"Competition of the Week!" I yelled.
"Threeeeeeee!" The Spanish exchange student,
Sergei, was pretty excited.
He and I sat in the middle row of a van heading
for the undisturbed beauty of the peaceful Pine River.
We were going to rent kayaks and let the river's lazy
current push us through cozy woods, and several
friends had joined us.
The three Michiganders I've been best friends
with the longest were stuffed into the van's back row:
Dark-haired "Vato" was the cool one and a bit of a
lady's man; Blond "Tonto" was the rib-thin, crazy one;
and wide-smiled Chris was the sensible, married one
already with a career. My brother drove the van, and
the round-bodied muscle-head, Bill Hatch, rode
Being so close to one another wasn't such a safe
proposition. That's because this wasn't going to be
just kayaking. This was kayaking with fun noodles!
This was war.
Alongside us as we rode were the electric blue
kids' toys we'd be doing battle with on the river.
The three-foot long, two-inch thick styrofoam noodles
were popular with parents because they kept their
little ones afloat. However, if these moms and dads
were aware of the time Tonto had cocked his aquatic
macaroni-wielding arm like a scorpion and whipped
Chris with all his might below the belt, causing Chris
to tumble to the river bank in agony (during Kayak-Fun
Noodle-River Joust 1999), I think they might tell
their kids to go play with matches instead.
Van tensions were already high. Once, as I
turned to talk to Vato, I nonchalantly dragged a fun
noodle with me and rubbed it in Sergei's face. "Oh,
sorry," I said, but the Spaniard dove at me, pushing
me off the seat. He tried wrestling me to the moving
vehicle's floor, while I pounded his head with my
noodle, and everyone cheered.
Apparently, Tonto and Vato disagreed with Bill
Hatch over who they wanted to win. They reached for
noodles and started smacking each other in a fight
that spilled throughout the van.
"Alright, guys, those fun noodles are getting TOO
close to me!" said Brandon, pretending to freak out.
"If you guys don't behave, I'm turning this van
But even Brandon wasn't safe from the attacks.
Every so often, Tonto would get frustrated byt hte
pace of the van and say, "Vato, make Brandon go
faster." Vato would then extend his noodle and jab
the driver in the back of the head, providing a
not-so-subtle hint to speed up.
After a ninety-minute drive, we got to the river
and selected our galleons. Vato and Bill Hatch picked
army-camouflaged kayaks so they could disappear in
hiding on the river and prepare better ambushes. The
gray vessels my brother and I picked had wobbly
undersides, something that would come back to hurt us.
All in all, we made for a worthy armada.
We got into our swimsuits. My brother put on a
pair of tight goggles and smiled. With his lumpy,
shaved head, he resembled a race-car turtle who'd just
taken the checkered flag.
We slid our boats into the river. The "Pirates
of the Pine" had set sail, and "Competition of the
Week" 3 was underway.
On the thin river with the dusty gray bottom, we
stroked our double-edged paddles around until we could
go where we wanted to. Then, I paddled up to my
brother's kayak, laughed wildly, pulled the fun noodle
out from between my legs, and slapped it against the
green life-vest Brandon wore. Downstream, Tonto and
Chris's boats cruised side-by-side, and the two
frantically swung their noodle arms in hope of
knocking the other in his head.
Not that steering the kayak wasn't challenge
enough on its own. The current often disagreed with
our paddles over which way to go, our boats rocked
dangerously with each turn, and the surrounding green
forest provided fallen trees for menacing obstacles.
Bill Hatch, behind us and trying to catch up, was the
first to fall from his boat into the river, apparently
after bumping a log.
The jousting paused, and we laughed as Bill
righted his kayak. The winner of the joust would be
the captain who sunk the most ships, while avoiding
getting wet himself. Bill Hatch had fallen into last
The jousting resumed. Chris, who'd arrogantly
boasted earlier in the van, "Nobody will tip me!"
piloted the most intimidating schooner. Approaching
another from upstream, he would paddle to gain speed,
switch his grip to the noodle, ram his enemy with the
kayak's sharp tip, and put all of his shoulder into a
forty miles-per-hour macaroni to-the-face of the
As deft as Chris was, the Spaniard was equally
inept. Sergei seemed to go out of his way to hit all
the obstacles he was meant to avoid. He quickly fell
over twice, becoming a drenched Spaniard. Vato stayed
back to care for Sergei and Bill Hatch, as the rest of
"Yah!" yelled Chris victoriously, as a
cannon-ball noodle shot of his had tipped my brother
over in his kayak. To the surprise of few, Chris had
taken the lead.
Brandon fought back, though. Once his kayak was
running, he snuck up on me from behind while I was
warring with Tonto. In the middle of a sandwich made
with death noodle pasta, I staved off the twin
assaults with my noodle while pushing down on Tonto's
boat to force in water. Tonto responded by submerging
my front end with his hands, and Brandon completed the
successful double-team by lifting up my back end. My
body and kayak leaned over the river.
My kayak tilted slowly until I reached "The Angle
of No Return" - that horrifying moment when you know
you're going in. I braced myself for the cold water
and tried clawing whatever piece of Tonto's kayak I
could to ensure I didn't go in alone.
I plunged beneath the river, and the chilly
57-degree water shocked my body. I surfaced and shook
my fist angrily at Tonto - the same nemesis who'd
tipped me three times during Kayak-Fun Noodle-Joust
1999. Brandon and Tonto hi-fived. I laboriously
dragged my kayak and the fifty pounds of water now
inside to shore to empty it.
Recovering, I made my way up to Chris's kayak to
wage war. And I lost. I went down again. "Yah!"
cheered Chris, and he continued on in his cocky,
Me fighting Chris in Kayak-Fun Noodle-River Joust
2001 was like the Iraqis fighting the Americans in the
Gulf War. But, I wasn't an Iraqi, I was a kayraqi!
The main differences being that kayraqis are more fun
to be around, their lower bodies are banana-shaped,
hollow boats, and, when necessary, they can get crazy.
As I propped my boat against shore and lifted it
to let the gallons of water seep out, I got an idea.
My kayak rushed down-river. I caught and passed
Chris, giving him a few macaroni jabs for good
measure. Setting the pace for the river-riders, I
passed a wide bend in the Pine and docked my boat. I
Once Chris rounded the corner, I ambushed. I ran
into the water, and Chris, a sitting duck, wisely
tried to avoid me. He paddled away, but there was
nowhere for him to go but into a fallen log. I
pounced on his kayak with all my weight, and he got
stuck sideways against the log. Incredibly, he
continued to hang onto his balance. Finally, it was
too much for even him, and he met "The Angle of No
Return." I celebrated, watching the invincible sink
into the stream. Woohoo! Somebody finally tipped
A few river bends later, Chris attempted an
ambush of Vato, who'd been hovering behind the
jousters in a wussy effort to avoid combat. Vato was
prepared, though. He freed his legs quickly from the
kayak and hopped out. Facing Chris, he slammed his
fun noodle against the shallow water with strength and
deliberation. Like a male big-horn sheep stomping his
foot threateningly to another, Vato was challenging
Chris to a shore duel.
After a brief skirmish, the pirates returned to
their battle-ships. I got revenge by tipping Brandon,
which evened my record to two knock-ins and two falls.
Brandon tipped Tonto. And Vato tipped the
"I was just paddling along," said Vato, "when I
saw him over by a log - with no idea where he was
going - and off-balance. He was totally helpless.
What could I do, I couldn't help myself? I shoved him
over. But, I was proud of the kid! The first thing
he did, right away, was get up and grab his fun noodle
to defend himself."
Sergei continued weaving his way from log to rock
to tree branch in pathetic miserableness. He kept
stopping to empty his water-logged kayak, and he fell
further and further behind. "We have to face the
facts," I said. "Some of us aren't going to make it
out of this river alive."
To be continued ...