Monthly Archives

August 2017


On the other side of the waterfall

August 24, 2017

We pulled up the drive to a sparsely lit cabin, the sound of stones popping under our hot tires, dragonflys and moths dancing drunkenly together around the nearly blinding porch light. It was after 9 o’clock. We’d arrived later than we’d planned, but we were here. The girls faces, cast in a muted bright blue from the small screen playing Cinderella, were peering out of the fingerprint-smudged windows, Sweet Nightingale crooning in the speakers.

The property owner, Bridget, walked us quickly around the house. Her husband, Conor, decided to take up building cabins as a hobby years ago. There were two others up the road. This pastime, of course, came after he thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.

“Have you done any of the trail?” Bridget asked, sincerely interested.
Just a couple of sections,” I conceded. “Ya know, with young kids we don’t get out there as often as we like. But eventually, in our lifetime, we hope to complete the whole thing.”
“You will,” she said, nonchalantly.

I asked about restaurant recommendations, though I had some from a facebook post I’d put up earlier that afternoon.

“Those are a bit of a drive. You’d have to go all the way to Brown County,” she said. (Just so you know, I thought I’d booked a cabin in Brown County. Turned out, I had no freaking clue where we were in southern Indiana. But I didn’t want to tell her that. Or Hank. This trip was a birthday gift to him from me and the chicks. I played it off.)
“Oh, yeah, I wasn’t sure just how far they were.”
“You can totally do it! It’s just a bit of a haul.”

Quick, change the subject. You reek of rookie airbnb user.

“It said in your bio you’ve been to Ireland?” I inquired.
“Oh, yeah. A few times. Actually Conor has family there, so he’s been more than me.”
“Ya know, Ireland is at the top of my bucket list. I want to go backpack around there for my 40th maybe … I don’t know … it’s so overwhelming.”
“If you want to, you will.” she said. Again, unflinching.

She took the girls up to the loft, lined with perfectly made twin beds. The setup was a vision straight out of a Three Little Bears illustration. She showed them the books she’d set aside for them, a worn, treasured copy of “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein among them. She invited the babes to dig around in the drawers for treasures and games she’d stowed away for young visitors. She was so relatable and transparent and warm, a true traveler’s soul, I’d say.

She opened the creaking screen door and wished us a good weekend before slipping out into the darkness. I surveyed our space for the next 48 hours and smiled. I was instantly enamored with Bridget and Conor and their rustic log cabin. I felt soothed by the smell of simplicity and optimistic talk of wanderlust. And I wasn’t even planning on going to Solsberry. (That’s where we were.)

The next morning, we went to the local “greasy spoon” Bridget recommended. It was one big open room of locals, and as out of towners, we were certainly the minority. The girls ate the ears of their Mickey Mouse pancakes while Hank and I tried to enjoy cups of diner coffee between Sloppy Joan’s 500 trips to the potty. Public restrooms are as entertaining as playgrounds at this point.

Bellies full, we went back to gather supplies, change shoes and head out to McCormick Creek State Park, which was just 10 miles away. We picked the trail the woman at the guard station recommended; the one that led to “the waterfall”.

Shortly into our hike, I realized I’d left my phone in the car. As had Hank.

“Aw shoot! I don’t have my phone.” I said.
“That’s OK, Mom,” JoJo responded. “Sometimes it’s good to leave it behind. You just have to protect your memories in your mind. Or your heart.”
“Yeah, it’s OK,” Spike chimed in.

I turned to my husband and exchanged the look I often shoot his way when I get absolutely schooled by our 8, 6 or 3 year old. Too often to feel good about myself as a grownup.

We came to a flight of stairs that led down to a small river. Crossing was an exercise in calculating risk, as one by one we worked our way from shakey stones to more reliable boulders that wouldn’t budge. Eventually we came to the other side, and more rocks to navigate, just on land this time. As a self-proclaimed future American Ninja Warrior contestant, JoJo was like a pig in slop. She pulled her Cheryl Strayed boots off and wrapped her bare feet boldly around the stones. No fear, just adrenaline. This was her ultimate obstacle course.

We closed in on the waterfall. It was a petite pour, though it splashed thunderously onto the rocks below. The bedrock was coated in a natural oil slick. The girls would timidly waddle across the river, slipping sporadically and crashing to their knees with a cautious giggle.

I sat on a boulder off to the side, their little muddy shoes and soaking socks lined up to my right. My mama bear commentary echoed in the hollow of the mineral slabs that enveloped us. “Careful, Spikey!” “JoJo … not so far.” “Girls, help your sister.” As their bravery swelled, they got deeper into the stream and closer to the waterfall. While watching them, I started to notice people climbing down from the top of the cascading water.

JoJo noticed, too. Before I could make it that far, she was halfway up the jigsaw puzzle stones on the side of the waterfall. A kind man stood behind her, coaching her while simultaneously searching for her parents.

“Now she’s got it,” he smiled at me, relieved this child belonged to someone. “You really should try to go up there. It’s pretty cool.”
“OK, gotcha,” I said. Thinking there was no way in hell, kind stranger, I would be pulling my 34-year-old ass up the side of a slippery waterfall.

Then Spike showed interest and I knew I was screwed. I stood behind her, a tiny tush in the palm of my hand. I had no choice but to follow now. I tempted gravity, placing my foot about 12 inches off the ground on a bulging rock. The stones were dark and slimy, promising a concussion, or an embarrassing slip as best case scenario. Now it was my tush in Hank’s hand.

As my eyes crossed the crest of the downpour, I saw what the stranger had seen. A shallow stream laid out before me, curving off into the horizon. My JoJo was there, bouncing back and forth across mounds of sand and shards of stone. Spikey was following less confidently in her sister’s shadow. The trees formed a whimsical canopy over their heads, creating an intricate masterpiece of sun and shadow on the shore. I took in the scene, inhaling it into my memory.

I leaned over the ledge to Hank. “You should probably come up here,” I conceded. “It’s pretty cool.”

I grounded my feet on a patch of dry rock and reached for Sloppy Joan, who was determined to reach the summit all on her own. As the pads of her two little feet pitter pattered into the water beside me, Hank’s hand reached the top.

We spent the next hour splashing and stomping and jumping in and out of the afternoon sun. Each set of footprints was different. We all went to the same place, but took a unique path to get there. Five souls, connected by love and blood and the most important stuff, just going on an adventure before summer escaped entirely.

There weren’t many people here; A couple trying to find some alone time. A trio of exchange students. We sloshed our way past them, a disorganized circus on parade.

Eventually, we came to a large stone bridge. Hank decided to hike back the way we came and collect the girls’ shoes and the car. He would meet us on top of the bridge. I found a significant, sturdy rock in the shade of the overpass and sat down. I watched the soldiers in my little tribe. One always going too far, out of my sight. Brave and bulletproof. Another the observer; Always dipping her toes into the water rather than catapulting herself all the way in. And then my baby. Unaware of anyone but the reflection staring back at her and the bug inching toward her toes. So in the moment. So breezy and independent.

I felt gratitude. For this stone, for this time, for these humans. Everything that came after the climb, brought such unexpected peace. Such beauty. Such natural curiosity. And we weren’t even planning on going past the waterfall.

We tackled a 2-mile hike to a small cave next. I wore Sloppy Joan on my back like an impatient gorilla. She rested her head between my shoulderblades, only lifting it to ask, “What was that?” each time a woodpecker went to work. We came to a cave and Hank volunteered to take them through. My claustrophobia was ranking at Code Brown just thinking about it, but through they went. They loved the cool, black cavern, and begged to go through once more on their own. Why not? This was a day for exploring.

And then, the thing they’d been waiting for since the moment we descended the wooden staircase earlier that afternoon. We went back to the waterfall. We let them take off their shoes, their socks, their fear of reprimand, and we just let them go all in. After all, how often do you get to swim in the plunge pool of a natural wonder, small as it may be?

After Spike and Hank spotted a water moccasin that could, as she put it, “kill 99 people with one bite,” we loaded the swamp sisters into the car and made our way back to the cabin to clean up. We decided to take them into Bloomington to see the campus and grab a bite. After 500 more trips to the potty, and a mediocre meal, the troops were fading, and I was adamant about ice cream. Thus began a Google maps goosechase Hank is not likely to let go anytime soon. Every place we went looking for miraculously disappeared from where it was supposed to be. But – and this is a very important but – God had a plan.

The creamery we eventually came to, Hartzell’s, had homemade flavors and a variety of toppings. Including puppy chow. Puppy chow! I had puppy chow on top of from-scratch cookie dough ice cream and the entire world could have fallen away and I wouldn’t have cared. And we weren’t even planning to go to Hartzell’s.

We went home; exhausted, satisfied, full in many ways. I curled up on the couch with the girls and read “The Giving Tree”, and it made me think of family. How I would give everything I had for these people. Everything. Because this love we share is that good. Have you read the book?

“and she loved a boy very, very much – even more than she loved herself.”

I fell asleep right there, a daughter in my nook. The smell of lumber in the air. I was so content, there was nothing to fight or contemplate. Just rest, drunk on nature and sentimental thoughts.

The next morning, we woke up to Sloppy Joan announcing her poop in the potty. The victorious No. 2 stirred the four of us and we slowly came to life. The girls played for a few final minutes up in their loft. I went about packing and sweeping the treated wood floor. We all looked out the window and said, “Goodbye, cabin.” with frowny faces as we drove away.

We made it to Martinsville, a small town north of Bloomington before the demands for breakfast rose from the back seat. We pulled off into a diner and followed the friendly hostess to a corner booth. Here, Sloppy Joan would only go potty three times, a record, perhaps made possible only by one very special distraction. An older gentleman sitting at a small booth that backed up to our table felt our hurricane of a 3 year old bumping up against his arm. In a world where we don’t often notice each other and interaction is often viewed as an inconvenience, this man spoke to my little girl. He was playful and kind and smirked at all the same things that make her grandparents smirk.

He was a retired sheriff, we would learn from his friends. And a real softie it would seem. He gave each of our girls a quarter to buy a gumball on their way out. Which they did (chocolate for Sloppy Joan), and held them up against the window to give him a thumb’s up before climbing in the car. Aside from my unforgettable cinnamon roll french toast, that stranger was the sweetest part of our journey home. Such a kind, restorative display of humanity. Such a lovely exchange. And we weren’t even planning on going to Martinsville.

The more we replace things with experiences, the more we let fate be our travel guide, the more unexpected joy is revealed. The more I stop trying to drive this bus, the clearer I see that the best things can’t be planned. They are 100 percent organic. They’re found in modest cabins in cities that don’t make most maps and on long, winding trails. In rolling the dice and twists of fate. They’re in strangers with pure hearts and that rare, generous nature you have to be born with. They’re what you see when you leave the filtered lens behind and protect your memories with your heart.

The best things are just beyond the waterfall. But you have to be willing to climb.


the moment.

August 16, 2017

I’ve tried so hard, you guys. I’ve tried not to wade into the discussion, when it honestly feels like there can be no winner, no reason, no agreement. When every gesture feels small and empty and unworthy of the weight of the cause. I hide things in my newsfeed and turn off alerts and I tell myself, “Don’t look, Courtney. Those are not your people. Those heartless, lost souls, with their unimaginable hate and poisonous words, are not the same as you.” But then, a couple of things happened, and my fingers found these keys.

First, I went for a run. I have a 3-mile loop that I do quite a bit, and in the final stretch, right before I reach home, it takes me down a main street in our neighborhood. There’s an older man there who has, on and off, displayed a Confederate flag off his front porch. And, of course, when I drive by I always feel bothered, but what is there to be done about it? Well, on this night, just 3 days after the violent acts of Charlottesville, on the eve of my daughters’ return to school, the sight of it as I ran down the street sent acid into the pit of my stomach. And on this night, the man was sitting on his porch, just behind the flag, jubilantly chatting on his phone.

It wasn’t intentional, but I locked my eyes on his and scowled. I broke my gaze for a second and then, again involuntarily, it returned to him. I wanted to scream. I wanted to name him as the bully he was for everyone who was out in their yard to hear. I wanted to question his motives. Was it a power play to make people in the neighborhood uncomfortable or just a big middle finger to the general acceptance and kindhearted coexistence of others on these streets?

Before this night. Before the flag, I’d seen this man out, typically walking his dog. He always waved and said hello to my children. And now, with one aesthetic gesture, I saw him as some kind of monster. What does that say about me? That I am so easily unglued and rattled? That I didn’t go up to him and have the conversation, out of the resignation and assumption that a confrontation was laced into his motive? And the animosity I felt toward him … does that make me any better than the man who put the flag up in the first place?

The fact that these questions and suspicions and hateful conclusions even cross my mind is a disheartening reality of the current state of affairs. It breaks my soul to think of the thoughtless way in which we’re treating our neighbors, and the irreversible effects it’s all having on our children. The spirit of humanity is in distress. And, I gotta tell ya, if we can’t figure out how to fix it, it won’t matter what Mother Nature has to say about this planet. It will already be ruined.

Second, and far more importantly, I watched an amazing speech. Weeks ago, I’d moved a video of a lecture my friend Ryan gave into my “Saved videos” folder on Facebook. I’d watch it another day, when I could give it more attention, I told myself.

Ryan has been one of my most unexpected friends. I say that because our paths might never have crossed if it weren’t for our free-thinking, ultra-accepting high school newspaper crew. He was the editor, I was a writer, and even though he was younger, we shared a passion for the work. Somehow – and I can’t remember now – we reconnected when Hank and I moved to Indianapolis. I was 14 months pregnant with JoJo, and Ryan and his equally amazing wife, Andrea, had a daughter. They were so kind to us during that time in our lives. We were two young couples, finding comfort in the face of rapid change, the uncertainty of the decisions we were making and the gravity of starting a family. The love Ryan and Andrea gave was unconditional and sincere and instant.

In addition to their talents – he a self-employed graphic designer, she the principal of a respected downtown school – these friends of ours have the integrity and grit of true change leaders. I’ve known that for years, but when I finally opened the link and listened to Ryan’s message, the tears in my eyes solidified my opinion.

Given a stage and a microphone and an audience to talk about his professional talents, my friend Ryan chose to address compassion and empathy instead. He chose to be brave. He chose to use his words to enlighten and inspire rows of young designers about something far more important than font or color theory.

Watching him work through his script, composed of words I imagine he typed and deleted and altered and rehearsed countless times, I felt something different in the pit of my stomach. I felt a sense of purpose. Purpose to protect the light and incubate empathy. When I looked into his eyes, I saw hope, which will beat the shit out of hate on any given day.

I want to thank my friend Ryan for the gift he gave me today. And for the space he is creating in this world, perhaps when it needs it most.

“We have to believe in a light that shines and never dies. What alternative do we have? We can not allow apathy, cynicism and resignation to paralyze us while someone snuffs the light out. They can’t stop us when we embrace hope and optimism. And we have the courage to be protectors and beacons of light. Seek depth. Create space. Engage with a servant’s heart. Shine light on others and feel things deeply.” – Ryan Hunley

Try That With Matt

Try That with Matt. Sloppy sailors.

August 15, 2017

Remember in my last post, when I mentioned I was saying “yes” more than “no” these days? Well, a few weeks back, I found myself chin-deep in the e-coli-infested waters of a Lake Michigan river, beer koozie still in hand, the result of one such verbal agreement.

Matt, Hank and I recently went north to cruise around Traverse City, Michigan, for a kayak bar crawl with The General (you remember him), his wife, Tara, and her friend, Jill, his sisters, Angie and Andrea, their spouses, Lee and Kevin, his cousin, Matt (who we called “Cousin Matt”), and his cousin’s roommate, Alex. Now that I’ve introduced the entire cast of the Mickey Mouse Club … What’s a kayak bar crawl, you ask? Well, it’s exactly what you would think; a sloppy parade of paddlers (think Yale heavyweight crew 20 years outta school after getting into Pappy’s moonshine) work their way through the river, and eventually lake, pulling themselves ashore every so many feet to take down a beer or two.

What could possibly go wrong?

It’s been months since I posted a Try That with Matt, and since this was certainly a new adventure, and we did it together, it seemed like a good time to invite the gentle giant back onto the blog. You’ll forgive us both if the details are a little fuzzy.


The morning of the crawl, we woke up at a decent hour. Matt took off for a long bike ride and Hank and I decided to make the most of our kidless Saturday and trotted off for a quick 3-mile run. (That’s not what you thought I was going to say? Sorry to disappoint, ya perv.) It was a cloudy, lovely morning, with nothing pestering us aside from the sporadic assaults from tiny extended families of black bugs swarming our sweaty heads along the beach, which was closed due to high e-coli readings in the water. There we were, trotting along just like all those fit couples you see on the side of the road on Saturday mornings pretending not to hate jogging.

After a quick shower, I suited up. A bathing suit, running shorts and a black tank top. Tara dropped off a few cups of Pink Panty Droppers and went to gather her gear. I sipped the electric lemonade, eventually feeling it surge through my plumbing, burning it’s way into my gut and sending sparks through my fingertips. This day was about to get sloppy. I knew it. My fingertips knew it.

We drove to Hull Park and assembled our crew at a long table outside of The Filling Station. Ninety percent sober, we all chatted semi-politely and sipped our foamy glasses of beer. Some of the gals snapped open-eyed selfies at the other end of the bench. The General, Tara, and his sister, Andrea, told us what to expect by recounting highlights from the year before.

The volume of the table escalated a bit. We were making our move to the water. “Here! You need to eat something,” Hank said, shoving a small square of pizza into my hand. “Do I have time to pee?” I asked. He shrugged. I folded the petite pie into my mouth like a true lady and dashed to the potty.

I caught up to the group at the launch pad. One by one, The General and Matt were pulling people’s kayaks down into the water, holding the back as they climbed in and shoving them off. I settled into my vessel, placed a can of Summer Shandy in my koozie, and dipped my paddles into the dark, seemingly boundless water.

I am no Magellan, OK. I am not a great navigator, and in fact, I have no idea how I found the grocery store before Google Maps. And finding my way around a vast body of water? Yeah … no. But I can follow. And so I did. I followed like the newborn kayak captain I am; swerving and grazing my knuckles painfully along the curved rim of my boat, while The General yelled out instructions about which direction the letters on my paddles should be pointing toward and how my elbows should be bent. About 20 minutes after we started our voyage, our seasoned leader gestured to a 20-foot clearing in the treeline and we swarmed to the sand, threw our legs over the side and made our way up a hill to our second watering hole of the day, Right Brain Brewery.

I had two tasty cherry beers before it was time to shove off. Getting back into our kayaks, Cousin Matt flipped his and fell into the water. He handled it well, but me being me, I laughed until my tears filled the bottom rims of my sunnies. I just love it so much when people fall down. I’m also a big believer in karma.

I remember the first time I really biffed while drinking. Not to say this was the first time ever, but it was the spark to the dynamite fuse. A fuse that’s been slowly burning now for years. It was my 23rd birthday. The cops had been to the apartment to shut down a super-heated game of Catchphrase earlier in the evening, so we decided to head to my favorite piano bar. After sucking down red jello shots through a syringe like a Hoover and screaming Livin’ on a Prayer like a boss, my then-boyfriend Hank signaled it was time to go home. I can’t remember if I got on my sister-in-law’s back or she got on mine, but I do know both of us went down in a sketchy Indianapolis alley hard enough that I had gravel embedded in my knee caps for two days.

The seal was broken. I could write a book about the many falls of drunk Courtney since that night. I fell through an open door at an 80s bar, and then slipped on a spilled drink on the dance floor of that same bar a few years later … twice. Just a month ago, at the New Kids on the Block concert, I fell into the row ahead of me and took out five chairs and a 40-something mom. Security came over. I acted like I didn’t know what she was talking about.

Trust me when I say I’m not bragging here. I’m not really embarrassed though, either. I think it’s less a loss of my motor skills, and more a perfect recipe of my mama’s grace, deep, paralyzing belly laughs and the release of inhibition. My legs just go … like Bambi or April the Giraffe’s baby after it dropped. It all sounds very Betty Ford, but I don’t really dip my beak enough for any real concern, I promise. I share all of this not to let you sniff my dirty laundry, but rather to set the scene. (Also, I just know Matt is going to call me out.)

Back on the water …

We paddled for a little less than a half an hour (honestly this is a guess. I lost all concept of time after the Pink Panty Droppers), and it felt effortless. A subtle current and delay in execution took me right into a low hanging tree branch just minutes before we approached our next stop, Rare Bird Brewery. I was still kind of giggling about it when I felt the bottom of my kayak hit the lake bed and start sliding onto shore. I went to step out and realized I wasn’t going to get all the way upright. It a very brief conversation with myself, that went something like …

“Oh, shit. You’re not standing up on your leg parts. You’re sitting in the water. The water feels good. Get out of the water quickly because it’s full of poison e-coli!” [Laughter, laughter, laughter.]

My left leg was bent, my butt crouching down, resting on top of my left ankle. My right foot was still straddling the slope of my boat. I was laughing too hard to get any power underneath me, so Hank came and helped me get to my feet. He pulled Chili Pepper (my kayak) up the hill while I leaned against him giggling like a stoned teenager.

I was sloshing as I shuffled down the small town street. A sloppy string of water followed me as I made my way into the restroom at the brewery and forcefully peeled my shorts down to tinkle. It felt like we lingered at this stop. A lot of people were ready for food. I was ready for food, but I didn’t realize it just yet.

We walked to another bar in town, 7 Monks Taproom. Here, along with another round of beers, Hank ordered the best drunk meal I have ever had in my life. Honestly. Roast beef sliders and pretzel bites. Food porn if I’ve ever seen it. We stayed back a few minutes to lick our plates. Then it was time to catch up to our crew.

I approached the top of the slope, our kayaks waiting down below. My tummy was full and my mind was back with my petite patties and doughy delights and I just didn’t even realize I was starting to slide. Maybe it was less of a slide and more of a tumble. Anyway, I fell a bit down the hill. Nothing of note, but of course, Matt saw. I heard my brother’s booming laugh, a throwback to every misstep I’d taken in my youth, just behind me. I came to a stop. “Jeezus,” he boomed. But I wasn’t concerned. I’d done worse and I knew we were settling in for the homestretch. He tried to pick me up and shove me into my boat, but my stomach seized from muted cackles. I succumb to a second collapse, letting my heavy lower limbs just settle on the tiny pebbles in the water beneath me. My beasty brother hovered over me, more satisfied than a pig in a port-a-potty. My loving husband looked on, thinking of just how fortunate he truly is.

The distance between the last brewery we went to and where we pulled our kayaks out is a bit cloudy for me. I remember Matt and The General getting too close and The General ending up in the water. So, at least he got e-coli too. I remember passing apartments. I remember the late afternoon sun dancing on the ripples just before me and how mesmerized I was by the twinkles. And then we came out from the river and onto Lake Michigan. The current forcibly rocked Chili Pepper back and forth. The kayak would dip into the side of a slight wave, and then correct itself. A few drops of Summer Shandy splashed against the aluminum in the bottom of the can as I focused on driving my paddles in to reach the shore.

I didn’t really want it to be over.

Some of the guys turned around and went back the way we came to pick up the trucks, getting growlers at Mackinaw Brewing Company along the way. I rode back to the campground with the ladies.

After we pulled into the State Park, I proceeded to sit at Andrea’s campsite and have a 30-minute conversation with her sons about how their pirate ships from the mini golf course down the road were made of real, reclaimed pirate wood from the bottom of the ocean before returning to my own camper and eating a pound of Mackinac Island mint chocolate fudge, like a starved little lab rat given sugar for the first time in months. I watched The Great British Baking Show and ate my fudge and cut chunks of colby off a block of cheese with a butter knife. There. Now you know.

I was rocked to sleep by the gentle waves of Matt wedging himself into the bottom bunk of our camper sometime in the early hours of the morning. The next day, there was no jogging. Powerade. But no jogging.


The morning of the paddle crawl, I woke up on the bottom bunk in the back of Biscuits and Gravy’s travel trailer. Nothing like Biscuits making pancakes and setting off the smoke alarm first thing in the morning. It took me back to my youth, when, bless my mother’s heart, the sound of the blaring smoke detector was our family dinner bell. This hazy scene was just further confirmation, along with her comfort cotton panties, that my sister is my mom. (The cakes and sausage were delicious, sis!)

After our well-done griddle cakes, I thought I would take advantage of the kidless weekend and hit a trail that went through town and down to the lake for a nice long bike ride. What a great way to start the day; no phone, just my bike. The weather was beautiful. I got to see some of the big sailboats heading out on the lake while the water was smooth as glass. I felt so good being alone, getting some exercise in and taking in the beauty of the day before the shit show kicked off.

When I returned to the trailer, everyone was getting ready – loading little coolers, putting the kayaks in the truck, etc. I woke up ready, naturally, so when Tara was walking around with a pitcher of Pink Panty Droppers to kick off the day, I figured, “Why not? I’m on vacation.” For those of you who haven’t had a dropper, it’s one of those drinks that just lights you up. I knew it was going to be a good day when Court had one as well. My thought: “She is totally falling out of her kayak today.”

We dropped our party barges off at the launch point and hit a local brewhouse to pregame. While having some laughs and reminiscing, The General’s sister, Angie, raised her fist and declared she was, “#kokomohard”. And thus, the day’s catchphrase was born. See, a few years back, a tornado in the town of Kokomo prompted a #kokomostrong movement, which is completely appropriate for uniting a disheartened community. I would imagine #kokomohard is a rally cry for something much, much different. But #kokomohard is what we were, for the next 6 hours at least.

It was time to hit the water and head off to our first stop. It was just about a 20-minute paddle across the lake to a path on the side of a hill that lead up to a cool little brewery with a salon in the front. The boy hairdressers wore really short shorts, I can tell you that. Gave my big ass a chuckle before I grabbed a beer. Thanks, boys!

After a few drinks on the patio, it was time to head back down the hill and load up. Surely, I thought, there was no way Court was going to make it back into her kayak. But I was wrong. It was Cousin Matt who ate shit here. Like the champ he is, he loaded his wet ass right back up and hit the water. It’s the name. We’re just resilient animals.

The next stop was probably a 35-minute paddle back across the lake and down the channel to a spot where we had to de-kayak and pull them across a damned up area. We planned to hit two bars here, making it our longest stop by far. Needless to say, when we left we were all feeling really good. … and let the show begin.

Our kayaks were waiting for us at the bottom of a hill. It was here, on dry land with no damn good excuse, that Court decided to eat shit. She just went down, like a fainting goat. But it doesn’t stop there. After she gathered herself, I was loading her into her kayak and … yup, she started to fall again. She didn’t try to catch herself. She didn’t try to fight it. She just accepted her fate and sat down in the water. And there she stayed, laughing hysterically, for a minute or so. “Jesus Christ, pull it together!” I said, which just made us laugh more.

Once we all got our happy asses upright and in our kayaks, The General (whose real name is Rod, by the way) and I decided it would be fun – because we are 12 – to race to see who could hit everyone in our group with our kayaks first. It was close. We were neck and neck. I’d bump someone. He’d bump someone. His sister, who thought we were coming to mess with her, saw us closing in and started paddling for her life. I hit the gas to lock in the win, but my paddle snapped in half. No worries. I smashed the broken ends back together and dug in.

Rod was just ahead of me, at an angle, getting ready to hit his sis’s kayak and get the “W”. But I was just hitting full speed. I came in hot and rammed him, sending him into the water along with his kayak. Checkmate, Sucker.

We came out onto the lake, our final challenge of the day before half our group would get picked up. The big lake is choppy, which makes for a challenge. Last year, at this point almost everyone flipped. It was like the Beaches of Normandy out there; People dragging their overturned ships behind their battered bodies. But not this year. We took the waves at a solid 45 and brought it home.

About half of us carried our kayaks back to the channel and went to another breeery to grab growlers before we headed back where we started that morning. We washed up on the shore some time later, feeling good, with tired arms. My buddy Kevin cranked up the stereo in my truck and showed us his sweet moves at the boat launch. Picture a grown ass man doing “The Sprain” from Saved by the Bell, with a group of other grown ass men standing around cheering. Cool, right?

After 8 hours of paddling and pints, I came back to the campsite to survey the damage. You can imagine, the crowd was sparse. I sat down at the campfire for a nightcap and some tunes with Kevin. Tara told me Biscuits got into a fight with some fudge and the fudge won. She was down for the night. As was Gravy. I stayed up late enough to keep Kevin’s volume to a reasonable level so our fellow campers could drift off to sleep. As I gracefully wedged myself into the bottom bunk of the trailer, I closed my eyes and chuckled. It was a successful day on the water, with lots of laughs at other people’s expense and some great beer. That’s what #kokomohard is all about.

Want to read more of my adventures with my big brother? Check out Try that with Matt …
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