We all have that one friend that inspires a level of stupidity that nobody else can. It is a sense of adventure, a desire to just do this one thing, because, well, what else is going on today. This friend for me was my cousin, Scott.
We were young, dumb, adventurous and too stubborn for our own good. Scott would come up with an idea, and since I looked up to him so much, I was on board. Sometimes it played out like a children’s adventure novel. Sometimes it ended in a “What the hell were we thinking moment”. Honestly the latter is my favorite.
I was fourteen at the time. We all know the thoughts that run through a guys head at that age. Scott started telling me about this raft that he was building with a friend, Jason, to go on a cross county trip down the Pigeon River. It was just barely bigger than a creek, but the idea was too good to pass up.
Scott had already made plans on how to build this raft. And let me tell you. it was ugly. I missed out on the early versions of the raft designs and thought I had missed the good stuff. There is nothing good about a picnic table, an old R.V. door, and 3 metal 55 gallon drums.
We made this ugly contraption that proved to float. The test trip nearly killed us. I lost my hat, and in a bout of pure idiocy, jumped off the raft to catch it. I got pinned against a down tree trying to save this $10 hat. With no way to get past the tree on the surface I had to swim under. I can swim well enough, so I kicked around to check for any obstructions and with all the wisdom of a 14 year old, I went under.
Thankfully, there was nothing to get caught on and I came out on the other side with my hat only to find another issue. We had lost one of our oars. Down the river I went to get the paddle. It was one my uncle made, so we didn’t want to lose this.
That little episode ended and we went about the rest of the test trip. Then it got dark. We had packed no lights, we had no phone and we were stuck. We paddled to the shore through the lily pads and made our way to the shore using only the light of Jason’s lighter. Until it exploded.
After walking 15 miles, or 50 feet it’s hard to tell, we found the road. It was pitch black out. We couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. Fantastic.
At this point we were fed up and ready to call it a day, and possibly cancel the trip. I think this feeling lasted in all of us for about 11 seconds. By the time we had walked back to the truck, we were pumped for the rafts recovery and the big trip.
The next day we went to get the raft and start making plans for the trip. We figured three days would be enough for the distance we needed to travel. It was somewhere around 20 miles. We had this. They even wrote an article about us in the newspaper. It HAD to be done now. Our pride was on the line.
After about a week of planning we were ready. The River was slow, and we knew we had three dams to get by. These were our only obstacles. This was a piece of cake. We loaded up three days of gear and food and set off at the county line. It was real now.
Little did we know that just earlier that week they had dropped the water level to make some repairs on the dams. When we loaded up our gear and sat down on the raft, we hit bottom. Yep, that was a good sign. Oh well, it’s just a low spot here, right? Let’s do this!
We went with that mentality for a few hours. Soon the water would be deeper and we could float and have some fun. We were dedicated. A rough start wouldn’t stop us. What stopped us was a large tree. A ridiculously large tree. Laying across the river.
At about 3 hours in we realized we had screwed up pretty bad. Those three hours were spent dragging a 600 pound raft through ankle and at the most shin deep water. Now we had a tree blocking us. We were exhausted already and didn’t want to entertain the idea of lifting the raft over this plan killing tree.
So we sat, staring in defeat. We sat for almost an hour before a very happy group of drunken canoers came by. They were loud, but enthusiastic. We explained our plans to them, as part of their crew yelled over us in the background. Finally Chief Drunk says to his friends, “Grab a side guys”, and they carry this raft around the tree.
The steep bank and the mud was no obstacle for these guys that couldn’t stand up straight in their 9 a.m. drunken state. They dropped it down on the other side, cracked open another beer and paddled away. They were a pretty cool group of guys to have come across you at a low point in the trip. The lift they brought to our spirits was short lived.
The hours dragged by like the 600 pound raft. Slow and painful. We had made plans to set up camp that night in a small town and call the parents to let them know we were still alive. It was a good plan. There were even a few times we thought luck was on our side, as we got to float on the raft and make some real progress.
This was all a fluke. The raft hated us and wanted to kill us. We had left about 6:00 a.m. and were beyond exhausted. As darkness made it’s way in we finally had enough. We broke open the lid to one of the barrels and threw all of our supplies inside it. We watched as the raft sank to the bottom of the river and we set our other barrels on the shore to be retrieved later.
We had had enough. Scott floated the barrel of survival down the river until we found a place to set up camp. We got on shore and saw that we had been going for 13 hours. The real disappointment hadn’t even hit us yet. That was a few hours away.
We set up camp and went to bed defeated and drained. Suddenly we hear a a scratching on the tent. Jason and I both shot up out of our sleeping bags, scared of what was scratching. Scott on the other hand was laughing uncontrollably as we realized it was just a raccoon. Solid support there.
The next morning we got up and got moving so we could get to town and call the parents. We had not gotten to call them the night before like we had planned. We knew they would be worried sick, so we got an early start. We loaded the barrel and went back into the river.
For the next 45 minutes or so we trudged along in sediment and muck. Leeches set up camp between our toes and up our legs. Water had gotten in the barrel and ruined Scott and Jason’s cigarettes. The light was ruined the previous day so that didn’t matter much anyway. Disappointment and frustration had taken over.
In a much needed stroke of luck, as we approached a bridge we saw a cross over. It was Scott and Jason’s moms. They had gone out looking for us early that morning after not hearing from us the night before.
After explaining what had happened and how we abandoned the raft we loaded into the back of the truck and headed for home. As we passed a side road we had the biggest disappointment hit us. In our 13 hours of dragging our pride and joy raft for our epic adventure, we had gone just 3 miles.
It is one of my favorite memories. Scott passed away a few years ago after a rough bout with Liver Cancer. He was 34. This is just one of the stupid things we did. There are more adventures to come. I can’t think of a better tribute to him than to entertain others with our times.