Sunday, September 23, 2007

"Boat Access," pirate pranks, and orienteering in the dark

okay, okay, I'm aware that I need to work on being more concise. I'll try.

So we unloaded at "Boat Access" and then stood around for a while, for reasons somewhat unknown to us. We saw Kathleen, the leader of the blue team, which was also dropped off at Boat Access, talking to our leader, Russel, and Bruce, the big boss-- who mostly wandered from group to group stealthily through the woods. Anyway, we waited for a little while and stood around next to a pile of old life jackets on the ground while still examining our weird maps.

I was so excited to be out of those vans and ready to start our adventure that waiting was just about the last thing that I wanted to do. I was practically bouncing up and down like a little kid wondering why we haven't gone into the candy store yet. C'mon, c'mon, the door is riiight there! let's go in! let's go in! candy candy candy!!! So, waiting for instruction was obviously not on my agenda.

Finally, Russel came back over to us and led us up the road a little bit so we could sit in a "raccoon circle" and start learning how we would make group decisions. A raccoon circle happens when the whole group sits, or stands, in a tight circle while all holding a rope tied in a big loop. As long as we are all holding the rope, we are all involved in the decision-making process, and we don't break the circle until the group has reached a unanimous consensus.

This was also a bit of a struggle for me, since there are some rather passive, submissive people in the group, and I did not want to wait around for them to hesitantly voice their opinions. I bit my tongue, though, reminding myself that this is not a youth group or a summer camp. This is my job, and I have to live and work with these people for the next year. I have to treat these people with respect and patience, because they are my coworkers first; friendships will come later.

Russel showed us his much more detailed map which had our prescribed route drawn on it in Sharpie. He said we would only get to look at it for about 20 minutes and then he would put it away for the rest of the trip, so we had better commit it to memory. It was hard to compare it to our maps, which did not have nearly as many "topo" lines or trails on them because of how Xerox machines break down the quality of images a little bit after each copy; but we did sort it out, and were eager to set out in the canoes.

Then we waited some more.

Then we finally got the canoes unloaded, the packs tied inside heavy duty trash bags, in case any of us were to tip over, and the canoe teams divided up among our 4 canoes. The tricky thing about navigating Devil's Kitchen Lake is that it is "filled with underwater snags, the stumps of dead trees from the valley forest that once lived where the lake is today. Fishermen are advised to be aware of these snags. Swimming is forbidden in Devils Kitchen Lake." --Good thing we didn't have Wikipedia with us when we were ready to set off on our journey. Maybe, in some cases, ignorance really can be (slightly) blissful.

I ended up being on point in my canoe, so I was in charge of telling the person steering in the back which way to go in order to dodge upcoming stumps and branches, and also how to get to our docking point. Since we were usually the last canoe in the line of 4, I could watch what the other canoes did, and plan the best route based on who had to row backward out of a clump of dangerous stumps, and who was able to successfully glide around them.

At one point, Russel called all four of the boats together and we floated, rafted by holding onto each other with our oars. He said we could either tie our canoes together with rope and try to navigate the lake in pairs, or we could tie the canoes up in trees once we docked, in order to play a prank on the next group that needed to use them. We opted for the prank.

No one ran aground (well, technically "atree") and we docked safely, with nearly an hour of sunlight left to aid in our pirate pranking. I say "pirate" because by this point, we were already excited that the next day would be National Talk Like a Pirate Day, and were celebrating early. Malcom, my canoe's steer-er, was most enthused about being a pirate. While the rest of the group helped hide oars high in trees, string them out over the lake by tying them off to a stump about 20 feet off shore, and hide the last pair of oars underneath a canoe in the grass; he and I planned out our walking route to get to the campsite, and composed a pirate riddle, which we subsequently tied to a tall plant for the next group to find. The riddle read something like this:

"Heeeear yee!
He who seeks ye oars strung above the salty seas, like ye brethren, must first be findin' hidden treasures aground.
-The mullet scalping, viking dueling, pirate espionage squaaaarrrd"

As it turned out, the group that ended up finding these oars dangling overhead never saw the amusing note, because they were busy tending to their leader, who was having an asthma attack upon seeing this new challenge. They had been the most lost out of any other group, never found their campsite to sleep at, which meant they also never got to replenish their water for day 2. So basically, the pirates made a new enemy, instead of entertaining friends. They also didn't find the two oars we left for them on land, so one of them tried to wade out into the lake to get the oars strung out over the water; then they returned to the land and used a big stick to gondola out to the stump and untie the oars. Sucks to be them.

_more later_

p.s. here's a topo map of the area we hiked.

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