I got a call yesterday afternoon to join the Challengers at Frank's Press Box on West Saginaw at 5 PM for a get-together celebrating the successful conclusion of the 2009 Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge.
I did as I was told and arrived at Frank's a little before 5. It's only a couple-three miles from the River House and being a local I know enough to come at it from the east so that it is a right turn off Saginaw. Those who came from the west (during rush hour) had hell making the required left turn.
When you go into Frank's from the bright sunshine through either the patio entrance or the front door it takes a while for your eyes to get used to the gloom and when you are as old as I am and use a cane it is even more difficult. The net result was that I made my grand entrance by stumbling through the waitress' alley and had to zigzag around the bar to get to where the customers ought to be. I looked around and didn't see anyone who looked like canoeists so I worked my way back to the Gunfighter's Corner and took a seat at a table against the wall. Soon out of the gloom came Mike Leyrer from Portland to join me. Shortly thereafter his wife who I think is named Betty joined up.
If you have never been to Frank's Press Box let me describe it. Big and dark and smokey with big TVs all over the walls with all kinds of sporting events going on, even polo. And the waitresses..... I think the best job in the place would be that of whomever interviews and hires those waitresses, maybe one of the best jobs in Delta Township. Does that make me sound like a Dirty Old Man?
Mike and Betty and I are talking when the Challengers start arriving That changes the whole tone of the party. Tables start getting shoved together and waitresses show up with pitchers of beer in each hand. No nursing of long-neck bottles for the Big Dogs.
Dan, Mark, Toby and Mike Smith arrived together. Then Charlie and finally my telephone-off-the-hook savior Bill Westen who also lives in Delta Township. Mike is the hero of the day since it was he who arranged the casino and marina campout at Hammond. They all swapped stories and filled the rest of us in on that memorable affair. I am counting on one of them to share that story by Email, also the story of the parade through the Chicago Canyon.
I have received an Email from Coach Hoff this morning thanking all and expressing his appreciation for the experience of joining the Intrepid 3 for the finish of the Challenge.
When Charlie arrived he handed me a gift bag with a fancily wrapped package inside. I handed it to Toby who was sitting next to me and he pulled out one of the multiple shivs he carries (he makes knives as a hobby) and he slit it open with authority. It turns out to be a bottle of South African chenin blanc/chardonnay wine labelled "Herding Cats". That got a big laugh of course. You can be sure it will be a very special occasion when I open and drink from that bottle.
It was at Frank's over beer many months ago that the idea of the 2009 all-the-way Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge was hatched. I received a call to rendezvous at Frank's. I think Mark, Charlie and Dan (and maybe Mike?) were there. We talked about Charlie's 2008 Odyssey and someone, I think Mark, said lets go all the way this year. Since I didn't have to paddle I of course was all for this audacious idea. If my memory of this meeting is faulty, someone can correct me.
It was Charlie who invented the term Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge for his 2008 Lake Erie to Lake Michigan trek. We thereupon christened this year's effort Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge 2009. When Charlie later arranged for decals for the canoes the artist spelled Ultimate Ulitimate....that's why I call Charlie my Ulitimate son. Now, like rare coins or stamps with upside-down airplanes the Ulitimate decals are considered collector's items and the Challengers who affixed them to their canoes refuse to exchange them for the corrected version.
Daughter Karen came in and joined the festivities and arranged to get the old man some food. The Challengers were showing no signs of slowing down. When they did eat you could see that they were used to consuming mega-calories per day. They dug into a large pizza and a mountain of nachos like predators on a fresh-killed carcass.
When the party wound down I went out into the parking lot to look at Toby's rig. I found that he uses one of those traveling junkyard trailer rigs like Coach does, only no folding bicycle.
It was a great party and I am honored to have been a part of it. Who knew when I issued that first Hugh Heward Challenge so many years ago how big a deal it would grow up to be?