Because of the stupidification of the United States, we no longer use the word ‘protagonist’ much. Unless you’re an English Lit major or just want to be made fun of for knowing words, I guess. Anyhow, it is completely useless to call me the ‘hero’ of this story, even if the general population now calls any main character of any story the ‘hero’.

So our intrepid PROTAGONIST is now climbing out of an incline train, clinging like an insect (a sweaty, nervous, panicky, non-hero insect) to the cage walls with a grip that could have cracked walnuts. I didn’t want to swing out all gracefully, miss my footing, and fall twelve feet or whatever it was that looked suspiciously like fifty feet at the time. So I clung like one of those slow-motion stickbugs the kids find in the yard and call their friends and parents over to see. You know the ones. They spend hours laboriously navigating some hosta while the kids “Oooh” and “Aaahh.” Then the kids move them right back where they started and they begin thinking of suicide just for the relief of it.

I digress, but now you get the feeling of the situation. There was a footstep mounted on the rear of the train. I got a foot on it. I reached my hand around and found firm grip. I went around the end of the train and found myself standing on that wire-grate foot tread, looking down through the tracks, past the cables and past the ladder I’d now have to climb. I would, once I started, be staring down at a drop below me for the whole climb. Or I could crank my head back and look up the ladder, risking neck strain.

I chose the neck strain, perfectly happy in that decision.

Now we all must digress for a moment to discuss Dry Tops. Mine was new. I got it because I don’t usually paddle in Colorado. I had always made do with a few layers surmounted by a splash jacket. For this trip, though, I whipped out the plastic borrow-money-from-the-evil-corp card and got me a Dry Top. It was (and is) a Stohlquist jacket in the godawfullest purple and teal colors. The colors I assume they don’t make any more because everyone finally wised up and realized that the Eighties were, at the time, a decade past and we should retire those colors forever. That’s not important to our story, though. What’s important is that
1) The top was, as stated, a dry one. Meaning it has rubber gaskets for the neck and wrist holes. The upshot of this is that you stay dry on splashy rivers, even when upside down. The downside is that you must hold your breath while struggling out of it at the end of the day, because the insides of the top smell like the insides of a marmot that have been outside the marmot for too long.
B) The top also sported a natty collar lined with fluffy polartech. This has come in handy since, but only in the water. Never climbing up a ladder in full sunlight on a warmish day.
III) It was expensive.

The drytop in question, still extant, though gorilla tape is currently holding the neck gasket in place.

I hadn’t wanted to tie the top around my waist or anything for fear that it’d work itself loose and fall where I couldn’t retrieve it.

Now, I didn’t want to keep dragging the sleeve along a gritty, greasy cable and mess it all up, while simultaneously straining myself to the point where I was probably sweating a prehistoric ocean into the thing. Primordial Soup and the inevitable results were cooking up inside this thing, while on the outside the Primordial Goop that resulted were smearing on and piling up. I was a history of biology lecture in action.

No way Colorado Kayak Supply was taking this thing in as a return, y’know wha’m sayin’?

My exertions partly came from the fact that I was hurrying. Gollum’s voice echoed in my cooking brain, “Less haste, more speed, my precious.” I had to get some distance between me and that damned train in case it fired up again. There was plenty of distance to be had, if I could only make use of it. There was a long climb to go, and it wasn’t the kind of climb you can make with your head cranked back to watch for helpful faces at the top of the gorge, as it turns out.

Looking down at the track (“Look at the track, not at the drop. Look at the track, not at the drop”) I couldn’t help but notice that there were, every so often, missing bolts. The first time I noticed, it was a little funny. “Oh, there’s a bolt missing there. Glad they didn’t miss any more. The ladder might not be sa… oh, there’s another missing bolt. Three… four. %$#@>” After a bit, it was easy to see that the ladder didn’t actually NEED all its bolts at the moment. Even with my two-hundred-plus weight on it, it wasn’t moving around or sagging or anything alarming at all. Which isn’t to say that I wasn’t INTERESTED in the missing bolts. What kind of penny pinching misers had made the decisions on this ladder? Enquiring minds want to know.

I’ve read that there are a great many activities you can do while counting. Counting is a job that our brains can carry on while our bodies do any number of familiar tasks. You can, for instance, climb a ladder while counting. And if, while counting missing bolts in a very important ladder, you reach 36, and find that you’re growing tired of limb, and no longer climbing over a drop, but are very close to a rock shelf, you stop and rest.

Which is what we’ll do here. I did, and you can too. We’re a little over halfway to the top. We’re standing on a handy boulder right beside the tracks, we’ve counted 36 holes where bolts should have been that some accountant somewhere was glad to have provided me, and we’ve wrecked the right sleeve of my formerly very nice dry top. I’m keeping a wary eye on both the top of the gorge above and the immobile train below, knowing that I’ll soon have to get back on the ladder where it leads up and away from my boulder while outpacing that train if it starts moving again.

And so, I’ll meet you here for part 9.