Going retro

I was at home, trying to get in the zone, when the phone rang.

"Where are you? The Retro Rodeo is about to start. Everybody's in the water."

It was an anxious friend calling from her cell phone down at the river.

"It wasn't supposed to start for an hour," I answered, bewildered as I glanced at my watch which registered a few minutes before noon.

"I don't know, but it's starting now, you better get down here," she said before hanging up.

I sat dumbfounded, phone in hand, on my front stairs. A few feet away, the glue was still drying on the freshly applied pads in my boat. I cursed myself for ditching out on the post-registration "mandatory" meeting earlier that morning, where they obviously announced the time change.

I was briefly tempted by the idea of missing out on the whole thing, thus saving myself imminent public humiliation. But I knew if I didn't show, the long-term social repercussions would be even greater. See, a few weeks before, in a beer-assisted fit of stupidity, I publicly blabbed my intentions to enter Animas River Day's Retro Rodeo to anyone who would listen. I'm not sure what triggered the decision, since I am by no means an official old school boater. Sure, my first boat, which was bought new, was longer than 10 feet. But real old schoolers, you know, the ones who paddled fiberglass Hollowforms using a paddle made from a kit, would be insulted that I even breathed the words "old school" in their presence. Blame it instead on a bizarre fixation with all things old and hopelessly unhip. How else could you explain the fact that I own a 1975 Dodge Tradesman with green shag or that I once skied on boards bought from a thrift store bargain bin. Not that any of these endeavors proved successful. One of the last times we tried to start the van it caught on fire, and after three runs on the skis, the bindings came off, sending the skis skittering down a crowded run never to be seen again.

So, it was only natural that as soon as my buzz wore off, I realized this, too, would likely end in disaster. Not only was I a miserably mediocre boater with an occasionally horrendous back deck roll, but I had never competed in any sort of athletic competition in my life let alone one in front of hundreds of my fellow townspeople. I got gripped just thinking about running Smelter, and now I was going to throw myself in there willingly? I immediately set about trying to back out.

"What if I swim?" I asked, pleading for mercy from those who had witnessed my foolish declaration.

But they all agreed that if I swam in front of the whole town, it would just be that much funnier. My husband, being my staunchest supporter and the one who usually derives most pleasure from my carnage, agreed to coach me in the few days I had to train. He even offered up the usage of his first boat, a Dagger Animas, which at 10-feet, 5-inches was well over the 9-foot minimum to enter the rodeo. For the next few nights, I became intimately reacquainted with big boat paddling. Slipping into the cavernous cockpit, I felt strangely detached from the bow of the Animas, which on second thought would have been more appropriately named the Dagger Orca. I balked at the fact that I once paddled something so long and unwieldy. As I pushed off from shore, I'm pretty sure I heard a fog horn whistle blow. I did a practice roll for good luck and then, with a giant sweep, pointed her downstream and did a silent prayer for anyone who might be playing in the hole when my 45 pounds of crosslink polyethylene came barging through.

The good news from the training sessions was that no one got hurt. The bad news was that no matter how hard I paddled, I could not sink that enormous nose for the one move that was sure to win me points (and the only one I was remotely capable of): the super endo.

Naturally, this fact came into play that morning as I considered flaking out. Fortunately, my adrenaline which had been simmering on low all morning, kicked into overdrive, making up for any indecisiveness. I realized I had come too far in my big boat paddling career to let it all slip away. Besides, I had registered under a pseudonym, so even if I did flail as badly as anticipated, it really wouldn't be me. It would be Misty Mountaintops, a shadowy paddler from parts unknown, possibly the East.

I called to Sean to help me lift the boat onto the car and drive me to the Santa Rita parking lot, where I quickly changed into my paddling gear. I then shouldered my massive craft and huffed it up the bike bath, trying not to take out any small children in the process.

When I arrived, the first heat was under way. I sized up my competition as I waited in the eddy for my turn. It soon became apparent that the trashing was going to be worse than I expected. Not only was I up against world `FCber kayaker Eric Jackson, but a guy in a Hurricane wearing nothing but a life vest and water wings. I was definitely going to need the super endo, maybe a pirouette to cinch the title.

I summoned the powers of the river gods as I headed into the hole. But my boat was like a giant useless purple and blue appendage, and I was squirted out the sides like a huge watermelon seed. My second attempt was better, as I miraculously managed an unanticipated back surf, a classic retro move if ever there was one. Unfortunately, my moment of greatness was followed by one of my aforementioned heinous back deck rolls. By the time I regained composure, I was half-way down the river, which would explain why I missed the announcer paging Misty Mountaintops for the third and final heat.

Needless to say, the guy in the water wings won. But I came in a close fifth, right behind the other participants and someone's dog. As for Misty, I never saw her again after that day. Rumor has it she went into retirement, saying something about having to tune up that old Dodge van.

Missy Votel




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