Independence dayMissy Votel - 06/30/2016
It all started on a winter roadtrip along the Western Slope, somewhere between Rifle and Craig. Some friends and I were en route to a hockey tournament when a red sign shone like a beacon through the drab, sagebrush expanse, beckoning us in for slurpees, salty snacks and the promise of an entertaining array of trucker hats.
But what awaited us just past those glass doors was way beyond our road weary dreams: rows upon rows of sweatshirts, t-shirts, hats, shot glasses, belt buckles, lighters and koozies – all emblazoned with that classic logo of questionable double entendre. Naturally, in our automotive-induced punchiness, we bought one of everything – and thus, Team Kum & Go was born.
Despite failed attempts to get corporate sponsorship for our beer league athletic exploits – we weren’t even given the dignity of so much as a “no thank you” letter – we took it upon ourselves to act as unofficial ambassadors (emphasis on the “ass”) for the company. No roadtrip north of I-70 was complete without a stop to at least one Kum & Go (second only in pit stop grandeur to the Gunsmoke and now-defunct Gay Johnson’s). I guess you could say it bordered on obsession.
Soon it was determined that a summer tour de Kum & Go was in order, under the auspices of Class 3 boating and Class V cocktailing, with a few obligatory corporate check-ins along the way. So, armed with a hand-drawn map, K&G regalia and the latest edition of Colorado Creeks and Rivers, the first Kum & Go tour hit the road. While the propensity for things to go horribly wrong with four girls and four boats crammed into a pickup truck was high, things rolled along smoothly on that first tour. (At least as well as we can remember, although the clerk and K&G in Glenwood may never recover).
With a successful first run, plans for a K&G tour 2.0 were hatched a few years later, this time with an even bigger crew and the added benefit of a husband’s pimp daddy Tundra and trailer. No more ro-sham-bo to see who had to ride in the jumpseat; we’d be traveling in the lap of luxury.
If the propensity for disaster was high during the inaugural mission, then on this one – with twice the amount of gear, people, vehicles and boats – it was off the charts.
The jury is still out on who tied down the boats that fateful day over Independence Pass, although suspicions rest on the one who earlier had christened the Tundra, going 80 mph down I-70, with the undigested remains of an evening at Peach Street Distillers. But the unfortunate truth is, it really doesn’t matter who was at fault. See, an unspoken rule among river runners is, if you’re too lazy to help secure your own gear, then it’s your own damned fault when it goes missing. Or worse, flies off and projectiles through an unsuspecting driver’s windshield.
So, I guess you could say we were all to blame when, somewhere near the summit of the 12,000-foot pass, things went awry. Or at least that’s when we noticed the cam strap flapping free in the breeze through the rearview mirror.
For those who may not be familiar with Independence Pass – the summer-only alpine byway that connects Aspen to Buena Vista – is not for the faint of heart. Think of it as a twistier, narrower, more vegetated and congested version of Red Mountain Pass. Needless to say, pullouts are few and far between, and by the time we noticed the errant strap and managed to pull over, the damage had been done.
Two of Team Kum & Go’s boats had come and gone.
“We lost boats,” the captain hollered from behind the truck, as she surveyed the damage.
There was a frenzied mass exodus from the vehicles as we rushed out to see who the victims were.
Now, this is the moment where, despite being part of a so-called team, it’s every woman for herself as she says a silent prayer that her boat is not among the casualties. As luck would have it – at least for me – Barney, my trusty purple Jackson, precariously teetered on the precipice, a mere gust of wind away from also meeting his demise. However, among those missing in action were a green Dagger and a yellow Jackson, the latter of which was borrowed from an ex. (Which brings up another unfortunate truth of river running: it’s always the borrowed gear – especially that belonging to an ex-boyfriend, girlfriend or otherwise awkward relation – that ends up getting lost, broken, stolen or trashed.)
Suddenly, we shifted into Class V recovery mode. Some of us scoured the bushes while the Tundra, in a heroic 12-point turn on a blind one-lane road, headed back down the pass.
A solid half-hour of bushwacking, traffic dodging and sheer luck found us the green boat, safely nestled under a tree a couple yards from the road. But the yellow one remained elusive. After an hour and a half – including a trip back to Aspen as well as a survey of every vehicle we passed – it was getting late, and we decided to cut our losses. The boat was nowhere to be found – more than likely taking the world’s biggest boof into the Roaring Fork hundreds of feet below, a sacrifice to the river gods. (Unless it was stolen, in which case the thief surely suffered a horrible thrashing at the hands of said river gods. River karma’s an even bigger bitch than regular karma.)
We waited till the next day to break the news to the ex. Words were exchanged, apologies issues.
Of course, in hindsight, the irony of the boats freeing themselves on Independence Pass was undeniable. And despite an APB on Mountainbuzz and throughout the boating community, the little yellow boat has yet to turn up – kum and gone, but not forgotten.
– Missy Votel
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