Monday, March 5, 2012

No. 822 – Sedan Delivery

Performer: Neil Young
Songwriter: Neil Young
Original Release: Rust Never Sleeps
Year: 1979
Definitive Version: Live Rust, 1979

Although the Tetons were my favorite part of my senior trip out West in 1982, Yellowstone was a close second. It wasn’t as literally awesome, but it was more fun, because there’s more different types of things to see there.

Let’s start with the geysers, which my dad and I did—Old Faithful, naturally, being the first one. It was cool to see something that you’d read about that was active. However, Grand Geyser is more impressive. It had a much higher spout and lasted a lot longer. The difference is you never know when it’s going to erupt, so we ended up waiting about an hour, but the wait was worth it.

Then there’s the wildlife, and, no, I’m not talking about the idiots who thought it would be a good idea to try and feed wild elk out of their hands, but the elk themselves. We saw more bison and one gigantic moose that we watched ramble across a field over to a big, shady bush where he flopped down and kept a watchful eye for others getting too close. It was all good, but I decided it was time to get back in the car when I started getting the impression that the aforementioned elk were getting a little too close. I respect the randomness of wildlife too much to assume that animals won’t suddenly attack if properly provoked by nitwits who think they’re in a zoo or at a farm. Fortunately, we didn’t see any bears … or unfortunately, depending on your point of view.

We drove all the way up to the Montana entrance, just so I could add another state to my list, but also to see the original stone entrance to the park, as well as the hot springs along the way. What I didn’t know at the time was that the entire park is essentially a volcano caldera and if it goes off in our lifetime will pretty much wipe out the entire United States. No wonder it seemed as though everything was bubbling, even random spots along walkways by the various geysers, hot springs and blue holes. It’s quite the spectacle.

After Yellowstone, we turned south to Utah where we had a whitewater rafting trip on the Green River lined up. Originally, we were going to spend an extra day there and check out Dinosaur National Park, which would have been cool to do considering that I was a huge dinosaur nut when I was a kid (like most kids, I suppose), but the delay in Denver wrecked that, so we had to go straight to the river after again camping out in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere.

Well, that’s not quite right. We stopped along the road at night in what seemed to be a state park, so there were parking spots and rudimentary camping sites, and we set up camp. This time the wind didn’t blow at all, but the rocky ground wasn’t the most comfortable sleeping surface, even with a down cloth and foam under the sleeping bag.

The reward was the next morning. We got up and walked about 100 feet from the camping site and saw what we couldn’t see as we set up camp in the dark the night before: the canyon that we were on the edge of. We found out the next morning that not only had we spent the night in Flaming Gorge State Forest, but we had a spectacular view of the gorge itself and pine trees as far as the eye can see as we ate our scrambled eggs before we headed on to the Green River. Sometimes you get lucky.

I had done the New River trip twice at that point, so rafting trips were old hat, and the Green River was a snoozefest by comparison. It was fun, but it wasn’t nearly the hang-on-for-dear-life flume ride that the New was. Still, it did provide a white-knuckle moment.

When we stopped for lunch, we stopped in a canyon that had a nice rapid that was swimmable, so the guide sought volunteers. Before I had a chance to take a pass, Dad volunteered me. Now I couldn’t wuss out. Great; give me a life vest.

We hiked a few hundred yards up shore where we would jump in. The idea, the guide said, was to swin into the current but then swim out of it at the right moment so you didn’t get too close to the canyon wall and the middle of the rapids, which might pin you to the wall. OK, good safety tip.

So in we jumped. I had swam through a couple rapids before, so I knew the drill: When you get to the rapids, float with your feet downstream so you don’t go head-first into a rock. I was right where I needed to be in line with the guide until it was time to backpaddle out of the current.

Back then, however, my upper-body strength wasn’t what it could’ve been, and I wasn’t able to pull out in time. I was heading right for the canyon wall and picked up speed. I called out to my new love Beth in my mind, but at the last second the water took me past the canyon wall and I hit the rapid dead center—the water just seemed to part and I dropped into a hole that was about 6 feet deep. I took a huge breath and shut my eyes.

Boom! I blew out through the wave and hit another one not as deep. Pow! Daylight again, but I wasn’t expecting the next little wave, and I got a mouthful of water. I was out again almost immediately and went hacking and sputtering as I continued to float downstream, happy to just be alive at this point.

When I made it to shore, the guide gave me much kudos. Man, you hit the rapid dead on; you’re hard core! Yeah, sure (cough cough). It was nothing, really. That’s just how I roll (hack, sputter). He asked if I wanted to go a second time, but I decided this time I’d just watch the activities from the safety of the shoreline while wallowing in the mundanity of a bologna sandwich.

And the fun didn’t end there that day. When we got back to Vernal where we parked we discovered that Dad—in the great family tradition—had locked the car keys in the trunk. This was before trunks had pull-open latches through the back seat, so Dad had to pull the back seat apart to get into the trunk, climb in and get the keys before we went anywhere. Huh boy. After he finally secured the valuables, it was off to Salt Lake City and civilization again.

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