Tuesday, January 03, 2012

When Harry Met Folly

There were clues from the parking lot to the gathering point of the Adventure Race Harry had let Jim talk him into. Small, subtle clues, but clues nonetheless that should have struck him with the force and audible resonance of a Zildjian square on the forehead.

Harry's pick up truck was one. A four year old compact that he had picked up after his full sized dented monster had lost its brakes one night last winter. That and the rust that was perforating the bed, the wheel wells and the cab kind of teamed up to tell Harry it was time to retire the beast. So now he tooled in son of beast, trading down to a compact with an asthmatic four cylinder that allayed his fears of ever losing his brakes again in that he would merely turn on the air conditioning to stop the thing dead. The little truck started to look out of place in a lot otherwise filled with four wheel drive, all terrain, land roving things that could probably throw out grappling hooks and lift themselves out of Hades by actuating a small switch in the cab. Plus the mountain bikes they all carried were hung off or strapped to carriers universely designed by Escher. Harry's two bikes had been gingerly thrown into the bed and the helmets strung up on a bungee cord.

Everybody getting out of the four wheel survivalistmobiles was about ten to fifteen years Harry's junior too. Jim was younger but only by four years, hardly the ringer material needed to even keep up with these kids. They looked to a one like they lived in single room apartments with their fashion model girlfriends, rode, lifted and ran all day stopping only by the mailbox to pick up the check that some sort of adventure racing admirers society sent them as a monthly stipend on which to live. Harry checked the last of his Blackberry messages from the office and got out to find Jim.

It wasn't hard. He had parked his Volvo near Harry in the "meek" section of the lot.

"Hey man, isn't it a beautiful day? I mean, for the second week in October, its heading up into the sixties today." Jim was always upbeat and enthusiastic mornings. It had to do with waking up to his wife whom he loved every day and leaving his children well off in his comfortable newly built home with a fresh cappucino, Harry was certain. Harry, on the other hand, always lightened his mood by quietly thinking up things that would get back at him. Letting the air out of his car tires, for example.

"It is, Jim. And to think that from my house I could be at the head of the Chesapeake in less than an hour, having a Bloody Mary at my favorite dockside bistro. But, here I am. Somewhere in a wood by a lake out of "Deliverance" and you've got that shit-eating smile on again."

"Its gonna be great," Jim ignored him as usual. He knew that if Harry wasn't unhappy about something, he just wasn't happy. It was amazing that he had been friends with the man as long as he had without a single incident of physical violence between them. "So I know I told you it was a canoe, run, bike thing, but Butch announced he had put in a few extras this morning."

Clearly, killing Butch on the spot wasn't going to be one of them, so Harry ventured: "What kind of extras?"

"There's a Frisbee toss, a portage, a treasure hunt."

"And when the fuck do we meet the Munchkins who will take us to the Emerald City?"

"Did you bring the second bike?"

Harry pointed to the truck bed. The lake caught his eye. It was beautiful, smooth and still with the morning mist coming off of it as the sun rose higher in the sky and the air began to warm. Framed by two trees, the water formed a mirror reflection of the opposite shore where maples had exploded into the height of their fall color. In a little while the air would fill with the excited shouts of the racers and the water would churn with their paddling. With a little luck, no one would notice him whacking Jim with the flat of his paddle and drowning him in sheer retribution.
But for now it was time to get the bikes. Harry had two mountain bikes and was lending Jim the older but still competent Marin. He kept the fully suspended Giant for himself since he was the more experienced biker. After all, Jim could outrun him, was probably a better canoeist and now that a Frisbee toss was in the offing Harry knew that there was one event they would have to brazenly cheat at in order to get through.

"Racers, assemble!" The call had to be Butch and they walked the bikes down to the starting point. They were shown, along with the rest of the runners/bikers/canoeists/masochistic sociopaths running this thing where to line up their bikes to grab once they had come out of the water.

Come out from on top of the water, Harry mentally corrected the organizer although even on a positive day like today he knew he was lying to himself.

"Ok, we've put a few fun extras into today's event." Butch roared into the portable microphone from his perch atop the abandoned school bus.

"Funny, I don't see the 'take the bra off of Jennifer Aniston' course." Harry said to Jim who was bouncing on the balls of his feet either to limber up his legs or piss Harry off.

"There's a quarter mile run to the Frisbee toss," Butch continued as if he had not heard Harry, which, being perched on top of a school bus roof, he of course hadn't. "Then you need to throw to your partner, and have him or her catch it in flight, five times each. Then you run to the canoes. Grab the first one you get to, put on a life jacket-Harry's heart sank a little-and put them in the lake. Two times around the lake, and for fun, you see the docks that jut into the lake? There and over there? You need to paddle up to them, get out of the canoe, lift the canoe over the docks and continue on the other side."

"Didn't we come up with ideas like the Panama canal to overcome this?" Harry asked Jim.

"Ok racers, line up for the starting gun!"

Indeed, Butch fired the pistol in the air and not at his temple as Harry had hoped. The race began with Harry and Jim keeping a comfortable sprint up until they got to an old dirt parking lot to take up positions opposite each other for the Frisbee toss. Jim threw first, straight at Harry who caught the disk in both hands.

"One down, four to go!" Harry called triumphantly.

"We each need to catch it five times." Jim called back.

"The waters are cold and deep!" Harry replied in what he hoped was his inside voice. He threw the disk and Jim turned abruptly left to chase the thing down the line of other racers, hoping to catch it twenty yards down line from where Harry had ostensibly aimed.

Jim threw back and Harry caught and immediately returned the throw. The racer two positions down from Jim, seeing the Frisbee careening directly towards his face, momentarily put down his own disk and caught the throw.

"Counts!" cried Harry.

Jim was breathing heavily from the sprints up and down the parking lot chasing Harry's throws. Harry could dial back a little running to the canoes and let Jim recover. They grabbed a boat, threw on life jackets and pulled it to the shore.

"You steer." Harry called to Jim and pulled the bow, now 160 pounds heavier since Jim had taken the command to take the back position as a sign to settle into the boat, into the water. Harry pulled until the thing floated free, jumped in and began to paddle. He remembered a story read to him in grade school. It was about early French explorers in Canada who went up the St. Lawrence river with their Indian guides. The Indians laughed at the sorry paddling skills of the French, who really just splashed a lot of water around until they acquired the skill of the Indians. Harry wished that he were competing against an all-Indian team who at this point would be in such throes of hysterics that they would be useless in any competition.

They paddled up to the first dock. Harry jumped out and began to lift the bow out of the water, almost neatly tipping Jim off the stern into the water.

"What are you waiting for? Get out an pick the boat up!" Harry shouted.

"I might get wet."

"We're in a lake. I'd say there's a pretty good chance of that."

In the first turn of the lake they watched as another team of two capsized their boat and went into the water.

"Ok, we may suck, but we're essentially dry." Harry said over his shoulder, hoping that Jim was paddling equally ferociously because it sure as hell didn't feel that way.

In the fourth turn of the lake, the last turn before the aimed straight for the shore to begin the biking leg, the turn where Jim was now soaked in the back of the boat, where an inch or so of water was sloshing back and forth in the canoe and where Harry's upper arms felt as if on the next stroke they would detach, skip out, paddle in hand, once or twice across the water's surface and then sink gently into the deep, at that turn in the lake they were passed by another boat which, from the soaked and dripping canoeists they recognized the team that had earlier capsized.

They pulled the boat ashore.

"Let's get onto something we're good at." Harry said. "If God had meant us to be on water, he would have made us float."

They got to the bikes.

"We do float." Jim said.

Harry strapped his helmet on. "Only after we drown."


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