How Much to Get Drown and Shot? VI

We had all piantballed before. In fact, Mountain Man had gotten me into it many years previously when free time was more copious and bones tended to bounce rather than break. Ioseph had joined in with his own paintball gun that he brought with him from Ohio when we moved to our area. Only The Doctor had shied away from it and I attribute that partially to his mother being mortified and the expense that accompanied the game. I almost called it a “sport”, but that’s a bit like calling water tubing an Olympic event.

The groom-to-be had stopped going paintballing long ago, but I had gotten into enough to cough up the dough to buy my own, top of the line, paintball gun. Naturally, by this time, what was once my cutting edge paint thrower was old and outmoded by whatever coolness was being sold these days, but still, I was familiar with it, it shot well and bringing it along gave me the air of a professional yahoo, rather than that of the laymen yahoos whom had to rent their guns. It’s good to be a professional!

As we suited up with face and eye protection, bought fifty bazillion paintballs and got our CO2 tanks filled up, we started looking at the others who would be joining us out there.

Uh oh.

In the prep area were a bunch of guys (yes, and a few girls) chatting and standing around in matching outfits, tricked out gun rigs and WAY too short haircuts. One, I remember specifically looked like a dead ringer for a shorter, fleshier Rutger Hauer from “Bladerunner”. Not good. This was a team, and obviously, one that played together a lot.

Bad!

I’ve been down this road before. What happens is this: You, the unknown in the jeans and US army surplus jacket picked up on the way to the field with the tag still attached the collar…. YOU… are expendable.

Or worse…

Bait.

If we were in a Star Trek episode, we would have all been wearing red shirts and named Ensign Smith. We were grist for the mill.

This was going to be no different. No sooner had teams been decided, safety jargon gone over and the field opened for the day, then the four of us found ourselves pinned down under a flying curtain of paint. Abandoned by the others, we were wiped out in the first few minutes.

*WHACK!* I’M HIT I’M HIT I’M HIT!!!!!!

Yelling this is vitally important since it’s the only way to stop the pain and humiliation. Also, the one who is shooting you had likely disappeared into an adrenalin fueled haze that is hard to hear through at times. Being so close to Montreal, I probably should have been screaming, “Arrêtez s’il vous plaît!”

As we managed a head-low run back to the staging area, we looked at each other knowingly. This would take planning.

Games of paintball only tend to last about ten minutes at the most, so in short order, we found our selves back on the field, and this time, with a super secret, sub-plan to our team’s plan.

It was this: Screw em.

We were the four musketeers and the rest of the team members who were ostensibly there to fight along side us would be used only as human shields. If possible, we would keep them between the other team and us. If we beaned one in the back of the head by accident… well… those things happen sometimes. This plan worked much better. For us, anyway.

In the next few games, we managed to survive far longer and if we didn’t actually win, we could at least claim not to be the first ones heading back to the benches covered in multicolored splotches. I don’t think Rutger thought much of us, but hey, we were having fun and he was the guy who had hung us out to dry the game before.

Eventually, in the last game of the day, the four of us wound up holding our fort with our flag with only one other team member. The dire circumstance we were in was the thing of movies. Gunga Din comes to mind. Holed up in our fort, surrounded by an overwhelming enemy, running low on ammo and getting picked off one by one.

“THERE’S ONE!” *POP POP POP POP!*
“WATCHOUT OVER BY THE BARRELS!” *SPLAT! SPLAT!*
“OW! I’M HIT!”

There was no surrender! Ammo ran out and one at a time, we were picked off by the opposing team and the flag was eventually lost. But it was a noble and valiant fight! Bruised, wet with perspiration and multicolor paint, we struggled to our feet, limped over to the other team and shook hands and laughed. We must have been the best losers that they had dealt with in a while because the compliments they gave us were charitable and copious. We told them about where we were from and why we were there. Congratulations were given to Mountain Man as the ref closed up the supply shed. On a whim, I called to him.

“Excuse me! I have a favor I’d like to ask you. This is our friend’s last few days of bachelorhood and I was wondering if there was any chance we could use the field, just for the four of us?”

I fully expected a disapproving frown and headshake, but instead, he paused for a moment and asked what we had in mind.

“Well, I was thinking that we could have a private game, just for a few minutes. The goal would be for us to shoot him.” I pointed over my shoulder at Mountain Man with my thumb.

I heard my friend/potential target laugh behind me.

The ref thought for a moment more. “Sure. Why not. Do you have any paint left?”

We didn’t, but our one-time enemies came to the rescue. I think they just wanted to see the massacre rather than being motivated by any kind of altruism, but the effect was the same. They happily forked over some paintballs and once our hoppers were full, I turned slowly to face Mountain Man and in a low a low voice, said one word.

“Run.”

The image of his thin body speeding like all get out through a pinewood as paintballs flew after him will always be emblazoned in my mind. The game was over when we were out of paint. No calls of, “I’m hit!”, it was a one sided battle filled with uncontrollable laughter, paint and black and blues. Though he defiantly came off the as the heaviest hit, he held his own well enough and laughed the loudest. It was an absolute hoot.

Later that day, I started my seven hour drive back through the Canadian countryside and toward more familiar lands. It was a beautiful day and not a cloud in the sky. The radio was filled with unknown radio stations, the traffic was sparse and the driving, easy. There were some fairly soar bits of my anatomy from two nights and days of being foolish in the open air, but I was smiling. I had even given Ioseph a hug before leaving on my trek back. It was great to see all my friends again and we had all made improbable plans to do this again soon. They naturally wouldn’t materialize, and we all knew that, but it felt good to go through the motions at any rate.

About a month later, Mountain Man was married and we got to see each other again in a more subdued environment. It was a good wedding to be sure, but no one was drowned or shot or made to sleep with mosquitoes trying to suck you dry. It just wasn’t the same.

Mountain Man and his lovely wife have two kids of their own now and The Doctor was married not that long ago and has one of his own as well. Ioseph alone continues on in search of the ultimate party and near death experience and he does a laudable job. One day though, I think he might get married too and THAT bachelor party… that one, just might do us all in for good. I’ll be there though! You can bet on that.

I just hope he wants to have it a bit closer, or at least…. NOT in Vegas.

How Much to Get Drown and Shot? Part V

I’ve always been happily surprised about rocks encountered under the surface of fast moving, fresh water. That might sound odd until you understand that most of the submerged rocks that I’ve encountered in my life were in the ocean. These tend to be sharp, covered in disgusting, entangling seaweed and for a bonus, sprinkled with razor sharp barnacles or little living pincushions called sea urchins. The exposed bit of flesh that gets dragged across or smashed into it by the assassin like wave you never saw coming, tends to fair pretty badly. Then, there’s the fun of having salt water rushing into the new wound. SUCH FUN!

As my head scraped along the bottom, I looked out through what appeared to be the inside view of a snow globe. The water was crystal clear and what made for spray and foam on the surface, were zillions of dancing bubbles that tickled your skin, here in the belly of the river. The rocks were smooth and slime free here and it looked more like a meticulously carved waterslide than the maw full of pointed teeth that I had imagined. I began to realize that there was likely no way a person could actually injure themselves on the rocks, even if they tried. The water just swirled them safely away. There was still the drowning aspect to consider though and with that in mind, I pushed off the smooth granite with my feet. After a brief moment of “What-the-hell?” when I bonked my head on the upturned raft, I managed one again to suck some air into my lungs and was released from the watery silence and into the roar of the river and catcalls from others who were there to witness this scheduled car crash. We were helped out of the water, found our towels and headed for lunch.

Much of the rest of the day was consumed with…. Well… consuming. I did mention the bar, correct? Sandwiches were eaten, beers were had and as more and more waterlogged campers showed up, the four of us made room. In the evening, we chatted with others, compared rafting experiences and when those ran out, dragged out the war stories that every young man seems to have. More beer, more stories, bigger logs on the campfire. It was a great way to round out the day.

We were careful not to over do it too much though. Tomorrow we needed to be on our game. We needed to stay sharp. After all, the guy you sitting next to, laughing and offering you the next round, was going to be chasing us through the woods, trying like hell to shoot us. To be fair, we’d be trying to do the exact same thing. It was going to be fun!

(insert gross generalization here:)

We all choose to do stupid things. If you’re a girl, the stupidity tends to fall into the category of dating the guy with the huge motorcycle and the neck tattoos, spending a month’s wages on a pair of shoes or asking your flellah If he likes the green scarf or the blue one better. All in all, it’s mostly emotional pain they inflict on themselves. Guys, on the other hand, tend to make their stupid decisions with physical pain as part of the deal. Blood is a common sight among young (and old for that matter) boys. Both sexes will insist that it was all worth it. We humans are kind of predictably thick that way.

I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet that if you could build a time machine and go back to an age before the invention of gunpowder, somewhere you could witness the moment where two little boys would be running around, playing and one boy would cock his finger, point it at the other, and as he brought his thumb down, yell, “BANG!”

“What was that?” the other would say.
“I don’t know. I just felt like I had to do it.”
Shall I try it?
“No, you can’t! I already shot you!”
Looking confused. “…With what?”
“I have no idea. But you’re dead and I win!”

The satisfaction felt by the first boy would be immeasurable. It’s in our DNA. What can I say?

Shooting stuff is a pleasure that seems to be innate in boys. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t avid female shooters out there. I know they’re are (and I’m not just saying that because I live with a woman who owns her own high powered rifle). It’s just that, like it or not, boys want to shoot things. Most of us make do with fingers, sticks or toys. A few of us get to actually do it for fun!

Technically, what we had were NOT called guns. Actually, if you called them a “gun” you’d usually wind up with some stern looking individual in body armor and protective mask wagging his finger at you and telling you to cut it out and use the correct term. They were markers. Paintball markers. And don’t you forget it.

paintball gun

I’m here to tell you something.

That’s bull.

They are guns.

Wonderful, WONDERFUL guns… that shoot paintballs!

The idea behind them was one of the best B.S. cover stories that I’ve ever heard. It goes something like, “The Forest Service guys needed a way to quickly mark trees for cutting. After years of first, tying on little bits of cloth to use as markers and then later turning to spray paint, some enterprising forester came up with the idea of using paint, held inside a gelatin ball. The ball could then be flung from an air hose… thing… that he cleverly decided to call a “marker” rather than, “An awesome paint shooting gun that you could ‘accidentally’ pop the other ranger in the back of the head with when he wasn’t looking.” You can guess which project pitch would more successfully receive funding. The final product was a gizmo that looked like a gun, made a sound like a gun and worked like a gun, but was called a “marker” so that it might slip below the radar of helicopter parents and anti-gun wonks.

Marker.
Gun.
Whatever.
Lets just call in what it is… A BLAST!!!.. I mean… paintballing.

Paintballing is perhaps the pinnacle of every little boy’s dream about shooting. No more, “I got you! – No you didn’ts.” No more, “You’re out of ammo – No, I’m not’s.” No more, “You missed – Nuh –Uh’s.” Here you got to actually shoot your friends and there was no begging off. It is awesome.

Oh… And it hurts. That somehow makes it all the better. To most boys, this is an important component. Don’t believe me? Ask any little boy if he wants to play touch football or tackle. Parents want to see “touch.” Kids want to pummel each other, and right now, we were getting ready to pummel everyone we could… using marble sized blobs of paint fired from high pressure air guns as many times as we possibly could. Tomorrow was going to be fun!

-Ok. Maybe the next post will be the last one in the story…. No promises though.

How Much to Get Drown and Shot? Part IV

Somehow, not only did I manage to stay in the boat, but so did everyone else as well. As it turns out, making the raft out of rubber is a very clever thing to do. As we headed over the edge, the entire boat started to bend, undulating down the falls like an enormous, drunk slug. All we needed to do was ride the slug!

Laughing, shivering and lightly sputtering, we peeked out from under the edges of our helmets and waited for what was next. As it turned out, the command was to start paddling like mad. Our uber-hip river master in the stern had us come about hard and head for the opposite bank of the river. More miniature falls awaited us as we zigzagged back and forth, purposely aiming for the spots that looked the nastiest. Charged up with an unhealthy quantity of whitewater fueled bravery, we obediently flailed away at the current until we were poised to make yet another run over the rocks.

This was getting fun! I was feeling downright competent after we easily negotiated the third or fourth pile of frothing river and thought that all the helmets and lifejackets were a bit overkill for the activity. A few moment’s later, I started to reconsider this.

“Now this is where we really hit some rapids.” The voice of Uber-Cool came to us from his seat where he had been steering our raft. “When I say to, everyone stow their paddle, fast! I’ll do the steering but you don’t what paddles out when we go through the gap!”

Gap?

Just ahead of us, massive rock formations started to squeeze the river down narrower and narrower. The water foamed and picked up speed quickly. Then, just as we heard the command, “Now! Stow paddles!” I watched from my figurehead like seat, river simply dropped from view. No sooner had we complied with the order than the raft shot through a water carved opening in a wall of stone barely wider than our boat. If we had paddles out, they would have been smacked back on both sides. And then, we were airborne.

rafting2
(Not us, but you get the idea)

Something a tad unusual about me is my relationship to water. I can swim, obviously. I wouldn’t have imperiled myself like this if I couldn’t. I mean, really? Who would? The problem I have is with the act of swimming. I’m not bad at it, but it’s not what I ever would do for fun. You see; I sink.

The moment I stop actively working at remaining on the surface, I inexplicably go right to the bottom. My wife, who is a water baby and would live in a swimming pool if we had one, doubted me for years and simply assumed that I was being a curmudgeon when we went to the beach and I inevitably begged off getting in the water myself. Finally, after years of implied curmudgeonhood, I proved my point by simply walking into the water. Just before my head disappeared, I took in a nice big breath and strode beneath the waves like Godzilla walking into the sunset, but much paler and less scaly. From the surface she watched through goggles as I simply strolled along the bottom in slow motion until my air gave out and I swam my way back to the top. Swimming is nothing but work for me and so I avoid it.

As the raft hit the froth, I just managed to shut my mouth in time before the river filled it for me. Sputtering, I came to the surface, clinging to our raft with the zeal of someone who just got religion. Better than half of my boatmates managed the same trick and after we fished the less pious ones out of the water, we paddled for shore, laughing, grinning, some hacking up a bit of fun here and there, but all alive. Uber-cool was not satisfied. Obviously, we were doing it wrong. A quick and soggy seated van ride back to our starting point and las than five minutes later, we were back on the river once more.

“This time,” Uber-cool informed us, “I’m going to hit the gap a little differently. We’ll probably loose more people this time.”

I didn’t like the way that was put. I didn’t really feel like being “lost,” even if it was planned. As he promised, he managed to hit the falls in such a way that the raft took on a life of its own. It bucked like it was alive and a good thee quarters of the paddlers went flying into the drink. Thanks to the type of work I was doing at the time, I had a pretty mean grip, and do to this, and only this, I managed to stay attached as my entire body was catapulted from the raft. Hanging on to the line that circles the boat, I remember looking down on it with my feet high above me. When we crashed back down, I literally dove back into my seat. Slightly painful, but less drown-y.

Still unsatisfied, (they must have had a betting pool going), Uber-cool set us up again for a third go and this time met with success. Getting the best view of the swirling water possible, my head was the first part of our ship of fools to hit. The raft had gone end over end and landed upside down to the cheers and hoots from those on shore.

Last, (or possibly, Second to Last) installment later…

How Much to Get Drown and Shot? Part III

As it turned out, we had a while to wait once we get the to the rafts. The big black masses sat in the grass like rubbery, inflated whale carcasses and we, playing that part of lazy and opportunistic seagulls, lazed all over them in the sun. It was just too inviting in the cool morning air not to stretch out on their black and rapidly warming cadavers. Finally, once some unknown criteria was met, (perhaps the river was deemed wet and hungry enough to be fed stupid Americans) we were told to listen up as someone I gauged to be far to young to be in command, stood up on a nearby humpback and gave us our last, “this is how not to die” talk. He was obviously knowledgeable about his topic and his painfully groomed, nature-boy look gave his words gravitas, at least among those who weren’t snickering at him. Again, I remember nothing of the talk. You can blame it on the river water that later clogged those synapses, if you like.

As different groups grabbed various rafts and headed for the water, my brain momentarily switched back to Dad control and, drawing on many years of reflexively trying to snag the front car on every rollercoaster I’d ever ridden, I impulsively took a front row position in my own raft. I rationalized this to my Mom’s side by hypothesizing that when we hit the whitewater bow first, I would not have to worry about loosing my front teeth on the helmet in front of me. I tried not to think about the rocks and their role in the fun-to-be.

The river was looking downright placid where we put in and fairly shallow as well. Looking down through the crystal clear and heartstoppingly cold water, I could clearly see softball sized rocks rolling by on the riverbed not far below me. It was shallow enough to stand up and fairly quiet, but the river was wide here. That changed ahead. That’s a lot of river to squeeze down. Things would change soon.

Behind me, The Doctor was paddling away and as I glanced around I spotted Ioseph and Mountain Man happily chatting as they dutifully drove us on down the river. It had been a long time since I had seen them together in a raft together and Mountain Man, for one, looked far more relaxed this time.

Our previous raft adventure had been years and years prior and the boats were far less rugged. And smaller. Much, much smaller. That time, My Father, Ioseph, Mountain Man and I had gotten it into our heads to go and visit a lighthouse on a nearby island. The Doctor had been absent, and as has been the case in previous adventures, when one of the “Group of Four” was missing, my Dad happily filled the spot. The island in question wasn’t more than a quarter mile off shore and was famous for being covered in the most luscious blueberries and raspberries. They grew so plentifully, that they stained the rocks as they fell from the bushes.

Armed with Ziploc bags for the berries, two inflatable rafts of the department store variety, life jackets, paddles and at least three brain cells, we cast off from shore and rowed like heck for deep water. I was in the raft with my Dad and when we were roughly half way there, my Dad happened to look back to check on the second boat. He immediately burst into poorly stifled laughter. Glancing up from my furious water pummeling, I could scarcely manage the same. The other raft was bobbing along after us but the occupants made for quite a picture. Ioseph, roughly the size and shape of a bear had just about bent the raft in half as Mountain Man, tall, thin, lanky Mountain Man perched on the bow like a worried pirate’s monkey. The look on his face said it all and as far as I can recall, it’s the only time I’ve ever seen him afraid for his life. Ohhh, for a waterproof camera!

This time, things looked downright orderly. We had a huge boat, filled with behelmeted, smiling fools, our life jackets were actually being worn and I’m guessing that the dozen or so of us had nearly ten brain cells that functioned! We were set!

The tempo of the river started to get faster and we needed to paddle less and less to make headway and more and more just to go in the desired direction. Mostly submerged rocks made the water start to froth here and there and then, I saw it. The first waterfall.

As waterfalls go, it wasn’t something terribly spectacular. You’ve no doubt driven by more menacing ones with out noticing them at all. If you brought a date out to see it, you’d never hear the end of it. It was perhaps seven feet high, but lest me tell you this: When you’re actually ON the water, that’s a mean looking seven feet. My face froze in that “I’mhavingfunohmyGOD!” grimace as the water that had previously been under my bit of raft dropped away. As the whole thing started to nose over the edge with me as the hood ornament, all I could hear was the rush of falling water and from behind me, The Doctor yell, “YAY! WE’RE DOOOOMED!”

I didn’t even register the full body smack of the freezing cold water. Adrenalin is simply amazing stuff.

-Later, Parte the IV!

How Much to Get Drown and Shot?

As I walked up to the out door tiki bar, the unmistakable shape of my friend, Ioseph’s back greeted me. I had been looking for him specifically and, lucky me, he was not easy to miss. Flaming red hair, big in every direction and as per usual, decked out in a Hawaiian shirt. I quietly strode up, reached out both hands and wrung his neck.

“Why…” I started to enquire through clenched teeth. “did I have to drive seven hours to have a beer and play in the water?!?”

Ioseph, having quickly recovered from his momentary strangulation, simply stood up and turned around, me still dangling from him like a peeved remora.

“You look like you need a drink!” Ioseph thinks everyone needs a drink.

Letting go and wordlessly taking his spot at the bar, I allowed him to order me a large, cold beer on his tab, and sucked down half of it in one lift.

“Better?”

“Grumble mumble rumble…”

Where we were, was the “the middle of no where” Canada and the reason we were here was Mountain Man’s bachelor party. Of the four close high school friends, I was the first to marry and I kept a tight rein on the pre-wedding festivities. I admit, I can be a bit of a wet blanket at times and so thankfully, my friends were decent enough to keep things sane on my bequest. It’s not that I don’t enjoy having fun. It’s more that I know Ioseph.

And knowing is half the battle.

Ioseph, when given tabula rasa is prone to go… nuts. There is no way, NO WAY, that you will be able to predict what he will get in to in the name of a good time. He is in possession of one of the most dangerous mixes of personality traits that I know. He is: self deprecating, funny, highly intelligent, totally uninhibited in any way, can justify just about anything and is instantly forgivable for just about any of these actions. If the year were 1720, I have no doubt in my mind that he would be a pirate, a royal governor of some tropical island, or both. Probably both. Luckily for the world, he’s also a very nice guy. Just bananas.

The reason he had chosen Canada was because we had nixed the idea of Vegas.

Ioseph in Vegas… *shudder*

The drive here had been a long one and I had done it alone. My directions were essentially to go north until I hit Montreal and then hang a left. When I ran out of pavement, I was just about there. I was tired and my butt hurt and I needed another beer. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why we couldn’t go white water rafting in the States. I requested my beer and paid with an American twenty. The bar tender handed me a fresh pint and twenty-two dollars in change. Hmm. This might not be such a bad thing after all.

It was already dark out and I still needed to get my stuff out of the car. I joined my friends, Ioseph, The Doctor and Mountain Man and got the lay of the land. It was time to make camp.

This, to be sure, was my kind of camping. Any campsite that comes with an outdoor bar, indoor bathroom facilities and food made by someone else gets the thumbs up in my book. For people like Mountain Man and The Doctor, I’m sure it was eye rollingly cushy, and it was, but it was also exactly what I was up for after my marathon drive. After flopping out my sleeping bag in the tent, I was unconscious in a matter of moments. Maybe it was the beer, the drive or both, but I did know that I’d better get rested up. Tomorrow was one of Mountain Man’s last days as a bachelor and there were big plans. We were going to see if we could get sucked under a raging river, flung against massive, unseen, underwater rocks and not get killed!

Hey! It’s important to have goals!

Ran out of time today.More later…
-TP

Don’t Step in What the Bear Left. Part V

The day was spent making the cabin and the surrounding area more and more inhabitable. Clearing brush, stacking lumber and clearing more brush. The first real construction job Mountain Man and I had was digging and then installing the outhouse. Since there was only one saw and hammer allotted to the project, I helped with the digging while my friend did the actual building. When the hole was deep enough for me to need help getting out of, I went back to clearing brush as Mountain Man hammered and sawed like a pro. Prior to completing the outhouse, when nature called you ran out of the cabin, grabbing a shovel on your way and headed for the bushes. The real trick was to be fast enough with your digging so that when it came time to do what dragged you out in the first place, the mosquitoes didn’t launch a full scale attack on your backside. It was just as pleasant an experience as you’re thinking it was. When the diminutive shed was up and operational, it was like civilization had found us. We were all elated. It’s amazing how when you have only the barest scraps of convenience, the smallest improvements seem like high technology. Now, we had our own privy!

Later on during one of our breaks, I couldn’t help but ask Mountain Man’s uncle about the rifle I had seen him with that first night.

“Oh yah! I figured that with us way out in the boonies, I should get a couple of guns. You know, for the bears and such.”

I could see the logic. “That makes sense. What did you get?”
I admit, I was fishing. I figured that what ever he had bought to keep uppity bears at bay must be pretty impressive and I was hoping to play with it a bit.

“Well, I got two guns, actually. The first one is a .22 rifle and the other is a 12 gauge shot gun. Here, I’ll go get them!” He seemed proud of his purchases and as I sat there waiting for him to pull them down from the loft, I worked on a good poker face. A .22?! What on earth good would that do? If you ever want to get a bear mad, I mean really, REALLY pissed at you, start shooting it with a .22 rifle. It’s roughly the equivalent of trying to stab a Hell’s Angel to death with a cocktail umbrella. It’s POSSIBLE to do it. You might hit an artery or they may eventually succumb to blood loss, but your personal survivability does not look good. The 12 gauge was more plausible as long as he didn’t just buy…”

“I just got a lot of buck shot for the shotgun, but I wasn’t sure what to get. Do you shoot? How do you think I did?”

I smiled what I hoped was an encouraging smile and told him that they were very nice. “You might,” I added, “want to pick up some slugs for the shotgun though. The buckshot isn’t really likely to stop a bear.” I hoped that he wasn’t offended but I need not have worried. Not only did he take the advice to heart but told Mountain Man and I that we should go shoot the guns for a while. This, for me, is not a hard decision to make. I gathered up everything and headed out back with my friend.

Back then, Mountain Man, was a bit of a bohemian in some ways. He’s an unbelievable outdoorsman and very smart, and tended to sit comfortably in the very left wing of politics and associated schools of thought. One of these views which is common from that vantage point is that guns are bad, bad, BAD. He had never fired a gun before and wasn’t sure that he wanted to start today. He had an Achilles’ heal on this subject, though. He liked cool stuff, and let’s be honest here. Guns are very, very cool. They are also seriously fun to shoot. With some light arm twisting and mostly the prospect of making loud noises in the woods with explosives, he relented and joined me for some entertainment. We took the .22 rifle with us along with a bit of hapless cardboard that would be the object of our attention. After the standard gun use and safety talk, we loaded the rifle and started plinking. After a half hour or so, he was having a blast punching holes in cardboard and any hesitation was long gone.

Anyone who is competent and wants to get people involved with shooting starts off the new shooter with at .22. It fires a very small round, isn’t very noisy, and has virtually no kick. Mountain Man was enjoying his uncle’s rifle as he got the hang of it and improved with each shot. During his focused attentions with this new, noisy past time, I slipped back to the cabin and gathered up the shotgun. Holding it by my side so as to keep it from being conspicuous, I walked back just as he finished off the contents of the magazine. He stood there, hot rifle in hand, looking appraisingly at the job he had done on the cardboard box.

“Nice job” I said.

“Thanks! This really pretty fun to do.” He replied. “You want a turn?”

“Okay!” I blurted out with a big smile on my face and with that, I swung the shotgun up to my shoulder and with a reverberating blast, blew the target right out of the tree.

I know! I know! Not the best way to introduce someone to shotguns. At least I didn’t pull the cruel trick of letting him fire it with out warning of the kick. His eyes were wide open and I sported a huge grin.

“These are the really fun ones!” I said to him through ringing ears. The rest of the day was quite literally, a blast and we burned through a small pile of ammunition. Even the mosquitoes didn’t bother us. Or were they hiding?

A few more days of work and swatting and it was time for me to head home at last. All this time I had spent in the wilds of Minnesota, working in the woods and sleeping under the stars, I had not seen any wildlife bigger than a squirrel. At night as I lay in my tent, I could hear coyote baying in the darkness or the occasional snuffle of a skunk or raccoon and even loons in distant unseen ponds but no bear visits or other large mammals. To be honest, I would have liked to at least gotten a glance of something big.

After a week, early in the morning, I packed up my little cloth dome and other widely dispersed possessions, fastened them again to my pack and with Mountain Man, headed back to the car to be driven to the airport in Minneapolis. As we bumped down the railroad cut one last time, my friend hit the breaks hard. Out of the seemingly impassible woods strode a fully grown bull moose, antlers covered with broken vegetation.

moose

He stopped briefly, taking stock of our little blue car and judging us to be not more a threat than the halo of mosquitoes he no doubt wore, he moved across the track and into the opposing woods, disappearing almost instantly. It was the perfect way to end my trip.

Returning to the civilized world was wonderful and though I missed the rugged beauty of the cabin, the lack of being nibbled to death by a thousand tiny mouths was more than a little relief. That and not having to worry about being devoured by a huge carnivore as you tried to make it to the outhouse at two in the morning. I will never forget my trip and I’m very grateful for the experience. I’m also happy to reflect on it rather than relive it. I doubt that I shall see the cabin again, but that’s all right too. After all, I still see Mountain Man from time to time and I have faith that at some point in the future I will again find my self standing there next to him saying something along the lines of, “Are you sure about this?”

He will, naturally, be completely sure and I, naturally, will go with him. After all, when it comes to finding a unique experience that will stand proud in my memory, he’s never let me down.

Don’t Step in What the Bear Left. Part IV

As we bedded down for the night, I had expected there to be mosquitoes. After all, we were in a place called the “Boundary Waters” and being filled with little bogs and swampy areas, it was also filled with those biting little menaces. It was what I mistakenly thought an unusually hot night and my sleeping bag was hot and sticky almost immediately. As I lay my head down, I heard the unmistakable whine of those little bloodsuckers. It’s been a belief of mine that if you wanted to drive someone not merely to distraction, but to out right insanity, all you needed was a recording of a mosquito on an endless loop, making sure that it sounded closer, then farther, then very close and then… nothing. The victim would be blithering in just a few days. This is what we were dealing with, times a thousand. The cabin seemed to be filled with the little bastards.

After my twenty-third time flailing at my face like a mad man, I retreated into the steamy confines of my mummy bag, pulled the drawstring tight and crammed my pillow in the tiny hole. From a pervious experience, (also with Mountain Man) I knew I would not suffocate. I’d just feel like I was.

Side story:

Years previously, I was sharing a cabin with Mountain Man, The Doctor, and Ioseph. It was late in the year and it got really, really cold that night. We had no fireplace so the only warmth came from what you keep hold of with your sleeping bag. At some point in the night, I must have done this same trick with the drawstring and a pillow to cut off the cold draft.

In the morning, my friends awoke and found my bag closed with my pillow partially sticking out of the head-hole. They watched the bag carefully in an effort to detect any breathing, but the thick down of the lining prevented them from spotting any movement. They could hear no respiration either.

Their line of thinking went like this… “If he’s alive, then we’re just going to wake him up and he might be grumpy. If he’s dead, then there isn’t anything we can do except call the authorities, in which case, we will miss breakfast. Therefore, we should go and eat breakfast and then see if our childhood friend is alive or dead. If he’s dead, he won’t care that he missed breakfast anyway and we’ll be fed and ready to deal with the corpse!”

You gotta love guys.

Back to Minnesota:

As I started my heat induced vision quest, Mountain Man decided to give himself to the mosquitoes. Pushing off his bag, he fell into fitful sleep as he provided fifteen thousand mosquitoes with buffet style dining. Neither of us looked good in the morning.

As we hunched over eggs and biscuits prepared my Mountain Man’s kind and ever upbeat father, we commented on the others appearance. I looked like I had been hit with a fire hose while he looked like a bad case of hives. The mosquitoes, apparently not satisfied with last night’s feast, were ready to tuck in to some breakfast of their own and were already merciless.

“Are the mosquitoes always this bad?” I asked.

Mountain Dad looked our way and enthusiastically nodded. “Oh yah! They’re brutal, aren’t they? We still have some windows to put in and a lot of cracks to seal, so there are probably as many inside as out”

I swatted madly while desperately shoveling the hot eggs into my mouth. These things were unrelenting! As soon as we had finished up and cleared the table, Mountain Man and I started back to the car to get our full packs. In the daylight, things naturally looked very different. The path was, just as he said, easy to follow and not very far at all. When we were just about there, he stopped and looked down at the ground.

“The last time I was here, ” he said, “we found the biggest bear scat right here in the middle of the trail”

“Bear scat?” My eyebrows were racing for my hairline.

“Oh yah. There are bears here for sure. Just keep an eye out and they shouldn’t be a problem.”

Since I didn’t posses laser vision, I wasn’t exactly sure what watching for a bear was going to do to help my life expectancy but still, I was a bit more mindful of the undergrowth as we reached the car and grabbed our gear. The very first thing I did was to put on my wide brimmed hat and pull over my mosquito net. I could see the little bastards immediately trying to get through, but at least my face was safe for the moment.

Mountain Man and his dad are great guys and really dedicated hikers. They are highly skilled, superbly outfitted and made of tougher stuff than the vast majority of men. They are, in short, hiking high priests. They are also used to taking only what is totally necessary and not one item more. I, to be blunt, am a marshmallow of comfort by comparison. I like to have everything I could possibly need in any situation and since I am also a bit of a human mule when it comes to lugging stuff, I happily pack for every possible occasion. What doesn’t fit in the pack goes on it. Because of this, the profile I cut as I wander through the woods is of an old fashioned tinker off to sell his wares. Mountain Man and Mountain Dad have another take on my mobile hardware store. They call me “Clampett”, after the TV show, “The Beverly Hillbillies” I don’t mind in the least.

clampett

I dropped my rattling pack on the floor and immediately got a chuckle from Mountain Dad.

“You forget anything?”

“Nope. I brought it all. Why? You need something”

“No! No! Just curious. How much do you suppose that thing weights?”

The jokes about my pot and pan festooned pack flew almost as heavily as the mosquitoes that day as we worked on the cabin. The heat and humidity was oppressive and the work was energetic, making you desperately want to shed your shirt. The bugs made that thought laughable, though. Instead, I found the only way to stay bite free was to put on my polar fleece shell, zip it up all the way, tuck the mosquito net into the collar, tuck the cuffs into my gloves and my pant legs into my boots. It was the sauna all over again but at least my blood was staying where it would do the most good. By the evening, we returned to the cabin to eat and talk.

“I’m going to go set up my tent out front while there’s still some light” I announced.

“Good idea” Mountain Man replied. “I’ll set up out back”

“You mean your not going to sleep in the cabin?” Mountain Dad looked shocked. “We built all this and you’re going to use your tents?”

“No offence, but my tent has one thing that the cabin doesn’t. Screens. I really need some sleep and this way I know I won’t wake up looking like a raisin.” I hoped he wasn’t hurt, but there was no way I was going to make a repeat of last night if I could help it.

“Well, you boys do as you will, but I’ll sleep in here.” He paused and then added, “Mind you, I do wish I had packed a mosquito net to throw over the cot though.”

I reached back to my open pack, sitting on the floor and pulled something green out. “You mean like this one?” I tossed it to Mountain Dad and smiled. “I’ll be in the tent, so I won’t need it.”

“Hey! Thanks!”

He beamed and unrolled the green netting to inspect it. It was made like a mesh box, just big enough to fit over a camp cot. Four little loops were attached to each corner to suspend it over the sleeper.

“Now all I need to do is find some string and some thumbtacks so I can put it up.”

With a little flourish, I reached back into the pack and produced both, tossing them into his lap. I smiled.

“Pays to camp with a Clampett, doesn’t it?”

“I guess so! What else you got in there?”

We enjoyed a convivial dinner and Mountain Man and I eventually went out to set up our respective camps. I thought of the bears again and hypothesized that they would be more interested in the cabin where all the cooking was taking place than my little nylon dome. I hoped so, anyway.

Back in the cabin, as we enjoyed the last of the conversation over the lantern light, I remembered to ask the uncle about the bears.

“Oh yah. There are a good number out here. That’s why I had the gun last night. I heard the crashing in the bushes before I heard your voices and thought you were a bad bear.”

“Bad bear? What makes a bear bad?”

“Oh,” he continued, “This region is a release area. This is where the state puts trapped bears back into the wild. You know. The ones who get up to no good in suburban areas.”

So that was it. We were camping with exiled bears. This was not quite what I had signed up for. Still, as I later lay in my tent listening to the night noises, the weariness of the previous lost night of sleep and the hard work done that day washed over me like a wave. If anyone came nosing around my tent flap, I didn’t hear it.

Above my nylon castle, mosquitoes cursed in tiny, furious voices.

-Possibly more to come. And it might have to do with guns!

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