Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On the Boundary, Part II

I should really check my schedule before I embark upon these long stories.  I hate to leave you hanging when I'm getting ready for another Scout trip.  This one is WashJam and happens only once every three or four years.  The last one we attended was great.  Nick was a Cub Scout and loved seeing the troops running in full gear at 6:00am.  He adored the interviews with real soldiers and loved climbing on the array of military vehicles.  The archery, boffing sword arena, and BB shooting were all a hit too.  He even managed to find some unexploded ordinance.  This year, Nick will be a Boy Scout, able to do lots more of the activities, including the zombie invasion night hike, the aquatics outpost, and knife throwing.  It's going to be hot, but it should be a lot of fun.  I hope that moms can do some of this fun stuff too.  I want to shoot some arrows and do some geocaching.  I might even try the rope bridge.  It's a bummer that Nick will still be too young for the Field Leaders Reaction Course.  That looks amazing. 

I guess you'll understand if you lose me here for a bit, but I'm trying to keep up.  I really am.  Tomorrow, I have to make apple pie, pack, help Nick make trail mix for a dozen boys, help Nick pack, and arrange the rest of the food for the adults.

So you wanted me to tell you more about the shameful trip to the Boundary Waters?  Do I have to?  See, on the second day, we had a bit of a run through a short deep creek connecting two lakes.  It was a piece of cake, or at least it should have been.  There was one small drop at a narrowed spot just short of seventeen feet wide.  How do I know that it was just short of seventeen feet wide, you might ask?  Because Suzanne and Nathan measured it. 

With their seventeen foot canoe.

As they came down the chute, Wynne yelled directions.  People were in the habit of following Wynne's directions since she had had years of experience directing people at her company.

"Aim the nose of the canoe toward that rock," she told them.  Well, that's exactly what they did.  They hit the rock, in fact.  Then the lazy current took hold of the back end of the canoe and swung it around to span the chute, neatly wedging each end upstream of the granite rocks.  It was a slow-motion spill, the canoe tilting Suzanne and Nathan out downstream along with most of their belongings.  Then it wavered as we looked on hopefully, and firmly tilted upstream again and filled with water, gallons and gallons of water. 

Now, we've always paddled with two bailers in the canoe.  These are gallon jugs with the bottom end cut out.  It would have taken at least a hundred-sixty of those gallon jugs to fill up a seventeen foot canoe.  Oh, I could be wrong, but I looked at the door rack of my refrigerator.  It's about as wide as a canoe.  Layer that row two deep and run it about two-thirds the length of the canoe.  That's a hundred-twenty gallon jugs right there.   Now add about twenty more jugs in either end of the canoe and it should be pretty well filled.  So, at eight pounds per jug, what you have is 1,280 pounds of water to lift off those rocks.  The pressure of the current kept holding down on the bottom of the canoe and distorting its classic shape.

So, our engineers, Harold and Mike, went to work.  Have I ever told you how convenient it is to travel with engineers?  Of course, Harold had enough carabiners and rope that he could lower the whole team down a cliff face should we need that service.  He and Mike worked out a block-and-tackle pulley that they tied to the end plate of the canoe and to the base of a tree that was at least twelve inches in diameter.  This is where your scouting knots can make a difference.  Now, you need to know that this end plate was three-quarter inch ABS, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene.  I'm a big believer in ABS having seen the commercial with the truck driving over the boat that pops back into shape once the truck is over.  Did you see that one?  No?  Well, you're probably too young for it anyway.  It is nearly impossible to dent, bend, or tear ABS. 


These two guys had the this setup pulled so tight that Wynne and I grabbed Suzanne and Nathan's elbows to bring them out of range in case the rope snapped.  We didn't want any one of us on the wrong end of that possibility.  Instead of the rope, the end plate of the canoe suddenly ripped in half.  Mike and Harold disassembled their setup once they realized they were working with forces well out of range of their pulley system. 

Suzanne and Nathan stood where we had placed them, looking dejected.  I heard them talking quietly about how much it would cost to pay for this broken, rented canoe. 

Mike and Harold decided to take a different approach to their problem.  They started looking at the rocks that held the canoe.  This canoe was literally two to three inches wider than the span between the rocks.  Taking a large stone in his hands, Mike took a crack at one of the rocks.  Small chunks of granite flew off in all directions.  So then there was a new job.  Break the granite.  I tried to help, but shards of rock kept hitting me in the face.  The work space was tight and Mike reminded Harold that if the boat came loose and he was standing downstream, it would likely take out his knee.  Remember that the boat, filled with water, was more than a thousand pounds of living, breathing animal only temporarily trapped.  Okay, it wasn't really living, or breathing, but it had a lot of potential built up from that current.  I made it my job to take pictures, so somewhere in this house are a dozen or so pictures of an underwater distorted canoe and two guys happily chipping away at granite at one end.  That's the thing about engineers.  They are happiest when they are solving problems. 

Nathan and Suzanne, however, just stood there looking stunned.  I heard her tell him more than once that they'd done what Wynne told them to do, exactly what she'd said.  She was right.  They had.  They were immobilized the way the person who has caused an accident usually is.  They couldn't believe what they'd done.  Mike and Harold were in heaven.

Eventually, there was that one blow that chipped the granite just right and the canoe was free.  It rolled away from the rocks and nearly righted itself, still filled with water.  It was twisted, torn on the end plate, and had a kink in the gunnels on one side, but it was free.  Everyone but Suzanne and Nathan were ecstatic.  Suzanne and Nathan had the broken boat that didn't track well.  None of us was willing to change boats with them.  We should have, but we didn't.  Suzanne and Nathan had the slightly damp belongings.  And remember, Nathan wasn't drinking much of the filtered bracken water.  Nathan might have gotten back in the bow of the canoe, but his troubles weren't over, not by a long shot. 

I'll tell you more about those troubles next time.  Eventually, I'll tell you what I did that makes me ashamed to think of this trip to this day. 

Thank you for listening, jb

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