Saturday, February 5, 2011

Long Story

WARNING: This is a long story.  If you don't like long stories, stop here.  Here's the short version of the long story: "We found a kayak for The Spudboater to paddle in the March 26th Verde Canoe Challenge."

This story actually starts way back in a freezing, ridiculous February 1979 snow storm in Chicago--almost as bad as the one that made the news this week. That storm led directly to my moving to Tucson on Valentine's Day, 1979.  Early in 1980, I took a job as Night Production Manager for The Arizona Daily Wildcat, the UofA student newspaper.  There I learned of a UofA club called The Whitewater Explorers.  Naturally, I joined right away and that little step changed my life and started a chain of karmic events that led to last night's finding of the boat for The Spudboater to paddle March 26th.

OK, NOW do you realize this is truly going to be a really L-O-N-G Story?

Back there in early 1980, "the thing" was to learn how to roll a kayak.  They used to call it the Eskimo Roll.  (That's not to be confused with the Kokomo Roll.) Right away I would meet two people who singlehandedly changed my life: Bryan T. Brown (BTB) and Martin Binder.  BTB and I bonded the very moment we met and continue to be Dear Friends today.

Martin's son (whose name I can't recall) was President of the Whitewater Explorers and the best kayaker in Arizona at the time.  He was definitely a BMOC (Big Man on Campus).  Martin worked out at the Kitt Peak Observatory but was fanatically devoted to kayaking and whitewater sports in general.  He helped me buy my first two kayaks.  Martin even made custom foot pegs for my brand new plastic Holloform.  Martin was German through-and-through so we hit it right off, what with me being half-German from my Mom's totally German (Klooz) side of the family.  Martin took a liking to me because of the relentless diligence I put into learning the Eskimo Roll and then mastering the Salt River's renowned day stretch.

By and by, Martin invited me to go on Idaho's legendary Middle Fork of the Salmon River on July 4th, 1980.  This was a huge and big major honor to be invited by Martin to go on such a trip.  Well, at first, I had to decline.  I had made a personal vow in 1967 never, ever to set foot inside the city limits of Flagstaff again as long as I lived.  Obviously, a trip to Idaho would take us right through Flagstaff.  (The story of this vow is another Long Story far too long to tell here.)  Anyway, the vow was more important to me than the trip, if you can believe that.

Well, Martin was a natural born salesman plus he was 101% German and you know how persistent and stubborn those people can be.  He wouldn't give up.  Finally, he pulled out his best BS line, "John, we'll go through Flagstaff in the dark, you can put on a hood and you will never know you were there."  Somehow, this BS actually worked and I agreed to go up to the Middle Fork with Martin's Totally Tucson Trip.  Well, Martin pulled a fast one on me.  We arrived in Flagstaff in the dark but we didn't leave until well into daylight.  I had been suckered into breaking my vow.

Meanwhile, in the near middle of the night, we pulled onto West Aspen Street and pulled up in front of some duplex apartments--the type of joints they rent to NAU students.  One of our trip members, Joni Bosh, knew some guy named Duncan Orr and Duncan had said we could all crash on his floor.  So, all these Tucsonians fell asleep spread all over the little apartment.  And that's the night I met Duncan's roommate--yet another person who's changed my life in so many ways--Gary W. (AKA Chuckwalla and/or Lizard).

Well, for some reason, Gary and I hit it right off and have been Dear Friends ever since.  As you know, Gary is a near nightly visitor to our campfires because he and Robin live right across the wash from us in their adobe homestead.  Duncan and Gary were such gracious hosts that my aversion to Flagstaff began to mellow.  Duncan and Gary were not like any other Flagstaff people I had ever met up to that point.  They were friendly and kind and nice.  I didn't think anyone fitting that description lived in or near despicable Flagstaff.  As we drove off, both Duncan and Gary extended an invitation to "come back anytime."

Meanwhile, we went on up to Idaho's Disneyland River--The Middle Fork and I had a wonderful time and even got to met Old Man Tappan at Tappan Falls.  I didn't swim once and it really boosted my confidence in my Eskimo Roll.

On the way back south, we paid a courtesy call to Duncan and Gary's Place and my attitude about Flagstaff really turned the corner.  Even though I was still "on guard" and wary of the city in general, at least I could visit it without looking over my shoulder (much).

Meanwhile, back in Tucson, BTB was happy to see me and hear my stories about the Middle Fork.  And that's when he sprung the All Time Invitation that truly changed my life in a single swoop.  He said in that Louisiana accent of his, "Well, John, how'd ya'll like to come on a Grand Canyon trip with me this fall?"  Well, I was simply stunned and floored and dumbstruck all at once.  You mean the Holy Grail of river running?  THE Grand Canyon?  "Well, shore, John, we'd love to have ya," BTB said, noting "There will be some other kayakers on the trip that you will sure enjoy."  Boy, was that an understatement or what?

So, time passed and by-and-by we headed once again to Flagstaff, this time surfing ashore at 711 North San Francisco Street to meet the famous royal court of Wayne's World.  It's amazing to think that I met so many life changing people at Wayne's in such a sort period of time.  King Wayne himself, of course, has been one of the most life-changing people I've ever known.  But what about George?  And Bill?  And Jennifer, too?  Geeze, it was a veritable tsunami of life-changing people.

Meanwhile, we headed off on our 18-day fall Canyon trip and that's where I met The Spudboater (AKA: Marti B.). She was a hot rod kayaker from Idaho and definitely walked the talk in the Colorado's Big Water Waves.  She was the life of the party around camp, too, and we got along great.  It was a life-changing trip in every way, shape and form.  Why?  Because after the trip, I was completely changed and wanted to actually LIVE in Flagstaff and somehow connect my life to the Grand Canyon.  What a change from a few mere months earlier when I had to be convinced to go through the city in the dark of night with a hood over my head.

On our way back through Flag (as it's fondly called) I received offers of help from Wayne's World and also Duncan and Gary.  Back in those days I drove an old Holsom Bread truck--an old four cylinder diesel that might climb a hill at 30 mph (or not).  I came toodling back up to Flag not long after the trip and parked my little RV out behind Duncan and Gary's Place.  I looked around the city and made a firm decision to move from Tucson to Flag as soon as possible.  But where to live?

I placed an ad in the Daily Sun saying I wanted to live with an athletic-minded roommate on the edge of the city.  I asked Gary for permission to use his phone number and asked if he would scout out the locations of those who might reply.  That's how I wound up living for a few years at 912 W. Grand Canyon Ave. in Flag.  Gary actually went and looked at the place and told me it was OK.  I rented it sight unseen on his recommendation.  It was a hundred bucks a month and my roommate was a Mormon Lake Hotshot, Mark J.  (There's a huge amount of backstory here, too, but that's another Long Story far too long to tell here.)

Thus began my Flag Life.  I tried to make friends with the Grand Canyon river guide crowd but they were all far too snooty and aloof and shined me off.  So, being the natural-born organizer, I founded a river club in Flagstaff in March 1981.  It was named NAZPAC--The Northern Arizona Paddlers Club--and it became known far and wide as a welcome and viable alternative to the snooty Grand Canyon boaters.  All sorts of experienced and wannabe boaters came out of the woodwork to sign up and attend monthly meetings at Wheeler Park.  Gary, of course, was one of the first members.  Through NAZPAC I met many wonderful people, some of whom continue to be Dear Friends to this day.

One of the first things I wanted to do was establish a competition between the Whitewater Explorers and the new kid on the block--NAZPAC.  Martin and his son were all too eager to show those upstarts up north how skilled teh Whitewater Explorers were.  We agreed to stage a downriver kayak race and slalom on the Salt River's day stretch.  On a day I will never forget, I won the downriver, beating Martin's son by a few boat lengths and our club members also smoked the Tucson crowd in the slalom.  My last vision of Martin was him giving me an evil stare while his son threw his potato chip kayak into the air in frustration.

Well, meanwhile, Gary had decided he really wanted to be a kayaker, too.  So, he went down to Tucson with Duncan one day and met Martin.  Martin had a kayak for sale.  Martin ALWAYS had kayaks for sale.  So, Gary bought one for $150 and brought it back home to Flag. The boat was a nearly new Phoenix Cascade in pristine condition.  Gary and I paddled together on several trips.  In fact, one of our most memorable was on the Little Colorado below Grand Falls.  That's where Gary lost his expensive sunglasses where Dinnebeto Wash joins the LC.

Meanwhile, everyone's lives changed and proceeded on as lives are wont to do.  And, meanwhile, the swirl of "all in a day's karma" brings the above Long Story back to relevance in today's world.

Our Dear Friendship with The Spudboater was resurrected on 7-7-7 out at Bowery Guard Station.  Quite a few weeks ago, The Spudboater decided to come down here to 2nd Chance Ranch for a March visit.  She booked her flight and it's a done deal.  She will be here March 24th for about 6 days.  Meanwhile, during research for the Verde River Guide project, I happened to notice that the annual Verde River Canoe Challenge will be taking place March 26th.  We contacted The Spudboater and offered to be her Support Crew if she would want to enter the race.  She enthusiastically agreed.  Meanwhile, we then set out to find her an appropriate boat by placing a "want ad" in the Phoenix Craigs List.  Well, yesterday, a boat popped up on CL down there and I spent a goodly portion of the day talking with Dean from Chandler about his old Phoenix Cascade kayak.  He wanted $100 for the boat, paddle, sprayskirt and float bags.  The Spudboater and I swapped a lot of emails on the subject.  When she learned the boat was a Cascade, The Spudboater even said, "Ya hoo. The Cascade is the boat I used to own with Scott, my husband. I paddled it, too. And it was one of the first fiberglass boats run on the North Fork Payette...and yes,this baby will surf and track."

Well, it turned out that for some unknown and mysterious reason, Dean's Cascade in Chandler weighed 40 pounds, NOT the 27 pounds that it's supposed to weigh when it came out of the factory in Berea, Kentucky.  I was pretty bummed as I thought I had found the perfect boat.  But I soon got over it and built a nice campfire to help celebrate the First February Friday.  By and by, Gary and Robin came over to share the flickering flames and swap some stories.

Somehow, something prompted me to tell the tale of woe I had encountered earlier during the day regarding the Cascade.  That's when Gary dropped the bombshell.  He said, "Well, John, I have a Phoenix Cascade hanging inside over at our place--I bought it from Martin Binder back in the 1980's--it's the one I paddled when we used to paddle. It weighs 27 pounds."

I was completely stunned and thunderstruck by this news.  All of those events of the early 1980's swirled in my mind and heart.  I barely knew what to say and all I think I said was something like, "Are you kidding me?"  Sure enough, we began chattering like meadowlarks and Gary has it all--a pristine Cascade, a spoon blade graphite paddle, you name it, he's got it.  He hasn't kayaked in perhaps 20 years but he has faithfully kept all the gear in tip top shape!  Totally amazing but totally true.

Gary quickly agreed to join The Spudboater's Official Support Crew.  And last night, standing around that fire, we decided she's gonna WIN that race, coming in first overall.  We started scheming how to make the Cascade even more of a hot rod boat.  I read on the web yesterday that you can duct tape an arrow under the stern to act as a skeg.  We're gonna give it a try and get that boat in ripping shape!

Who knew that all of these things could somehow come back together once again March 26th when The Spudboater sprints downstream to fame and glory?

I am still completely dazzled by this chain of events.  As the King of Wayne's World is fond of saying, "All In A Day's Karma."

Thanks, Gary!

Cheers, jp


Marti Spudboater said...

Wow! Big wow! I just got back from taking the dog for a walk and decided to see what you were up to after all that talk about that Phoenix Cascade yesterday. If ever there was karma this is it. I guess I am meant to enter this race. I'll be hard pressed to have even been in a kayak by then. Guess I better start lifting weights or something so my shoulders don't give out. You guys are really going to trick this thing out for me? I better take measurement for my big butt so you don't jam me in there too tight. My guess I won't need hip pads. This is proving to be an adventure I had not anticipated. Thank you Johnny. Now, start looking for a masseuse for after the race. I'll need that and lots of margaritas or some such if it's 10 miles.

Maggie said...

This is one great story. Blasts from the past. Can't wait for "the rest of the story(ies) herein contained.

Wayne Ranney said...

I don't recall many of the details of how I met JP - seems like it was on a Rio Grande Lower Canyons trip in 1981 with BTB. But it sure is fun reading this great story. 711 N. San Fran. is infamous in the annals of non-snooty Flagstaff crash-pads. I hear stories all thew time about people who were there - and I don't recall it - so it must've been fun. Thanks for the great post!