Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
August 29th, 2005

Almost Heaven...Colorado
By Norm Cox

BETWEEN CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEARS in 2003, my wife, younger son and I drove up to Buena Vista, Colorado, for some snow skiing at Monarch with a group of friends. We had a wonderful time at first, but after a couple of days of skiing in the high mountain air, my rubberized, out-of-shape legs were in knots and on fire. Each day, driving to and from the ski resort along side the beautiful Arkansas River, I began to detect its siren's song, calling to me like a curvaceous lovelorn wench, tickling my ears with her rippling-water call, "Come fish me, Norm. Come fish me." It was torture to be that close to water and not be able to fish it. Just pure torture.

On the fourth morning there, I just couldn't take it any more. Hopping out of bed and landing on knotted-up, jelly-legs, I told the family that it just ain't natural for Cajuns to ski on frozen water, and that I needed some "river time." I said it with all the gusto of Lil' Abner's Mammy Yokum, "Ah has spoken!" hoping to deflect the certain ire from the home general. Surprisingly, my grandiose statement was met with, "Good! At least I won't have to hear you whine anymore about being cold, or wet, or sore, or..."

Fine, I thought. I can deal with that. Looks like it's gonna be a good day after all. I dropped the family off at Monarch, and high tailed it back into Salida to buy some el cheap-o fishing gear and a one-day license at the local Wal-Mart. A knowledgeable furniture salesman and avid fisherman I happened to encounter in town recommended a remote access point for the river somewhere way out in the boonies near an abandoned stone bridge. Great! The more secluded and free of people the better. He sketched out some rough directions and I was on my way.

I easily found the old stone bridge spanning a narrow run of the river about 10 miles outside of town, between Salida and Buena Vista. It was a couple of miles off the main road, and not a single person or car anywhere to be seen or heard. The picturesque river had a ledge of ice around the edges, clear rippling water in the center, sunshine, blue skies, and hopefully lots of cooperative fish. Just imagining feeling a vibrating tug on my line, I got that little tingling, fluttering feeling in my chest in anxious anticipation of finally being able to FISH!

I looked at my watch, and figured I had a couple of hours of daylight before I needed to go retrieve the family off the slopes. Perfect. I got out of the Durango, smelled the crisp air, and could hear nothing but the sound of water and a gentle breeze coming across the hills. Man, this was gonna be great! Just me and nature. No crowds of obnoxious ski people in their cute little aero-package outfits and reflective sunglasses. No kids to gather around my snow-buried carcass and ask "Hey mister, you ok?" No more lift "dudes" prodding me to hurry up while wearing concrete ski boots and 2x4s strapped to my feet.

Unfortunately, there's also no one around to hear you scream.

I opened the back of Durango, and began unwrapping the various fishing lures, hooks, bait, pliers, bobbers and other paraphernalia in the Wal-Mart bag, placing them in my jacket pockets. Just a few more minutes now, and I'll finally be on the river. With my rod rigged, and all my fishing accoutrements pocketed, I closed the back of the car, doing one last mental inventory to make sure I had everything. Pole? Check. Lures? Check. Pliers? Check. Bait? Check. Keys? ch... Keys?.... Keys? Where's my keys? Doing a personal pat-down on my pants and jacket, the keys obviously weren't on my person. Hmmm, must've laid them down somewhere.

Sure enough, looking through the back glass of the Durango, on the floor in plain sight among the wrappers and Wal-Mart fishing slough, were my keys. No big deal, I thought. Thank heavens I've got electric door locks, and you can't lock the doors until you press the button on the key ring. That's why I was looking for the keys in the first place... to lock the car before I wandered off to fish.

I lifted the latch on the hatch door, but it was locked! That's weird, I thought. That shouldn't be locked. Not to panic...yet. I walked around to the driver's door. Locked also! Hey, this shouldn't be locked either. Preparing to panic, Sir. Around to the passenger door. Locked! Rear passenger door. Locked! Request permission to launch full scale panic attack, sir!

Oh, God, please... no! No! NOOOOOOOOO!!!! My wails echoed off the distant hills, as my eyes went buggy, my pulse quickened and my breathing became shallow. Taking in only short, quick breaths as my mind began to spin, I quickly realized the depth of do-do that I was in. NOOOOOOoooo o o o!!!!!!!!!! But it was too late.

OK. What just happened? Think, Norman, you idiot! I quickly took stock of the past few minutes, and remember hearing a distinctive, yet familiar click sometime during the gathering of my fishing gear. For some reason I dismissed it as a normal car noise, but nothing to be concerned about. Now, in the lowering light of the Colorado wilderness, miles from anyone, anywhere, or any means of communication, I realize that maybe, just maybe I should have been concerned about that insignificant little click back then. I was certainly concerned NOW!

I stood there for just a moment, my mind abuzz as I stared at the very securely locked, not-quite-so-idiot-proof vehicle in front of me. I could not begin to come to grips with the fact that someone so educated, intelligent, organized, and handsome could get themselves in such a precarious predicament. It just wasn't happening! It must be a bad dream that I would wake up from shortly. Surely I'm not this stupid!

As the stark reality began to sink in and the gravity of my situation came into focus, I took a mental stock of my predicament. I had a cell phone, but there was no available signal out here in the wilds, so I couldn't call anyone. I knew the way back to the main highway, but that was miles away on foot. At best I had a couple of hours of daylight. And no one on God's green earth had any idea where I was, so no one would know where to start looking for me if I didn't show up at the Monarch ski area to pick up the family. They were stranded on the mountain. I was stranded in the woods. Yep, I surely was in deep do-do without a snorkel and I didn't like my options. I needed a plan. And quick. But first, there was some unfinished business to take care of.

When I was a kid, I'd always heard my mom talk about someone "throwing a conniption fit" whenever something bad happened. She'd say things like, "Boy howdy, ol' Cooter threw a conniption fit when she found Newtsie out on the town with that bleached floozy!" Given that sort of context, I figured it was some wild-eyed, thrashing, fire-spewing, hunchbacked, demon-possessed kind of funky-chicken dance with lots of screaming. But, never actually having seen anybody throw one, I really didn't have the foggiest idea what one looked like. However, on this day, inspired by my idiocy, I do believe I may have performed a world class Cajun-watusi-conniption right there on the icy banks of the beautiful Arkansas River...all by my lonesome.

First, I threw my head back and roared several of my best, deep-throated, "AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!" until all the air in my lungs were exhausted and in danger of collapsing, and the veins on my neck on the verge of exploding. Then, bending forward at the waist, I stomped and jumped and spun around, injun-style in a couple of tight circles, teeth and fists clenched tightly, mumbling some sort of growling gibberish. At the end of the second spin cycle, and like a finely-tuned discus thrower, I extended my arms wide and flung my brand new Wal-Mart Dee-Lux lightweight spin-cast trout combo rod and reel in helicopter fashion about 50 yards down the road. I paused to listen to its whoosh-whoosh, and watch it bounce a couple of time before coming to rest in some bushes, noting it's location in case I ever came back to any semblance of sanity.

With both hands now free, I put a death-grip on the sides of my gimme cap and tried unsuccessfully to force my contorted head and face out through the top of its canvas dome. In a moment the searing pain in my crumpled, folded ears briefly brought me to my senses. Undaunted and still committed to fully venting my frustrations, I peeled the cap off and began beating the truck with it as though it were on fire, with each lick raising a little cloud of dust at the point of impact. The last impassioned lick knocked the cap from my grip and it slid across the hood to the other side of the truck. Fully engulfed with the conniption spirit now, I was easily persuaded that the hat was in some way part of a vast right wing conspiracy to quench the spirit and curtail my speaking in tongues. Like that's gonna happen! I charged around the truck and commenced my straight-jacketed river-dance, grinding and stomping the helpless hat into a crumpled heap in the loose road gravel.

Wheeling around for another banshee scream, my still sore jelly-legs gave way on the gravel marbles and my exhausted body crumbled into a dusty, panting heap. The jarring impact with the hard ground put a major frog in my gluteus maximus, and somehow exorcised the frenetic spirit that had invaded my body. Lying flat on my back in a perfect gravel angel position, I felt my heart pump like a driving piston under my shirt. My chest quickly rose and fell as I desperately gulped at the thin mountain air. I laid there for what seemed an eternity waiting for my red-lined body engine to return to idle. I could smell the dust in the air around me and taste its grit between my teeth. I also remember thinking how pretty the clouds were.

In a few minutes the pounding in my head subsided and my eyes were able to focus again. I rolled my head to one side, making sure it was still attached, and for the first time noticed just how many cantaloupe-sized rocks there were just lying around. Well, I thought, unless I get a better idea, I guess I could use one of these rocks to break a window. Option number one...a bad one, but an option nonetheless.

Having finished my cathartic conniption business, I slowly stood up, dusted myself off, picked up my tattered, dirt-colored cap and smacked it across my leg. Time to put on my thinking cap, even if it did look like dusty road kill. And then, back in pseudo-control of my emotions and sensibilities, I considered my options. I found it ironic- even amusing-that in this "advanced" age of technology, I had a cell phone, a digital camera, electric door locks and such, and yet the most useful implement to me at that very moment was a common river rock, ergonomically fashioned by Ma Nature to fit perfectly in my hand and equally adequate for opening my vehicle. Technology...Schmechnology.

In short order, I fashioned a plan. I would hike back to the main highway, flag down a passing Samaritan, hitch a ride back into Salida, call Monarch to let the family know I'd be late, hire a tow-truck to take me back to my vehicle, jimmy the door locks, pay him lots of money to retrieve my keys, drive back to Monarch, pick up the family, and catch holy hades from the wife for doing something so incredibly dumb. Okey dokey then. That sounds like a plan! And I set off towards the sunset.

In about an hour I reached the main highway. It is a hilly two-lane blacktop with a 70mph speed limit frequented mostly by locals who can probably drive the road blindfolded. In fact, I think some of them were. The first couple of vehicles that I tried to flag down didn't seem to even notice me, swerving slightly only at the last minute to keep from hitting me. Each one actually sounded like they intentionally sped up as they approached, creating a wall of wind that brushed me back, blew my tattered cap off and sent me scrambling into the ditch. They acted like they'd never seen a fool wearing matching Eddie Bauer clothes and a road kill cap in the middle of nowhere before. It didn't look like this was going to be such a good idea after all. So much for the Samaritans.

Pulling myself back onto the shoulder, I again set off towards town. Worst case I'll be there by morning... I shivered at the thought. In a half-mile or so, off in the distance, maybe a quarter-mile up the hill from the main highway I saw a small cabin with a couple of cars in front. Yes! People! New game plan. I'd go explain my sad situation to them and ask to use their phone. Surely they had a phone. Surely they'd have sympathy on my plight. Surely they'd open their home to a total stranger. Surely.

In a few more precious daylight minutes I was making my way up the driveway toward the small cabin. I could tell someone was home, though I never actually saw anyone there. Something about the way things looked-a door slightly ajar, a flicker of light, recent tire tracks, an animal on the porch. An animal? Or is that a speckled hairy sofa? It was such a large, disheveled lump, I couldn't really tell what it was. And then it moved.

At the very same instant I was trying to determine whether animal or sofa, the now-identified animal also detected my presence. Every primal sense on high alert, he spied the uninvited trespasser! A territorial interloper! Fresh meat! And with one erupting motion, this sofa-sized Cujo launched himself off the porch toward me with a bellowing, deep, guttural half-growl half-bark that made the hairs on my neck stand at attention like prickly pear cactus needles on Viagra. With each growl-bark his jowls drooled with saliva and his teeth snapped in intimidation. I froze in petrified fear, every muscle tensed and immovable. My life flashed before me, certain that my tenderized body was about to be a nicely coiffed chew-toy for this ugly, speckled wolf-bear-yeti-chupacabra porch beast. This is not at all how I had planned to meet my Maker. Not at all.

When the gnarly beast was within a single bounding leap from landing on my chest and separating my soul from temple, a stern, gravelly voice from the porch stopped the beast cold in his tracks. My wide unblinking eyes darted from beast to porch and back, still not seeing anyone, yet so very thankful for the voice that halted the charge. The sofa-beast held its established position in the center of the driveway, its hackles raised down the center of broad shoulders, and never taking dark and wary eyes off me. After a stare-down that seemed like an eternity the voice stepped out of the door of the cabin and onto the crooked porch to eye the cause of all the commotion.

Upon finally seeing the source of the gravelly voice, my first discomforting thought was how much he looked like Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, on the day he was arrested in a cabin in the woods...much...like...this ...one. Surely the Unabomber didn't have a twin brother. The Hee-Haw song "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all" came to mind. I once again took mental stock of my tenuous predicament, figuring that if I managed to survive the rest of the day, I'd have one heck of a tale to tell around the fire pit tonight. I was running out of daylight and this was my last viable option. And so, with cautious, side-steps, I slowly made my way around the huffing, drooling sofa-beast toward Ted the Unabomber.

Glancing over my shoulder as I made my way towards the porch, I make note that the sofa-beast has turned to follow me. I decided it probably would not be prudent to make any sudden moves. Slowly I raised my hand in greeting to Ted and began my tale of woe with an humble apology for disturbing him and his lovely "pet." I explained that I was going fishing and that I had locked my keys in my truck down at stone bridge and that my family was at Monarch waiting for me and that...

I made a little squeak as I inhaled and swallowed the rest of my sentence when I felt a warm, moist breath on the back of my neck. Again, the hairs on my neck rose to rigid attention, and a zillion goose bumps stampeded their way up to the top of my scalp. I wrenched my head around and locked eyeball-to-eyeball, nose-to-muzzle with the sofa-beast. The sofa-beast was walking upright on his hind legs behind me, his front paws balancing his frame like a shadow-dancer. He was a full six and a half feet tall, and easily able to sniff the exposed skin behind my ears. Why are you sniffing my ears, you mangy mongrel? I had always heard that animals could smell fear, but figured "Parfum de Stranded Coonazz" was probably a new aroma to him. Why can't you just smell my rear end like other dogs? I wouldn't like it any more, but at least I'd be taller than you.

Again the voice on the porch rescued me from Godzilla's love nuzzles, and the mutt returned to all fours. Sensing I was neither edible nor a threat anymore, sofa-beast lumbered back to his guard post on the porch and assumed his large lump position. Relieved to be of no further interest to the creature, I continued my saga with Ted the Unabomber.

Taking his sweet time in sizing me up and the believability of my story, Ted finally broke his skeptical silence. "You parked down there at stone bridge?"

"Yes", I answered.

"You got them 'lectric door locks?"

"Yes, I do."

A slight pause and then in an annoyed tone he said, "Just a minute."

Ted disappeared into the back recesses of a nearby shed. I could hear the metal noises coming from the shed, surmising he was rummaging around looking for something in particular. He emerged a couple of moments later with a half-dozen well-used and customized slim-jims of various sizes and shapes. I looked at him, then at his collection of lock picker's tools, then back at him. For a split second not a word passed between us, but he must have sensed the "Hey! Aren't those things illegal?" question rolling around on the tip of my tongue. His cold stare told me that if I wanted his help to get into my truck before the spring thaw, I'd better not even think of hopping on some moral high horse, and keep my uppity yap shut.

"Get in the car," he barked.

Yessiree, Mr. Ted the Unabomber. Lemme hold them fine tools for you! Did you make these? Man, that's some nice craftsmanship..." When in Rome, you know. Besides, what're the odds of stumbling on the Unabomber's twin with custom slim jims, and who knows how to break into 'lectric cars in the middle of the Colorado wilderness. As far as I was concerned, Mr. Ted the Unabomber was just a scruffy angel God sent my way after thumping me with a little ethical lesson. (I had purchased a one-day fishing license, but it was only good for the next day). And like the Bible says, we should be nice to everyone "lest we entertain angels unawares." And at this moment, I couldn't be happier with my tainted angel and new best friend. We hopped into his little blue car and left Son of Lucifer to guard the front porch.

Mr. Ted drove me to my truck, and within 15 seconds of surgical precision, popped the lock on my truck, easy as plucking a daisy. I'd swear he'd done that once or twice before, but I wasn't about to ask where he might have learned this finely honed "skill." I just grabbed my keys with a little tighter grip, and tried to hand Ted a $20 bill for his trouble. He refused it, saying it was too much, but thanked me for trying. "Aw, my sister does stupid things like this all the time," he confided. I assumed he was just trying to make me feel better by comparing me to his stupid sister, but the remark deep-sixed the last crumbs of self-respect I had left. He hopped back in his car and cast one last parting glance at me that seemed to say, "You never saw me, my tools or my dog. Got it?" And with a simple nod of his head, he drove away. Thank you, Jesus!

Thinking I might like to keep that Wal-Mart Dee-Lux spinning rod and reel after all, I retrieved it from its resting place in the bushes along the road and drove away. As the last fading daylight turned to dusk, I pulled into the parking lot at the Monarch ski lodge. The family was waiting on the steps, tired and chilly. "You're late. We were beginning to worry." "Yeah, Dad, what took you so long? We're, like, the last ones here!"

"Oh, I was having so much fun I just sorta lost track of time," I answered, figuring I'd save my "Odyssey" by Homer (Simpson) tale for a time much, much later. "So, how was skiing today?" ~ Norm Cox

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