the Watergate Affair.
Another visit involved a stay in Atlanta, Georgia with the operating manager of an IBM selectric factory. That evening he asked him if he would like to take his car for a drive and simply tossed him the keys for his Lincoln Continental. Awesome considering he could barely pull the car keys out of his father’s hands back home. He was able to take a spin right through downtown Atlanta.
Some of the delegates where quite atheletic and very intelligent. He remembers his first successful attempt at waterskiing. He had tried before but the motors were usually insufficiently powered to pull his modest weight out of the water. But he was at a summer resort and the power boat using to pull the skiiers had two 60 horsepower motors and it was effortless to ski. Some of the boys could slalom but he was quite content to stay on two although he did try to drop one ski and had a mighty wipe out to mark the occassion.
They attended community pools and some of them were skilled divers committing to reverse layouts and one and a half sommer saults and gainers. They had superior physiques and were natural attractions to the women about the pool. Coupled with the fact that they came from rich families they were, some of them, planning to attend ivy league schools. One, from Birmingham had been accepted into Harvard and was planning on attend Prelaw. At that time it was estimated that his tuition would be $40,000 per year a phenomenal amount back then as it is today. Whenever he mentioned this to others, the reaction was a predictable succession of oohs and ahhs.
Some of the most memorable bus rides took place when Antonio started playing the guitar. He could play any chord for any song and this coupled with others who knew the lyrics to many others made for hours for singing and generally enjoyment and it seemed that everyone on that bus loved to sing. It was a common denominator, even of Soshi, from Japan whose english wasn’t that great but still managed to belt out the tunes phonetically, mixing his R’s with his L;s to the delight of everyone.
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Superstition and Religion
Superstition surrounded him in life and it occurred to him that one of his most important achievements was fighting against the natural human tendency towards superstition. He realized there were forms of superstition seated in real pragmatism. It made sense not to walk under a ladder, it made sense not to step on a crack, it was easy to see how those superstitions got started and propagated. But it was equally senseless to continue on with superstitions no matter how long held they were since one paying tribute to superstition in the face of common sense is bound for extinction.
He studied his actions looking for superstitious behaviour and he found it despite his desire to purge himself of it. He watched the horoscope columns, he studied palms, he looked at the stars, and most of all he was guarded about the number 13. What was it about 13. In China, 13 the exploded letter “B” was considered to be good luck. They feld that the number 4 was bad luck. But 13 was getting out of hand. Buildings were never given a thirteenth floor, in fact 13 was to be avoided, even though, that was an impossibility.
But he had also studied the occurrence of the number thirteen in his life. When ever a sequence of events was undertaken, the 13th always posed a problem, it was juggled, bobbled, and jiggled and the odd page out, the odd item out of series, the number that came up, more than 50% of the time was 13.
It was understood by telephone companies that phone numbers for local calls should be laid out in seven digits because the human mind seems to be comfortable handling seven unrelated figures. Things become related when a person sees a pattern in the numbers, like the name of a place buried inthe digits, or the words to a song, but unrelated any mind is hobbled by more than seven. Put two groups of known numbers together an problems start, usually occuring on the thirteenth digit.
Why should Friday 13th be considered an unlucky day? Why should the number 13 cause such trepidation. Hadn’t the twin towers been attached on September 11, 2001 - no 13 there. Wasn’t Pearl Harbour attached on December 7, 1942, no 13 there. The number 13 is an enigma because supertitions held over it don’t seem to be related to anything in particular and yet, somewhere at the back of his mind, that pesky number kept coming up whenever something was fucked, or screwed up, dropped, mixed up , found in error, whatever.
Superstition does not become the modern man. He belittles him to the savagery of the ages and places no further that the illiterate peasants of days gone by. The wizards and wise men of old knew this about people, they knew that under the best of circumstances people would let their superstitions get the better of them.
But what is to be done? Is it wise to stare the effect of pure chance in the face and ignore its potential. Sure there are probabilities but one cannot overlook the sheer bald faced aspect of chance, the one in a million. The guy who studies one chapter before the final exam and finds the test asks a question only on the material he studied. The person that exchanges his seat with another passenger on a doomed flight. It goes on and on. What are we to make of these events. They incite reverence and adherance to the precepts of chance.
The reality might be that given the many of thousands of personal decisions, millions perhaps, it it likely that one of those decisions will be favoured by chance.. The question is, do you want to live your life like that, laden with four leaf clovers, rabbits feet, sponge dice with box cars, dream catchers and all manner of paraphernalia that the superstitious often rely upon.
He thought you shouldn’t be stupid about superstition. People don’t like to have their noses rubbed in it. Chance was one thing but who was to say what the impact of psychokinetic energy was. He felt that electricity once by chance. He was hiking in the park with three friends and they came upon an overlook on a clear spring day and gazed out over the Ottawa River Valley. They lay down on a large rock heated by the sun heads together, with the sky a deep blue and covered with wisps of clouds and stared up for minutes until finally without a frame reference it was no longer possible to be sure if they were still on the ground looking up, or by some chance were then in space and looking down. More than that there was a strang electricity that they had felt passing between their heads, and images were being transferred from one brain to the next by the shear proximity of them to each other. The response of one was, Whoa, did you give me that and just as that was exclaimed, another said “I felt that too”. It was astounding.
No superstition and luck was separate from the impact of a combined mind over matter, as yet an unproven aspect of science.
The danger of thoughts crossing between heads is that sometimes those thoughts are best left unspoken and unshared, turing perfected sound friendships into unbearable webs of intrigue and deceit, intermeshed with lust and langor. There is convenience in our world that we don’t know what each is exactly thinking, even though it is often said that 80% of all communication is non verbal. What a mess this world could be if every human emotion was revealed, all jealousy, greed and lust. He say that wouldn’t be workable.
In fact there was little room in this world for total honesty. People’s tolerance for honesty is limited at best. Every child learns at an early age that they kiss their Aunt even if she does smell like moth balls, or whatever. “Nice to see you Aunty” is the stock reply.
Or “Mildred, how nice to see you again [you bitch] or “How are you Mr. Phelps” [ I hope that cardiac is starting to kick in]. “Nice to see you Marilyn” [but it would be nice to see you with your cloths off too] No, there was little room for total honesty in this world and one could not entirely control the way the mind worked and those thoughts could pop up when he least expected them, causing grief and heart ache if expressed.
Combine superstition with a lack of total honesty and you have a recipe for disaster in the human condition. People infer things from peoples behaviour, are afraid of total honesty because intuitively they know that its a mistake. The problem being that they’re never too sure what they should be totally honest about leaving them hopelessly vulnerable - not about the little things - the time of day - but the complex issues, she he ask her out, will he ask her to dance, will she admit her attraction, or her secret desires. All barred by intuitive distast for total honest. Feelings could get hurt, relationships are shaken.
But what could haven when those barriers are brought down, when walls disappear and all that remains is the naked truth, warts and all?
That is precisely why over the course of time and shared activity we learn about the people around us and they learn about us. They form opinions beyond first impressions, they get to know us and we get to know them.
There is a superstition in marriages. The thinking is that there is an inch that develops in the marriage, called the seven year itch were each looks at the other and sees them warts and all, beyond the original attraction which may still be there, is mitigated by the newly acquired knowledge of the past years. They question if they made the right choice, and very often they see that the “love capital” that had been so essential in the early years was being offset by the annoying little things that were cute back when the sap was running high along with the lust.
Later in life the mind, heavily burdened with guilt, the unspoken truths heaped upon each other to stifle spontanaiity if it ever existed but the end result is and adult willing to try any thing and do anything if only an activation energy is reached. No longer content to stifle or to shut up they become emboldened at the possibilities. And seeing their life as a balance with the bulk of years or even half of them for that matter past behind, there was nothing to waste for the years to come. Simply, put they would curry no bull shit at that stage.
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Know thine Enemy -for he is thy friend
When he thought back over a lifetime of the people he’d known, people he’d met he realized he’d been fortunate to have been acquainted with so many of them, and he’d worked hard to keep in touch even if many years had past between letters, email and personal meetings. It was true that some of those he would rather never see again but in hind sight he realized that even those whom he considered most reprehensible had their redeeming value because he’d had learned of their character types and their mannerisms. He knew what to expect from certain people through experience.
There is in our society a group of individuals who are held in very hight esteem by the public. They are our doctors, physicians and specialists. They are very well educated as a rule and by the nature of their profession but their personalities and temperments run the gamut. He had met a particular group while working in Wawa, Ontario that were at once the best of friends and in the end at best indifferent and at worst the most self serving bunch of assholes he had ever met.
To the man, if asked what drew them to the profession of medicine you’d find that altruism and the desire to help their fellow man was not a factor. They needed intellectual stimulation, self reliance, and liked the remuneration. That they worked with people and helped them more often or not was because they were interesting cases meriting their focus and interest. Professional responsibility and personal pride fall into those motivations as well.
Many things took place which affected his relationship with them which will not be sounded here but an interesting case in point concerned a canoe and kayak trip they took as a group of four on the University River, also known as the Dog, north and flowing into Lake Superior. He and another were to paddle kayaks, carrying their sleeping gear and dry cloths in their boats. The other two would paddle a 14’ royalex canoe which also carried their food. The trip was projected to take five days and they began their trip arriving at the put in on Old Paint Lake Road leading south from Highway 17. The put in was at the site of a logging bridge that had long ago been washed out likely as the results of a burst beaver dam from up stream. They arrived on the 25th of May during spring run off and the water was cold and high so they had to paddle in bulky cold water gear and they had to carry warm dry clothes as a precaution. But that day the weather was fine and warm and sunny, as nice a spring day as one would get north of superior.
The first day was uneventful, with a longer flat water paddle and some minor rapids which were easily negotiated. As the day wore on it was necessary to stop finally at a 25 foot waterfall and portage. They made camp there and confronted the spring’s black fly crop which had gathered their for their first good meal. The flies were so thick that they had to leaf their paddling gear on to protect themselves. Exposed hands and faces were covered with a moving mass of insects so that no bare skin could be seen beneath them. That was the main reason why they got into their tents early that evening and stayed in them. The thing about a black fly is that once inside a tent they proceed to spend all their time trying to get out of the tent, walking around on the nylon fly rather than focusing on their human prey. It was a odd but particularly endearing trait of the black fly.
They started out early the next morning, and as they began to encounter more and more challenging rapids it became clear that the canoe was having a good deal of trouble keeping up with the kayaks. He would probe the rapids and once completing them, without the confidence of backup and support would walk back up stream and help the canoist carry their canoe and the packs but it was slow going. Many rapids would slow them down with the endless portages, rapids which normally would simply be run by the kayaks. At the end of the second day they were totally exhausted from the effort.
Some of the rapids on the University are pool drop but most consist of treacherous waterfalls in succession that should not be navigated without adequate support. On this trip all those waterfalls and ledges had to be portaged. At the end of the second day the weather had turned and grew very cold approaching freezing. The other kayakist had at one point become pinned between two rocks in the middle of the current. He had been able to extract himself from his kayak as soon as he realized what had happened but was left standing on a rock in mid stream with class two rapids around him and his boat now submerged by the current, the cockpit filled withwater. Our hero was able to paddle into eddies behind the rock and extract his throw bag. The throw bag was used to “log roll” the boat onto its side and slip from the grasp of the two rocks. No gear was lost but the shear volume of water in the boat had the predicatable effect, his sleeping bag, down, no less, had become partially soaked as was some of his clothing.
With the weather turning bad and with drizzle starting they made camp and started a fire with difficulty. That evening was to be a very cold one but at least he was alive and unharmed from the incident. It did prove the inherent danger of paddling in the spring in wilderness country.
The next day it had actually snowed and by the time they stopped for lunch they were all very cold standing on show beside a pathetically powered coleman stove trying to make some hot tea. Fortuneately the weather started to clear and by the time they reached Denison Falls it had turned pleasant if not warm again.
Dennison falls is a series of cascading waterfalls over 200 feet in height. The approach to the falls is through a straight cut in the rock above it in a rather innocuous channel. It proceeds to make a screaming left hand turn before making its spectacular descent. At the take out to river left are some of the largest yellow birches one would find any where with trunk diameters exceeding four feet. They had thus survived the woodsmans axe and chainsaw.
The trek around the falls is work enough requiring about three hours
of effort to made the trip.
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Home to Roost
The trek around Dennison Falls is a dangerous and arduous task. The boaters must carry their kayaks and gear over rough terrain, decending down to the level of the base of the first drop then back up along a slippery rock cliff which hangs over the water on river left. Continuing on around the bend in the river is another series of river wide ledges that crash further down. This cannot be accessed directly but must be approached by lowering ones self down an extremely steep slope. Someone had attached a climbing rope, very old by thick and strong nonetheless. It has been there fore years and offers the only safe method accessing the river from up above.
Once back at the waters edge the paddlers enter a class three rapid at the base of the falls with a strong recirculation into the maw of the bottom river wide ledge. Fighting current and keeping to the left they proceed through a series of large standing waves and easy lines between smaller ledges until the river flats and gives up its energy to the river bed and smaller waves. There is a noticeable drop in temperature here because Lake Superior looms just a few kilometers away.
Superior is North America’s largest and deepest fresh water lake and reaches depths in excess of 900 feet. Huge freighter ships have foundered in its depths. For example the pride of the American Steamship line, the Edmund FitzGerald sunk during a great November storm.
By the time they reached the Lake it was noticeably colder. The water was barely above freezing and the insides of their kayaks was cold, there being only the thin plastic serving as insulation from those frigid waters. Another more troublesome aspect reared itself as the effect of the northeasterly began to take effect, waves persistent head winds had raised swells of four to five feet. There was to be eighteen kilometers of these conditions until Michipicoten Harbour would be reached. Kilometer after kilometer in cold and difficult conditions. It was at this point that the canoe, with its long hull and keel showed its value, with two padders, not one it was much faster in the waves, while often the rounded bottom kayak hulls would spin on the crests of the waves so the paddler would have to correct direction as well as paddling to make forward progress.
Worse that that, he began to feel motion sickness from the unsteady seas. So he began to be left behind. Those he had worked with on the trip, help pack their loads, and helped free their boats were leaving him behind to find his own way in unsafe conditions. It was a defining moment for him for they have proved to be unworthy friends. As the sickness overcame his, the urge to vomit was irrepressible and he was about four kilometers from shore. If he was sick at this point he could upset and fail to roll up. In those frigid waters, separated from the others he would not survive long. They had separated from him in a supreme act of selfishness. As doctors oblivious to the danger to their supposed comrade. It was a pathetic play that took its course.
Finally he did vomit about one kilometer from shore. It spewed onto his life vest as there was not adequate way to prevent that by body position. He immediately felt some relief and attempted to splash the emitus away. Renewed he was able to make it to shore. It was not mMichipictoen Harbour by further up lake at the Michipictoen Indian reserve. He dragged his boat ashore and collapsed on the beach. He lay there for way seemed to be a half an hour while the sun and warmth of the beach sand provided welcome relief from the cold lake water. He was about a kilometer from the nearest building and he removed his spray skirt and equipment and changed into his dry clothes. He would not be paddling any further that day.
Reaching the that house he was able to arrange a ride into town. He left his boat and make arrangements to pick it up on his return. It had been a point of enlightenment. He would not make himself vulnerable in a situation like that again. He had also found deeper personal strength than he had known, managed to save himself in most difficult circumstances.
As for the others, they would be oblivious, of the situation they themselves and he would not bring it to their attention but rather would remember it in all his dealings with them on a professional level.
A couple of years later he welcomed a couple southern paddlers, Charlie and John who planned a weekend of paddling on the University. He set them off on the river on a warm and sunny Saturday Afternoon much as he had encountered and by Sunday night he too was called from the very Indian Reserve. That day and most of Saturday night the weather had changed from warm to freezing cold. John had become hypothermic, shivering furiously. By the time he got in the car to change his hands were to cold to remove his paddling gear and he had to be helped by he and Charlie. It was one more example of how good friends could help each other and stood as a stark comparison to his own experience with his learned, professional acquaintances.
In the course of paddling, many rivers he had encountered many brothers of the river. Those that had shared similar experiences. They traveled so many different highways, stopped at the same bars, and paddled the same rivers. The problem with paddlers is that they are not all at the same skill levels. Many are beginning, aspiring but inexperienced and a few others have strong skills creating pockets of paddling excellents, the better paddlers stay together in groups and the others are left to fend for themselves or pay for their services to improve. It gets more complicated by the friendships that form.
One friendship failed under these conditions. Donny started learning his kayaking skills at the same time as our hero. He had some early success learning self rescue and advanced more quickly. There was a subtle and constant improvement in his skills as the two progressed. Because they lived in a small northern town paddling buddies were few and far between and they were drawn together because of their common interest which later became more of an arrangement of convenience. The problem was that only one of them was aware of this evolution.
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Warm , Wet and Wild
The problem with stories that involve whitewater paddling is that they can be unidimentional and uninteresting to those that do not follow that sport. Its easy to see how some would regard it as quite a bit less than sport in the first place - more of a risk takers game of little interest to normal people.
But over the years he saw the interest in his pastime increase. Initially he found it raw to see vehicles with kayaks on their car roof racks. When he started boating it was by chance. He meet an old friend, Grant, who was at the beach near Kirkland Lake. Crystal was the perfect sandy get away from the barren site that was the town of Kirkland Lake. He encountered this loud, rotund and many say, obnoxious fellow paddling a fibre glass kayak. Grant invited him to try the boat out and while it was not very interesting, a month or two later he was invited to the pool to try a couple kayak rolls. The first few attempts were pretty futile. The rock it self is a dynamic move requiring a coordination of a paddle sweep which maitains the power surface of the blade at a climbling angle to prevent the blade from diving, the hips much twist or flick in a rapid single motion causing the boat to roll about its horizontal axis and finally the head must be maintained at a low attitude against the hull until the boat is fully upright so that the weight of the head does not disperse the center of gravity too far from the horizontal axis, which would simple lead to another upset if not failure to properly right the boat in the first case.
The beginner often fails to roll the kayak, not for lack of muscle power but truly through a lack of coordination which is also cause by a complete lack of coordination through disorientation. Hanging upside down while tightly fitted into the cockpit of a kayak can be extremely disconcerting. Some because quite irrational, comletely forgetting that they are able to hold their breath for over a minute in some cases.
The pool session was attended by five or six and a couple were successful. They had somehow managed to progress from simple hip flicks at the side ofthe pool to inwater eskimo rescues where the nose of another’s kayak is used in much the same way the side of the pool is used to right the boat, to finally, using the paddle successfully to execute an eskimo roll.
He saw that those who were able to complete the move, who understood the mechanics of it and were able to muster the coordination to complete it on their own exhibited what appears to be a form of natural elation, pure joy at having been successful at it. In any case, at the conclusion of the hour or two that had been set aside for the purpose of using the community pool there was an invitation to go over to a friends home and watch some video footage of kayakers. That is where he met Joan, and her friend Sally. They were bouncing about in sweat pants that looked much like pyjamas, all the world like a couple tenth graders on a sleep over.
The film was called “Dudh Kosi” relentless river of Everest concerning the first kayak expedition down that glacier fed river cascading through mountainous terrain in the himalayas. It was a juxtaposition of the sometimes pathetic exhibition at the pool to a group of highly skilled paddlers executing eskimo rolls and braces in the most difficult conditions, in remote country. In one scene a paddler had his boat pinned vertically in a short drop. The pressure of the water literally ripped the craft to pieces and sent the man swimming but who was fortunately saved by a throw bag. He could hardly walk following this even as a result of the boat imploding on his ankles and feet.
It may have been an odd juxtaposition but in his mind the link between high adventure and those pool shenanigans was made. One could feel the excitement in the room. Those that were there started thinking about how they could afford their own kayaks. Within weeks many had bought one, some of the earlier fibreglass and kevlar models that were being laid up by MidCanada Fibreglass which was operating in New Liskeard, Ontario.
The initial trip was planned for the July 1st long weekend in 1985. Among those who had planned to make the trip, Joan Schuppli,22 , who was a botanical technician for the Ministry of Natural Resources, Doug Skeggs, a technical support person from the Ministry , Ray Hong and his brother Harry, both sons of the local Chinese Restaurant proprietor. Ray also worked at the Ministry of “Cranial Neurosis” while Harry was an automechanic. Grant Smith was like the earth, no visible means of support, Doug Bruce was the son of the Mikasa Gold Mine’s manager. Finally, our hero, who was working at the local hospital as the financial director.
They gathered together at about 8:00 on the morning, some less stoned than others and started assembling a make shift roof rack for one vechile while tying boats down on a rather pathetic excuse for a rack that was attached to Doug’s Mustang II , two door coupe. This was back when boats were at least twelve feet long. To stabilize the load which was hanging precarioulsy to the front and back of the rack which served more as a pivot point than an actual point of attachment, the boat was ineffectively secured to the front and back of the car. Grant tied an old bicycle inner tube to the boats and then to the bumper of the car. They didn’t know anybetter and went along with it. It would come back to haunt them..
Leaving Kirkland, in a cloud of hen shit, the plan was to pick up paddling equipment on route, in New Liskeard and then in north Bay. While on route to the Tritown, about three kilometeres outside of Earlton they found themselves in a convoy, one after the other. Doug had already fallen asleep from the preceeding nights festivities and our hero was driving. The trip was going swimmingly well when in the horizon one could see the glint of sunlight reflecting off the magnificent tandem tanks of two trimark tanker trucks speeding north along highway 11 in the oncoming direction. The Mustang II met the first truck’s backwash which immediately lifed the entire boat assembly up in a powerful rush. The other truck, following closely, bumper to bumper style, and moving equally fast, created a vortex so powerful that it proceeded to rip the entire assembly right of the car and sailing now, aerodynamically, it moved like a kite up and over, fortunately to the right and into the grass ditch along the highway.
Reducing his speed at this point our hero turned to his sleeping comrade and said, “Wake up Doug, we have a slight problem”
In those days they were’nt prepared, nobody was really, and in the care there wasn’t a tool to be found. The boats had not been damaged, neither was the car. Actually a bit of damage was incurred to Grant’s kayak, somewhat in ironic justice. It was a simple matter of retrieving the load and reattaching the assembly, this time with rope running around the boats and through the interior of the car several times, A wrench was borrowed from a farmer who had lived closed enough to the road to have witness the entire procession of events which some mild amusement no doubt.
The were able to pick up the spray deck and paddles needed at Mid Canada, as well as boats, and in Northback some fibreglass and resin enough to fix grant’s boat. Also required were milk bags for floatation and the all important Duct Tape, not the mealy Canadian Tire Brand mind you, but the authentic 3m variety.
After a brief lunch stop they proceeded to the put in located on Waverly Bay, on the French river, located between North bay and Sudbury. The weather was magnificently hot and the rapids along the way were easy enough that the first set was paddled cleaning it being nothing more than a series of standing waves. Further on down were the first set of rapids called Little Parisien where most of them walked around. Harry decided to run to the far left, his boat overturned and he received the first injury, that being a scrapped fore arem. It was here that Ray take a picture of the group that stands today aas the Classic photo of that intrepid paddle club which today is known as NOLAC.
They made their way to the Blue Chute which is a well known rapid on the river, and made camp. The water was high. It was the highest in 25 years on the account of the Waverly Lodge, located on the river. They accepted his word, given they he rightly should have known.
The waves and current were strong, perhaps a bit too strong for a bunch of beginners, most of whom did not know how to roll their boats or self rescue, nor did they have adequate floation, most using air mattresses or milk bags, most had no technique whatsoever and could not read the currents, and finally, equipment like keyhold bouy or boy life jackets. Despite this and their alarming lack of preparation, they had fun, fun like they had never had it before, each egging the other on to some new feat.
Ray took another photo of them body surfing a side current, feet of one linked under arms as they passed in a human chain. He took pickers of them trying to surf in the hydraulic just to the river left of the glassy wave that was the blue chute. Doug got stuck in there, and in his bulky R5 he simply could not extricate himself and had a long and protracted side surf, in fact when he did upset, he simply window shaded and rolled back up,to find himself still in the “hole” and still side surfing it. This was how he acquired the nick name “Gumby” as in sticky.
Our hero spent quite a bit of time swimming, due to a lack of self rescue skills. Doug Skeggs could roll and he advanced more quickly. It was only later that evening with Grants assistance did he actually succeed in rolling his boat, and then coming up, letting go a great whoop from the thrill of it, hardly noticing that in the failing light of day, his glasses and he had become separated, they heading to the fathomless bottom and he stayin g put upside down in his boat. Never mind, he had done his first roll and felt great.
Later still that eveing, around a substantial campfire, pestered by mosquitos, they stay up quite late, got high, go drunk , soothed their sunburns which were significant and prepared for the paddle back upstream the next day. However, the trip was a complete success, and given that nothing forges friendships quit like the sharing of a common experience and nothing forges great friendships like the sharing of uncommon and intense experience, the early beginnings of NOLAC were on truly solid ground. It was, in the views of all, one of the most memorable experiences of their lives.
This is a story of two people who came together as a couple, a man and woman who were very different from one another and yet maintained a lifelong commitment and bond. She from a foreign culture and living in a foreign country found her adventure within the confines of their marriage and his adventures. He found his adventure through the opportunities that were created and facilitated by her.
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Surfing on waves is one of life’s more simple pleasures but it comes at a cost. The idea of surfing originated in Hawaii, and it involved a very primitive plank and a very imaginative Hawaiian. In modern times the whole thing has gone postale. The trend has been to move to shorter boards, sometimes with sails and most often with fins and refinements such as epoxy infused foam for extreme light weight.
The same trend had happened with kayaks. His first kayak was a second hand fibre glass lay up made by Mid Canada Fibreglass out of New Liskeard, Ontario. It had a kevlar bottom instead of the usual glass fibres which added strength without compromising the weight. He remembers learning to roll in that boat but infortunately the seat was poorly anchored and did not provide adequate support. It was perpetually in need of repair, and almost every Wednesday he was in his basement putting yet another layer of fibre and resin down and there was never enough. Finally the thing was just too beat up to repair in his view.
Arrangements were made to buy in bulk and to do so a scheme was hatched to purchased six kayaks from a trailer dealership in Earlton, Ontario. The catch was they had to set the dealership up in cooperation with the owner. One of the biggest expenses was the shipping. The new, state of the art plastic kayaks, and they were ordering six of them, were to come from Knoxville Tennesee from Tufflight Corporation. The Hydra Matadors were a foot shorter, dramatically rockered, with foam pillars and adjustable foot pegs. It was 1985 and they were a dream come true, no more fibreglass repairs! To sweeten the deal, new comers to NOLAC were able to buy the thirdhand kayaks from their owners and expand the club.
That old boat had seen some heavy duty paddling. He took his first trip down the Cheat, Gaully, Ottawa and Rouge rivers in that Hydra. He had blow out the nose on the left Horseshoe rapid on the Ottawa and finished the job on the Kipawa. The Kipawa was another story, the portage around the Grand Chute was normally passable but that fall it was so cold he lost his grip and the boat shot down the path to the river, hitting hard on the rocks below. It caused a spiral fracture and appeared to be un repairable. They had brought duct tape, a rare occurrence in this day and age of plastic and that was enough to plug the leaks until the take out but when he got the boat home the situation looked bleak.
The repair was akin to open heart surgery. He decided to staple the plastic together using a standard construction stapler. Over the staples was lathered “Plastidip” plastic compound wrapped in fibretape. Finally a plastic nose cone protector was acquired on a side trip to West Virginia , a perfect fit and held in place using silicone caulking.
The result was a watertight seal that held for years until the Prijon T-Slalom caught his eye on a paddling trip down the University with some American Friends. He was able to get a new T-Slalom from Gerry Brindel. It was a beautifully sleak boat with a novel key hole cockpit. This allowed the paddler to raise their knees without getting out of the boat unlike the Hydra which had a smaller cockpit and coaming which did required the boater to raise themselves from the seat and out first before removing knees from the boat.
The added feature of the Prijon was the stiffer plastic which was more resistance to scratches and abrasion. It also had a marvelous feature, a drain plug! No more rockering a swamped boat over rocks to empty it. There were no foam pillars in the Prijon, unlike the Hydra which meant that there was more room for gear on paddling trips. It was perfect for unsupported trips into the wild.
The Hydra sat in the back yard for years. He had hoped his sons would take an interest but they did not. It might be part of the natural order of things, between fathers and sons, but they wanted nothing to do with kayaks just as he wanted nothing to do with video games. The boat had been moved with them from Kirkland Lake, to Wawa, to Barry’s Bay, to Kenora and finally to Ottawa. It was finally sold to a young newlywed who bought it as a gift to her husband. It was to be used primarily at a cottage. Somehow, that image of it spending its last days in the pursuit of the happiness of their young children was satisfying. While the T- Slalom was kept carefully under a tarpaulin for its next trip out with a student or other aspiring paddler, the Hydra was showing signs of neglect. He was happy to see it go and it would come in handy.
He had been given a chance to buy a much new boat, a Wavesport “Z” which was to be a total departure from his other ventures. He had first experimented with it in Costa Rica. He had traveled down there with his family, finally, on April with the kayaking included as part of the activities. Traveling with Gerry and a new friend Brian Johnston the plan was to go ocean wave surfing in kayaks. They were to bring these boats with them on the aircraft as luggage. For two weeks they surfed and paddled on the Pacific Ocean near the Guanacaste Pennisula of Costa Rica very close to Tamarindo Beach and Playa Grande , the home of a unique leatherback sea turtle breeding ground.
He rememers the first time he paddled out to meet the incoming breakers. The effect was not unlike paddling over waves on a river, except for the fact that these were moving, the water was warm and salty and the ocean was wide and untamed.
They had traveled to Toronto to take a Royal airlines flight into Liberia Airport. The boats were bundled up and taped into one big package and the cost to ship them as baggage was about $50 each. Not bad really. The flight, about six hours, seemed very short indeed. Landing and moving the boats through the airport was a cinch as the Liberian Airport was quite small and unencumbered by excessive security. Big Wave Dave was there at the airport to receive them. He was originally from Texas, but as a retired probation officer was able to live on the beach in Costa Rica pulling in a few extra dollars driving tourists to and from the hotels and and airport. The gear was piled onto the top of the van and they all piled in, there were seven of them, including the two boys.
Arriving at Los Tortugas Inn was uninspiring, it was a humble facility with an open air dining area. But the pool was designed to look like a turtle, and there was a hot tub and quaint shaded cabana fitted with hammocks. The rooms were modest but aircondtioned. He and his wife were not staying directly at the hotel but rather a lighthouse shaped apartment about a kilometer away, the perfect distance for a morning and evening stroll.
Los Tortugas was partially obscured fromt the beach by trees, so that the white and artifical light did not affect the egg laying patterns of the turtles. When the big turtles came in to lay their eggs they would head to the beach and dig an immense pit, in some cases twelve feet across. They would head up the sand until they were high and dry so there was no danger to the eggs. In the warm beach sand the eggs would incubate until finally, and usually at the light of a full moon, they wouldhatch, with the tiny turtles heading out in the directino of the white surf. That was why artifical white light was prevented on Playa Grande. The tiny turtles would struggle with their awkward little flippers on their way to the sea, leaving tracks behind that looked very much like those a mountain bike tire would leave and in a bee line for the water.
While paddling out to the water in his kayak he could appreciate the beauty and grace of the big leatherbacks. They struggled on land but once they head the water, their weight because irrelevant, with the powerful flippers making them effective swimmers. When he finally got off shore it occurred to him that from beneath his kayak with its dipping double bladed paddled might look a big like a turtle, perhaps a little too appetizing to a killer whale or shark. It was unnerving being out in the ocean, in some cases up to two kilometers from shore. For one thing, there wre the waves, some of them over twenty feet high, for another, the ocean had no boundaries, it was impossible to get what was swimming beneath him. Finally, there was the concern about currents and wind. Much like his paddling trip on Lake Superior, if he didn’t paddle effectively he might end up in Japan or fish bait.
At the same time it was exhilharating paddling on the ocean, surfing the waves in that little boat, barely eight feet long. He did get completely trashed the first few times before he got the hang of ocean surfing. The technique was to wait for the wave to come up from behind. Sensing the wave, the paddler makes rapid headway until on the rising slope of the wave. He has to be moving forward otherwise the wave will either move past them or they will be lifted up and either pitoned end over end or swamped by the crashing surf. If everything works the way it should, the boat is caught by two complementary forces. The force of gravity pulls the kayak down in front of the wave. The horizontal energy of the wave pushes the boats forward along with it.The result is a massive ride, with the paddler leaning way back to prevent he bow from catching and causing an end over end cartwheels and perhaps a mouth full of sand, very disconcerting.
They went out to surf twice a day, two hours in the morning, two hours at sunset, every day for two weeks. Sun, fresh air, exercise and surf. It was heaven. To complete the picture, a magnificent beach, unpolluted or despoiled by trash, covered with marvelous cone shaped shells. Just up from the ten kilometer long beach were sparsely spaced tourist inns like the Los Tortugas, serving up pina con leches and pina colades, cervasa and all the chicken and rice one could eat.
Every evening presented a marvelous sunset and the full moon was in cycle creating magnificent vistas on the ocean, with sweeping views of the beach and southern skies.
The trip to Costa Rica was his introduction to the short boats. In his much longer Hydra and T-Slalom that type of surfing was not as enjoyable. The usual move was for the nose to immediately bury itself resulting in a hyper, ultra dynamic ender either fore or aft. He did finally acquire a Wave Sport Z using the vacation pay he had gotten by changing jobs. The Z was a bad match however. It was one thing to paddle it in swim trunks without feet of entrapment and no need for saftey gear but back home it proved to be much too small and too difficult to get in and out. On his first trip down the Kipawa, he feared for not being able to get out of the boat above Hollywood Rapid. It was enough reason to dislike it but it had been all he could afford.
The last straw occured while on the Rouge River. He had just finished the otter slide entry above the last of the seven sisters waterfalls. It was a fifteen feet plunge into class two moving water. On that trip a guest from North Carolina had joined them in a rental boat, one which was poorly fitted to him and which did not contain any floatation. That fellow did the entry but then upset and missed his roll and bailed. The boat was on the opposite side of the river. He had moved over to help his friend bull doze that boat to shore but without proper saftey gear such as a jam cleat it was not possible to do that efficiently. Unaware, the last of the seven sisters water falls was coming up too fast, in fact, they were both caught. Derek, the other paddler, went first, boofing off the left of the fall and he was left in mid stream about fifteen feet from shore in a small eddy just above the falls. There was no way to make it to shore, it was obvious, he too would have to run the falls. In an instant he was in the maw of the waterfall. It was ferocious and unkind, causing multiple dynamic cartwheels and enders, his skirt was ripped off the boat and then he too was ripped from the kayak but he somehow managed to hang on to it, despite being worked by the force of thousands of gallons of water pouring ontop of him every second. Then he was swimming below the falls, hanging onto his boat. somehow he made it to shore, and of course, the empty hull of that rental boat was in fine shape, the swimmer also came out without a scratch. they were very lucky that day.
Later, once they had made the takeout without incident he looked
at that rental. It was a Dagger Honcho and it really did seem enormous.
Casually he decided to try to sit down in it. It was as if that boat was
the glass slipper and he was Cinderella’s foot. It wa a perfect fit. About
a week later he put his Z for sale or trade in the Smooth rock internet
bulletin board and made a deal with a C-1 boater to trade his boat for
boat. The C-1 would trade his honcho for the Z plus three hundred in cash.
Part of the money was to come from the sale of the Hydra. An so it was
that he came to own a red Dagger Honcho. It was to be the beginning of
a beautiful relationship. He loved that boat.
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