My life has been one adventure after another. I like it that way. I’ve planned it that way. My motto has always been, “never get yourself into trouble that you’re not smart enough to get yourself out of”. Every once in awhile I’ve come very close to not being smart enough.
Whitewater canoeing was one of my favorite adventures. Think Burt Reynolds in Deliverance. At least once a year I would grab a paddle and risk my life paddling through swirling water and over small waterfalls. This time I would scramble down river with my friend Sean, and his father. Sean’s dad taught me how to sail when I was fourteen, so I always called him “Captain”. I went to Indiana University – “IU”. Sean went to the University of Illinois – “U of I”. Each year their football teams would play each other, one year in Bloomington, Indiana, the next year in Champaign, Illinois. The games were on Saturday, and on Sunday we would put our pioneering skills to the test by finding a river to conquer.
This adventure began in Illinois. Because we were rugged outdoorsmen, and perhaps too cheap to rent a hotel, we camped out in a tent Saturday night. Sunday morning we were having breakfast at the picnic table as the Captain surveyed the local map. He was at least two decades our senior, so we willingly succumbed to his authority as the leader of our expeditions. As I ate my oatmeal, I looked down at the compass the Captain had near his map. Then I looked up at the morning sun as it rose in the east. Then I looked at the compass again. I told the Captain, “You’re not in charge today.” He looked at me, stunned at this sudden mutiny. I told him, “Your compass is pointing south!” It was true. Somehow the compass had reversed polarity, and it refused to point in any direction other than south. We had a pretend argument about whether the compass was still useful. I didn’t really care because once you’re on the river, you’re going downstream, regardless what the compass says.
Sean’s neighbor had joined us for this trip. We had two canoes on top of the truck, and we drove until we found the Embarras River. That name would eventually come to haunt us. As we began to unload the canoes, an irate farmer pulled up in his truck to inform us that we were trespassing. He didn’t want our truck parked alongside the road on his property all week, and we had to move. We secured the canoes and drove about half a mile to a different bridge. We had our river, and our adventure would proceed as planned.
Our adventure proceeded, but not at all as we had planned. By changing bridges we had also unwittingly changed to a different fork of the river. There was very little whitewater, and no sign of civilization anywhere. It was now noon, and we hadn’t passed under another bridge, or spotted any housing along the route. It was a very gentle ride through the middle of nowhere. The sun was beginning to set and the Captain insisted “we only have to go a little farther”. I was adventurous, but not completely reckless. I didn’t want to paddle down an unfamiliar river in the dark. I pulled rank and insisted, “we’re getting off the water here while we can still see.”
As we pulled up to the shore, Sean’s neighbor stood up to stretch his legs after a day of sitting in a canoe. This is never a good idea because canoes do not have a lot of lateral stability. Moments later Sean and his neighbor were splashing in the water trying to right their canoe. This is one of the moments that make adventures so much fun. Laughing at your friends when they do something stupid. We dragged the boats out of the water and proceeded to build a fire so Sean and his neighbor could begin to dry out. The new plan was for the Captain and me to “walk until we find the truck”. Yeah. Right.
As we walked through the fields with only moonlight to guide us, I began to wonder if we were smart enough to get ourselves out of trouble. Suddenly we spotted headlights bouncing through the dark and coming towards us. As they got near, two jeeps slammed on the brakes and slid to a stop a few feet in front of us. A group of people were off-roading, and were more than a little surprised to find two guys traipsing through the woods without a flashlight. We explained our predicament, and they decided that their new adventure would be helping us find our way back to the truck.
As I recall, it was nearly four miles through the woods to the nearest pavement. We followed that one lane road for six miles to the nearest marked highway. It was another twenty miles back to where we left the truck. I remember my sense of relief when I finally climbed into the cab of the truck – trying to evaluate how important my relationship was to Sean and his neighbor. No. I wouldn’t really have abandoned my fellow adventurers, but it was a thought that passed through my mind momentarily.
Luckily I was blessed with an innate sense of direction. A biological GPS somewhere in my brain. I was able to direct the Captain down the highway to the one lane pavement, and then four miles through the forest, across two different streams, back to where our companions were still nurturing the fire. When we pulled to a stop near the canoes we all started laughing. There was a distinct sense of relief now that we were all back together. Obviously, the adventure wasn’t over yet. We were still thirty miles from civilization.
We packed the canoes on the truck and once again, my “infallible” sense of direction brought us back to the city where we decided to have breakfast at the local IHOP at two-o’clock in the morning. None of this could have been predicted during our previous breakfast at the campsite. Thankfully, we were smart enough to get ourselves out of trouble – this time. But it’s the unexpected twists and turns that make adventures so exciting.
Click here if you want me to teach you:
– how to set up a tent
– how to tell when a compass is pointing the wrong way
– how to paddle a canoe
– how to build a survival fire
– how to find your way through the forest in the dark
– how to find people crazy enough to join you on your adventures
“Pain is temporary. Chicks dig scars. Glory is forever.”