Curious to see if the river had risen since the mountain snowmelt had begun, we strolled into town one Thursday evening.  Our little town was exploding with energy.

The river roared, scouring the tow path and leaving scant clearance under the bridge. Trees from the banks engulfed in water had become islands in the mainstream.

A fair, complete with sideshows, food trucks, Ferris wheel, flashing lights, grinding, clanking machinery and raucous sound effects, had emerged fully grown from the park’s gentle womb and the innocent side streets.

Guys in hoodies readied the bandstand for the twin delights of early morning yoga and late night concerts.

Runners poised at the start line were ready to tackle the mountain and defy each other, age and haphazard training. Three, two, one  –  and they were off scurrying toward the mountain, no-one appeared to register the irony of an earthbound event to launch a whitewater festival.

Over the weekend, we sampled other festival delights including Cajun from the food truck, Thai from the Farmer’s Market. Everyone smiled as the parade went by, at the oddity of retired, (often long retired), people pacing through line dances while playing the kazoo, at the Shriners twirling around in childlike glee in their miniature cars and at the “space” float featuring Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and little green dancing Martians!

We found a safe seat on an unyielding rock near the finish line for the river competitions.  Seemingly sharpened kayaks sliced their way through the rapids and the crazily suspended slalom gates, before hurtling toward the finish and disgorging frozen but exhilarated competitors.  Precarious rafts lurched and bucked their way through the course tossing and catching their human and canine occupants like some uncoordinated juggling act.  Paddle boarders tried valiantly to stay upright through the churning whitewater, but they all failed, only to heave themselves back onto their boards and try again.

We thought we had seen it all – until on the last day a new world champion was crowned. Toddlers, seniors, athletes and couch potatoes alike hailed the victor, (a local lad no less), with appreciative laughter and clamorous cheers.  Posing Schwarzenegger like with the gargantuan victory buckle aloft, he acknowledged the adoring public.  As he lowered his salute his hands sank to the ground weighted by the cartoon sized boxing gloves that paired with his intimidating nickname, (“The Crusher”?), were all part of the spectacle.  For this was raft or “sub” boxing: the begloved opponents balance tentatively on a rolling, rippling raft, and try to dislodge each other without unbalancing themselves.  These boxing rounds don’t last  long!  Given the dangers of this year’s rushing river, the world championships were held  ignominiously In an oversized paddling pool!

Content, we wandered home, relishing the great outdoors, human achievement and the joy of laughter.


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