Janine and Dory’s Wedding, White Water Rafting on the Kicking Horse River

I need a weekend from my weekend.

Every so often, I get involved with a very busy Saturday and Sunday. Not necessarily physically demanding, but no less a drain on one’s energy level. I’m fortunate in that I don’t get caught in those every weekend — if I felt like I do now every Monday, I’d start falling sleep on my keyboard.

Saturday was Janine and Dory’s wedding. Remember that stag I went to a couple of weeks ago? (See [[Stag Party in Innisfail, Strippers in Red Deer]].) Well, this was the wedding that it was leading up to. Chris and I were each other’s guest. We’d been slid in towards the end of invitations — we were more “fringe” than most — assumedly after a few were unable to attend. It was a large wedding.

Although the wedding wasn’t until 1pm, I was up at 8:30 to get myself ready. I cut my hair (it was looking a little scraggly), showered, shaved, and made a quick run to the Safeway for a card for the present, and bow. We watched a little TV to relax a bit, and then got dressed. It was time for me to try on my new suit.

Yes, I bought a new suit. (For those of you who might not know me as well, this is a big thing for me. Suits and I have had a long-standing animosity for each other.) I finally decided that I was going to get something newer than the pants and jacket that I’ve been wearing for the better part of 10 years. No, I don’t regularly wear suits. Don’t much like ’em, really. Well, actually, I don’t much like the suits I used to wear. Not really comfortable. This was a chance for me to get a good suit… a really good suit. In fact, I’ve been saving up for one for a while.

This started at the beginning of the month. While out for a walk one fine Saturday, I found myself in Grafton & Co., a menswear store in Calgary’s Eaton Centre. While perusing the store, one of the clerks, Jeff, came up and asked me what I was looking for. I described the situation, and he promptly disappeared, returning a few moments later with some suits. His skill for sizing a customer without a tape measure was amazing — he was right almost every time (he only missed my neck size by an inch).

It was an all-new outfit. New jacket, new shirt (French-cut cuffs, which means I also had new cuff links), new tie (as much as I loathe and despite ties), new slacks, new belt, and new shoes. I was amazed when I had first tried it on in the store about how good it felt. My previous suits had always been uncomfortable. Even spending the whole day wearing it wasn’t uncomfortable. As much as I hate to say it, I could get used to something like that…

Anyway, we made the 1.5 hour trip to Innisfail at a relatively snappy pace up Highway 2. Although I thought we had left at an appropriate time, we were running a little late to get there. As it stands we arrived at just the right time to meet up with Stuart and Geoff (Geoff Ho, one of Therese and Janine’s classmates, who’s been on an internship in Minneapolis) to take our seats in the church. While Stuart sat a bit more forward in the church, Chris, Geoff, and I sat towards the back.

The Innisfail United Church is perhaps the smallest church I’ve been in. Mind you, Innisfail is a small town with five churches, so it’s probably not that big an issue. Still, the church was 2/3 full of guests. Guests were dressed in varying attire, from formal (which was basically the wedding party), to dressy (which category Chris and I fell into, along with many others), to trendy (which meant that while you had a cool suit, you weren’t wearing a tie), and all the way down to jeans and a t-shirt.

We were in farm country, after all.

When Dory finally emerged through a door near the altar with the minister, he was deliriously nervous. Almost as soon as he was in place, the music changed, and Therese emerged from the back. (Therese was the Maid of Honour.) He was wearing a rather stunning purple dress, accented with an antique rhinestone necklace she’d bought a few weeks earlier. A moment later, and Janine came through the door. Her dress was exceptional, rare for wedding dresses, I find, complete with a short train.

The minister led a simple ceremony, following what I assume to be normal United service. (I don’t know, this was my first United wedding.) It was also my first time at a church with a female minister. The United Church of Canada ordains women now, and it seems that even in some of the more “redneck” and “backwater” areas of Alberta (those were words I heard used in the same sentence as “Innisfail”), female ministers are not shunned.

After the 30-odd minute ceremony, we all filed outside to see Janine and Dory off. They really weren’t going anywhere in particular — mostly just for the pictures, at which point they’d return for the reception that evening. The highlight of their departure was the mode of transportation, specifically their limousine. Now, this wasn’t any ordinary limo. This was a stretch pickup truck.

No, I’m not kidding.

This limo can easily hold about 12 people in serious comfort. It still has the truck bed in the rear, and it even has bull horns mounted to the hood. For a rancher, it’s gotta be the coolest thing to drive away in. Janine and Dory had basically done it as a joke — it was a total fluke it was even available at the time — but were loving every second of it. The owner/driver looked the part too, striking a passing resemblance to actor Sam Elliot, though without the Texas drawl.

Left to our own devices, the rest of us tried to figure out what to do next. Though still fringe, Chris and I were “invited” (it was more of a general call than a specific invitation) to join the Psychology students (and guests) at the Red Deer Lodge for an afternoon of food, pool, and drinking. We had four and a half hours to kill. It seemed like a good idea, certainly better than spending four and a half hours in Innisfail.

Red Deer is a little nicer in the daytime (looks a little seedy at night). The Red Deer Lodge isn’t as bad as it sounds, either. It’s actually a little more upscale than your average Holiday Inn. But the pool hall (attached to the rear of the hotel) wasn’t open, much to our dismay. We instead went to Reflections, their “Executive Club”, inside. At least we were dressed the part.

Four hours later, we were in the Receiving Line, greeting Janine and Dory’s family. The reception was at the Innisfail Legion hall. Although mostly a utilitarian building, it was amazing what a few lights and simple decorations could do to make it look very nice. After a little while, it was easy to forget where you were. Dinner was reasonably simple: Steak and potatoes. Pretty much what you’d expect for a cattle rancher’s wedding. (But it was a far cry from the proposed “Meat Salad” Simon had drooled over during our stay at the Red Deer Lodge.)

The cattle jokes ran most of the night, mostly from Janine and Dory’s so-called family and friends, who took extreme pleasure in telling some very embarrassing (albeit funny) stories. I was sorry to say I had nothing to say … well, nothing except for one story about Dory’s truck, but I wasn’t keen on telling it because I couldn’t remember some of the specifics.

Soon it was time for the first dance, to Elvis’ “(I Can’t Help) Falling In Love With You”. A very good choice, in my humble opinion. The songs then slowly progressed from the traditional to the modern, including the dreaded “Macarena” (which Chris actually danced to … something to which I have to give a huge amount of credit, I’m not even sure I’d do that under threat of death). The “Chicken Dance”, fortunately, did not rear its ugly head.

I, regrettably, had to make Chris leave just after midnight. The joys of my life often boil down to scheduling things, and in trying to make as many people happy as possible, had scheduled a river rafting trip for the following day. (Originally it had been tentatively scheduled for the day of the wedding, until I realized that I’d made a boo-boo.)

My alarm went off at 7:30. Five hours of sleep just wasn’t enough. Nearly 12 hours of socializing, though not physically exhausting, still takes quite a wallop on your energy level. (I can only imaging how Janine and Dory must’ve felt the following day.) Still, being the ringleader for the day’s events meant I had to get on the ball very quickly.

Unfortunately, it meant I forgot a towel and a change of clothes, as I was in too much of a rush to get out the door.

Picking up Aysim and Jordon along the way, we pulled into Critical Mass’ parking lot at 8:30, a few minutes later than I would have liked. But we were still waiting for others, so it wasn’t too bad. Cory, Angie, Mike, and Colin were already there. Carl was running late, and Shawn would be picked up along the way. Clay was nowhere in sight, and I was beginning to worry about all of us showing up on time.

It was time for another trip down the Kicking Horse river (see [[A Whitewater Rafting Adventure on the Kicking Horse River]]). Fifty-one weeks ago, myself and five others braved the cold, churning waters to experience the thrill of ice-cold rapids. Two of us experienced it the hard way, by being thrown into the river (Sean catching the worst of it). So of course, we had to go again. (Although Sean is no longer with Critical Mass, he organized his own trip, which went the day before.)

Cory, Angie, and Carl took off almost as soon as Carl had arrived. We waited around until Clay arrived (about 10 minutes later), at which time Colin, Mike, Jordon, and I left. Clay and Aysim still had to pick up Clay’s friend, but would meet us at Kootenay River Runners.

All of us were off like a shot. We didn’t clear Calgary city limits until 9:00, so once again I played that dangerous game of chicken with the police and their radar guns. It never fails — you plan everything so that you don’t have to rush, and you always end up exceeding the speed limit by almost 50%. With luck, none of the flying meter maids were out — the last thing I need to is to get a ticket for the speeds we were hauling through the mountains.

The drive out wasn’t too bad — unlike last year, it wasn’t raining. However, it was a quiet ride as my passengers all fell asleep. Next time, someone else can drive and *I’ll* sleep the whole way there.

Cory had beat us by about 15 minutes. Clay was about that behind us, as were two more cars of Critical Mass people. They had come out the day before and camped (or taken a hotel room) for the night. There were 17 of us in total (others were Karen, Mark, and two of their friends, and Jaymie and her boyfriend Beau), and all raring to wet.

Well, okay, maybe not all. Only three of us had gone rafting before (Cory, Jordon, and myself, and it had been a decade since Jordon last went), so the majority of us were newbies. Most were excited, Shawn a little much so, but no-one was ready to run screaming.

Yet.

After a small lunch, we got the equipment speech. Basically covers the basics of what we would wear. Not much had changed since the year before, only that we now had gloves and neoprene “socks” to help keep our feet warm. (They worked, too — my feet were much warmer this year.) We collected our gear, changed, and huddled down to the river for Orientation Part II. This is the safety speech, and the one that was beginning to freak Angie out a little. As the safety speech often includes worst-case scenarios, the uninitiated can get a little spooked.

The river didn’t look too much different, though the water level was a little lower this year. (The temperature had been a bit colder in recent days, and the water hadn’t flowed as freely as a result.) Our guide, Mike, told us that the more impressive parts of the run, namely an 18-foot tall standing wave known as “Tablesaw”) wouldn’t be out, as the water level was too low. However, he said he’d still make it worth our while.

Mike: “Okay, how do you want this? Easy, or [expletive deleted] hardcode?”
Us: (Shouting loudly) “[EXPLETIVE DELETED] HARDCORE!”

That pretty much set the tone for our trip. (That, and Mike (the guide) telling a lot of really bad jokes.) Poor Angie must’ve been terrified out of her mind after all our yelling and screaming. Something to do with testosterone, I guess. Either way, she would periodically emit a sound not unlike “What am I doing here?” as we continued down the “easy” part of the river. But it wasn’t long before the choppiness began to appear, and we started getting a little wet. After our first plunge through a Class 2 rapid, I could hear Angie saying: “That wasn’t so bad!”

Soon we were going right through the middle of the hard stuff. Mike (our guide) was doing an excellent job of steering us right into the nasty stuff. Big water, large drops, holes behind rocks, and all of it as fast as we could paddle. Most of the other boats thought we were insane. (Aside from the fact that we were.) Most described us as “loud”.

About halfway down, we reached the infamous “Portage”, a kilometre or so stretch of Class 3 and 4 rapids. This is usually the home of Tablesaw (when the water level is high), and the permanent home of Shotgun, the rapid that had wiped out our boat last year, dumping Sean and I in the drink. Angie, though a little nervous, wasn’t trying to get out of the boat. She wasn’t nearly as frightened as when we started.

Soon, the boats had pulled out, and all six rafts took Portage head-on, with us going full tilt. Although I saw more of Portage this year than last (I was sitting one person back, so I could actually see this time), it was still a blur. Our guide handled it much better than the one we had the year before, quite often calling out “hang on” and “get down” as we piled right into (and over) rapids and rocks. When we finally hit Shotgun, we were running on pure adrenaline. Our war whoop echoed through the Kicking Horse valley.

Shawn was nearly bursting through his skin, as was Carl. (Carl, up until that point, was the most laid back person I’ve ever met. Once caught up in the whole experience, he gave Shawn a run for his money as the loudest.) Angie now bore a devilish grin. She liked it. Too much. Mike (not the guide) and Colin were both pumped. Mike (the guide) was loving each second. We weren’t your “average” rafters — we wanted it hard, which meant he could do the kinds of things he would normally do only for himself…

Like get caught in a hole. This is when the river has go around a large rock. It creates a region of low pressure, which draws in things, like our raft. It sounds dangerous, but it’s not. All it does is swamp the boat a bit, but as it’s self-draining anyway, it doesn’t really matter. We swamped the boat five or six times, each time paddling madly to get as close to the rock so we could flood the boat.

Yeah, we were insane.

About an hour later, we exited the last of the rapids for the upper portion of the river. This was when Mike (our guide) offered us a dip in the river, if we wanted. He didn’t even get a chance to finish the sentence before we’d all bailed into the river. At first, it wasn’t too bad. The face was a bit chilly, but all in all, I didn’t HOLY CRAP THIS WATER IS FREEZING GET ME THE HECK OUTTA HERE!!!

I lunged for the perimeter line to start hauling myself back in. Shawn, who had hit the water only seconds before me, was now struggling to get back, realizing himself that the water was rather cold. Unfortunately, it’s hard to haul yourself into one of these rafts — they sit high, and the now water-logged wetsuits and pullovers make you a little heavier than you might be without them. This is when I started to get a little worried.

Because the boat was empty.

Apparently, we’d all bailed into the river. I immediately began to wonder if we’d have to stay like this right until the end, which although not far away, felt like eternity in that water. But then I saw Mike (the guide) reach over, grab my life jacket, and haul me in. It took me a moment to get back up, but then I reached down and grabbed Carl, and hauled him in. I landed in the bottom of the raft, Carl on top of me. Then Mike (the guide) ceremoniously dumped Shawn on top of us. Then Cory and Colin came flying in, all of us a tangle of bodies.

We tried to convince the staff to let us do the Lower Kicking Horse that afternoon. Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough room on the bus to let us go, as much as we wanted to. We’ll just have to wait until next time for that, I guess.

We peeled off our second skins back at the Whitewater Ranch, and changed into dry clothes. Bidding our guides farewell, we broke a few more speed limits getting to St. James’ Gate, a pub in Banff. It was time for the post-rafting beer and grub. We were all famished. It was obvious then that this was something we’d certainly do again. I just have to figure out when’s a good time to go, find all the people, and make sure we do the Upper and Lower portions. We’re not doing it halfway again…

But I’m not driving.

Cooking Dinner for the Homeless at the Mustard Seed

Although it’s been a very long time since I was a scout, I still try to do good deeds. Last night, nine dedicated CMassers did a good deed.

Owing to employee pressure, Critical Mass started doing charity work some months ago. So far, it’s entailed a head-shaving fundraiser, an auction, and a couple of food drives (I think — some of the beginning of this year is a bit blurry). We’re getting into Habitat for Humanity, though we haven’t done anything with it yet.

One thing we have done a few times, and this is a regular activity for us, is to make dinner one night at month at the Mustard Seed Street Ministry kitchen, for Calgary’s financially inhibited. We donate the majority of the food for that meal, and the labour to create it. Last night was my first crack at the kitchen.

We headed over at 4:00 to the “Seed” (as it’s referred to by its staff) to start preparation. We had to chop and cook everything we had with us. Mercy, the Bistro manager and our head chef, headed over early to get started. Within a few minutes of arriving, we were mercilessly chopping celery, broccoli, bok choy (I was “Bok Choy Boy”), onions (luckily, they had a machine which did most of the work, but we had to peel and quarter them first), and carrots (I was on peeling detail).

Early into the cutting process, I started to notice a strong stinging sensation in my right hand. I noticed, much to my chagrin, that the knife I was using was literally scraping skin off my forefinger. Most knives are thin metal plates with either plastic or wood wrapped around (or tacked to the side of) the handle. This knife had a serious user interface problem — the wood was too short, and left an 1/8 inch strip jutting out the top. Although not as sharp as the blade (which was pretty darn sharp, let me tell you), it was enough to peel off some skin. I donned a surgical glove for the remainder of the evening.

Part way through the chopping, I was asked to help out with another task. While four of us cut veggies, three others were chopping fruit. We were making fruit salad for dessert. A lot of fruit salad. About 50 pounds of it, as near as I can tell. It had to be mixed in a very large pot, and I somehow landed the task of stirring the mass of fruit.

With my arm.

I was up to my elbow in melon and strawberries. It was a peculiar sensation, to say the least. It would have probably been a lot more pleasant if the fruit were warmer, but it was still chilled from refrigeration. My fingers were numb after a few minutes. That said, it felt like I was doing a remake of the kitchen scene from “9 1/2 Weeks”.

We were making a stupidly large amount of food. The Seed is well-equipped for such a meal, though, complete with a huge array of pots of varying sizes (ranging from gigantic to titanic), scoops that can take about over a litre of contents at once, massive ovens that cooked eight huge pans of rice, an immense grill we used for stir frying the veggies, and a … uh … I’m not sure what to call it … a square caldron we used for cooking the sweet and sour chicken.

Although I don’t have a complete recipe, here’s the one we used to make the sweet and sour chicken:

80 lb Cubed, cooked meat (chicken)
15 lb Onions
15 Garlic cloves, crushed
4×100 oz Pineapple
2 L Soy sauce
3 cups Brown sugar
3 cups Vinegar
20 L Water

It all fit into that one cauldron.

Add to that 50 lbs of fruit salad, three very large pots (each about 50 lbs) of vegetables, and at least 40 lbs of rice … that’s a lot of food. Aside from the vegetables, it was mostly cooked by 6:30, at which time the staff (including volunteers and ourselves) got to eat. Despite the mass quantities of food, it was still quite tasty. And the rice turned out much better than I thought was possible in an oven (better than any rice I’ve ever made).

Then the rush started. Heather, Steve, Bill, Therese, and Eryn took the frontline for serving, Carla helped dispense coffee and tea, Mercy cooked the vegetables, and Jen and I did the grunt labour of keeping the serving trays full and the vegetables flowing to the grill to be cooked.

The four and a half hours disappeared, and soon it was 8:30, which is when the kitchen closes. There wasn’t much left — a little for lunch, but that was about it. At that point, we were free to leave. All we had to do was cut, cook, and serve. Other staff were responsible for cleaning up after our mess. (And we made a pretty decent one, although it was hard to tell by the end — the Seed staff are very quick at cleaning up.)

As we began to shut up the kitchen, signifying the end of dinner, one of the Seed’s patrons stuck his head in through one of the serving windows, to say thanks for dinner. He said something like this:

“Y’know the movie ‘Angels in the Outfield’? Well, we got Angels in the kitchen!”

We had served about 500 people, although we have yet to receive an exact number. We were feeling really good about ourselves. Until we went outside, that is.

There were about a hundred people who hadn’t been able to get in. A hundred people who wouldn’t get dinner. It was sobering to realize that for all those you do help, there are always more in need. It just emphasized that what we are doing is in no way trivial.

It’s also in no way easy. I was sore. I was physically exhausted. And my feet were ready to declare themselves a separate and distinct society from the rest of my body. But it was very rewarding. I opted to skip a movie last night, and instead curled up in a chair at home to rest.

I will help at the Seed again, that much is for certain. Just not until my feet stop pounding.

Stag Party in Innisfail, Strippers in Red Deer

Note to self: Never let anyone hold a stag party for me.

Stuart, Chris, and I were invited to a stag party for our friend Dory. (Dory is Janine’s fiancĂ©e; Janine is one of Therese’s best friends.) Chris opted out, as he had a tight deadline to contend with. (In retrospect, I wish I could have said the same thing.)

The party was in Innisfail, an itty-bitty community just south of Red Deer. It’s not noted for much, except maybe a John Deere dealership. Following some rather precise directions, we soon found ourselves at Hugh’s, whom I assume to be Dory’s best man.

At first, Stuart and I were out of place. We’re city folk. Everyone else … wasn’t. They were either ranchers or farmers. Stuart at least had the upper hand — he knew something about seed protectants (owing to his tenure with agricultural advertising at his company). By comparison, I knew that cows go “moo”.

Luckily, we weren’t the only city folk for long, as Dave and Wayne soon showed up. It gave us some conversation outside of poisoning groundhogs. (And no, I’m not kidding.) We were fed hamburgers and potato salad, both of which were outstanding. Had Stuart and I not eaten before departing Calgary, we probably would have ate more.

The evening was … well … I’ve been to more interesting stags. All one of them. Yep, this is only my second stag. (Most my friends who have been married had the smarts to either not hold a stag, or at least the sense not to invite me.) My first (and only other) stag was for my friend Jason when I still lived in Toronto. It pretty much involved an hour of laser tag, and about $40 of video games at Sega City. Frankly, that’s my idea of fun.

But I certainly wasn’t about to complain. This was Dory’s night, not mine. Besides, I met a few people I hadn’t before. So all in all, it wasn’t such a bad night.

At least until talk of “peelers” (strippers) became more serious. I kept hoping this wasn’t one of those things that would evolve into reality. There are things I want to do in life. Visiting a strip club isn’t one of them. (It’s in my “no desire to” list, actually.) Around 11pm, one of the guests finally got the gumption, grabbed Dory, declared we were all going to “The Park”, and headed towards the trucks.

I personally do not see the fascination with strip clubs. I don’t find them even remotely interesting … more revolting, repulsive, and degrading than anything else. It’s one of those last few vestiges of patriarchal society that were supposed to have been washed away with the Suffrage Movement. Instead, they hold a certainly appeal with (most) men. (Chris would later state that even if he had come, he wouldn’t have gone into the club. Frankly, I don’t blame him.)

Stuart and I tentatively discussed joining the rest, both of us testing each other to see if we wanted to go. (We hadn’t discussed this ahead of time.) Neither of us seemed all that interested. The plan was to drive to the highway, and quietly disappear. However, we didn’t even make it to the car before someone shouted: “Hey! You got room in your car?”

It’s kinda hard to hide an empty back seat.

We found ourselves driving two of Dory’s friends into downtown Red Deer. Although I cannot remember their names, they reminded me of high school jocks (there’s something about naked women that seems to turn men into adolescents … most men, anyway). Both knew where The Park was. Somehow, that didn’t surprise me. Stuart and I agreed to make an appearance, and then duck out. Which was good, ‘cuz even from the outside, this place didn’t look all that great. I shuddered at the thought of what lay beyond the door.

We were told that once upon a time, The Park was actually a “nice” place. That was hard to believe by looking around. It looked like someone had set off a bad 70s linoleum bomb. Other horrors of the attack included tacky lights, bad music, really bad furniture, and staff and patrons that were … frightening. As one of my co-workers so eloquently put it, it was a place so seedy, you needed a tetanus shot. The only thing missing was the biker gang…

…who showed up later.

We caught the tail end of an act that had a few of us wanting to run screaming. However, we were obligated to at least wish Dory well before leaving. We stuck around just long enough for me to have something to drink (in the drive from Hugh’s I had become enormously thirsty) and Stuart to play a very quick game of foosball. But it was just long enough for trouble to start. The rest of the group was looking to get Dory into the “traditional” embarrassing situation.

This is usually done in two stages: 1) Get the person extremely drunk (this has two advantages: less resistance, and the unlucky victim can claim plausible denial in the event they get in trouble with their significant other), and 2) Put them where they wouldn’t normally be caught dead. In Dory’s case, it was six shots of something nasty (never did find out what), and tipping the manager to get Dory on stage. (He was taped to the chair so he couldn’t move. I’m not sure of this was so he couldn’t touch the dancer — Quebec has that rule — or just so he couldn’t run away.)

We stuck around to watch poor Dory be subjected to something just shy of pure evil (aren’t we such good friends?). At first, we assumed that Dory was looking away due to discomfort (for the record, there was no nudity while Dory was on stage). But after a couple minutes, a few of us began to suspect that he wasn’t uncomfortable — he was rapidly heading towards unconsciousness. Part way through the second song, to the apparent dismay of the dancer, Dory passed out.

It was simultaneously the funniest and saddest thing I think I’ve ever witnessed. As if I didn’t already have issues with marriage (for myself), witnessing Dory’s pseudo-theatrical fate was enough to convince me that marriage is something I just don’t want to deal with — stag parties are just plain cruel.

Dory wasn’t in the best of shape after that. The six shots of whatever had taken their toll. Stuart and I stuck around to see if Dory was okay (after he made quick trip to the Men’s Room). The party packed up about then, with most disappearing to another strip club in town, Dave and Wayne taking Dory back to Hugh’s place to recover, and Stuart and I returning to Calgary.

I can safely say that I’ve been there and done that. Whatever infinitesimally small interest I might have had was thoroughly squashed in less than 30 minutes. With luck, I won’t have to do that again.

Ever.