This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, September 24, 1995
When my friend Ridley Pearson invited me back to Idaho, I said to myself: He is NOT getting me up another tree.
I was still combing sap out of my hair from a trip to Idaho last fall, when Ridley talked me into -- this is an Idaho sport -- climbing way up into a blatantly hostile tree and then getting back to Earth by "rappelling, " which means "sliding down at the Speed of Fear on a rope approximately the same width as a strand of No. 8 spaghetti."
I frankly don't know why I let Ridley talk me into anything. He writes thriller novels, which means that he spends most of his time thinking up newer and better ways to murder people. He's always leaving himself little reminder notes with plot ideas like: "Killer is beautician-herpetologist who puts coral snake in hair dryer."
Here's a true story: I was staying at Ridley's house, and we went to the market for groceries, and I was grinding up a bag of coffee when Ridley wandered over. After watching me for a moment, he said: "A murderer could put poison into the grinding machine, so the next person to use it would grind poison into the bottom of his coffee bag. It could be weeks before the poison got into the coffee. There'd be no way to trace it." Then, smiling contentedly, he wandered off to buy cold cuts. My host.
So anyway, when I went back to Idaho, I vowed that Ridley was absolutely not, no way, forget about it, going to get me up in another tree. I saw no reason to risk getting killed by falling. Instead, I elected to risk getting killed by drowning.
Specifically, I went "whitewater rafting" on the Salmon River, which gets its name from the fact that it has virtually no salmon in it. It used to have a lot, but then a bunch of dams got built, which is bad for the salmon, who frankly are not rocket scientists. Despite the fact that they spend most of their lives in the Pacific Ocean, they have decided that the only place they can spawn is smack dab in the middle of Idaho. So every year they try to swim hundreds of miles upstream past all these dams, and only a few make it, and by that point the female salmon have severe headaches, so precious little spawning occurs.
In an effort to correct this situation, the federal government has wildlife rangers trying to help the salmon by roping off the spawning areas, playing Julio Iglesias music underwater, etc. I've been critical of government programs in the past, but as a person concerned about the environment, I have to admit, in all honesty, that the federal salmon effort is stupid. It would make a WHOLE lot more sense to have the rangers fly low over the Pacific Ocean in planes with loudspeakers blaring the announcement: "SPAWN RIGHT HERE, YOU MORONS!" Of course you run the risk that one of the planes would fly over a cruise ship, and the passengers, mistaking the announcement for an order from the captain, would suddenly start engaging in mass carnal behavior right in the buffet line, but that is the price you pay to protect the environment.
Anyway, speaking of vessels, I went whitewater rafting, which is a little scary inasmuch as some idiot -- the authorities should look into this -- has placed rapids right in the river. Fortunately, the rafting company requires you to wear a life jacket, which means that in the event that you get tossed out of the boat, you'll stay safely afloat long enough to freeze to death. The Salmon River is extremely cold, consisting primarily of recently melted snow rushing down from the mountains; this is nature's way of cleansing the slopes of deceased skiers.
But I made it through the rapids OK, and I was starting to think my Idaho trip was going to be casualty-free, when Ridley invited me to spend a night in a "yurt" that he built out in the mountains. I said sure, not realizing that "yurt" is a Mongolian word meaning "small dome-shaped structure that gets so cold at night you would be warmer if you slept in the Salmon River."
But the cold was not the problem. The problem was that (1) my son, Rob, was with me, and (2) there were trees near the yurt. Rob is 14, so naturally he wanted to engage in the most life-threatening possible activity, and here's what the ever- obliging Ridley came up with: He strung a rope between two trees, at an altitude of approximately 150,000 feet, the plan being to dangle from this rope, on a pulley, and slide from one tree to the other. My feeling was that, if you needed to get from one tree to the other -- even a salmon would figure this out -- you could just walk. But no, Ridley and Rob had to take the Batman route, and Ridley decided that, when Rob went across the rope, there had to be an adult on each end.
And thus, once again, I found myself way up in an Idaho tree, embracing the trunk with a passion normally associated with Bob Packwood. Fortunately everything worked out: Rob came zipping across on the rope and claimed to enjoy it, although for several hours he remained the color of vanilla yogurt. I finally got back down to Earth and vowed to never again get up on anything higher than a medium-pile carpet. We went back to the yurt and spent a relaxing night watching our breath turn instantly to sleet. The next morning, Ridley made us a hearty breakfast. I made my own coffee.