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.