So I climbed out. The old guy working on the train, or at least working on the overworked mechanism that dragged trains up and down the crack track, said I was the only one who’d done what I did. It’s very possible he didn’t know, though. I mean, if someone else lost a boat under the bridge, chances are he or she could have just ridden the train back up. My failure was in waiting around until the train was broken before losing my paddle and my boat. The story would not be so entertaining or as long, if only my timing had been better.
So the word goes out that some idiot has appeared in the little theme park out of, well, not NOWHERE, but I didn’t come in through the front door. Where, importantly, I guess, the ticket booth is. In the time it took me to stagger off of the track and get my bearings (meaning to see where the nearest water fountain is- I was dying for water) the management sent a flunky. I thought “Oh, what’s this kid here for? To make sure I’m alright? To see if I need assistance? To offer food or rest in an air conditioned medical office before sending me on my way?”
No. He watched me like a hawk without saying more than “Hey.” He watched as I got my long drink of water. He watched as I scanned the area for the exit. He followed me as I slogged out of the little theme park. He was there to make sure I didn’t have any fun or ride any rides or purchase any souvenir candles after having sneaked in the back door. As I walked out into the parking lot, he turned and went back to whatever his usual job is- sweeping, dishing out ice cream, and sprinkling kitty litter on toddler vomit… or something. I DO hope that playing Sergeant At Arms for seven minutes was the highlight of his theme-park career. Punk.
So. The parking lot. It’s a nice one. There’s landscaping and the typical (for the time) faux-carved-wood signage. I looked around, hoping to see not only a truckload of my friends, but lots of boats strapped to the top of the truck. LOTS of boats, including one mottled white Perception Corsica Matrix. No luck.
Honestly, I had no way to gauge how long the rest of the trip was for anyone in a boat. This was my first trip into the area, and I’m one of those tagalongs who doesn’t look at the maps so much. So I could only hope that they didn’t finish the run an hour ago, come by here looking for me, decide I’d already gotten a ride somehow, and taken off to the campground. Surely, if they got here and didn’t find me, they’d have asked someone if a kayaker had ridden the train out of the gorge and come through the park. They’d have then been told the train wasn’t working, and they’d have gotten concerned… you get the idea. Things might have gone differently.
So I sat on a large and generally well-placed rock to await my friends, and to get news of my stray gear.
This might have been boring, except there were fraternity boys in the parking lot, too. They had a big white Econoline van. Never a dull moment with a bunch of fraternity brothers and their van to watch. I need to mention the deer, too. As with a lot of rustic tourist destinations, deer wander around the parking lot of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Theme Park. Black tail deer, I think, but you’d have to ask someone who can tell one deer from another to know for sure. I would have asked Dennis, but he was driving the truck that was… not here. You get the idea.
Deer in public vacation spots learn to think of people as sources of tasty tidbits, and probably as sources of eye-stinging flashes as everyone takes photos of deer taking tasty tidbits from vacationers. Fraternity boys are NOT like other vacationers. Other vacationers do not try to offer tasty tidbits to deer while luring them into vans. There are people who use treats to lure animals and other people into white econoline vans, but the six-o’clock news usually calls them something other than Fraternity Brothers. And the photos of such people are usually taken in front of courthouses while officers shove the photographers out of the way.
But as usual, I digress. I sat serenely, quietly, and happily as I speculated what would happen when the guys got that deer into their van. There were three or four guys in the van holding out chips and things. There were two other guys (presumably the driver and the shotgun) who were luring the deer closer to the wide van door.
I figured that if the first part of the Frat Guys’ plan worked out (“Dude, WE just hold out food until it gets in the van, then YOU close the door, dude”) then the second part of their plan (“And we just drive away with our own deer, dude”) would not come off so well. I assumed that if the deer went in, and the driver got the sliding door shut, that the van would then rock, roll, and generally be kicked into pieces from the inside, and then I could watch as the driver and shotgun piled in to do something about the blood, hair, teeth and limbs that were flying around inside the van. …Then I could tell the police what happened. That was MY plan.
Neither my plan nor their plan worked out. Their plan depended on the deer being hungry, gullible and docile. My plan depended on the deer being hungry, gullible and homicidally panicked. The deer, being none of those things in particular, took one look at the van full of grinning guys holding out Doritos, then turned and left.
I was very grateful then, when the truckload of my friends came for me. Good timing. I don’t know the odds of another vanload of guys showing up to entertain me with their untimely demises were, but probably not so hot.
My boat wasn’t on the truck. Damn. Now, I’d have to get another one- either borrowing from someone else on the trip or buying a new one outright, which is an expense I hadn’t budgeted on. Oddly, I worried that I could drown on such a trip. But knowing the expense would be paid by life insurance, the money didn’t worry me. Being alive and needing a new boat worried me, though.
I lamented the loss of the boat out loud a couple of times on the way to the restaurant, until Dennis broke down and admitted that they were playing a joke on me. He then told me of the sharp-eyed find of my boat, wedged on a rock- the white bottom of the boat nearly lost in the white froth covering it. They’d loaded it on the OTHER truck and were going to spring it on me later. I laughed, relieved… and happy to be part of a gag. After the day I’d had, I was happy to be part of anything fun- meaning anything that didn’t involve finding my way out of a gorge.
My paddle, it turns out, had been spotted too, though not retrieved. Dr. Alan ‘Sonny’ Salomon, who hadn’t felt up to paddling on flood-stage water that day (the man’s a genius), was the one to spot it. He was at the take-out awaiting us. He said it went by, out in the middle of the river, turning end over end . Waving buh-bye, as it were.
It has been uncharitably speculated that it’s probably holding up a clothesline in Mexico now.