Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Having a Grand time

Well, no getting around it; the summer's winding down. Again. This seems to happen every year. I know I'm jumping the gun a little; Labour Day was only a couple of days ago, and the trees are still green and the ground is still warm. But the sun comes up later and later and it gets dark earlier and earlier. Wasn't all that long ago it was light till past 10. Not anymore.

But it's still summer, both technically and practically (unless you just went back to school, I guess). There are still summery things to do.

P-Doug recently came across something about tubing down the Grand River, though the Elora Gorge. I'm not sure if he's had this in mind for some time now or anything, but it was something he was hoping to do with the summer. Oddly enough, the large amount of rain we've had this year postponed the plan a little a couple of weeks ago because the Grand was running too high, and the park that rents the equipment had suspended the rentals. But it was up and running again for the long weekend, so we decided to give it a go.

I guess it was a mark of just how much he wanted to do it that he was up so early; he came by to pick me up somewhere between 7:15 and 7:30 or so. I'm used to getting in touch with him for 9:30 or so to start things rolling on the weekends, and being on the road between 10:30 and 11, so there you go. We headed down the 401, listening to an old Coldplay CD he'd recently bought, and we got sufficiently caught up in what we were talking about that he completely missed the exit for Hwy 6. We ended up taking Hwy 8 through Kitchener-Waterloo, which put us a little out of our way, but really not all that much. It had the added benefit of putting us on the highway, though, just as some university students unveiled a banner on an overpass that read: ULV UW WELCOMES YOUR "VIRGIN" DAUGHTERS. I only wish I'd had the camera ready for that.

Elora's not that far from Guelph, so we had to kind of double back, but it was a nice trip. The park opens at 9, and we got there only twenty minutes later, but there was already a considerable line-up for the rental office. In truth, it took us two hours to get to the head of the line. P-Doug was speculating that during the mid-week, this would probably not be the case, but this was the Sunday before Labour Day, so for a lot of people this was pretty much it, summer-wise. I got the impression it was a consideration he'll keep in mind for next summer. Funny how you change as you get older. I can remember 45-minute line-ups one year at university as being like terms in purgatory. But two hours standing in line for the rental really didn't strike me as all that onerous... not that I'd care to do it regularly. I suppose you just get more and more used to being in lines as you get older.

I think we had the option of taking a bus to the launch site or walking. P-Doug and I opted to walk. Took about fifteen minutes, I guess. When we got there, I was really surprised how warm the Grand was. A little warmer than I think I've seen the Humber so far this year, and that's surprising because around there, the Grand is in and out of steep, shaded channels. I set my tube in the water, stepped in, managed to sit on it without banging my (helmeted) head, and pushed off. Took the current a few moments, but it caught me, and I was on my way.

I jury-rigged a set-up to keep my G9 dry and around my neck, and it worked pretty well as long as I used it. I took the camera out as I set off and I guess I got ten or fifteen minutes of video going down the gorge. I almost got bucked off my tube in the first five minutes or so, but I held on and I never wound up in the drink, though it washed over me a few times.

It's odd that they were worried about the depth of the river because I got hung up on rocks in the shallows a couple of times. I actually had to get off the thing and move it myself the first time. I found that kind of irritating. I just wanted to go with it. There were at least three or four times I can remember where rapid paddling on my part prevented that happening again. It reminded me a little of taking a country drive in 1920 and the tires getting flats every few miles.

What a view, though, when you are moving. And there are a few places where you're really moving! The Grand is a really variable river through there. It can change in moments... from pouring down white water at ten or fifteen miles per hour to being shunted into a still water pool at the edge that takes three or four minutes just to spiral you back around to the current.

About half way down I decided to risk taking out my S70, the infrared camera, that I'd stowed in a different clear plastic bag. Unfortunately for me, it was one I'd used on previous trips, and it must have had a couple of small holes in it. The thing was half full of water. So far, everything I had on me that day that got wet – my PhotoTrackr and its battery, the two Canon camera batteries, the CF card in the S70 – has worked again. But not the S70. I tried it, briefly, on Labour Day, but it didn't budge. So, I'm going to let it dry out all week and try it again... though I think it might be shot (N.B.: after a week — yeah, it is). Even if it isn't, the silt that might have gotten in might make it next to useless anyway. Well, my bad. I'm glad I held onto the G1.

It was somewhere around there I caught up with and passed P-Doug, but I went through a very slow area at one point, was repeatedly passed by others, and so was under the impression that he’d overtaken me and was somewhere up ahead. As I went along, I found I had more and more control over my orientation and position in the river, and I was usually able to keep myself facing ahead and away from the banks.

The end of the trip was occasioned by arriving at a bridge of a rather clever design. It was a single lane, made of concrete, and built in some fashion that it enabled the tube-riders to stop against it but not be drawn under it. Its sides were beveled so that when the river rose, water would simply flow over it… a very good design for any such bridge where the constancy of traffic is an issue.

I hauled myself ashore but couldn’t spot P-Doug. I decided that he must have either walked back, or caught the bus back to the starting point. As I stood waiting for my turn, looking over my soaked equipment, I debated with myself whether or not I would take a second trip. I wasn’t anxious to take on the shallows again; I did find that markedly frustrating. But the real deciding factor for me was all the equipment I’d brought… by necessity, it would have to make a second trip. And, for that matter, I’d just done it. It’s not like I was going to see a different leg of the river or something. So I decided against it, and was trying to figure out what I was going to do when P-Doug appeared. My first reaction was, he couldn’t have made it down here a second time so fast, could he? Of course, I knew he couldn’t, so I realized that I must have passed him and stayed ahead of him.

We talked things over and it was clear he was keen to go again. I had no problem with that; I’m old enough and self-sufficient enough to while away an hour and a half or so without much trouble. He was good enough to give me the car key and offer me money for lunch (which turned out to be a good thing since the vendor had no Interac machine in sight, or even a cash register). We caught the bus, and he got off at the starting point, and I went back to the rental site.

The bus trip was strange. We were driven by a skinny, beareded Englishman who must have been hippie in his youth. He insisted on playing rather psychedelic-sounding music I’d never heard before but postulated was by Jimmie Hendrix (it was). Bouncing along the one-lane road with fragrant pine boughs brushing past us, it was a little like being back at the camp grounds when I was four or five in the early 70s.

I dropped off the equipment, got changed, bought a little lunch, and settled back with the paper to wait out P-Doug’s second trip. I had the passenger door open, and hung my clothes over it to let them dry in the sun. I’d given the paper a good going over and was literally on the verge of laying across both seats to doze when P-Doug arrived.

We ended up going to a pub in Guelph he’d identified called, if I remember correctly, The Penny Whistle. On our way there, I took some 3D pair images of a lovely statue dedicated to the concept of the family, and then we had a few beers and some nachos. After that, we took Hwy 6 – the one we’d missed on the way in – back down, past the 401 to the QEW, and headed back into town. And that was how we passed the last day of August.

And here's a video of some of the interesting moments on the way down the Grand.

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