The Big Think

September 6, 2009

What’s the Statute of Limitations on Stupid?

Filed under: Disclosure,Friends,Humor and Fun — jasony @ 12:42 pm

And now it can be told.

The night was May 2nd, 1988, and my freshman year roommate Jay called me up and said “it’s raining, let’s go!”. Jay Conder, Robert Durbin (my then-current roommate), and I had hatched a daring plan a few weeks prior to raft under the Baylor campus the next time Waco Creek flooded.

If you walk onto the BU campus and go to the bear pit, you’ll find a stinky drainage ditch running through campus. It’s really nice when it has running water, but most of the time it’s a green and scummy runoff channel that smells strongly of rotten garbage and bear offal (did I mention the bear pits is right next to it?). When it really rains, however, it turns into somewhat of a torrent as it winds its way through (and over) its low concrete channels.

Jay, Robert and I had seen it flooding after one rainstorm and got to thinking what it would be like to shoot those rapids in a rubber raft. So one day Jay went out and bought a cheap rubber inflatable swimming pool raft from Wal-Mart and stored it in his Penland dorm where he was an R.A. We didn’t have any paddles so we collected a couple of frisbees and a racquet ball racquet with the cover still on to maneuver the boat around. We figured this would be enough.

One final bit of preparation we did was to reconnoiter the creek when it was (mostly) dry. If you know the campus, you’ll know that the creek disappears into some underground drainage tunnels just downstream from the bear pits. We didn’t know how far they went or even where they came out, so on our explorations we walked into the tunnels a few hundred feet. When it got almost too dark to see, the tunnel took an abrupt ninety degree turn and headed off to parts unknown. Not having brought flashlights, Jay and I turned around and figured that we’d seen enough.

So on May 2nd a giant rainstorm came through and Jay called me and Robert up with the irresistible offer of a midnight raft trip (from what I recall it was more like 2am). We met Jay over on 8th street by the bridge in the pouring rain and he and I found a relatively calm spot to toss the boat in, followed by our ersatz “paddles”, then dive into the raft ourselves before it could be swept away. We were off!

The first few hundred feet went relatively well as we got accustomed to our new ride, but it was at this point that I realized a few things. First, we hadn’t bothered to name our craft, and setting out in an unnamed virgin vessel onto stormy seas must surely be some kind of bad sailor’s omen. The second thing I remember realizing as we were tossed downstream in what was essentially a flash flood, was that neither of us had even brought life jackets. I was relieved to remember, though, that I was a college sophomore, and therefore invincible. Problem solved!

As we rounded the bend we could see through the lightning flashes the entrance to the underground tunnels just ahead. At this point it got very quiet in the boat and I remember only then thinking “maybe this wasn’t such a good idea”. But it was far too late and Jay and I shot into the tunnel, holding onto our frisbees and racquet for dear life.

Upon entering the tunnel things went almost pitch black. We were only able to see when a particularly large lightning flash came in from the entrance behind us. The water churned crazily and Jay and I pretty much gave up on any semblance of steering the boat and just held onto the sides and tried to get as low as possible to avoid taking a swim. Not that it mattered much since the rapids had gotten even larger once we entered the tunnel. We were taking on water at a fairly rapid clip. Too bad we had forgotten to bring one of those plastic Baylor stadium cups. It would have made a great bailing bucket.

At this point we must have reached the 90 degree bend in the tunnel because the small square of lightning flashes from the entrance abruptly cut off. I think we both realized that we should have walked the whole tunnel when it was dry because we didn’t know where it dumped out, and (most importantly), we had no idea if there was a fence or gate or other “strainer” that would block the passage of our raft. Uh oh. We were also being turned around crazily in the blackness. I remember scraping my knuckles on the wall and thinking “wait a second… we’re going backwards!”. One of the walls must have punctured the side of the raft because Jay and I both heard a noisy hissing and felt the raft going limp underneath us. All we could do was hang on for dear life and pray that the trip would end before our raft gave out and we were plunged- life jacketless- into the smelly water

A few minutes later we saw a speck of light up ahead and realized that we must be nearing the end. We had made another 90 degree turn and could see the lightning flashes up ahead. But we had one more surprise in store for us. The drainage ditch, which had traversed about 3/4 of a mile under the Baylor campus, ended about six feet above the Brazos River. It wasn’t a Niagra Falls moment or anything, but six feet isn’t nothing when you’re in a leaking rubber Wal-Mart raft with only frisbees and a racquet ball racquet (and your crazy ex roommate) for company. When we reached the exit we were unceremoniously dumped from the end of the drainage ditch and pitched into the river, where Robert waited with a rope to pull us to shore, soaking wet, smelly, and half terrified, but feeling like we had just climbed Everest.

After high-fiving Robert and congratulating each other on cheating death, we examined the raft and discovered that what had sounded like a life-threatening leak in the tunnel actually wasn’t that bad, and we could easily stay ahead of the leak by simply blowing into the valve every few minutes. So with that realization, Robert said “I want a turn! LET’S DO IT AGAIN!” and we jumped in Robert’s car, drove back up to 8th street, and I stood on the shore while Robert and Jay started the whole crazy trip over. I never considered going again because, after all, it would be a stupid thing to do in a leaking raft.

Jay Conder, Robert Durbin, Jason Young
May 2nd, 1988

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