An excerpt from a series of stories: Adventures in “FFF” (forced family fun)
“Hit it” I yelled as the trees started casting long cool shadows into the lake; the sun finally relinquishing its hot tinder grasp on daylight. The boat jumped to life and I popped out of the water nicely securing the strap over my legs on the kneeboard. The hot, motionless, air now felt good on my body as both began a dance around me; I edged my board in and cut through the wake to the outside. Breaking through the wake revealed a smooth glide upon a mirrored backdrop, sweet with the smell of wood smoke from the shoreline; I had never seen better water to kneeboard in. Eager to see if I still had it, I zipped across to the other side of the wakes and snapped a double 360 right off the bat; then I tipped the edge in and crossed the wake, catching nice air… this could be one of my best runs. As we reached the end of the lake I could see a small audience of campers sitting outside their tents; the campfire smoke stratifying lazily in the trees above. Suzanne was setting the boat up for a sharp turn to the left, giving me plenty of water to work with between the boat and shoreline. I cut back to the left side of the boat coasting on the board’s momentum until the roped slacked. As the boat banked harder Suzanne looked over her left shoulder and gave me a smile. She could see I was having a great run; she had set me up masterfully. So many things were picture perfect; the glassy water, the warm air, the smell of wood smoke, the small audience of my wife, kids and a few people looking on in camps on the shoreline. All these things had clearly come together so I could finally, without fear or hesitation, attempt a spectacular aerial feat; I was 43 years old, thumbing my nose at the mighty laws of physics.
In 2003, our little family was changing; so we felt we needed a new destination; we would give Suttle Lake a try. It is a high mountain lake in the Oregon Cascades between Salem and Bend. It’s not a big lake but there was a “fast boat” section for ski boats with pretty camp sites right on the shoreline. We were a little disappointed by the “no wake” rule in the morning hours until 11am; by that time the wind would be kicking up and the smooth water would be gone but it was most certainly a beautiful place. The temperature that week was blazing hot, in the low 100s and when there was a wind, it was thick with heat; desiccating everything in its path. A sandwich left out for 10 minutes could easily be used for siding on a house. It was a “scary dry” mid-August and frankly, we were amazed camp fires were still allowed.
This was the first camping trip without our oldest daughter; she was grown and on her own. This “family” trip consisted of our two teenagers, Chris and Tracey, and two parents, intent on our long held tradition of “FFF” (Forced Family Fun). But it was different this time and I could certainly tell we all missed Jessica. There was a certain dynamic missing for the two younger kids and it often manifested itself in various stages of intense boredom. We made the best of the first 3 days, kayaking, hiking and of course, skiing and knee boarding. But boy was it hot; hiking was nice but by the time we were done, we bolted for the water. On the 3rd day the wind dropped off early in the afternoon and the water began to settle down. As the scaling of the lake surface began to fade into a glassy reflection of the skyline, we rushed down to the boat and piled in.
The skiing and knee-boarding was beautiful that evening. Suzanne got up on her slalom ski and enjoyed cutting back and forth in the glassy reflections of trees and mountains. As I piloted the boat I would often turn and look over my shoulder to see that beautiful smile. Chris and Tracey both chose to knee board together, side by side, and clearly enjoyed themselves. My favorite picture of this trip is the two of them arm in arm on knee boards together. My turn came and I began my struggle to pull my wetsuit up over my chest and zip the back. Now the wetsuit was not for warmth; I often would not use a life jacket so the suit provided buoyancy and some protection during wipe outs. This may have been a flawed concept but as I indicated earlier, delusions of grandeur do not become what they are through sensible thinking.
Suzanne smiled at me over her shoulder and banked the boat hard in a left hand turn. I cut the edge of the knee board in and leaned back hard as the rope snapped tight. I started “the whip” out toward the first wake digging my edge in all the way. I always wanted to clear both wakes in one jump; I let go of the rope with my right hand so I could do a “Yee Haww” buckaroo motion as I sailed through the air. I know… and I most certainly understand now, how utterly insane I must have been. Can you imagine what a slightly pudgy, mid 40 something, man strapped to a knee board must have looked like 5 feet off the water going about 40 miles an hour? My son laughed; my daughter shrieked in fear; my wife stayed on the throttle. I was quite literally a human cannonball, with my left arm holding the rope, my right arm desperately flailing backwards to counteract the front tip of my kneeboard from rotating down toward the water.
I felt this BIG, wet Mac truck hit me; my left hand snapped from the rope; my head drifted in and out of consciousness. There was a distinct pinching pain in the middle of my back. There was a moment in limbo when I opened my eyes and could see the bottom and the surface above. I was not sure how deep the water was but I clearly was closer to the bottom than the top. The buoyancy of my wetsuit began to lift me up; it seemed to take forever to reach the surface. When I did surface Suzanne was still circling the boat around. I located the board and managed to swim over to it just as Suzanne and the kids pulled up in the boat.
Tracey looked very upset while Chris was laughing… “That was the most insane wipe out I’ve ever seen Dad”, he said, his eyes moving as he relived it. Suzanne gave me one of those “Are you OK?” smiles. Tracey finally asked “Are you OK Dad?”… I splashed some water on my face as I lay across the knee board… “I’m fine, just give me a minute”. Suzanne asks “You want to go again?”, “Yup” I said, “Just one more time around”. The big lesson here: If you have an overabundance of stupidity, even a near death blow may have trouble knocking it all the way out of you… and it would seem this is a problem that mostly guys have. I guess I was intent on being towed out of there with my pride, if not my body, still intact; especially with an audience on shore. Why did that even matter?!!!!
“Hit it” I yelled and as I popped up on the board I could tell the left arm was not working at 100%. This made strapping my legs in a little difficult. Once I got situated I moved to the outside of the wake and gave the board a couple of test turns. Then I shot back across the wakes again, this time not taking much air; timidity often has the unfortunate tendency to show up a little late. As I shot out to the right side of the boat I pushed the edges for another 360. The rope slacked and I spun around. There was a very strange feeling in my left chest as I passed the handle from hand to hand during the 360. Then there was a sting of pain; I let go of the rope, skimming slowly to a stop.
As Suzanne brought the boat about I could see the family smiling as if they were relieved that I was OK. I shook my head as the boat idled up next to me; Suzanne shut the motor down… “I’m done” I said as I pushed the board toward the boat. “I think I broke something” I admitted… “Uh oh” Suzanne said, “Can you get yourself into the boat?”… “I think so” I said as I swam to the back of the boat. As I lifted myself out of the water I felt things shift inside my torso. Suzanne and Chris grabbed me before I fell back in the water and pulled me into the boat. “I think it’s my ribs” as I slowly sat down on the edge of the boat. Suzanne went into nurse mode and started the boat. “Let’s get you to shore and check you out”.
Back at camp we tried to get my wetsuit off; I grimaced as Tracey and Chris pulled the sleeves carefully off my arms; getting a wetsuit off is hard enough when you’re not hurt so this was torture… “I could get the scissors and cut them off” Suzanne quipped. “NO!, don’t touch the wetsuit…” I protested with clenched teeth… “I can do it”. Once the wetsuit was down to my waist, Suzanne set me in a chair and started poking. “Raise your arm” she commanded as she poked down my rib cage. “Oh my” she said… “That feels mooshy… it shouldn’t feel like that”. She looked up at me… “Take a deep breath”. I obeyed and took a deep breath. “No sharp pain; I can nearly take a full breath” I reported. Suzanne put her finger to her chin and replied “Hmmm, you broke a rib or two for sure… I could take you into the emergency but there’s nothing they can do. You can’t put this sort of thing in a cast.” I looked over at the tent.. “I’m going to have a bit of a tough time sleeping on the ground tonight”. Suzanne looked at the cooler and asked “How much beer do we have?”… “A six pack” I said. “Alright then, here’s a hand full of Ibuprofen and here’s a beer” This suddenly was a new twist on “FFF”. We still had 4 days of vacation left and apparently, we weren’t about to let it end because I should go to the hospital. I looked at the tent, popped the pills and took a drink.
After my 3rd beer I started to feel like I could sleep. The Ibuprofen was kicking in and the pain seemed to subside a bit. I grunted my way into my sleeping bag and tried to find a comfortable position. Suzanne and Tracey snuggled into their bags; Chris had his own tent off in the distance. We talked for a bit and I finally drifted off to sleep. When I opened my eyes again it was completely dark; the fire had burned down. In the heat of the evening was this sound. It was like a chirping cricket sound but with the quality of nails scratching a chalkboard. [squee… squee… squee…] and it was in a bush right next to our tent. After about 3 minutes of this, Suzanne burst out of her sleeping bag, bumping me in the process, “ouch” I quipped. “Sorry honey” she said as she fumbled the zipper and went outside. The cricket bug shut up during the ruckus, but Suzanne waited. When it started up Tracey and I heard the rustling noises of rocks, sticks and leaves. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m trying to scare it away” she said. The dim outline of her body became evident on the wall of the tent. Her shadow stooped down, picked up and tossed gravel on that bush until she was sure she had run the little critter off. She came back inside, zipped up the tent and nestled back into her sleeping bag. “Ok that’s better she said”… [squee…… squee…… squee.. squee…] “DAM IT!” she protested as she flipped open her bag, bumping me again. Tracey yells out “Kill it”… “I can’t” Suzanne said “I can’t even see it”. Again Suzanne tosses half a truck load of gravel on that bush before coming back to bed… No sooner did she got comfortable… [squee…. squee…. squee…]. This time it was Tracey who stormed out of the tent. By now my pain was coming back. We hear some clunking around outside and then nothing… then we hear [shhhh… shhhhh… shhhhhhhhhhhh…] “What… are you doing Tracey?” I asked… “I’m spraying ‘OFF’ on him.” Suzanne and I started laughing; then I realized, it hurt to laugh; I mean it really hurt to laugh… as I tried to restrain myself I said… “Off is a repellent, not a bug spray” to which Tracy replied tersely “I KNOW that but it’s the only thing we have” She madly went about covering ever leaf, every branch and the general area. I closed my tear filled eyes and tried to find another comfortable position. I think we made it most of the night before it started chirping again. Tracey went back out and repeated her DEET assault. Daylight seemed to come too early and too late as I desperately wanted more sleep but could not stand lying on the ground any longer.
The next day I quickly went through another hand full of Ibuprofen and drank up the rest of the beer. The sun was hot again and the wind seemed to be digging for the last bits of moisture anywhere. I was in no shape to ride in a bouncing boat so we spent the day waiting for calm water that evening. Tracey, Suzanne, Christopher and I were all sitting at the picnic table under our easy up. The conversation was borderline snippy as the heat was getting to all of us. Sitting there, I noticed Chris was using a fork to poke at a bug on the table. “Chris, that’s not very nice” I say… Chris replied “I’m not hurting the bug, I’m just trying to keep him corralled on the table”… With that he started poking again. “I think it’s bad karma” I said…, at that very moment, and I swear to God this actually happened; a very large, very colorful, flying beetle came streaking out of the forest. With a sound like cards in bicycle spokes it zoomed in between us and planted itself on Chris’ left cheek. Chris instantly brought his hand up and squarely slapped himself in the face, off the bench and onto the ground. It was as if it were a scene directly from a Monty Python or The Three Stooges… and the laughter began… as the intense pain overtook my laughter I began to lose consciousness; It was my turn to fall off the bench and roll on the ground.
Now I would like to have thought that my family would rush to my side, lift me off the ground and try to calm things down, but that is not what happened. Suzanne and Tracey started laughing so hard they bent over, holding their hands over their stomachs. Chris arose from the ground to see me and he started laughing. I started praying for mercy as the pain, tears and laughter left me writhing in a ball of pine needles and dust. Finally as the realization of my pain became evident my family did pick me up. But it was not over; not by a long shot. The image kept coming back to each of us at different times and the laughter would creep back in. The devil bug had done his work well.
The day before we went home we met up with some dear friends for dinner in Sisters Oregon. Steve and Glenda happened to be vacationing as well; but they had the good sense to rent a nice hotel room; with a bed. Oh god, how I needed to sleep in a bed. We had a nice dinner and Suzanne let me order as many beers as I wanted because I still had to sleep one more night on the ground. The visit was nice but it inevitably included the story telling… about the wipe out, the [squee…squeee…squee] and the flying devil bug. As I recall, it was a bitter sweet visit, as I cycled between good food, drink, friends, laughter and biting pain. There was also the fact that Steve’s a bit of a “wisecracker” and he couldn’t resist making me cringe… What are friends for?
Once we finally returned home I made an appointment at the Urgent Care facility and they sent me to the Imaging Dept. for X-rays. I sat in the dimly lit room on a cold table and waited for the technicians to review the film for the Radiologist. They sure seemed to be taking a long time and there were a lot of whispers in there. Finally one of them steps out and asks “Just how did you do this again?”… “Ski boat, knee board” I replied. He took his puzzled look and turned back to the room; more sounds of whispers and some snickering too. They couldn’t talk to me about what they saw but it was clear my wound must have been impressive. Later that day my wife got the call from the doctor. “3 ½ ribs!” he said… “What?” replied Suzanne… The doc continued-“You’re husband has 3 broken ribs and fractured a 4th. I’ll subscribe some pain meds but there’s nothing else we can do with this… so… how did your husband do this?”…
I had a day to get some rest before going back to work so I took my pain meds and relaxed to watch the news. A series of fires broke out in the Cascades that would eventually merge into the fire known as the B&B complex fires. Suttle Lake was now truly in the grips of hell. Amazingly the cause of the fires was not campfires or other human causes. Several lightening fires had been smoldering for some time; the wind picked up and with the heat and low humidity the fires had what they needed. It was sad to see, and I worried about how the lake would fare. The next morning I bent over carefully to tie my shoes and make my way to work. I remember thinking about how we managed to persevere with our little family philosophy of “FFF”. There were so many reasons we had to cut the vacation short; so many excuses to pack it in and go home. As uncomfortable as I was, I remember feeling a sense of love and pride. I remember feeling really good about our “Forced Family Fun” and how we all would look back and laugh… Then out of nowhere… I sneezed… and the world went black.
Copyright © 2015 by Darrel Boyd