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The Odd Life of Captain Ron

by R R Maassen

 

Part 1: In the Beginning...

After a lifetime of odd jobs and pseudo-careers, it occurs to me I may never find my calling; my destined occupation. So far, my life has been more about discovering the things I don’t want to do for a living. Through numerous lifetimes I’ve delved into farming, roughnecking, bounty hunting, performing music, river guiding, sea kayak, snowmobile, and bicycle guiding, truck/bus driving, financial planning, marketing, small business ownership, custom wood-working, furniture making, and art. Every endeavor has offered something positive, either financial stability, or independence, or pride. But none appealed enough to consider doing forever. Maybe, as friends are quick to point out, I have commitment issues, but I’m always wondering what’s next, what’s around the next corner? What else might I be doing if I weren’t doing this?

One positive outcome of such a varied life is a corresponding wealth of stories and anecdotes to recall anytime someone needs to be amused or distracted from their own foibles. Many times friends have encouraged me to produce a collection of observations and situations, as all of us, from time to time, enjoy the escapism of reading someone else’s trials and tribulations. So, here is a small selection of snapshots of an odd life; some humorous, some sad, maybe some excitement, and hopefully never boring. If there’s a moral to it all, it’s a tired cliché, but accurate: Live everyday to its fullest, because life comes at you fast, and flies by in an instant; make sure you’re on the ride!

One might think that numerous years of guiding raft trips, sea kayak, bicycle, snow mobile, and backpacking excursions would result in thousands of interesting stories that a reader might enjoy, but such is not the case. Most adventure trips, if planned well, are rarely plagued by the unexpected. Certainly to the novice adventurer, seeing such things as a mirror-calm ocean at sunrise, or cave-dwelling glow-worms, or the perfect sunset with leaping dolphins in the foreground, or the instant adrenaline rush as one is plunging over a big-water cascade on a scary river, — these are the exact things folks are paying for as the highlight of their vacation, maybe even their lives. To a cynical, long-time guide, they are your bread and butter. For example: snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park — cue the bison, stop for the resting elk, point out the bighorn sheep, or the trotting wolves.

Sea kayaking? Always it’s the animals that most excites folks. Dolphins, sea lions, pelicans, whales, sea turtles — these are denizens of the world that most people rarely, or never, see. They will make or break the enjoyment factor of someone’s vacation memories. That being said, they are also fairly mundane in their re-enactment, because rarely can the observer recapitulate the wonder, the excitement, the awe of being there, right there, as a herd of bison saunters by your group, giving no more attention to you than to a mosquito. That’s powerful stuff, but rarely makes for interesting reading. The words just haven’t been created that can adequately convey the heavy steps of this ancient species, or fully describe the joy of seeing dolphins breach off your bow, or the incredulousness of seeing a sea turtle surface next to you and look directly into your eyes, seemingly as curious about you as you are of him.

Journals of people on long trips, such as hiking, or biking, or sea kayaking, are usually quite dull, my own included. Everyday is similar: break camp, load the bike (kayak, backpack), try to put on a few miles. Tired, sore places, weather issues, sick of co-traveler, make camp, rest. For the most part, the only time there is something interesting to write about (or read about) is when things go wrong!

That being said, this collection of excursions focuses more on the rare events when the best-laid plans didn’t work out so well. And I should just add, please don’t let some of the negative eccentricities of some of my tales in any way discourage you, the reader, from ever pursuing your own experiences. We are all the masters of our own destinies. And what’s the worst that could happen?

1.2: Rafting

Raft-guiding is an odd profession, especially for an old fart like myself. Why anyone would want to do it for more than a year or two is beyond me. That being said, I’ve guided rubber boats somewhere in the world for more than thirty years. One would really think I’d be better by now!

1976 was my first year as a commercial guide. Big Bend National Park featuring the Rio Grande River, way down in southwest Texas, was my training ground. While there, I learned of rafting on muddy waters, of flash floods, of huge snapping turtles, alligator-garr that grow to the size of a man. I learned of bat guano and its impressive history; explored caves and fifteen-hundred foot cliffs; met more than a few wild burros, and nasty-tempered bulls, and rattlers, and wild peccaries. It’s a harsh country with little margin for error. Everything there is seemingly designed to cause damage to its visitors. Running through the middle of the park, aside from the Rio Grande, is the Chisos Mountain Range. Considered to be the tail-end of the Rockies, the last Indians of the area theorized that this is where God stashed all the left-over rocks after creating the world. Danger and risk are literally everywhere. Daytime temperatures are regularly over a hundred and fifteen degrees; way too hot! Scorpions want to get chummy with you, your shoes, your tent, sleeping bag — but usually only at night. Rattlesnakes: Pygmy, Diamondback, sometimes Timber, they’re a daily occurrence. They hunt mostly at night, sunning themselves in the morning, then hiding during the heat of the day.

One afternoon I was bitten on the ass by a Copperhead snake. If you didn’t already know, they’re poisonous, but rarely fatal. Small consolation when your ass starts to swell. Just as I was thinking how inappropriate he was for biting a man just out ‘doing his business’, it occurred to me that he, the snake, might have been thinking something similar, just as I was about to poop on his front door. After recovering from the shock and indignity of the situation, I soon became ill — but not dead. My two friends, both well-versed in snake-bite treatment, were too busy laughing hysterically to offer much assistance. Taking pictures, on the other hand, seemed to be no problem for the pair. My ass swelled up to comic proportions, a point my two former friends guffawed about over the remaining days it took to get me to a hospital. But in the end (pun intended), I lived to poop another day.

Peccaries are wild pigs. They can be quite scary at three in the morning, as they stick their wet snout in your face searching for yummies. They tend to jump and squeal at about the same time and intensity as you do. Then they defecate and run away. Your reaction may differ. Either way, it’s a rough way to wake up!

Ring-tailed cats can be a pain; smart as a raccoon and fast as a monkey, they can ravage your campsite and make off with valuable implements, like cork-screws. What the heck does a ring-tail need a cork-screw for anyway? I once watched a friend rescue a stranded ring-tail from a cliff wall as he was rafting down a tumultuous channel. With both hands grasping the irritated ‘cat’, the raft spun around uncontrolled, nearly flipping before reaching calm water. After releasing the furry passenger, and washing off copious pee and poop, presumably from the ring-tail, my understated friend said, “Well, that went pretty good!”

 

Adventures of a River Rat by R R Maassen
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