The summer of my fourteenth birthday, I took part in the best plan ever! It was an amazing adventure! There would be death-defying moments. The elements of Mother Nature would be stacked against us. The legalities of the trip would be sketchy. It was going to be amazing.
And my mother wanted to kill me.
I’m going to take a step back and get you up to speed. That summer an old friend had returned from Germany. I had been living on Madison Avenue for a year then. There was a rental house across the street that stayed empty most of the time. One day, a U-haul appeared. I watched from my porch as people unloaded cardboard boxes. I was just a nosy neighbor until I saw an image that I couldn’t believe.
Shannon had been gone for a few years. She was in a military family and had left for Germany after six grade. She was a kid that I never expected to see again, but there she was… right across the street.
We resumed our friendship quickly and started time hanging out together in every spare moment we had. I was spending the night at her house and we had just about played all the Monopoly we could stand. We made snacks in the kitchen and for a reason that I can’t recall at this time, wandered down to the basement. The basement was a wonderland of stored items. We dug through the landlord’s belongings until we came across the foundation of our great adventure.
A two-man blow up raft.
Dear God, I can feel my mother shaking her first now! That damn blow up raft. With pen and paper we began jotting down the details of how we would carry out the most fantastic expedition ever attempted by two teenage girls in history!
We woke up early that morning, right as the sun began to break. We both left prepared letters to our parents. My prepared letter went something like this:
Shannon and I got up early and went to the beach. We will check in around noon.
Why the letter, you ask? A. The letter would provide a believable excuse about our whereabouts so our unsuspecting parents would go about their business. B. When our other friends came by our houses, our parents would say, “Shannon, Mel? They went to the beach.” Our friends would then go to the beach to join us. Would they find us laying out and working on our tans? Would they find us swimming?
They would find us…
We were hoping that by the time our friends were getting their toes into the cool sand, we would be paddling up on the shore with a story to tell. We were going to paddle that two-man raft all the way from King’s Creek to the beachfront. Our friends would faint with disbelief and we would go down in the books as those crazy ass girls who pulled this feat off.
Let me show you a diagram so you can understand exactly what this involved.
Starting from the left of the map, you will see our path towards King’s Creek. We would quietly walk the sidewalks nonchalantly carrying a deflated two-man blow up raft. No one would notice, right?
Upon our arrival to King’s Creek, we would quickly blow up the raft like a balloon and get that bad momma in the water. We would paddle out of the creek, we would pass by Cherrystone, exit into the bay and swing south towards the beachfront. Piece of adventurous cake.
I hear you laughing, Mom.
With the notes left, we walked with our raft and paddles at hand. It’s amazing how quickly the weight of a lifeless raft can damper your spirits. Within a mile of the creek, we had to put the raft down and take a five-minute breather. This was like dragging a dead body five miles from the crime scene. If nothing else, this outting would prove we were not in good enough shape to rid of a corpse. Once we gathered our thoughts and energy, we continued to struggle with the unexpected weight of a flat raft.
I would like to inform you, just in case you consider doing a similar task, that blowing up a raft is nothing like blowing up a balloon. Not even like one of those giant balloons that you can pretend is a punching bag. I’m thinking that the effort used to blow this damn thing up feels the same as if you have smoked crack for seventy hours straight. That is how we felt, like a bunch of crazy crackheads.
We were off schedule due to the intense effort and time put into inflating the beast. We still had to hit up the harbor master for bottled water before we embarked on our Mission Impossible. I walked into the tiny shop on the dock. The man at the counter glanced up from his paper with no significant interest.
“Hi, Otis! Just need to grab some water.”
“Little Allen, what kind of trouble are you getting into today? Stealing beer off of boats?”
“No, my friend and I are going to take a raft out of the creek and up to the beachfront.”
“Current’s running strong today.”
“We’ll be fine. We’ll stick close to the shore.”
I paid Otis and headed on out to meet Shannon who was babysitting our floating beauty.
“Here we go!”
It’s funny how anytime that you see a video about rafting, the people always seem to be so graceful. It’s almost natural how they control their craft. The first twenty minutes, our graceful paddling looked something like this.
Oh, yeah. Those are circles, my friend. Around and around and around and around.
Nothing but cackling with the occasional, “You’re paddling too fast!” or “You’re padding too slow!” Otis must have watched us the window and laughed the whole time. He probably assumed we were in no danger at all twirling out in the creek’s center.
Eventually though, we got our act together and made our way out of the mouth of the creek. Good God, we thought carrying that raft was hell! Paddling that bitch was a different story. Granted, we burned up a thousand calories just trying to figure out how to go straight.
We took a pit stop as soon as we were out of King’s Creek. Our progress (after chasing our tail for twenty minutes) looked like this…
“How much longer do you think it’s going to take us?” Shannon took a drag off of her cigarette.
“Maybe another hour? We’ve got the hang of it now. Should be downhill from here.”
We were back in the raft and ready to complete our journey.
Except… that damn Otis was right about the current. Don’t you hate it when people are right? We fought and fought the current, but it was a losing battle. The current pushed us across the way to Cherrystone dock.
Yup, there we were, unable to get out to the bay. We floated up against a crabber’s boat and sat to contemplate our next move. Sadly, the Coast Guard intervened. We were hopeful that he wouldn’t see us, but the truth is that you could tell we were on his agenda that day. He slowed down his boat and pulled up near us.
“Ladies, how are you today?”
The coastie eyed our raft from his boat and said, “You guys got a registration for this?”
“For our raft?”
“See how that boat has stickers on it, I see no stickers on yours.”
“It’s a raft.”
He nodded and chewed his gum with quiet intent. “Anchor?”
“It’s a raft!”
“You need an anchor. Can you please produce your flares?”
“We don’t have flares.”
“I suppose you guys don’t have life jackets.”
“No, no life jackets. It’s just a raft.”
“I should write you two up on these violations. The fines are going to be expensive.”
“What I’m going to do is let you go, but you have to pull this raft out of the water.”
“How do we get home?”
“Maybe you should call your parents.”
We pulled the raft up on the dock, still grasping our paddles in our hands.
“I’m not calling my mom.”
“I’m not calling mine either,” Shannon agreed. “Can you believe that he was going to fine us?”
“I bet Otis called the Coast Guard on us. How the hell else would they know to look for us here?”
I introduced myself to the watermen on the dock and a single stroke of luck, he knew my father. “I’m heading over to King’s Creek as soon as I gas up. I can take you gals and your raft back.”
We could wipe the sweat off our brows and relax. We were going to get away with this disaster.
Have you ever heard the squealing wheels of a Pontiac, screeching to a halt. I have. On that day matter of fact. I knew what had happened before I even turned towards the sound of those tires stopping so suddenly. That damn Otis not only had called the Coast Guard, but had also called my mother.
“Get in the car!”
“In the car!”
Do you have any idea how hard it is to deflate a raft so you can cram it in the trunk of a small car? Your mother is yelling at you how this is yet the most ridiculous thing you have ever done. The air was leaking out at a speed that may have been slower than the inflation processes. Hard working watermen rocking their Tangier Nikes were staring, under hush voices saying, “That’s Allen’s ex-wife. Those redheads are crazy!”
After what seemed like ten years, our raft was squeezed in the trunk and we were on our way back home.
Shannon and I spent the next week grounded. For an added bonus, Shannon had sun poisoning from our adventure. The next seven days, we would wait until our parents went to bed and crawl out our bedroom windows. We’d sit on our roofs and yell at each other across the street. They may have grounded us, but they couldn’t keep us away from each other or stop us from plotting out our next wild experience.
That summer, once we were ungrounded of course 🙂
Teens from L to R: Karen, Me, Will and Shannon
L to R: Bradley, Elvis and Madison in the stroller.