Day 20: The Clown Was From Phoenix
Today’s run takes us from camp at Indian Canyon at mile 207 to the upper camp at Two Hundred and Twenty Mile, another
large sandy beach on river right. The biggest rapid we’ll face, now that we’ve run Lava Falls, will be Two Hundred and
Nine Mile Rapid–an easy right run, unless you choose to punch through the big hole in the center.
For some reason, David Perez decides to run the hole.
“It was the demon alcohol that made him do it,” Craig Wolfson says.
Cece agrees. “It was the shot of moonshine he had before the rapid,” she says.
“No,” says David. “I just wanted to run the hole. You know, because it was there.” But then, after careful
consideration, he adds, “The Riesling did contribute.”
Of course, running the hole doesn’t necessarily lead to disaster. That’s what David was counting on, it turns out.
“I thought that I would hit it straight, and, uh, that the raft would stand up and then we’d wash over it, on the
other side. I thought at worst I would swim.” He pauses. “I did not think I would get a raft landing on my head.”
“Anything else you want to say about your run?” I ask David.
He stops to think for a moment. “I wouldn’t recommend it.”
I wouldn’t either. Cece Mortenson and I ran our rafts through just ahead of David, on the theory that we might be able
to pull a swimmer out of the water, or grab a wayward raft, if things go wrong. Which they quickly do. I watch David
line up on the hole–the big raft-eating hole I carefully skirted on the left side–and it seems ok. He’s approaching
sideways, making lateral adjustments, inching forward, backward, lining things up to give himself the best chance.
“And then,” he says, “when it was just a split second too late, I tried to turn my boat around and go in the hole.
Instead he goes in sideways. From my position below the rapid I see David’s raft stand up vertically, bow in the sky.
All I can see is the raft’s black bottom. I have time to think, ‘He’s either going to swim or flip’ and start to grab
the whistle on my life vest when the raft goes over. I start maneuvering my raft to intercept him, my toss line in hand
as I row.
What happened, I find out later, was that the raft’s aluminum deck–a flat metal surface lashed on top of the rubber
tube to provide a stable walking area and place to tie gear–that heavy metal plate smashed down onto David’s head when
his raft overturned.
“Well, so, my memory is, I went out, the raft went up, and there’s this giant piece of metal landing on my head,”
David says. “It seemed like there was a definite pause between me going in the water and the raft coming down on top
of me. And then I looked up and it was coming right at me.”
Luckily he was wearing a helmet–the only rapid on the entire trip that he wore a helmet for.
Z-Pulleys and Flip Lines
I completely miss my intercept, and David’s raft sails past. By this time David has climbed onto the upside-down raft,
and Cece catches hold. We get pushed downstream quite a ways before we are able to maneuver the overturned raft into a
small eddy on river right. We’re alone–the rest of the team is still running the rapid. We tie up our rafts and pull
David’s boat upstream to a small beach. Here Cece ties flip lines to the frame of the raft and rigs a 6-to-1 Z-pulley
system to a boulder. Richard Carrier, our Frenchman from Chile, arrives, and we try to flip the boat by standing on the
near-side tube and pulling hard on the flip lines, leaning into them with all our weight.
A fully loaded raft can weigh 2,000 pounds. Our weight is not enough. Eventually, though, a bunch of other boats arrive
and, with all of us hauling on the lines and climbing onto the near-side tube, we flip it over. Rescue over. David has
a sore neck, but the helmet probably kept him from far worse injuries. And we’re off, down the river.
Conch Shells and Shakespeare
Like her father, Cece is an instigator. We’re on supper crew and she completely disregards the recipe, concocting a
complicated array of food that uses all four burners of our camp stove, a Dutch oven, and even the propane blaster we
use to heat dish water. By the time she’s done every dish in the camp kitchen is dirty.
Why? She has arrange a party: she’s invited a group of rafters camped just downstream to a party. And the party, when
it arrives, is howling and dancing and singing, prancing along in full costume: a man in a clown suit, two men dressed
as Major John Wesley Powell (complete with missing arm), at least one cross-dresser in lingerie of some kind–not his
most risqué outfit, he says–and various other oddities. They’re a dance troupe, we find out, based in northern Arizona,
and share the dance community’s typical lack of inhibitions. Before the night is over a bottle of brandy has been
emptied, conch shells have been blown, drums have been beaten, Shakespeare has been recited, Cece loses a handstand
competition (never challenge a group of dancers and gymnasts), and we’ve enjoyed a fully theatricalized performance
of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.”
Pressed to respond in kind, our group calls on me. “We have a riddler,” they say. So now it’s up to me. I start with
the easy ones: the Riddle of the Sphinx (solved quickly); the Three Golden Walruses of the Anasazi (also solved quickly),
and then it’s on to level two.
The Truth teller and the Liar. This one has them stumped, and the party falls silent. One of them–she’s dressed in a
feathered headdress and some kind of tutu, I think–comments that my riddle-posing is “like a turd in a punch bowl.”
I move back to an easier one (Bob Goes to Work on a Ferry and Comes Home Early One Day) but, even though this one is
straight algebra, and they have a math professor among them, they’re still stumped. Tom Martin has me tell them the
answer–something I never do–but the party has lost momentum. Too much thinking, too little drum-banging. With a few
last soundings of their conch, the dance troupe marches off into the darkness and we’re alone again.
David Perez, who played the biggest part in emptying a bottle of brandy the dance troupe sent over a couple of hours
before the party, has slept through the entire drum-banging singing dancing howling clown-suited crossdressing event.