Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The river hammock...

Our swamper for the last two years has been Skip, my youngest brother. He is 16 years old, can run a boat better than most guides twice his age, knows the Middle Fork like the back of his hand, yet has to wait until his 18th birthday before he can receive his guiding license. Having someone like Skip as a swamper is ideal, particularly if you’re the sweep boat driver, because you can hand the boat to him, take a nap, and have him wake you up as the boat rounds the bend before camp. Often times, if I’m running the sweep, Skip and I will switch on and off, taking turns running Muda (nickname for our sweep) and eating leftover food.

Below: Our sweep boat, aka "Muda"

A few weeks ago Skip brought a hammock to test out on the river. His hammock wasn’t one of those “rope” hammocks but was pretty much a sarong with a rope on the outside to keep its shape. It worked great at camp, swung between two trees like a hammock is supposed to, but Skip wanted to be a little more adventurous. He rigged it onto the outside of the sweep skirt (the green “shield” thing). This worked fairly well as he could rest directly above the water and have a thrilling ride. As the group rolled into camp that afternoon I noticed that Skip’s hammock was still attached to the sweep. It really did look like a great ride and I thought that perhaps I would take the sweep with him the next day and test it out.

Below: Professional swamper, Skip

The next morning Skip asked me if I’d take the sweep without him so that he could practice paddle guiding with another guide. That was fine with me, so I pushed off and went on my way to Otter Bar. Now, when you are by yourself on the sweep boat some things get more difficult. Landing can become more difficult, getting unstuck gets more difficult, but the number one thing is pissing. Pissing gets more difficult.

The sweep is not a boat that can simply meander through the rapids spinning in circles. Spinning the thing can be a pain in the ass so you avoid that as much as possible. Furthermore, letting go of the sweep arms can be a disaster because the current will grab them and throw the handles out of reach. If that happens then you really look like an idiot because the boat is most likely spinning and you are doing nothing besides thinking “oh shit” while standing in the middle of the boat. Now, we do have straps that you can attach the arms to so that they don’t run away, however I had done a convenient job of burying those straps under a half dozen gear bags.

So, halfway to Otter I realize that I’ve gotta piss. I let go of the arms briefly but quickly realize that doing so is not an option. I try holding on to them while getting as close to the side as possible but I’m not nearly close enough and, besides, it’s a non self-bailer. Finally I take the handles and stick them behind me, tucked in underneath my lifejacket. I’m a little nervous about this because if the current grabs a sweep it will pluck me up in the air and maybe throw me overboard but I’ve got to piss and it’s worth the risk. Even in this position, however, I can’t quite see where the stream is headed. All I know is that it’s going over the skirt and that’s good enough for me.

About halfway through I realize something peculiar. Normally when liquid collides with liquid, especially liquid falling from up on the sweep boat, it will make a noise. You know, either a dripping noise or rushing noise or, well, a pissing noise. My stream was not making any of those noises. At this point I dropped both sweeps and leaned way over the skirt. Hanging from the skirt, full of a lake of piss, was Skip’s hammock.

I got to camp a little later that afternoon due to wind and quickly set everything up. I never had a chance to really clean the hammock but it did get fairly drenched through Cliffside rapid. I told Skip about it and he didn’t seem to think that it was very funny but I sure did and most of the people on the trip did. We’re having a yard sale this Saturday, September 1. We’re selling a few rafts and kayaks and oars and, you know, stuff like that. We also have a nice hammock, only $15. Send me an email if you’re interested.

written by wcv

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