I may have mentioned in past columns that I travel a bit for my job and occasionally will sneak in a mini-vacation at the beginning or end of a business trip.
The lovely Kathy and I rarely go back to the same place twice, but we truly enjoyed our trip last summer to Banff National Park, west of Calgary in the Canadian Rockies, and its sister, Jasper National Park.
The three R's of vacationing: rain, rafting and river virgins
A very wet highlight of our trip to Canada was our foray into white water rafting on the Sunwapta River. It sure seemed like a good idea when we booked the trip - even after it started to sprinkle, shower and downpour on the ride to the river.
Our totally tattooed van driver noted that whitewater rafting was the perfect rainy day activity because you're going to be wet for the entire trip anyway. (Am I alone in thinking that there's going to be a lot of tattoo remorse about 40 years from now?)
The driver's comment made sense until I watched the outside temperature gauge start falling and the rain started coming down sideways. Because converting from centigrade to Fahrenheit is not possible in my brain, I didn't know how freaking cold it was until Mr. Tattoo enthusiastically opened the door and let us out into the elements and said, "It's a little brisk out there, eh?"
You have to love Canadians and their whimsical sense of humor.
Pretty soon we were in our rafting gear, which included goofy mittens, and before we knew it we were in the two rafts, with Kathy and me drawing the youngest of the two river guides. I like to try and chat up any person who holds my life in their hands and, while Class III rapids aren't Niagara Falls, our river guide looked a little on the young side. And he resembled Howdy Doody. I had a little concern after we signed a waiver explaining that death and/or dismemberment by the river or grizzlies could never be ruled out.
"So young man, how long have you been guiding rafts down the mighty Sunwapta?" I asked.
"I was afraid someone was going to ask that question, sir. I'm actually a rookie, or as the veteran guides like to call us, a river virgin."
"Oh." I replied. What little color I had in my face was now gone.
With no place to go but downriver, we set out, six strangers and the river virgin - our fates tied inextricably together. (Alright, it wasn't that dramatic, but I knew I was going to get a good column out of this.)
We followed the river virgin's every order: stroke right, back paddle, double-time, stand-up, sit-down, fight, fight, fight! It was good we were working so hard because the rain had turned to freezing spittle of sorts and my feet, knees and hands had lost all feeling.
If you like the terror of hurtling through mountain rapids with sharp rain pelting you while a 20-year-old river virgin barks orders, which you either follow or die, I have just the excursion for you!
Kathy reports that I'm a big baby and that it was great fun, just a little wet. I've included a couple of pictures, so you can be the judge.
Putting a finger on youthful indiscretions
Another wacky result of this quick vacation was going through U.S. Customs, which because of the high volume is done at the Calgary airport. Because I'm always looking for how to save a few minutes of travel, so I went through the extra screening process to get a Nexus card. With this card, I can precede to the eyeball scanner, which I reported in a previous column, gave me fits as I tried to follow the robotic voice of some lady telling me to back up, come closer, and move left until finally, in perhaps a first for a computer voice, I heard exasperation followed by, "For the love of God, line up your eyeballs, already!"
So this time I opted for the fingerprint scanner, figuring the opportunity to screw that up was limited. I placed my 59-year-old fingers on the pad, the machine whirred and spit out a pass with my picture, except this time there was giant black X through my face.
"Uh, oh," I thought, "this can't be good."
"Uh, oh. This isn't good," said the young customs officer, as I presented it to him. "You have the big black X!"
He then escorted me into the bowels of the Homeland Security area and there I sat behind a one way mirror, knowing full well somebody was watching my behavior for any insidious body language. Ten minutes, then 15 minutes went by and I could feel very tiny beads of sweat breaking through my forehead. At the 20 minute mark, I was pretty sure they were setting up the water-board table for me.
Then the very young man who had escorted me burst into the room and blurted, "What were you arrested for in 1973?"
"1973, 1973...," I was thinking back and then bingo, 1973!
My year of youthful indiscretions. Yes, that's plural and, yes, YIs were not limited to just 1973, but this was not my finest year. It was one of those years that forever make you especially considerate to your parents for all you've put them through when you finally grow up.
I was about to fess up, explaining that I was 19, and unusually immortal and stupid - a really bad combination. But my customs officer interrupted my thoughts.
"Hey, it's no big deal, for some reason we were told to flag you, but at least you didn't have 'tackle the detainee' label! Heck, I wasn't even born until 10 years after 1973! You're good to go, sir. Sorry for any inconvenience."
A wonderful family, music to a swimmer's ear
So, it was an eventful, short vacation and we were happy to extend it with some time on Lake Michigan.
I did develop a first-ever swimmers ear and was told by the doctor that I should blow dry my ear after swimming. I don't recollect blow drying my hair - now that much of it has taken a permanent vacation - well, ever! Kathy took a long look as I stood in front of the mirror with the blow dryer pointed into my ear. I think she thought about saying something, but just shook her head sadly and walked away.
I can inform you that when blow drying your ear, you should not have the heat on - particularly on the high setting. When I appeared on the deck, she said, "Either you have somehow managed to get sunburn on just your right ear, or I'd say your ear is officially well done."
Hey, this information might be useful for you in the future should you need to blow dry your ear.
The week ended with all of our children, their husbands and girlfriends and both grandsons joining us for an overdue reunion. Man, I would have never dreamed in 1973 that it would have been possible to have had a role in building a wonderful family. It's a good time of life!