It was a simple choice. Go right or go left. All agreed, the middle was not an option.
Fast Frank, Miller, and New York Lance stared at Kayo. Kayo stared down at his dripping hand, at the soggy napkin. The disastrous drenching in Wild Sheep rapids had left the map a blue ink smudge. Unfortunate, as this soggy pictogram was their guide through the next ominous obstacle.
Granite rapids awaited.
Four faces studied the useless relic of their pre-trip recon. Deciding not to rely on their usual impetuous, devil may care approach to trip planning. they’d sought out local knowledge of the challenges they might face.
but where to find such insight? Who could help them navigate through the perils of rafting the wild and treacherous Snake River as it dropped precipitously down the mile deep wilderness of Hells Canyon?
the unanimous choice was Paddy’s Place, the most renowned bar in town, not so much because of the quality of its liquid fare, but more so the variety of its characters. And so a few beers were bought and advice poured forth.
“You’ll all be killed,” an old fart lamented, crossing himself..
“Piece of cake, I’ve done it on an inner tube,” added another, raising his finger to the bartender for another free cool one.
So far, not much to bolster their confidence. Then a finger pointed to a geezer bent over the end of the bar, “talk with Blind Tommy, he lived in the canyon for years.”
the four surrounded the man wearing red and white striped pajamas, cowboy boots, a greasy green vest that said “Paco’s Tacos” on the back, topped off with a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap that barely contained a mop of white hair.
A grizzled face looked up from an empty glass, “well, it seems I’ve either won the lottery or I’m about to be arrested for back taxes.”
And so they met Blind tommy, who, once his glass was refilled, seemed to be their savior. Yes, he knew every rapid in the canyon, had dragged out the bodies of those stupid enough to disrespect a river that would kick their ass in a heartbeat. About half a bottle down, tommy volunteered to sketch out the safe path through each rapid. He was given more whiskey, a stack of napkins, and a pen.
Looking back, Miller remembered that Tommy seemed to be a bit confused about the names and order of the “big ones” as he called the rapids. But the zeal of his storytelling muted all caution.
“There you go, boys,” tommy slid the sacred pages across the bar. “Best of luck!” then adding with a salute, “West coast, pot roast, burnt toast, adios!”
Glasses clinked. The foursome left Paddy’s confident that the napkins in Kayo’s pocket would safely guide them through the wilderness.
Unfortunately, three of the group had forgotten that Kayo was not big on details. This was why Wild Sheep rapids had turned their week’s supply of breakfast into mush. He’d assumed that ten pounds of granola would be secure and dry in plastic garbage bags. the powerful rage of the Snake River had ripped the bags and turned granola into mush. Unfortunately, Kayo’s small mindedness had extended to Blind tommy’s napkins. the pocket in which he’d stuffed them had gone swimming with the rest of his clothes when wild Sheep launched him into the river.
Fast Frank brought heads into focus, “no maps, no Tommy, what now?”
It was a 50/50 split, Kayo and Lance thought tommy said stay left, Miller and Frank remembered tommy belching something, then adding “stay right or get dropped in the shit.”
Smart money would have hiked down to check out the rapid first hand, but after being trashed in Wild Sheep, being spit out in the quiet pool at the bottom with themselves and their gear drowned and in tatters, the intrepid adventurers claimed immortality.
No one noticed that New York Lance, who’d been dragged from his dreams at 4 a.m. crying that the stars were aligned against him, wasn’t his usual chattering self. His ears were filled with the sounds of danger ahead.
And so, one yellow raft, absurdly small against the scale of the mighty river and towering canyon walls, went left while the other went right.
A “big one” is coming happens when, suddenly, there is a line on the horizon and beyond that, the river is gone.
Nothing but an ever building crescendo of sound climaxing with a thunderous roar bouncing off the canyon walls.
Nothing but a steaming cloud of spray, flitting rainbows, and an all engulfing murderous din.
River running is a lesson in commitment. There are no maybe’s in this white water world. You make a choice, go for it, or the river makes the choice for you.
Fast Frank and miller paddled right, found themselves in a narrowing V of fast water and then their flimsy craft accelerated and was sucked into the chaos.
As the first roller exploded over the bow of the collapsing raft, Miller looked left. He had a fleeting glimpse of Kayo rowing frantically, the rear end of his yellow raft being pulled down into foaming oblivion. He and Lance had sailed over a house sized boulder straight into a hole that would have swallowed an elephant. As blind tommy had put it, they’d “dropped in the shit.”
But where was Lance? this question remained unanswered as Miller and Frank struggled to survive. Their fragile raft was being squashed, tossed, and finally flipped in the mountainous waves. Catapulted into the water, Miller swallowed a mouthful, then bobbed to the surface, grabbing the raft as it scooted by.
It was over in seconds. Miller and Frank swimming their upside down craft to a sandy beach. A momentary nod to each other for having survived the calamity, then both pairs of eyes ssearched the river for their companions.
the other raft appeared, also upside down, with Kayo pushing it towards shore.
but where was Lantz? There was no sign of a bobbing head or bouncing life preserver.
Kayo stood in the shallows and yelled, “Lantz!”
then, popping up from the depths of doom, surrendered by the River Styx, a spot of orange.
Kayo dove and swam to the lifeless form.
they dragged him up the sand, coughing, gasping, eyes wide in stunned disbelief.
then, he raised his fist and yelled, “is that all you’ve got!”
The other three stared down at him.
Must be a New York thing.
Years later, sitting by a quiet stretch of river, the last of the fearless four lifted a bottle to the setting sun and saluted,
“West Coast, pot roast, burnt toast, adios amigos!”
Moral: Before asking a blind guy at a bar for advice, note if he’s wearing pajamas.
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Very enjoyable, Tio! The Fearless Four are swept up in an inextricable blend of fact & fiction.
Glad to hear the fearless four have lightened up your day. thanks for stopping by.