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? 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. 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.
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 fucking hardcode?"
Us: (Shouting loudly) "FUCKING 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.