Fighting Demons -- the Border to Border Triathlon

 

This is a tough one to write about because it tested a ten-year friendship. God knows I've done some dumb things in my life but I refuse to take the rap on this one. To say I’ve been scared to death at various incidents life has dealt me would be an understatement but the Vermillion River episode wasn't one of them. I was too damned tired to be afraid.

Anyhow, back in 1989, I was thinking about leaving Banner Systems as sales manager and joining Lamco Chemical in Chelsea. One night in early spring I got a call from Steve Anderson whom I hadn't seen since my ill-fated English Channel training a couple years back. I thought my athletic endeavors were history and that it was time to grow old gracefully.

"What kind of shape are you in?" He began the conversation.

"Oh, about 70 percent. I'm still running and biking plus the occasional foray around Sluice Pond in Dave Johnson's canoe."

"Well, you might want to kick it up several notches because we’re doing the Border to Border Triathlon."

"Never heard of it. What is it?"

"It's a race across Minnesota, the hard way."

"The hard way?"

"Yup, diagonally. It starts at the South Dakota border and travels 500 miles to the boundary waters at the Canadian border."

"500 miles! I can't do 500 miles."

"Not you, but we. It's a four-day team relay type stage race with two-man teams."

"It's still not sounding much better."

"It's set up like this: the first day we bike 200 miles, the second day, bike 200 miles more. The third day we run 50 miles. Then day four in two-man canoes, we paddle 50 miles up the Vermilion River. We can divide the miles anyway we want."

"How about you do 499 and I do one? Besides, it sounds expensive."

"Not really, you’ve got time to save for the flight and we can always sleep 5 to a room."

"5?"

"We need support. My brother, his girlfriend and her friend. They're going to drive his van up from Jersey."

"Well, make it 6. I think I'll bring Josh so he can experience a bit of the Midwest culture."

"Then you're in?"

"Was there ever any doubt?"

"Good, because I’ve already sent the application. Now let's talk strategy. They're only letting in 60 teams and I understand it fills up fast. Besides, we’re not racing; our goal is to finish."

"Where have I heard that before?"

"Look, running and biking are second nature to us. So we’ve got months to train at canoeing. Oh, by the way, there are eleven portages and one’s a mile long. Serious white water and the canoes we use are not suitable for that or dams or other obstructions. So, we get out and carry the canoe to the next safe area. And that’s what they call a portage."

"OK, let me break it to Terry."

"Gotcha, bye."

Breaking it to Terry wasn't going to be easy because in the last few years I had been hit by cars on three occasions. The last one separated and dislocated my shoulder so I couldn't do the English Channel Swim. I tried the following tactic:

"It's not as bad is it sounds. I'm still in good shape from all the channel training. And, I'm thinking of taking Josh with me to broaden his horizons." This was my opening gambit. She was thoughtful and quiet for several moments, then seemed to make up her mind.

"Look, I’ll make a deal with you. And after you finish and assuming you return home alive, I want your solemn oath that you'll hang up your jock. Because if you don't, I'm going to hang you out to dry. You’re not 40 anymore, you idiot, and the piddling life insurance you've got with Banner would hardly even pay for your funeral." That’s what she said but her look told me she’d take me to divorce court – something else I couldn’t afford.

"OK, where do I sign?"

"I just thought of something. If you're flying into the Twin Cities, don't forget Dot Baker has her place in St. Paul. Maybe she could put you all up at the beginning of the race and at the end. It would save a bundle of money."

"Hey, that sounds great."

"I'll call Tish and get her number."

Let me explain. Dot Baker was a good friend of Terry's Aunt Tish. Tish worked for Boston Children's Services and used to arrange adoptions for kids overseas, especially those whose fathers were GIs during wartime and either abandoned the kids or didn't even know they had fathered them. I remember in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, these half breeds were called ‘Bui Doi’ or ‘dust of the earth’. You get the point. Anyhow, in her travels, Tish had somehow hooked up with Dot Baker. Oh, wait a minute, now I remember. Terry told me that they went to school together either at Simmonds where Tish got her undergraduate degree or BU where she got her masters. All this must have been sometime in the forties. Dot Baker was a nun who had spent years in India à la Mother Theresa, educating poor kids. By the time of the triathlon, Dot Baker was one of the leaders of her religious order. She ran a retreat house right down the street from St. Paul's Cathedral. So Terry called Tish who called Dot who called Tish who called Terry that they could put all of us up as long as we needed.

Well, with the months remaining, I had to get my canoeing up to snuff while maintaining running and biking shape. I called Dave Johnson. Dave was a Lynn cop and a good friend since I had started this crazy endurance stuff. As a matter of fact, Dave was in my first triathlon, sprained his ankle during the run, but finished anyhow with an ankle the size of a melon. I have a lot of respect for Dave’s tenacity. Dave lives on Bacheller Street, three houses across from where I spent my youth from 10 years old until I got married. The house is on Sluice Pond and we got many an earache as kids from swimming in those waters. David owned a 14 foot fiberglass canoe with traditional wood plank seats. He said I could use the canoe anytime I'd like. In his youth, Dave was an outstanding swimmer. His times were also creditable in the Egg Rock five-mile open water ocean swim I used to direct. I also rowed a boat for him as support in the race around Nahant, an 8 mile plus, or more, swim.

Next, I bought a bent shaft paddle from a local sporting goods store. These paddles had become fashionable for racing canoeists in the last couple of years and were a required element for the Border to Border. Idiot that I am, until a week before the race I had been using the paddle the wrong way. It gave me great upper body strength but lousy efficiency. This is how I learned. Dave Johnson and I are in the boat during a training row.

"What the hell are you doing?" Dave says.

"Paddling, what the hell you think?"

"It looks like you’re trying to kill yourself. Paddle the other way."

"Wow, this is easy!"

"You're a moron."

"I concede the point."

I enjoyed training in the canoe. Like running, it's a mindless activity and you can slide into reverie while the water laps from each stroke or you can just admire the environs of the pond itself. On a typical training session, I'd turn right out of Dave's into the main cove and head for the first of the smaller coves. At the end, was Broadway and the Four Winds Cafe. Around cove one back into the main cove, I'd see my cousin Sonny and his wife Marilyn working in their gardens on the side of the hill overlooking the pond. Sonny paused from his weeding.

"Hey Tom, canoeing now instead of swimming?"

"Canoeing as well as swimming."

"Good luck."

"Thanks."

"Hey, Marion and Dolly are over at my mother's place in Eelgrass Cove. They're probably sitting outside. Give them a holler when you get over there."

Continuing around the main cove, I took a right into Eelgrass Cove which is actually two, one large and a smaller having only five houses on its shore. I went around the smaller one to the larger. About 50 feet from the water, at the top of a short hill, sat a small red house. Outside on the sloping lawn, sitting on white painted metal chairs sat three matronly second generation Irish ladies. They were my father’s sisters. Anna (her house) was the eldest in her late 80's, Mamie the wild one, early '80s, and Dolly, the youngest of the girls in her late '70s.

"Hello there!" I shouted looking up.

"Who's that?" Exclaimed Anna.

"It's me, your nephew Tom."

"It's Tommy. Come on up and have a nice cuppa tea." Said Anna.

"Can't right now. I'm on a tight schedule."

"Your generation doesn't know how to relax." Added Mamie.

"Mamie, please!" Added Dolly, always the conciliatory one.

"I promise next time I'll stop up."

"You take care now and for God's sakes put some clothes on. You'll catch your death." Anna's final comment.

I swear that generation did everything including bathing fully clothed. It's a miracle they ever had kids. They blushed at the clothing (or lack of same we used during training).

Oh well!

Anyhow, over the course of time, I increased my running and cycling gradually with an eye toward not speed but endurance.

As we approached the date, I spent over $900 that I didn't have for 2, two-way tickets to Minnesota and back for Josh and me.

It was deja vu. I hadn't been to Minneapolis/St. Paul since my Flo-Pac days in the late '70s and here it was 1989. I was anxious to make some reacqaintances.

And now for an aside. A year earlier the weekend of December 7th, I was with the choir at Faneuil Hall in Boston for the Pearl Harbor Remembrance. We always ended up at Tilly’s, a bar, for a few drinks and lots of singing. The bar was just inside the entrance to the central market and there was always an influx of people. We'd inevitably start singing, the crowds would gather, the liquid flow. I was standing next to Bert Beaulieu when he reached inside his shirt pocket and took out a cigarette.

"Take out two." I asked.

"You don't smoke anymore, Tom."

"I do now."

That night began a ten-year stint with the nicotine monkey on my back. For weeks I kidded myself that as long as I didn't buy a pack I’d be OK. Then one night, I walked over to the 7/11 and bought a pack. I tried to hide it from everyone but it didn't last long. One day Josh saw me driving down the street with a cigarette in my mouth.

Oh well.

Anyway, by race time, Josh still didn't know (at least I think he didn't) and I wanted to keep it that way.

The flight to the Twin Cities was memorable because Josh was at an age, 13, where excitement was rampant. This was actually his second flight as he had flown when he was really small to Disney World in Orlando. This time, however, he was invited into the cockpit and chatted with the pilots. They gave him a set of wings for his lapel. Those were the days before 9/11. Josh had taken his camera with him and several rolls of film. He got a kick out of snapping pictures of our take-off, of clouds, and our landing.

Dot Baker picked us up at the airport and we headed toward St. Paul. The retreat house was a converted mansion up the hill and right down the street from the Catholic cathedral. It was magnificent, the retreat house not the Cathedral. The foyer was as big as my living room and dining room combined and the woodwork was a moderately dark mahogany. Then you went into the main reception room where you came face-to-face with a wide double ascending staircase. There was a chapel and the nuns’ rooms on the second floor. Our rooms were on the third floor. They were small but comfortable. It was sort of off-season and our group would be the only ones there. Steve and his crew weren’t due in for another day, so Josh and I had the place essentially to ourselves with a bunch of ladies who couldn't have been more kind. They took an instant shine to Josh (the real charmer in our family) especially sister Mary Marguerite who taught Josh the finer points of poker as they played cards before we went out that night. Speaking of which, I had earlier phoned my friend Curt Peterson who lived in Edina, an affluent Minneapolis suburb. Curt's family comprised wife Lou and they had two boys. Curt had been my boss during my Flo-Pac days in the 70s and he was one of the most decent albeit laid-back people I've ever met. Lou was a nurse who had developed a heart disease when young but she had always put her best face forward. Curt had been field sales manager then. Later, he and fellow salesman Bob Blakely formed their own janitorial supply distributorship and were doing well. Blakely was out-of-town that week, which was ashamed because we had gotten along really well in those years. Anyhow, Curt and Lou invited us out to dinner that night.

"Have you ever had Red Snapper? It's one of our specialties out here."

"No, but I'd love to try it, as long as there's something meat and potatoes on the menu for Josh."

The food at the restaurant was nondescript but Curt and I had a good time reminiscing.

The next day Steve and his entourage arrived. Steve's brother Bill was a couple years older, a student of physical fitness who later became a personal trainer to the rich. He had a huge van and two ladies, one the girlfriend and the other the girlfriend's girlfriend. Both were pretty enough for 'Vogue' with a nod to 'Health and Fitness'. They were to prove more than just eye candy during the race.

Only one problem remained. We had no boat for the canoe portion. We both had bent shaft paddles but no boat. Steve consulted the phone book but nobody had any rentals. Finally, Steve looked up.

"Did you know that Gene Jensen, the guru of racing canoeists lives in St. Paul. His designs have revolutionized the sport."

"How does that get us a canoe?"

"I'll call him." Steve always did have brass balls.

And, five minutes later.

"He told us to come on over."

"Incredible."

Gene Jensen lived in a cottage with a workshop almost as big as the house. He greeted us as one would greet a friend of long-standing.

"So you're doing the Border to Border." More statement than question. Gene must have been a native Minnesotan because he spoke with a lilting accent I hadn't heard again since my Flo-Pac days. Gene appeared to be in his late 40s early 50s and powerfully built. We walked around to his garage. He took us in to view his works-in-progress: two racing canoes in various stages of 'almost finished'. He explained the dynamics of racing canoes with their molded seats set at a weird angle but supposedly the best thing for back support. We then walked out of the shop and there on the ground was the strangest canoe I've ever seen. It appeared to be 18 feet or so long but that was where its resemblance to a standard canoe ended. If my imagination was accurate, the sides of the canoe would rise only about10 inches above the water.

"This is the only canoe I have right now. It's an experimental prototype." He said as my stomach started churning. "It's made of Kevlar, which means it could stop a small caliber bullet or, more likely, a rock hidden just beneath the surface of the water. The other advantage of Kevlar is that the canoe is very light, good for portages. And, as you can see, it rides less than a foot above the water. That plus the streamlined design means it's built for speed. There is, however, one big disadvantage." The contents of my stomach started coming back up. "The canoe is really tippy and takes awhile to get used to."

Oh, what the hell, I thought, I've lived a full life. The big surprise was the rental cost.

"Just let me know how she goes over the 50 miles."

Talk about trust! He didn't know us from Adam but placed what I'm sure was a very valuable craft into the hands of strangers. Now, beforehand, Steve had purchased some very expensive 'Thule' carriers for the van to carry both bikes and the canoe. We loaded the Kevlar nightmare onto the van, thanked Gene profusely and were just about to get into the van when I noticed a hole in the bottom of the canoe.

"What's that?"

"It's called a self-bailer. As you know, when paddling over distance, you get a lot of water into the canoe. That device uses the motion of the canoe to let out the water."

"Cool!" And off we went.

The next day, we drove to the South Dakota border. Our racing package had suggested area hotels and Steve had already booked a couple rooms at a motel located about a mile from the pre-race meeting and race starting point. There was a meal at the meeting but, unfortunately, it was limited to the athletes. Since it was only mile away from the motel, we decided to take our bikes. Josh would join Bill and the girls in search of food for themselves. Steve and I arrived at the small restaurant they had taken over for the evening. The food was nondescript, pasta, sauce, meatballs, bread and butter, the usual pre-race fare. It turned out to be a lengthy meal as all 60 teams introduced themselves and gave a short blurb about their racing history. Some of the speakers had tough-to-understand accents including, I suppose my Bostonian. Some teams spoke no English but somehow got their points across. One team member’s name, however, had a familiar ring to it.

"Hi, my name is Scott Ledoux from right here in Minnesota."

He, like me, was no lightweight. I went over and introduced myself.

"Your name’s familiar. Are you the boxer?"

"Former boxer."

"Former heavyweight contender, no?"

"Yup."

"I remember the fight on ‘Wide World of Sports’ and Howard Cosell's remarks about your unusual training methods he referred to as cross-training."

"Thanks. Unfortunately, it didn't get me the belt."

"Well, nice meeting you. Good luck tomorrow."

Before we left the restaurant, they gave us all goodie bags with maps, information, numbers, and two nylon pullovers that were of such good quality that I still use them today. Carrying all this stuff back to the motel presented another problem. A quarter-mile into the ride back, the plastic bag I was carrying got caught in my front wheel’s spoke and I was unceremoniously dumped off the bike onto the side of the road. Luckily, I only suffered minor road rash. My main concern however, was the bike.

"Are you OK?" Steve had suddenly noticed that I was no longer behind him.

"Never mind me. How's the wheel?" I daubed at my wounds as Steve checked the wheel.

"You've got a silver horseshoe up your butt, Tom. The wheel is just a bit out of true. It’ll be easy to repair when the get back to the motel."

I tossed and turned all night.

In the morning, we dined on junk – Twinkies, I think, and then we headed out to the starting line. In this part of the South Dakota/Minnesota border, it was one endless field of sorghum, soy, and silos punctuated by the occasional farmhouse. It was on the first day of the bike race (200 miles) that we made our first mistake. We decided to start off with longer distances like 30+ miles. In theory, this made sense at the time, but, in practical terms, it meant riding 30 miles, then, I’d be at rest in the van until Steve completed his leg. At that point my body was beginning to cramp up. We realized how dumb our initial strategy was when teams started passing us about hundred miles into the race. With a few scratches of our heads, after a group consultation, Bill suggested smaller increments and in descending order. We opted for 10,8,7,5, and 2 miles. It wasn't long before we began passing teams. I was really psyched when we raced past the Japanese contingent. Also, I could see Scott Ledoux and his partner up ahead but we were never able to catch them.

Wait a minute old man, I thought, we’re not supposed to be racing. Take it easy, Carmody, there's still three more days of the race to go. Don't blow the game on day one just because you're feeling feisty.

"Tom, I just talked to Bill." Said Steve when we had finished the double century, "We're going to need sleep more than anything else."

"I agree."

"We're gonna do Holiday Inns or something like them for the rest of the race, so, we’ll get three rooms and, that way, we won't be crowded."

"Sounds okay by me. I didn't get a wink of sleep last night."

Our spirits were high when we finished the first leg of the race. We now had a sensible strategy for the second 200 miles and I’m sure the plan would spill over into the run.

Steve and I blew our meal budget that night.

Oh, yes, the hotel had a hot tub!!!

The next morning was sunny and mild. Actually, this would be the weather for the entire race. Also, today we found our groove. It's like a 10k where everyone starts the race together and then spreads out depending upon their pace. We were middle of the pack and this surprised me to the point where I almost got competitive -- almost. With age seems to be coming a modicum of wisdom. Terry would probably not agree.

Now, we’d pass or be passed by the same people. Scott Ledoux and his teammate kept making us feel like Tantalus of mythology. We got close to them but that's it. All we’d see is their butts for the remainder of today. The Japanese team, however, was another matter. They were the most fashionably dressed in black Spandex bike shorts and pale violet tight fitting bike jerseys. Their bikes were all in the $2000 plus range with gruppo. The helmets were long, swept back, silver streamline. Unfortunately, athletic talent didn't keep pace with their sense of ‘haute couture’. After all, they were in our middle of the pack group.

Another interesting team in our range was a 63-year-old guy and his 19-year-old grandson. They kept pace with us till the canoe -- but that came later.

The topography changed dramatically today. For the last 300 miles it had been mostly flat farmland. Then there were lakes and wooded area. The dirt started changing from black to gray to rust to red as we neared the iron mines around St. Cloud.

That night, food, hot tub, food, TV, food, and sleep. I said food didn’t I?

Next morning, the terrain for the run would be gently rolling through forest, lake region, and the occasional farm. We chose the descending order of 5, 4, 3, 1, and ½ miles as relay. During the bike race, we had iced our knees for a few minutes in the van but now we kept ice on constantly in between running shifts. This just made good sense because a marathon apiece after two days of biking could take quite a toll on your knees.

Josh was feeling spry that morning and he asked if he could run with us for awhile. Imagine my amazement (and pride) when the 13-year-old ran a total of thirteen miles! Cool, Josh!

As I was running with Josh, we noticed a German Shepherd (with no tags) had been running with us. He’d make side trips into one of the many fields we passed but managed to keep up with us.

"Go away, boy, go home!"

The dog stopped dead in his tracks and just gave me a woeful, puppy dog stare. I didn't worry too much until he had run about eight miles with us. Bill stopped the van, got out, and gave him water because at this point he looked dehydrated. And, here we were out the middle of nowhere. Or, so we thought, until about the 10th mile that the dog had joined us, I saw up ahead four young children, I'd guess seven through ten sitting on the side of the road.

"Hi."

"Hi, why are you running?" The oldest one asked.

"It's a race."

"Cool, wicked." They responded.

"Hey, do you guys have a dog?"

"Nope"

"Want one?"

"Yes." In unison.

"Call him. If he goes over to you, you can have him."

"What's his name?"

"Beats me."

"Hey, Beats Me, come on over here!"

The dog, tail wagging furiously, went over to the kids.

"OK, let’s get out of here before the dog discovers we’re gone."

"No problem there." Said Steve "Look!"

Sure enough the kids headed down a gravel trail with the dog bounding behind.

By the time we reached the finish line, we had been relaying every hundred yards or so for the last couple miles. The strategy had proven itself out as we were tired but not destroyed. Easy to say from the vantage point of 12 years or so out.

We found a reasonably priced restaurant in town that night and we all ate like horses. We went to bed right after supper because the last leg, the canoe race would start at 4 AM. That's right, 4 AM. Hell, I didn't even know there was such a thing as 4 AM. It was dark when we got up and dark when we reached the lake that joined the Vermilion River. We knew in advance that there would be eleven portages, one of them about a mile long. You have to portage in areas where there are dams, white water too rough for canoes, and waterfalls. In other words, haul the canoe out of the water and walk around the obstruction. Light was just breaking through or our eyes were adjusting. There were 60 canoes, the most prominent colors being yellow and green. There were canoes everywhere, on top of the vans, on the ground, being launched, being tested. We didn't get there early so we had time to test nothing. Ten minutes before the gun went off, we were hurrying to get the boat in the water and our gear inside (just a couple small daypacks with water and munchies). The canoe was to the left of a raft. I got in and took my position in back where I’d do most of the steering. Gene Jensen was right; the canoe was tippy but manageable. When I looked at the position of the Kevlar seat, I thought how the heck could I ride 50 miles with a seat at such an awkward angle. But once I sat down, the genius of Gene Jensen showed through my concerns. This was the most efficient and comfortable position for a paddling motion. Then Steve got in the boat.

"Stop rocking the canoe, we’ll tip over." Steve shouted.

"I'm not rocking."

"You’re rocking the canoe."

"I tell you, I’m not rocking the canoe, actually you are. And what difference does it make anyway. If we tip, we tip. What's the big deal? We’ll learn to balance."

I still don't know how it happened but within seconds Steve was screaming. I was so pissed that he’d lost it that I almost lost my temper. The starter’s pistol went off and we were still trying to get control of the canoe. 59 canoes paddled off.

"You're still rocking!!" Yelled Steve

"If it's me, how come it wasn't rocking when I got in myself?"

"Because I was holding it."

"B.S., you had to let go to get in and it didn't start ‘til you got in. So, if you’ll cool down, maybe we can get out of here.

Now, Steve was on the point of hysterics. I was ready to bail out of the race. But somehow we managed some control and slowly started off. We could see a mile across the Lake as the last canoe was turning into the Vermilion River.

We reached the first portage. Steve yelled "Stay where you are. I’ll get out first." That was the final straw.

"Listen, if you can’t get yourself under control, I'm bailing. I don’t care if I have to swim back across the lake. I’m not going to listen to this shit for the next 49 miles."

"What are you talking about, you ..."

"I'm serious, shut up or I’m out of here." I don't remember his response just that we started the portage and, I thought, must have come to a silent agreement. The next portage was a short one just around a boulder with some white water. There was tension each time we got in and out of the water during portages, even when we were only in one foot of water. Steve swears to this day that it was all my fault. I think he tried to handle his own hysteria by blaming me and with his I’ll-take-over position. At a certain point in the race, I decided to ignore him as best as I could and let him have his way. I just wanted to end this thing. The fun of the race was gone so I figured why not try to enjoy the surroundings. It wasn't a wide river for the most part. I guess never more than 50 to 100 yards. At some point, cliffs with rock and pine trees rose up 100 feet or so on each bank. The slightest noise we made reverberated in echo around us. The portage trails were no wider than rabbit runs in the woods. As we hauled the canoe along the trail, we’d bang against trees and bushes and brush. Steve's pace was still a notch under lunacy but I kept telling myself bear with it, it's only about X miles until we see our support crew again. I decided that if he kept up with this maniacal attitude, I'd call an end to it. We’d meet up again with Bill, Josh, and the girls and if Steve wanted to continue, he could do it alone. Well, with a few miles to go before 30, he seemed more at ease now. I no longer felt I was in a canoe with Doctor Demento.

There was also another high note. The canoe was fast without setting a grueling paddling pace so we were able to catch up with the last boat and then we could probably pass others assuming we could get that far. Rounding the river bend, I spotted Josh standing on a huge boulder on shore. He waved his arms and jumped up and down when he spotted us. Bill and the girls appeared as we scrambled ashore for supplies and this portage.

"Hey, dad!!!"

"Hey Josh."

"You OK?"

"Yup."

"Errrppp."

"Errrppp." This was our private secret signal that all was well.

We had a sandwich and drink and two other canoes showed up.

"Let’s go." Steve and I picked up the canoe and prepared to portage. Josh joined us until it was time to launch again. Checking our watches, we seemed to be in good condition to come in under the 14 hour cut off. There was another canoe ahead of us getting ready to shove off but there was only one team member. He was placing boulders in the front of the canoe.

"What’re you doing?" I asked.

"My partner wrenched his shoulder and couldn’t go on. We got DQ’d (disqualified) but I want to finish anyway."

"Good luck. You’re my new hero." We laughed. He launched.

Oh I forgot to mention. In our argument back and forth, Steve had decided that he didn't like the way I was steering so to keep further peace in the family, I moved to the front. (Mainly just to show it didn't make any difference). Actually, it did make some difference. The boat was so tippy that I didn't dare turn around to look at him. Just as well. And, in actuality, he was a much better steersman than I.

On we went. Tension eased again for awhile. We knew we’d finish well under the cutoff time.

"Look," I said. "It's a newt!!!." As something poked its head out of the water.

"I newt you say?" Steve replied.

"A wounded newt."

"It's only a flesh wound."

That did it. For the next two hours, we went through the lines of every Monty Python movie made from ‘Holy Grail’ to ‘The Life of Brian’. And when that was exhausted we went onto ‘The Three Stooges’..

We were getting more and more fatigued like marathoners whose supplies of glycogen were nearing the end and getting ready to hit the wall or ‘bonk’ as the biker would say. Then, suddenly before us, appeared the boundary waters, a huge expanse separating the United States from Canada. We saw a buoy where we turned right toward shore. We were 12 hours or so into it and there were still some people on shore including Josh, Bill, and the girls.

Suddenly, fifty feet from shore, a 24 foot Mako with a 110 horsepower engine blew by us from the rear. We paddled like crazy to avoid a capsizing wave. At this point, I couldn't have cared less. We were within ten feet of the landing raft.

"Don't move and don't rock. I'll get us in. Don't move. Don't move."

Here we go again. It was almost comical. He was yelling like a mountain climber with vertigo on a 100 foot precipice.

I was ready to flip the canoe and have done with it when we landed. I couldn't get out fast enough.

The trip back to Minneapolis was deadly quiet between Steve and myself.

Josh and I hung around for a few days with Dot Baker and her crew. Steve, Bill, and the girls took off the next day as they had a long drive ahead from St. Paul, Minnesota to southern New Jersey.

Steve and I kept in phone contact the next couple years but there was always an edge to our conversations.

Then in late summer of, I think, 1994 or 1995, he visited us on Ocean Street in Lynn. All went well until I broached the subject of the canoe part of the race. He got angry again and left in a funk.

Well, here it was spring 2002 and I got an e-mail from Chris Baker of the group 'CANTEMUS' with whom I sing. The e-mail was forwarded from Steve Anderson by Chris. Evidently, Steve found my name from some computer search engine. After several miscues, we connected by phone. Steve was turning 40 shortly. He lives in the Toronto area with his wife Gail and young son Owen. Steve wants to celebrate 40 by rowing around Lake Ontario or some such madness. Never one to miss an opportunity to needle, I brought up again the subject of the canoe race. The edge was still in his voice but some the sharpness had been replaced with rounded corners.

Steve wants me to join him for one last epic adventure.

I'm going to be 59 on my next birthday and I can't believe I seriously thought about joining him!

Three months later, a cooler head has prevailed.

I think I'll take Terry to Ireland and Italy instead.

Oh well!