Scotto’s Bachelor Party on the T
You can say what you want about the sanctity of marriage. You can say 50% of marriages end in divorce. You can say it’s an antiquated institution that’s no longer necessary in modern society. And to you I say this: If marriage is nothing more than an excuse to get all your best buds together to float some of the best whitewater in the world while pushing your liver to its limit, then I say it’s worth it (No honey, of course that’s not why we’re getting married).
We were loading boats and gear when those friends of mine who’re either irresponsible enough to take off work for a Thursday and Friday or unemployed enough not to have to, started showing up at Clavey HQ. There would be ten of us all together – Jeff and Tom of course; John Finger of Hog Island who can never say no to the possibility of not catching any fish; Frank Wheeler (the token Republican); our good buddy Tony Negro who would, in good buddy fashion, dutifully accept anything negative which might happen on the trip (ticket from the CHP, broken finger); my brother-in-law and public defender Mark Briscoe (he’d come in handy for sure); a couple of my barely employed buddies from LA, Crawford and Hansenmum; Michael Ingram, my physical doppleganger; and joining us on the second day of the trip would be Scott Armstrong of All Outdoors, who would row in with more beer and ice.
The Tuolumne is one of those funny rivers that isn’t really all that far away but always seems like it’s in another time zone whenever we start talking about a trip. A paltry four hours after shutting the doors at Clavey* we were rolling into Casa Loma. (*One of the fun things about closing the doors at Clavey for a long weekend is coming back to the complaints from the people who claim we’re never open when they come by. We’re open six days a week, all year long, with the exception of one to two river trips where we’ll close down on Friday and Saturday. This trip was no exception and we came back to the shop on Monday to a voicemail from a guy claiming he had driven to the shop from Wisconsin looking for an A-7 valve. You’d think it would be easier to have us ship it to him but some guys are looking for any excuse to get out of the house – “Honey, I’m gonna drive over to California for a five dollar part for the raft. Do you need anything?”
Tom had offered to make dinner for the All Outdoors Cherry Creek crew at the guide shack that night. Somehow Tom’s dinner became John’s dinner and we started our trip with Finger making an insane clam and spanish chorizo pasta and about four thousand raw oysters.
We re-covered their gravel driveway with so many bivalve shells that future archeologists in the next millennium will come to the conclusion that Casa Loma was at one time covered by the Pacific Ocean. If I remember correctly, there may have been a beer in there somewhere also. If only I could remember correctly.
The take-out for Cherry Creek is the put-in for the Wild & Scenic run of the T. So Friday morning, Tony took off with the AO crew to run Cherry Creek while the rest of us took off for Meral’s Pool to rig the boats. The water on the Tuolumne is released from Hetch Hetchy and takes a few hours to fill the first rapid with enough water to make it almost runnable. So by the time the water began to rise, we knew the Cherry Creek crew wouldn’t be far behind. Tony’s a guy who’s run all the big runs in the Western US, but his brother’s drowning on Cherry Creek ten years previously had kept him from getting on the run himself. The first thing we saw on Tony’s boat as he rowed into Meral’s Pool that first morning was the huge shit eating grin on his face. With the exception of crushing the tip of his finger between the frame and the oar on the final rapid, they couldn’t have had a better trip.
I love the Tuolumne River. I love the camps. I love the whitewater. I love the hikes. But something I don’t love is the very first rapid, Rock Garden. I can’t think of better way to start a three day trip on a solid class IV river than to get stuck on the very first rapid. That must be why I do it every single freakin’ time. And this time was no exception. I was running a stern rig on an Avon Expedition with Briscoe, Ingram, Crawford and Hansenmum up front. Normally, a set up like this is perfect for the T – plenty of control from the oars and lots of power from the paddlers – but not me, not at Rock Garden. If you know the T, you know you come in right, hit this eddy that doesn’t exist in the center of the river after negotiating your way through a minefield of rocks, most of which are just below the surface and then run the left side which is totally choked with boulders but feels like the middle of the Pacific Ocean after making your way through the right side. In a perfect world, the first boater will hit the eddy, hop on the big rock and catch the stern line of the following boat and pendulum them into the eddy. That’s not the world I row my boat in.
Jeff, the old ex-T guide that he is, missed all the rocks and then slipped his boat perfectly into the eddy, hopped onto the big rock and waited for my stern line to be thrown his way. He’d be waiting for a while. About fifteen feet into a quarter mile rapid, I crabbed an oar, spun the boat 180º from where I needed to be and lost Crawford to a rock on the middle river. As luck was with me, it was then that I completely lost my downstream oar and bounced right past the eddy I so desperately wanted to be sitting in. About this time, two words came to mind and the first one rhymed with truck. One good thing about Rock Garden at this level, you don’t have to worry about going too far the wrong way – you’re bound to get caught on something and we were no exception. Its funny how you spend years on the river trying to stay away from the rocks and the one time you want to be actually stuck on a rock so you can take a breath, survey the situation, maybe put your oar back in the oarlock, someone will begin bouncing up and down like a five year old on an inflatable jumpie, trying to get the boat dislodged. “Hey! Stop that!” The offended paddler looked back at me momentarily and then began bouncing up and down again. What is it about men that even the laziest of us will gladly chip in to help when our help is desperately unwanted. I explained myself a little more clearly the second time, put my oar where it might be a touch more useful and threw a line to Jeff who was clearly excited to be starting the trip in such an auspicious manner. We got my boat in the eddy, gave Crawford a quick lesson in ,“How to hold on to a throw rope while being pulled across a raging river”. He heard about every third word I said but figured the gist of the conversation was, “Don’t let go”. And then we got back in the boat for the remaining 95% of the rapid.
Remember when I described the left side of Rock Garden as the Pacific Ocean? That being the case, I first hit Hawaii and then careened off Tahiti, the Marquesas and seven other lesser known Society Islands before finally jamming the boat between Australia and New Zealand. Thirty minutes later all said and done and we were finally through the first rapid. At this rate it would take us just under a month to get to camp. And of course if they turn on the water at Hetch Hetchy it means they at some point are going to turn off the water as well.
Rock Garden made me take a hard look at my rowing, my paddlers, my boat, the weight in my boat. I decided we couldn’t go into Nemesis with all the weight we currently had in the boat and made the crew lighten our load by exactly five cans of beer. The overburden of beer had clearly been the issue because we were now at the top of our game, punching holes, surfing waves avoiding all but the most inviting of rocks.
I’m one of those guys that, no matter how many times I run a river, I can remember a grand total of maybe three rapids. On the Tuolumne I remember Rock Garden, I remember Clavey and I spend the rest of the time shouting over to Tom or Jeff, “What’s the story here?” I don’t bother asking the name. I’m happy if I can remember, “Go left, move right, avoid the big hole in the center”. All I can tell you about anything between the debacle at the first rapid and Clavey is that we must have gone left, moved right and avoided the big hole in the center. In the midst of Ram’s Head, Tony and Frank were getting awfully warm so Tom was nice enough to oblige them with a swim. I would have waited for the pool at the bottom of the rapid, but I’m not as adventurous as some. At Clavey we took a brief scout and hit it perfect. Or so I was told. When we hit the hole, I came flying off the slant board and spent the remainder of the rapid trying to get up off the floor. And those are the three rapids I can remember.
We pulled into camp at Indian Creek and began running our livers through the gauntlet. The key to drinking and not getting fall-over, sloppy, drunk, is to involve yourself in some form of rigorous challenging exercise intensive sport followed by a light meal. We played bocci ball and ate 2 lb ribeyes. The bocci ball was intense. For my bachelor party I had surrounded myself with whitewater warrior athletes and I couldn’t remember a time when the competition had been more fierce. Of course, I couldn’t remember the last rapid we had run before getting to camp either.
But I could sure remember those steaks. They were pretty good like Michael Jordan was a pretty good basketball player.
The next two days were more of the same. Fantastic food. Cold beer. Awesome rapids. And great friends. Scott Armstrong rowed in that second morning with more provisions in his cooler, sitting on the floor of his boat…not even strapped down. It wasn’t like it was jammed between the thwarts either. His boat had two thwarts – one under his seat and one in the center to brace his feet on on. The cooler was just sitting there in front of the center thwart, just sitting there. Believe me when I tell you a cooler sitting on a flaccid boat floor is not a stable platform to jump on from one boat to another. And let me tell you something else: if you ever have an injured person on your trip and you don’t want them to ruin everybody else’s good time, you want Tony Negro to be that injured somebody. He’s the most stoic bastard you ever seen. The Monday after getting off the river, he went to get his hand x-rayed. The single tip of his finger had become multiple tips of the same finger. God help the group if I get a hangnail. You will not hear the end of how much I’m suffering. But not Tony. Showoff.
Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Kellogg, Mr. Meckfessel, Mr. Negro, Mr, Wheeler, Mr. Ingram, Mr. Finger, Mr. Briscoe, Mr. Crawford & Mr. Hansenmum, thank you gentlemen so very much for an unforgettable bachelor party. My only question is, we own a freaking rafting equipment company, why do I always have to get married for us to shut the doors and get on the water?