Monday, August 29, 2011

The plunge

The line for this water slide isn't too long. I'm guessing we'll be able to go in about five minutes. I look at the sign for the ride: "Cliffhanger." It used to be called "Shotgun Falls" before Raging Waters was taken over by Seven Peaks and renamed all the rides along with renaming the whole water park. Eldest is asking me about that name change as we stand in line. I'm barely listening, instead focusing on the mountains in the distance and the incredible knot that has built in my stomach.

Some of you know this and some don't: I was seriously afraid of water when I was younger. I didn't learn how to swim until my 20s, and I didn't develop the confidence to swim in deep water until the last few years. And it's not that much confidence: Every time I jump into deep water, I need to psych myself up a little and remind myself that I will surface, I will be able to swim back to the side, and even if I can't, the lifeguard will jump in and help. I can do that in a controlled situation like jumping off a diving board. A water slide dropping me into a deep pool is another story ...

We get to the short staircase that leads up to the platform. I look for Wife and Littlest on the other side of pool and slide complex that Cliffhanger overlooks, and find them sitting wrapped in their towels in an effort to warm up Littlest, whose lips are blue from the cold water. The line is moving, not slow. I tell Eldest I'm going to take the left slide, because if I freak out after splashing down, the side of the pool is closer than swimming across by a few yards. I'm already thinking about my escape route.

There are a few last frontiers in overcoming my fear of water. I won't ever not be nervous in deep water, but I have come a long way. I've jumped off a diving board, I've swam across a deep end of a pool, and I can stand next to the deep end and not fear I'll fall in and drown. Though I'm never going to do an open-water swim, jump off a cliff or even tread in a wide-open lake without a flotation device, I do want to eventually be able to jump off a 3-meter board (not a 10-meter, let's not introduce my fear of heights to my fear of water), feel comfortable treading in a deeper pool for more than a few seconds, try tubing on a lake (not water skiing), take a tube to the deep end of a wave pool, and be able to ride water slides that end in deep water. On Saturday, I took a giant step on that last goal.

Eldest and I get to the top of the stairs. For the first time, I get a view of the slide from the top, after previously only viewing others' splashdowns from below. Wife and Littlest have walked over and see us on the platform. It's only a matter of time now ...

A couple years ago, I went on a toilet bowl body slide that drops you into a small, 8-foot pool. I had to psych myself up for that, but it was fun, even if I didn't control how I entered the deep water. I quickly swam to the side, pleased with what I accomplished.

Shotgun Falls, now Cliffhanger, is different. The drop into the water is from higher up, the water is a little deeper, and the water in this pool is colder (at least Saturday, it was). Here is someone's YouTube of this ride (not mine, the last thing I was going to attempt was video):



We've been to this water park before, and we've had passes all summer, but I hadn't got the courage to ride this slide, no matter how much I wanted to. Summer is coming to an end, I was running out of time.

Only a few people are ahead of us before our turn. The lifeguard notices a smaller kid waiting in line and tells him he can't ride. We were going to let Littlest try this before we saw the 48-inch height requirement. He's 47 inches, and though I still think they might not have measured him and let him on, we decided not to get his hopes up. At age 5, I'm convinced he would have been fine on it and loved it, even if it took him a few extra seconds to swim to the slide. The people in front of us are just about to slide. We're next.

This is one of Eldest's favorite slides in the park, but he hasn't been able to ride it much because of Littlest and me. With Wife joining us on this water park trip, he was able to ride it twice. The first time, he and Wife splashed down. They got out of the top pool, and after we slid down to the lower, shallow part of the cold pool, Wife suggested I take Eldest again. She knew I wanted to summon enough courage to try Cliffhanger, and also knew that if she suggested it, I'd be less likely to come up with an excuse not to. Eldest and I started walking back up top to the stairs, with me feeling I'm headed for the gallows.

It's our turn. I sit down on the pink slide, put my hands on the bars that will help propel me down the slide, and wait for the lifeguard to give us the OK. Uh-oh.

It's funny how adults reach milestones and accomplishments that they should have reached in their childhoods. I missed a lot of fun times because I wouldn't go near water. On vacation when I was 13, we went to Disney World's River Country, and instead of enjoying the water park, I found a nature trail where I read Foundation and listened to "Paradise Theater" on my Walkman. I wanted to overcome this fear so much, though now I realize I never will completely. But I've found a happy medium: I thoroughly enjoy the water with my family. Trying this water slide for most people is not a big deal. It was for me, even if it was just a small milestone.

I pull on the bars and get myself moving. I speed up on the small downhill part of the slide, let out a little "whoa!", close my eyes (Seven Peaks won't let you wear goggles on this ride, and I'm wearing contact lenses), and find myself holding my nose. Since I learned how to swim, it's been hammered not to hold my nose, to breathe out as you enter the water. But being already nervous about inhaling/swallowing water when I splash down, the hand came to the nose.

In an instant, I hit the water at an angle that seemed like chest first, but I know I entered feet first. The water doesn't seem as cold as it did before, maybe because Littlest and I slid down the stone slope into the shallower pool so many times. Keeping my eyes closed, I take one or two kicks to surface and open my eyes. I see the ladder to get out ahead. I put my face in the water and start freestyling to the side. In a few strokes, I'm there, ahead of Eldest. I climb out of the pool, wait for Eldest, we slide into the lower pool to greet Wife and Eldest.

I did it.

The funny thing is, I'm not sure if I enjoyed it. I bruised my ribs on a roller coaster a couple weeks ago, and it still hurts a little (especially when I'm sleeping); hitting the water re-aggravated the injury. Aside from that, I didn't dislike the ride, either. Maybe I need to try it again, this time without holding my nose, closing my eyes (contacts be damned, they are daily disposables, I can just put another pair in) or being so nervous, to form more of an opinion than the one I did Saturday:

I did it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dells trip

On our vacation this year, we stayed in the Wisconsin Dells for two nights. For those unfamiliar with Wisconsin, Wisconsin Dells is a resort town along a stretch of the Wisconsin River know for its unique rock formations. Wisconsin Dells is also a bit of a tourist trap, with its endless waterparks, giant resorts and insane traffic. We enjoyed our trip this year, maybe because we rarely left the waterpark resort. This wasn't my first time in the Dells -- I went for a few days with friends a couple summers after high school, and Wife and I would take day trips there, because one day was about all we could take.

But my first time in the Dells was in August 1979. I've been wanting to write about this trip for a while now, particularly after our few days in the Dells last month. With school about to begin and summer nearing its end, here is one more summer flashback ...

My dad's friend owned an A-frame cabin in Baraboo, which is a few miles outside Wisconsin Dells. In 1979, the Dells weren't quite as insanely tourist as they would become in the '80s, but it was getting there. Home builders advertised these A-frame vacation cottages outside Dells in Chicago's newspapers for really cheap. Dad's friend was going to let use the cottage for a weekend.

This little trip must have been a big deal, because throughout the '70s, I think our family had taken only one other overnight trip (St. Louis in maybe 1973?). I can remember my parents debating whether we'd leave at in the early evening or go the next day. It was a cloudy August late afternoon when my dad got home from work, and we were on the road soon after. We stopped at a Ground Round in what I think was Janesville for dinner, and the highlight was getting a sundae in a little batting helmet, kind of like you would at some ballparks. There was hot fudge stuck to the inside of my helmet that I wanted to wash out, but Dad got annoyed that I was delaying the trip and just told me to leave it. We must have eaten late and everyone was crabby. I guess it took another 90 minutes to get to the cabin. Along the way, I could see the Wisconsin capitol all alit from the interstate as we passed Madison, not knowing that 16 years later, I'd be living in Madison and Wife would be working across the street from that capitol.

We got the cabin to discover moths flying around inside. The house was in a mildy wooded area, and this part of Wisconsin was less rural and more forest. I kept declaring "Get that sucker!" every time we'd try to swat a moth, but Mom didn't like me using "sucker." We eventually settled down to sleep after our long drive.

We spent the next two days in the Dells and left on what I think was Monday morning. It rained almost the entire weekend. We went for a hike down a hillside in the woods, and I was a bit freaked out by it, compaining when I scratched my finger on a sharp plant (yes, that sounds silly now; as I typed it, it seemed even more ridiculous). We drove into town the first day. Though big waterparks weren't there yet, but there were some water slides (which were still a novelty in 1979). But all we did in town was go on a Ducks ride on the Wisconsin River. This may have been the only sunny hour on the trip. Two things I remember from the boat ride: The driver warning that if the boat got stuck on a sandbar, the men on the boat might have to get out and push, and the driver asking if any kids on the duck wanted to help drive it. For some reason, I didn't volunteer; I wish I had, it might have been fun.

The second day we went fishing on the river. My dad rented a rowboat with a motor, we piled in and tried fishing. I was surprisingly not that nervous in the boat, maybe because of the flotation device I was wearing, maybe because boats only started freaking me out later. My dad isn't much of a fisherman, but he had some fishing gear and knew how to get keep the bait on the hook (put the hook through the minnow's eyes). We fished as a family for a while, then Dad drove the boat back to shore to let my mom and sisters out, telling them to see if they could find a pool and take the girls swimming (to this day, I don't know if they ever did). Dad and I continued fishing, at one point anchoring near one of the rock formations (and having the water disturbed by girls throwing rocks of the rock, not at us though), and at another time anchoring in this quiet, algae-covered corner of the river/lake where it was just us. That quiet corner is what I remember most of the trip, with my Dad enjoying the peacefulness and hoping for a fish.

Alas, we never caught a fish that day; in fact, the only one we saw was washed up dead on the shore. I haven't been fishing since.

This trip wasn't some grand adventure like our two vacations to Florida were, but we did so few overnight excursions as a family when we were young that this still an event. Never underestimate what your kids will remember even from the smallest family event.

Some other random memories from the 1979 Dells trip:

-- We went to a small grocery store for provisions, and I saw a book, Hoyle's Rules of Card Games, that my parents bought for me. I still own the book.

-- One thing we noticed was that the water tasted different in the Dells. Perhaps it was flouridated differently or just from a spring source rather than the lake. I didn't notice anything different with the water this past trip.

-- For some reason, I think I saw the first commercial for Honey Nut Cheerios on the TV in the cabin that only got a couple stations (this was before cable and satellites in this neck of the woods). Also, we watched CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt.

-- I smelled a skunk for the first time. At least it was dead when we passed it.

-- We seemed to get only one station near the Dells on our Century's AM radio. (Years later, I wonder if I listened to the same station while living in Madison.) The song I most often connect with this trip is Maxine Nightengale's "Lead Me On," but also "I Want You to Want Me" by Cheap Trick, "Logical Song" by Supertramp, "She Believes in Me" by Kenny Rogers, "Hot Stuff" by Donna Summer and "After the Love Is Gone" by Earth, Wind and Fire. The EWF song was reinforced this last trip when we saw them the night before in Milwaukee, then listened to them the morning after ... on the way to Dells. Sometimes life is funny when it comes around full circle.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer fun in '81

Of all my summer memories from my childhood, for some reason, the summer of 1981 stands out. I can't explain why this summer was such a turning point or so memorable, but it was, so much so that I was making compilation tapes commemorating the summer of 1981 ... in early 1985.

The summer of 1981 was 30 years ago, and I meant to reflect, recall and relive that summer during this summer, at least on my blog. I never quite got around to it, however, particularly the past few weeks after vacation while we've been busy with enjoying the remainder of summer and taking care of the new puppy. But summer isn't over yet, and there is still time to look back at 1981 in 2011. Here's what I remember from 30 summers ago:

-- The baseball strike interrupted Fernando Valenzuela's rookie season, but didn't temper my enthusiasm for the game. This summer, my pee-wee team controversially won our league championship (a long story for another post), and I played more Strat-o-Matic than I had of any summer in my youth. Baseball returned with the All-Star Game sometime in late July, and I taped the game on our VCR for my friend Marc.

-- The music was memorable, including "Limelight" by Rush, "The Waiting" by Tom Petty, "Hold on Loosely" by .38 Special, "Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes, "For You" by Manfred Mann, "Stars on 45" by Stars on 45, "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins and "Jesse's Girl" by Rick Springfield. A heck of a lot of AC/DC, Styx and REO Speedwagon on WLS. American Top 40 on WBBM-FM (before the station went top 40 in 1982).

-- "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "History of the World Part 1," "Superman II," "Stripes," and "Clash of the Titans."

-- Centipede, Wizard of Wor, Gorf, Scramble, Asteroids Deluxe and Defender. Playing Odyssey 2 and Intellivision at a friend's house. Playing Adventure on Atari for the first time, a few months before we got our own VCS (and one of my first games was Adventure).

-- "Twilight Zone" reruns on Channel 9. "America's Top 10" (also on Channel 9).

-- Walking to Harlem-Irving Mall. Riding my bike all over the neighborhood. Water fights. Going to Great America the first year that the Eagle opened. Going to Kiddieland and winning a Styx mirror. Going to my first (and since, my only) baseball card show. Playing Jailbreak on humid evenings.

-- The fact it ended too soon and I started sixth grade that September. Great summers don't last forever. 1981 didn't. 2011 isn't, either.



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Still summer

We've been back from vacation for almost a week. Eldest starts school in two weeks, Littlest in three. Summer vacation as we used to define it as kids -- from the last day of school in June to the first day of the next school year in late August or early September -- is coming to a close.

I'm not letting it go quietly. I want to take the boys hiking, I'm taking them to the waterpark later today, I want to enjoy the warm sun, and I want to relish the pleasant summer evenings while we still can.

On my iPod, I have a playlist entitled "August/September" that features songs I immediately connect to the end of summer/very beginning of fall. Some of these songs include "Only Time Will Tell" by Asia, "Take Me to Heart" by Quarterflash, "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits, "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns n' Roses and "One Week" by Barenaked Ladies. Year after year, this is the mix I start listening to once I get back from our Midwestern vacation. This year, I'm not going near it, at least until after school starts. I don't want to be reminded that summer is ending or of bleak, humid August days from that portended the imminent school year.

In a week back, however, my plan of not going quietly into that autumn night hasn't gone completely to plan. Part of it was just post-vacation recovery, and part of it was the fact we adopted a puppy Monday (more on that in another post). The boys have been lukewarm to the idea of a hike, even if the mountains are coolerBut today, we go to the waterpark. I want to go five more times by the end of summer.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Vacation finale

As expected, the last three days of vacation were much less eventful than the first 12. This happens every year -- we get back from Wisconsin for at least one day before leaving for Utah, and it's just wind-down time. And that's OK -- going nonstop for two weeks isn't easy, especially with kids. And vacation is supposed to be a time to relax, and for the past three days, that's what we did.

The past few days weren't that relaxing, however. Monday, we met my mom, who is in Chicago this week, for lunch and then to Old Orchard Mall. That night, we met some friends at the new Superdawg (my favorite Chicago hot dog restaurant) in Wheeling.

Tuesday, after pondering going downtown, we ended up just seeing the Smurfs movie with my dad. Last night, we went to dinner at a nice little Italian restaurant here in Edgebrook.

Wednesday was mostly devoted to getting ready for our return trip Thursday morning. The heat and thunderstorms finally subsided -- this might have been the most pleasant day of the entire trip. I exchanged a shirt at Kohl's, and later returned the rental car. My mom picked us up for dinner at Red Robin, then we took the boys to the park. After my mom left, the boys hung out and played "Hit the Deck" with their aunts and uncle.

We fly out in 10 hours. Our long, fun vacation is ending.

Going home after vacation, especially from my dad's house in Chicago, is always bittersweet. Other people have vacation destinations they go to year after year and become familiar with. We come here. The boys had more fun with their grandparents this trip than perhaps at any other time of their short lives, so going back to Utah and knowing they won't see their extended families for months is rough. But after a long trip such as this, we are looking forward to getting home, seeing our cat, preparing for the school year, and settling back into the routines and adventures we have enthusiastically built for ourselves in Utah. Vacations are great, but they must end sometime, and sleeping in your own bed on that first night back truly feels like home, no matter where you came from or who might be back there.

Every year we visit the Midwest, there's always a little pull to return, at least for me. This is probably a natural reaction: We grew up here, we lived here a long time, and our families are here. Chicago and Milwaukee might be our hometowns, but no matter how comfortable we feel when we visit, or how much we miss the people we leave behind, Salt Lake City is our home (and our sons' hometowns). Dan Auerbach recorded a song called "Goin' Home," and though the song is more about someone who is over trying to find himself, it includes a lyric that resonates with me:

Be thankful for what all you got.
So long, I'm goin', goin' home.


Tomorrow, we're goin' home, to all the things I'm thankful for -- my wonderful family and the life we've made for ourselves. Vacation was great, and I'm looking forward to the next one. I'm more looking forward to the coming weeks and months -- the remainder of summer, the new school year, soccer season, football season, fall, Halloween, possibly a new dog, goals, dreams, friends, joys, adventures, life and so on -- at home.

(Final Slug Bug results: Eldest 42, Littlest 37, me 20, Wife 19. In Wife's defense, she gave many of her Slug Bugs to Littlest.)