Much better than two years ago. If you can shave off eleven minutes without your knees giving out, that ain’t bad.
The title says it all. How amazing, the effect it has on our moods and spirits. The flowers blooming outside my window give me the strength to stay inside on a Saturday and write a fifteen page paper a month before it is due; which should explain how much lies ahead of me before matriculation. Last semester of my student career, good times.
“But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep”
Jimmie Massie: Early to riser / orienteering map guider / kayak supplier / fire provider / take the leader / straw under the tent packer downer / classic line at the perfect moment guy / team mom
Steve Vorlop: Sleeping-inner / scarf up dinner / pop-culture winner / nap anywhere / “take me to a f*ing Outback” / sleep through rapids / sunburn magnet / civilization lover
Harrison Jones: man of strange customs / last one out the door / team morale / woods frequenter / eagle scout thought he knew what he was doing but still got all of the matches soaked / trip chaplain / bandana man
Guenesse Cream Ale: 5 time world cup winner /the ultimate camping beer
Homemade Trail Mix: Heavily Salted
Lack of Flashlights
Lack of Sunscreen
Lack of Contact Solution
Lack of Utensils
Those Class II Rapids
Beans and Sausage
Wet Sleeping Bags
Wet Bags that don’t close
Ferdinand The Bull, admiring flowers under the shade of a nearby tree
Beavers as big as Bears (Snapple Fact)
Grizzly Bear in a kayak (Steve)
Day Zero: Drop off cars at Massie Farm and pick up Kayak, Canoe, Supplies
Day One: Put in at Howardsville, Va
Day Two: Miles Down River
Day Three: Reach Massie Farm
So we had this great spur of the moment idea to save money on spring break and go on a canoe trip – high octane adventure for low cost. We put all the details together and rented a canoe and wetsuits from the outdoor rec center. Then we dropped Jimmie’s car off at his grandparents farm, which would be our destination, picked up the kayak while listening to Sigur Ros in the middle of the night, received pearls of wisdom from Jimmie’s farming Grandparents, listened to a ridiculous Relevant Podcast on the highway then went to sleep in Charlottesville, ready to wake up at 6am the next morning. Friday Night.
Overslept of course Saturday morning. After packing the cooler and realizing the dry bags did not close, we set off for Scottsville Va and then Howardsville with a canoe on top of my volvo wagon and a kayak twined to Steve’s mazda. Missed the turn even though Jimmie and I had the map, so we deferred to Steve and his GPS talking computer mistress. We arrived at Howardsville around 830, expecting to find a general store and other small restraunts at which to enjoy a hearty breakfast before hitting the river. All we found was that general store, and a street lamp. That was it. Talk about a one horse town. Population: Howard. Snagging the only three breakfast biscuits in the store and releasing our intestinal transit in nearby portajohns because Howardsville doesn’t even have a bathroom, we packed the canoe and the kayak by the water next to a dead buzzard. Photos, wetsuits, dashboard confessional, park the cars, prayer, shove off, we were on the river. Saturday Morning.
Barely a mile down the river, Jimmie spotted a picnic area that had left an American flag abandoned on the shelter wall. He scrambled up the bank and we had our mascot: Old Glory. We duct taped it to the cooler, which we had floating in an intertube behind the canoe. The wind was at our backs and optimism was so high. Steve and I enjoyed a rousing game of “Guess Who I Am” while Jimmie abstained, claiming desires to connect with nature. I was Humpty Dumpty and Steve was Dale from Rescue Rangers, which took us nine miles until Hatton’s Ferry to reveal. We stopped at a large rock formation for PBJ and climbed to the top of the 100 ft vista. The others carved their name into a tree. We navigated some small rapids here and there, taking on some legitimate but not too serious water. Then we had four miles of flat water to paddle through, except we felt lazy and just floated, all the way around the snake curve in and out of scottsville. I took a nap in the front of the canoe with my bandana over my face, and when I awoke I nearly threw Jimmie out of the back with my jostling about. His shoes were not happy. We pulled over to change his socks while Steve urinated on a major gas line. Then when the sun was going down fast, we pulled over to a large island and found flat ground where we could pitch our tent. Jimmie insisted that piling up the hay/straw/weeds under the tarp would make for a more enjoyable sleep. I insisted otherwise, and I’m not sure we ever found out the answer because it was too cold to sleep that night. But before we turned in, we had a nice fire that we built on the side of a small hill and that slid down in most of the night, and we had hotdogs and beans. Everyone had gas, which was very appropriate to the situation, and would be a running theme throughout the rest of the trip. We watched the stars, talked about having serious conversations, and not so serious conversations, and Jimmie clenched the evening with a line that only Jimmie could come up with: “Welp, this ain’t bad fellas. This ain’t bad at all.” I was speechless. Saturday Night.
Sunday morning found all of us huddled into balls in our sleeping bags in a tent that did not comfortably hold three large boys. We had rolled all night and shivered our way deeper into our bags, while Steve snored like a truck coming up a hill for the majority of it. My stocking cap had frost all over it from the tent walls. Jimmie and I rose while Steve slept on, and we began the sausage egg cheese pitas by the fire. It was a good clear morning that lit up the frost with yellow light from one tip of the island to the other. We made a pita for steve, put it down on a plate and then rested it next to his nose while he lay asleep on the tent floor. The aroma woke him, but before he could sink his teeth into the pita, we reminded him about the no-eating-in-the-tent rule and promptly took the food away. We ate, packed, read proverbs, prayed, then shoved off for day two. Twenty Seven Degrees, Sunday Morning.
Claiming he just wanted to chill out, Steve refused to play “Guess Who I Am” on day two, and for the majority of the morning we floated through wilderness, not a town or a human in sight. Jimmie took the river less traveled at one point in the kayak, turning into one of the smaller tributary creeks that split off from the main river, and Steve and I would not see him for some time. Steve showed great tenacity at steering the canoe while he negotiated some hard turns on some small rapids. At one point old glory and our cooler started going down a rapid on one side of a big rock while we wished to go down the other side. This caused some issues. Adrenaline was flowing when we made it through our first rapid series and met up with Jimmie again, who had caught some of the best waves on the trip, he said. We ate lunch and then punched the river for round two of rapids. This is where things started getting interesting. The rapids started getting bigger and faster, which meant that we were having more fun. I was in the kayak now and I took a big hydraulic that involved a sharp left hand turn so you wouldn’t get sideswiped by a big rock right in the middle. In hindsight, I set a bad example for the canoe behind me and I should have played it safer. The canoe followed me, but not being able to stick it to the river hard enough, soon became pinned up against that big rock, perpindicular to the rapids. I began paddling back up the river towards them to help in any way I could when I heard Steve say “Okay, this is bad. That’s a lot of water.” And then everything spilled out. We would be picking up food from our cooler for over an hour.
Everything was wet and we were hunting down peanut butter and energy bars for a long time. Every now and then, a can of Guenesse would rise to the surface and we would row over and throw it into the boat. Once we reclaimed all of our belongings except a mysterious pack of hot dogs that never surfaced, we threw our arms up in exhaustion and took a floating nap on the now flat river while we popped some most deserved brews. Switching the cooler to the kayak for some unknown reason, I spent the rest of the afternoon burning out my shoulders while paddling miles of flat water dragging dead weight in a inter tube behind me. We passed four out of the five humans we would see on the trip near a town called Columbia; they were fishing in a small boat and didn’t bother to wave to us. Lots of straightaways and developed sunburns later, we noticed the afternoon was fading and the temperature was dropping. We spotted a picnic table and boat ramp that belonged to somebody somewhere, and since they weren’t around decided to make it our campsite for the night. They not only had a picnic table, but a large bench, lawn chairs, firewood, a fire pit, tiki torches, shovels and pails, and a small fort made out of dirt and sticks for the kids. Heaven!
We scurried around making camp before the sun went down and things got really cold. As I was unpacking the canoe, I slid down a hill of mud while I attempted to catch a rolling sleeping pad, and both the sleeping pad and I fell into the river by the bank. This led to some serious shivering. We might have all had the thought in our minds the night could be dangerous. We were seriously cold, seriously wet, without much food or water, and we had a miserable night ahead of us in our wet sleeping bags – panic might have been a possibility, but we all remained quiet as the fire started to crackle. After a lot of warming up and roasting our feet by the fire, we began to think about dinner. Which of our wet food was still edible. The spaghetti was wet and exploding out of its box, but we decided it could be boiled and eaten anyways. So it was spaghetti, more jimmy dean, and Ragu. Steve’s shoes began to melt and drip as they were resting too close to the fire, and Jimmie and I noticed but said nothing for a little while. Then we told Steve and he was sad. We roasted our socks on sticks to dry them quicker and I burned holes in the toes of mine. No classic lines from Jimmie tonight because none of us were in the best of moods – we turned in early and prayed that Steve’s sinuses would clear up. God must have heard us. We somehow slept peacefully. Sunday night.
Big day Monday morning. Less frost on the ground this morning, but still bitterly cold. Putting on a semi-frozen wetsuit in the woods at seven a.m. is an experience I hope few ever have. We knew that we had at least twenty three miles to go today, and we had only been able to make it thirteen or fourteen the first two days, so we forewent breakfast and hit the river before eight. Before we shoved off, we reflected on the elements and the newfound respect we had for them, as well as what the possibly said about God. We prayed that Jesus would help us paddle twenty two miles, because he probably would have been the sweetest canoer there ever was, and then we hit it. Within ten minutes on the river, while fog lifted up off of the water, we found another water bottle that had washed up on a rock from our spill the other day – at least twelve miles past the incident. Steve and I restarted our beloved game of “Guess Who I Am” while Jimmie still abstained. This time I was “Milton Bradley” while Steve was “Dave Grohl” from the Foo Fighters. It took us at least two and a half hours to guess each other. So frustrating. We encountered a heavy head wind around ten oclock and for the next two hours would be paddling tooth and nail and developing great shoulder muscles. We stopped for brief damp peanut butter and jellies and intestinal transit, of course, and then kept up our hard work. A little mentally unstable from all of the sun and the constant paddling, Jimmie and Steve thought it perfectly alright to begin belting songs from our youth at the top of their lungs – including Chris Caraba’s “Hands Down.” I wanted to quit the entire trip right there. By two oclock in the afternoon, Jimmie realized that the landscape was becoming familiar, and we stopped to ask a nearby fisherman, human number five on our trip, if we had reached the landing three miles from Jimmie’s farm. Indeed we had, and we realized we had paddled at least nineteen miles in under six hours. How this was possible, we will never know, but we decided to celebrate at that moment by napping the rest of the way. Steve napped a little harder than the rest of us in the back of the canoe, while Jimmie pushed ahead in his kayak. I was left to navigate the canoe from the front, and couldn’t wake Steve even before we went through our last rapid series of the day. He woke up in the middle of the rapids when we gently hit some small rocks because I really couldn’t steer us – I have never seen him look more confused.
On the banks of the river in his ATV / Golf Cart was Jimmie’s grandpa who called out to us from the river bank. He figured that “we might be rolling by some time or other,” and left us amazed at his impeccable timing. We told him we were going to fool around since we had so much time to kill, having accomplished twenty two miles in seven hours, and we paddled to the other side of the river with a great idea for our free time. An old abandoned monestary / convent rests in the hills of Goochland and perches on some two hundred acres of land. Jimmie has been looking at the bell towers of this edifice creeping out of the trees from his grandparents kitchen window all his life, but had never traveled across the river to investigate. Today was his day. The sky began to glow as we, the wearied adventurers, walked across a green pasture full of wind on our way up the hillside to the convent. We followed deer trails, hopped barbed-wire, crossed fallen logs and negotiated briar patches until we were there, the spookiest convent we had ever seen in our lives. We went up to the tiny house next to it and knocked on the door since there was a jeep parked out front. Instead of trespassing, we figured we would ask for a tour. Since no one answered the door, we trespassed. Imagine a courtyard surrounded on three sides by four stories of red monolithic brick and stained glass windows. On our entrance, pigeons fluttered out of the spires and coo’ed like crazy. The wind was blowing hard and would consistently blow under the gutters and roof shingles, creating all sorts of echoes in the courtyard. The place was either haunted or holy, I know that much. We opened a window on the basement level, the only open window we could find, and crept inside – except at convents, they segregate all the nuns in their living quarters. None of the doors led to the main floor or the sanctuary. We explored the small rooms that were littered in broken glass and covered in cobwebs, then decided to head home. We returned to the woods, sufficiently maxed out on adventure, and ended our trip reminiscing all of our tales to Jimmie’s grandparents in their kitchen. We ate all of the grilled cheese grandma could put in front of our plates.
High-octane adventure for sufficiently minimal cost – a complete success.