Paul Andersen: Fair Game
Last summer, a friendly neighbor on the Fryingpan gave us a free canoe – a big, old, orange, plastic canoe that dates back to Lewis & Clark. We took our maiden voyage last autumn and hadn’t paddled more than a dozen strokes before water began lapping up around our ankles. Our free canoe had evidently run a few rapids in its day, probably down the Columbia to Fort Clatsop.I don’t look gift canoes in the gunwale, so I bought a fiberglass repair kit and applied layer after layer of toxic-smelling gunk until it looked like a huge blob of corn syrup had congealed on the bottom of the boat.My 16-year-old son, Tait, was impressed by my repair. “What did you do to our boat, Dad?!” Undaunted, I bought wooden paddles and “PFD”s. (That means life jackets in boating lingo.) The canoe spent last winter on sawhorses, where it piled high with snow. Every time I looked at it, I thought of warm summer days on the water.I’ve longed for a canoe for years, and since we live in the Fryingpan Valley, only 20 minutes from Ruedi Reservoir, I’ve had idyllic visions of paddling the sparkling waters – albeit amid an armada of power boats and jet skis. My real desire is to paddle a river, which requires that my son and I must become a coordinated paddling team.With that goal in mind, we loaded up the canoe last week and set off for a training run at Ruedi. Getting that big orange canoe onto the roof of our van tested my several hernia surgeries, but we somehow got it snugly strapped on using half a roll of duct tape.Driving up the Fryingpan with my son and my boat, I felt like a true, red-blooded American on vacation. The only things missing were a can of Blatz and the radio tuned to Sean Hannity. Instead, my son and I sang sea chanties in a robust manner, repeating over and over the only words we know: “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”We put in at the far end of the reservoir and began paddling into a stiff headwind with small waves lapping against the bow. Or was that the stern? It us took a minute to figure out that we were paddling the thing backward, so we twisted around in our seats and solved the problem. My son and I soon felt like voyageurs in search of beaver pelts and muskeg, which I believe is a French Canadian beverage.Here I attempted to instruct young Tait in the rudiments of paddling, which I had learned a century ago as a Boy Scout. While demonstrating my admittedly rusty strokes, my paddle occasionally caught small waves and splashed the poor lad. He repaid me later when we switched seats. “Is this how you do it, Dad?” Sploosh!Eager to paddle something with a current, we noticed a big culvert at the mouth of a small creek, so we paddled as far into the corrugated steel tunnel as the little stream would allow. Deep in the tunnel, Tait said he wanted to get out and walk up the culvert, and so he did, slogging into the darkness like a coal miner. This was our Huck Finn moment.As we paddled farther along the shore, we approached a clot of fishermen, those erstwhile archetypes of lakeside summer fun. Most of them were casting from the shore, but one guy was floating in a big yellow inner tube designed for fishing. He cast his fly with conspicuous, if exaggerated, artistry the way a bull fighter might swing his cape. We watched this bobbing angler as he adroitly hauled in what turned out to be only a tiny minnow. Tait and I had to stifle our laughter because he looked rather silly with all that gear and only a fingerling dangling from his fly. This could be taken another way, but you know what I mean.By now power boats were racing to and fro, some dragging kids on inner tubes as if trolling for Moby Dick. We thought that looked like fun except for the fossil-fuel issue and the second mortgage required to finance boat, trailer and Cummins Diesel pickup. Tait and I were happy to assume the higher moral ground in our trusty canoe as we rode out their turbulent wakes and skimmed across their oil-slicks.After successfully navigating back to our put-in, Tait and I agreed that we are ready for quieter, more pristine waters. We think the pond at the Blue Lake subdivision may be just the right body of water for our big orange canoe, and we hope to do some camping along its sylvan shores.
Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays in The Aspen Times.
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