Monday, June 3, 2013

Dog Paddling

Our friends, Larry and Heidi, invited us to spend Memorial weekend with them camping two nights and canoeing 20 or (depending on who was reading the map) 30 miles on the Platte River.  It’s been at least three years since we have canoed and even longer since we’ve camped so we were out of practice, but we thought, why not.  Just because the last time we went on a camping and canoeing trip with these friends it was cold and rainy and we didn’t see the sun until the last day didn’t mean the weather would be bad this time.  And just because we tore a gash in the side of our canoe when we hit a limestone wall as we were frantically paddling through boulder strewn rapids on the Smith River with these friends didn’t mean we couldn’t have a leisurely float with them this time.  So I said, let’s check the weather forecast every day until we leave and if the prediction is warm and dry with no wind … let’s do it!  And while we’re at it, since Larry and Heidi have also invited another couple we‘ve never met, Bob and Laura, let’s test our friendship by bringing a 75 pound “puppy” along for his first experience floating in a canoe and sleeping in a tent.

We all met at a pre-arranged spot, strapped our gear into the canoes, coaxed, sweet-talked, bribed and then shoved Angus into our canoe and pushed off.  Unfortunately, by that time it was late in the day, the wind had come up, and we were not only paddling into a head wind, we were being buffeted by cross winds.  Angus was constantly moving but it was from excitement, not nervousness.    Every time he saw a bird he would jump up, poised to leap, the canoe would sway from side to side and I would tense, waiting for the inevitable.  Let me tell you.  There are LOTS of birds flying around a river.  When he wasn’t jumping up and whining at a bird or walking from one side of the canoe to the other, he was stepping over the cross bars to get to the back where Dean was sitting.   When he got bored with Dean he’d move back over the cross bars to the front of the canoe right behind me.   Just as I would be paddling like crazy to try and keep us going forward as the wind was trying to push us backwards, Angus would lay his head on my shoulder and expect me to pet him.   When the bird population dropped enough that he felt he could ignore them for a moment, he would lean up against the side of the canoe, causing it to list, stick his head over the side and nonchalantly lap up river water.  

 The wind rippled the water and made paddling difficult but Angus’ bird-watching and river drinking made it nerve-wracking.   I know it probably wasn’t fair for me to blame Angus for every tilt and sway of the canoe but I did.  Especially since I had no idea what was going on behind me.  Each time the boat leaned I gripped the side, and as I waited for the water to take us, I yelled.  “Sit!  Lay down!  Sit! Get away from the side!  Please!  Lay down, Angus!  Sit! What’s he doing now?  Is he sitting?  Sit Angus!  Is he lying down?  What’s going on?    Where is he?  Angus!  Sit!  Sit Angus!  Chew on your bone.  Chew on your stick.  Is he sitting?  What are you doing?  What’s he doing?  Oh, no, there’s another bird.  Angus!  Stay!  Staaaaaaaay ………….. staaaaaay ….. staaay …. stay! ….. Angus!  Stay!  Sit!  Sit, Angus!”

That was day one.   A four-mile, hour-long canoe ride that felt like a lifetime.  We almost backed out after that.  We fully intended to walk the five or so miles back to our car and admit defeat but Larry and Heidi and Laura and Bob talked us into staying.  Maybe listening to frantic yelling while they watched a wobbly canoe was good entertainment, or maybe they wanted to test their rescue skills if Angus did dump us into the river, or … maybe there were beers riding on exactly how and when the likely event of our dunking would occur.   Later, as we were all relaxing and visiting at our campsite, I wondered how much beer it would take to make a 75 pound dog lethargic.  Would it only take a little since he would be in a canoe being gently rocked to sleep?    Or would it take a lot because of all the stimulation from birds and wildlife?  Joking.  I was just joking.  Really.  I wouldn’t give him any.  That would be dog abuse.  But just out of curiosity, how much beer would a 75 pound dog have to drink in order to become mellow and sleepy? 

First night's campsite
We started out early on day two hoping to beat the wind.   The water was calm and Dean and I were much more relaxed as we glided along quietly with only the whisper of our paddles through the water.   Now and then I’d hear a muffled word softly spoken from one of the other canoes, or the quiet crunch of a stick being chewed behind me.  Angus even actually lay down in the boat or rested his head on the side intermittently for almost 45 seconds at a time – until he saw a bird or heard the slap of a beaver tail or the crack of elk hooves clambering over rocks.   All at once he would jump up, the canoe would rock and the tranquility would be shattered by staccato bursts of our frantic dog commands.

Day two had been so much more relaxing and enjoyable that we all decided to sleep in and have a leisurely pancake breakfast before we set off on the last morning’s paddle, which I welcomed because I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep the first night Angus slept in our tent.  He had started at our feet.  Then he moved to my side, then Dean’s side, then between us, then right on top of my legs and once I woke up and looked straight into a big black nose.   

Second night's campsite
As it turned out, we needed that extra sleep because day three was Day One Déjà vu with the addition of a goose; a goose that stubbornly chose to float and honk just ahead of our canoe.  When we paddled faster to try and scare it into flying away, the goose paddled a little faster maintaining the same distance ahead of us.  Angus was so tense with excitement he nearly vibrated.  He whined and cried and barked but the goose just kept floating and honking.  I yelled at Angus.  Dean yelled at Angus.  I yelled at the goose.  Nobody listened.  “This is it,” I thought.  “This is it.  So close to the end and he’s going to launch himself after that goose and dump us.”   

He didn’t.  But that was only because Dean decided to beach the canoe for a bit, wait for the others to catch up, and give that taunting feathered fowl time to get ahead of us.  Otherwise, I’m convinced instead of enjoying one last beer on the bank with our friends, I would have been drinking river water as I floated down the river clutching my life jacket in terror, wishing I’d given Angus a beer for breakfast.

Not as much fun as a river.



Jerry said...

Poor Angus

Abby said...

I think 2 beers would do it, just for future reference.