Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pontooning 101

I'm struck by the fact that I've been having some recreational fun this summer. Not that it's such a rarity, but having time to go pontooning three days in a row is certainly a milestone after the past 18 months or so.

It's nice to finally reach a point where the "Must get this done" list is finally subsiding after our big move, et. al, and allowing some welcome opportunities to spend hot afternoons recreating in beautiful North Idaho settings. Plus, I'm learning a lot about personal preservation while paddling my own pontoon.

Yesterday we went to Hawkins Point on Lake Pend Oreille. It's a boat launch, complete with dock and well-maintained outdoor john. And, there's no subversive milfoil eradication action out there, designed to kill off all the weeds and people in the lake.

After getting our feet wet, both literally and figuratively, in Sand Creek as novice pontooners, we decided to try a different spot yesterday, one where launching didn't include sliding down a steep rocky hillside, hoping to avoid bodily injury while fighting off brush and an unruly pontoon.

I've decided there's no graceful way to carry a pontoon. My sisters, who were veterans of two outings prior to my pontoon purchase, showed me how to pick up the thing and start walking. Though they aren't too heavy, they're pretty cumbersome, and once you head toward the water, these paddle boats have a tendency to keep readjusting themselves, trying to push you over as you're holding on for dear life, pretending that the weight of those metal frames really isn't digging into arms and leaving bruises in your soon-to-be geriatric skin.

While heading down gravelly hillsides, the fear of suddenly sliding into the water with pontoon above you rather than beneath you, calls for extra care with each step, especially since Crocs don't have caulks in the soles to halt your descent. Once those infant steps have you safely in the water, the process of getting on the pontoon isn't too bad. The proper way is to face the boat to the shore, turn around, aim for the seat, plop down and push off.

Then, for novices the next challenge is learning how to move the damn thing on your personally charted course rather than around and around in circles. My sisters didn't warn me prior to my first launch that paddling pontoons requires a few different moves than paddling row boats. I think this was a perverse plan plotted after they'd gone through their own early experiences.

They already knew how funny they must've looked---paddling in circle after circle---to all those folks whizzing by on the highway above in cars and trucks. So, I'm sure that Barbara and Laurie were ripe for the enjoyment of watching their older sister look just as ridiculous. They had also tried one trip down Pack River, only to learn that paddling a pontoon UPSTREAM ain't no easy feat. About wore their arms out getting back to the pick-up, they told me.

Meanwhile, back at Sand Creek, after enjoying plenty of laughs at my expense, snapping lots of photos and commenting on that "tongue action," which urgently accompanied my attempts to get the pontoon 15 feet offshore, they finally showed me how to paddle. Anyone who knows me knows I can't do anything of a dexterous nature without chewing on my tongue.

Anyway, to pontoon forward while chomping one's tongue off, I learned that the paddler must push the paddle forward, not backward as I'd been accustomed to doing on all previous oaring experiences. That takes some getting used to and some coordination. That's when Barbara turned riding instructor and said, "Keep those hands together." Well, I did my best, but since I've never been coordinated, it took some doing before I caught up with my sisters in their boats.

Once I gained a bit of control over my canvas/metal raft, I started thinking of how nice it would be to dangle my entire body from the boat instead of just my toes. I thought about this a lot through two Sand Creek experiences, but it wasn't until yesterday's adventure to Hawkins Point that I finally put a plan into action. After we'd floated around in the relatively still waters, even wishing more of those big motor boats out on the lake would send us some wakes, I decided it was time to leap in.

I had looked and plotted long enough. So, I removed my hat and sunglasses, stuck them in the side pocket of the pontoon and got ready to jump into the water. Well, folks, that's easier said than done. If you jump forward, there are a couple of metal foot rods about six inches apart that could do a number on you, either impaling you or grabbing your feet when you push the rest of your body off the boat.

Behind, the oar edges, neatly packed into their slot, could leave some pretty artistic black and blue marks on your not-so-pretty legs as you try to slip on past them. During this stage, my sisters were really enjoying the preliminaries of my descent into the water, and my pontoon kept drifting too close to the shore to make this experiment worth its while. The two guys sitting on the dock did their best to ignore the three crazy ladies who were wishing the two guys were somewhere else.

Eventually, I turned around on the boat and carefully slipped off the back, happily missing the oar blades. My only problem was realizing that I hadn't emptied my pockets of the $11 in greenbacks, my pocket knife and my Bobbi Brown lipstick tube. I quickly retrieved each before they sank to the bottom and put them in the boat pocket.

While I enjoyed a short swim, my sister Barbara was nice enough to tend to my boat, should it decide to drift off to Trestle Creek. Then, it was time to complete the experiment: getting back onto a pontoon while treading water over the top of your head.

I chose the front of the boat for my ascent. Turning around, pushing those leg rods down, grabbing them with my feet, I used my arms to push myself back up on the boat. Mission accomplished and no new bruises.

We had a great time at Hawkins Point, and we figure the next time we go, we'll bring our mother along. We might even figure out how she could sit in one of our pontoons and dangle her tootsies in that clean, warm lake water. And, if she really wants to learn, I could teach her how to de-pontoon, but I'm not going to hold my breath on that idea.


Anonymous said...

Hey Mrs. Love,
I am looking for a moderate to difficult two day backpacking trip to go on when I come home this August. My roommate from college will also be in town and I want to take him on his first backpacking trip. Do you have any good ideas, or know anyone who might know of a great trail. Camping next to an alpine lake or waterfall/stream would be ideal. Also, I don't want to drive too far since we don't have a lot of time.

Let me know if you have any suggestions.


MLove said...

Hi, Bry,

Boulder Meadows off 20-mile road near Naples. Beautiful area to camp in open meadows along Boulder Creek, and trails leading out of it. I'll ask Bill for some more specifics, but I think you would enjoy it.

Will get back to you.

PinkAcorn said...

I'd love to see some pictures of you on the pontoon boat. I don't think I've ever seen one for just one person.

Word Tosser said...

So that is what that area is called. That is where my galpal became known as Miss Cannonball.
It is a beautiful area... and great for swimming.. as long as you don't