Monday, August 16, 2010

See You in Valhalla!

Or, How I Became a Viking and Helped to Win a Cardboard Boat Race!

A lot of characters I have met this summer through the "Lazy Lizard" hostel in Moab. Insane ones, drug addicted ones, rock climbing ones, river guiding ones, tourists, French tourists, boy tourists, girl tourists, father and son tourists, seasonal volunteer park rangers, seasonal restaurant workers, promiscuous oil geologists, people moving cross country, mountain bikers, people with hyponatremia, all kinds indeed you might say.

Chris P, or "Philly Chris", arrived in Moab about a month before I did. He is a graduate of the Park Ranger Academy and is endevouring to become a park ranger. He knows about tazers and the desert and weapon take-backs. Something I like about Chris is that we both used to work in fancy restaurants on the East Coast, both started to hate it, and both decided to move out West. He used to be a head chief in Philadelphia, I was a head waiter in Washington, DC.

Chris P also impressed me with one of the better car-living in set-ups I have seen: A Chevy Colorado with a topper, where false plywood bottoms have been built over the bed to provide storage space below the sleeping / "living" space above. Slide-in plastic containers under the false floor held food and miscellaneous equipment, and two trap doors at the front of the bed allowed access to upper storage that way. Chris also had the remarkable habit of taking his bed out of the truck each night and putting it on the roof to sleep there, enjoying the breeze.

Sometime around mid-July a lot demographically changed in the hostel. A few seasonal workers, including Chris, had moved out to houses or apartments around Moab. A few more climbers / explorers / hippies who were hanging out for a while left to explore new environs. An unfortunate personal conflict or two prompted a few more to move out.

I came over to visit Chris at his new place South of town. He presented me with this pamphlet from the Library about a Cardboard Boat-Race it was sponsoring. Of course I instantly agreed to devote a significant amount of my summer towards constructing such a vessel, and an emotional debate quickly ensued over whether we should build a viking ship or a pirate ship. Finally, we settled on a viking ship, and set out to consult the internet on Cardboard Boat Building Tips.

We met again to sketch a few designs, and settled on a 13 ft long 6-man vessel. Over the next several months we stockpiled cardboard from all over Moab in a shed by Chris and Arland (roomate)'s house. Chris made deals with stores all over town- furniture and glass outlets especially- to get access to their dumpsters. Eventually we wound up with about twice as much as we needed. Especially handy were fountain beverage syrup boxes Chris was able to get from his restaurant job. They made great seats, and also went into the Dragon neck/head.

We all helped with design and measurements but Chris took ownership over most of the project, turning vague ideas into actual markings on actual cardboard.

After breaking the boxes down flat, and removing any staples they had in them, we glued together our sections with wood glue. We used rocks from Arland's landscaping to hold the pieces together while the glue dried. We also duct taped everything together to hold it in place, re-enforce the bond of the glue, and prevent leaks.

Time past. We did a little bit each day, mostly when Chris wasn't working, though to our credit Arland and I put the front up by ourselves... although we did make a brief detour hike to check out flash flood damage to the right hand of Mill Creek before we we got really serious. We spent a lot of time debating bow angles... and finally just kinda cut it so it fit and decided to go with that.

The last week before the race I went go raft the Gates of Lodore stretch of the Green River through Dinosaur National Monument. It was a great trip, though I felt kind of bad about not being there for the final finishing stages of the project. However, what I found when I came back was truly awesome...

The night before the race we finalized our costumes. We had previously watched this great movie for ideas about what Vikings wear, what they talk about, and how they act. However, all the Vikings in the movie lived in Iceland and tended to wear really warm clothes. We were going to have to adapt it somewhat for desert conditions.

I went with furry loincloth, head band, boots and wool socks, sword and shield with a spraypaint stencil version of the swedish Dalahäst (Dala Horse). In this picture I am wearing the viking hat that Chris actually wore the day of the race (and yes, I know "Real Vikings" didn't have horns coming out of their helmets, but that does not change the fact that horns coming out of helmets looks really awesome!)

Finally the big day came. Chris and our team had realized our vision. We had a badass 14 foot viking ship. Just goes to show, sometimes dreams can come true.

We added some cardboard to the trailer to make it longer and softer and drove about 15 mph with the hazard lights on up Spanish Valley Drive to Ken's lake.

By the time we got there, a whisper campaign had already been started. Cars that passed us had brought the word, "There's a Viking Ship Coming!"

We carried it off the trailer and placed it next to the lake. People agreed it was pretty bad ass. I mean... we had a Dry Ice Reservoir in the mouth that was connected to SMOKING NOSTRILS! Some photographers and bystanders took our pictures.

From left to right, the crew of The Dark Crow, Arland, Christian, Forrest, Chris P, Torry, and someone from Chris P's job... I think his name was Eric.

Things moved fast... we struggled to get our crew together and get life jackets on so we wouldn't delay the launch. Some things we had planned on doing we didn't do as the excitement was getting to our heads. Finally, we all got paddles and PFDs on and got into the boat. While Chris P was the Team Captain, it was agreed that the first mate, myself, would be acting Captain while on the water. As I was the only one of our crew to have a commercial Utah Whitewater Captain License, and I have Captained paddle rafts before, this only made sense.

There were a few other boats at the race, though not as many as we had hoped. Also we seemed to be the only adult team there.

However, that did not hinder our enthusiasm (fanaticism?) for victory, which we would accomplish, valiantly.

We launched...

The crowds watched.... though only a few of them were wise enough to bring camping chairs. In this photograph it is clear which vessel is in the lead.

In addition to the "Forward" and "Back" commands, we decided I should yell "Stroke" each time we paddled. This made sense as we hadn't had much of a time to work out a real paddle talk before hand, so it both sounded dramatic and improved our coordination.

At each stroke I noticed the boat seemed to want to veer a little to the right. I am not sure if this is the result of a design flaw or simply due to a lopsided placement of paddlers, with perhaps stronger ones on the left. At any rate I was able to compensate mostly by ruddering and a few broad sweeps on the right, though a few times we did a group "back left, right forward" to get back on track.

Using such paddle raft techniques we were able to turn 'round the half way mark buoy with ease. Here we are just having done so coming on on the home stretch.

Finally all of us made it back. Some boats had disintegrated and sunk. Some had returned under their own power. But only ONE had SIX VIKINGS IN IT AND WON FIRST PLACE!

We let out a victory roar!

Luckily, as I mentioned earlier, we had seen "The Viking Sagas" and were prepared for how to accept victory with grace and honor becoming of a viking. Though sparing of the women and the servants, we forced our defeataed competitors, and any other bystanders who were interested, to wear life jackets, pick up a paddle, and enjoy boat rides around Ken's Lake on the Viking Ship!

Here Forest, one of our crew (sitting bow-starboard), takes such a crowd for one of two post-race victory laps.

The hull remained intact and water proof throughout. The caulking, polyurethane, duct tape and paint did its job!

After the race we retired to Chris and Arlands' for victory Bacon Cheeseburgers on the grill. Several Viking Groupies and Viking Maidens in Training attended. After eating I left to go visit someone in Durango, which became a bit of an arduous adventure in itself! But more on that later....


Chris kept the main trophy and our whole crew got small golden boat shaped ones to keep.

I wonder what we'll build next year- and how many more Moabites will be inspired by our brave example to take the race more seriously and try to beat our record!

1 comment:

  1. This Viking descendant thinks this is absolutely fricken awesome. Wish I was there. The dry ice out the nostrils is great.