Sometimes, just sometimes, it rains in Maine. Sometimes, it’s cloudy the sun disappears, fog moves in, and, sometimes, this lasts for days on end. With the sun out of sight, a steady drizzle falling, and temperatures rarely surpassing sixty, not many people want to go kayaking. This is one of the few downsides of being a kayak guide: when the weather is poor, so am I.
I always follow a pattern when bad weather moves in. At first, I’m grateful. After spending hours kayaking in the sun, and nights with my skin still burning because I forgot sunscreen (again), there’s a subtle joy to finding out that one’s work for the day is cancelled because of rain. It’s like a grown-up snow day. I’ll gleefully make a bowl of soup, glide back under the covers, and curl up with a good book.
But this happiness wears off within a few hours. About mid-day, I get up and start pacing my room, then usually go for a run. I come back soaking wet, and call into work to see if there’s any tours. Nothing. I return to my books.
And it gets worse as time goes on. I’ve found that three days is usually the limit for me being unemployed, consuming Ramen, and talking to myself in strange voices. Anything beyond that and things get interesting. My first summer in Maine, there was a stretch of 11 days (count ‘em, eleven) when I didn’t see the sun, and had no tours. The result of this duration of time was hours of conversation with a cat named Fatty, enough running to give me shin splints and my first full length manuscript which was, if possible, more depressing and grueling to read than the weather itself. The only thing it was good for was burning page by page to cook my Ramen noodles and save money on the electric bills. After that attempt, it strikes me as no surprise that Hawthorne, Poe and Dickinson we’re all New England writers.
So if I wake up for a third day, and it’s still raining, then I’ve just about had it. I live in a state of denial, and even if tours aren’t going out, I am. I put on my kayaking clothes and walk into work. I talk mindlessly with everyone who’s there, checking the computer every five minutes to see if someone magically booked a tour. Every now and then I’m tempted to just go abduct people from the sidewalk. I’ve contemplated attaching one-dollar bills (or perhaps Harvard brochures) to fishing line and leaving them on the sidewalk by our shop. Once an unsuspecting visitor bends down to take a look, I’ll start winding up the fishing line, until they’re within arm’s length then tackle them with a yell:
“Quick! Quick! I got some clients, get the boats ready!”
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
This summer, I’ve been bracing myself for the rain. And it hit. This past week saw four days of no sun and no tours. Luckily, there arose a chance for me to salvage some sanity: I decided I would learn to drive. Not drive a car, but drive for our company. Since we don’t have a waterfront location, all of our tours are picked up and carted in fifteen passenger vans to various starting locations around the island. Behind these vans, are twenty-foot trailers, each holding up to 14 tandem kayaks. This year, the company has had a lot of difficulty hiring drivers. So I volunteered to drive part-time. Not only would it get me extra hours, but driving with a huge trailer is an excellent skill to master. It will help me out when I drive semi-trucks later on in life (will be receiving a phone call from my parents in five…four…three…).
So when the rain hit last week, and I was devoid of any other work, I decided it’d be a good time to practice driving. Part of the job description requires backing the vans and a trail down long stretches of a narrow street, something I am hardly comfortable with. Amidst pouring rain, I went into work to ask if I could get some driving pointers.
“You wanna practice driving?” My manager asked. He turned and grabbed a set of keys off the wall, then tossed them to me. “Use the purple van, and just grab one of the trailers.”
I looked at the keys, then looked back at my manager, who now had his back turned to me and had resumed whatever he’d been doing before I entered.
“And…?” I inquired.
He turned back. “And…take it out driving. You can go to the parking lot up the street and maneuver a bit. Just do whatever makes you feel comfortable.”
This was one of my many moments in life when I am convinced I’ve been trusted with entirely too much responsibility. Not only was I driving a machine that is about twice as large as my beloved Ruby the Suby (or Betsy, God rest her soul), but attached to said vehicle was a trailer which is just as big, carrying fourteen boats. All of these, I might add, are easily worth two weeks of my pay. Six when raining.
But did I say any of this? No, of course not. All I said was: “Okay. Cool. Be back in a bit.”
“Yep,” my manager responded. “Call me if there’s any problems,” He said, like he didn’t think there would be.
I biked up to the depot where our boats were kept, arriving soaked and cold and happy not to be kayaking. I found the purple van, managed to start it, and then went about backing it up and hooking up a trailer.
Luckily for me, I know how to hook up trailers. I grew up on a pseudo-farm, meaning that although I lived in the suburbs, my childhood playmates were chickens, horses, and a raccoon, and by the time I took my driving test I had allotted more hours on a tractor than most suburban mothers in their minivans. So I hooked up the trailer, as best I knew how, tested the lights, took a deep breath, and I was off.
And everything went dandy. I pulled out of the depot at a solid 10 MPH, and turned onto a main road easing the speed up to 20. I drove to a large parking lot and spent the next hour turning, maneuvering, and backing the trailer into and out of parking spots. I even turned the radio on to simulate the distraction of having clients in the van while driving (if Flo-Rida ever decides to go kayaking in Maine, I’ll be able to drive him to his tour). All was well. With a stiff neck but increasing confidence, I headed back to the depot.
And that’s when things went south, quiet literally. I was heading back to our depot, up a small hill in the southern part of town, when I went over a bump. Not a huge bump, but enough to make the trailer jump as it followed. And this was followed by a noise.
I slammed on the breaks and looked in my rearview mirror, then nearly wet myself. The trailer was going backwards. As in backwards down the hill. As in towards the ocean. As in a trailer full of kayaks all worth more than my charm, wit, and short distance sprinting ability could ever compensate for when I reported to my boss “hey, so those fourteen kayaks on trailer number three…wanna go on a wild goose hunt with me out in the bay?” was heading towards the vast expanse of water known as the Atlantic Ocean.
Needless to say, I was out of the van and sprinting before any expletive could escape from my mouth.
Luckily for me, I had attached the chains. Chains are an idiot’s insurance policy when it comes to trailers. The chains on this trailer were about a foot long, and had caught the trailer from rolling any further down hill. And there I was, halfway up a hill, with a chain preventing life as I knew it from sliding into the ocean with an ominous kerplunk!
How did this happen? You might ask.
Well, it’s simple actually. Simply idiotic, that is. While I had attached the trailer perfectly, hooked up the lights and everything, I had forgotten to put the latch down. The latch that keeps the trailer hooked onto the hitch when the vehicle goes over, for instance, a bump. Hence, upon hitting the bump, the trailer and jumped right off the hitch and “toodles!”
I had to get the trailer back on, so I attempted pulling it back up to the hitch. Now, I’m not skinny by any standard. But I’m certainly not fat, or robustly muscular. (I’m pretty much in the mediocre middle ground). I’m certainly not strong enough to pull a trailer stacked with boats up a hill, even if just a foot. But I had to. Every 6 feet and 180 pounds of me had to get that trailer back on the hitch.
It was in the middle of a series of backbreaking attempts that some angels arrived in the form of construction workers, all of whom had biceps the size of my quads. They had heard the trailer coming off, and had noticed that the trailer hadn’t moved, so they’d come over to investigate.
“Do you need help?” one of them asked from the sidewalk.
This is a question to which I can think of nothing but an obvious answer: Yes. What else was I going to say? “Me? Help? Oh, you mean with this trailer that’s about to roll down a hill and destroy my livelihood? No, no. I’ve got everything under control here, but thank you so much. Say how about this weather, huh? And the Bruins! What a game!”
Luckily, they got the hint from my answer which sounded less like “yes” and more like “hmph *GASP* hmphgh”. And just like that, one of them got behind the trailer and pushed, the other two helped me pull, and before you knew it the trailer was back on.
“How’d this happen?” one of them asked, after I had thanked them profusely.
“I forgot to put the latch on,” I said, feeling more like a chump by the second.
They all laughed, good, hearty, manly laughs, with voices a few octaves lower than mine will ever be. “Well,” one of them said, “If it makes you feel any better, that’s happened to us.”
“More than once!” one added.
“Or twice!” his friend replied.
More manly laughs.
Despite my embarrassment, this did make me feel better. I thanked them profusely, then hopped back in the van and returned to the depot with a lesson learned. I was simply glad it hadn’t occurred when there’d been clients in the car.
Even rainy days have bright sides.