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