Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Team Mafia on the water

First Descents is a program that takes cancer survivors and puts them on the sides of mountains, hanging ten on waves or as in my camp story, shredding Western Massachusetts’ whitewater in kayaks. After the first day of travel, meet and greets, and nickname selections it was finally time for my fellow participants and I to get on the river.

Team Mafia on the water

Team Mafia.
Team Mafia.

First Descents is a program that takes cancer survivors and puts them on the sides of mountains, hanging ten on waves or as in my camp story, shredding Western Massachusetts’ whitewater in kayaks. After the first day of travel, meet and greets, and nickname selections it was finally time for my fellow participants and I to get on the river.

When it came to the cuisine at 9 Mountain Drive we were spoiled. Every morning McLovin and Kinja, our amazing chefs, had a spread suitable for royalty, vegetarian royalty, but royalty nonetheless. There was a morning they broke routine and had bacon, and the Dude (yes he based his nickname off The Big Lebowski, no I am not down with the whole brevity thing and called him el Duderino a lot) was so excited (as was I). My personal favorite was the morning we had pancakes, but most of time we ate fruit, yogurt, eggs, delicious homemade muffins and drank amazing coffee. As the week went on we got so hype for breakfast that we had dance parties as we processed through the buffet line.

Our first day on the water started at the Zoar Outdoor headquarters. We met our fantastic guides, and were taught about, and outfitted with top-notch gear. My modes of transportation that week were a red Wavesport Diesel 70 and a blue mini van captained by my man, and a grade A photographer, X2C. As we drove to the reservoir from Zoar, Tonto graciously let us put on her sleepy time mix. Not to knock Tonto or her musical selection, those jams were not going to cut it as the week went on. We tried the radio for a day, but Whoopie 101 was the only station that came through at all, and most of the time it was static. Eventually, an auxiliary cord came into play and I manned the jams. For X2C, Malibu and I it was awesome, but we did lose some of our crew do to hardcore hip hop (my iPod is geared for an audience of one, and I do not have many top 40 hits).

Whenever we arrived somewhere one of the mini vans would have their systems up and bumpin’, and a spontaneous dance party would inevitably break out as we got ready for the water. We spent all of day one on flat water doing drills and being flipped so that we could learn to properly wet exit. I was excited to be on the water, to be flipped and just to paddle, but some of the other participants were nervous at first. From the uneasy smile on Glimmer’s face before she was flipped, to the storm of language that spewed from Bullocks’ mouth after she resurfaced from her swim, the tension would dissipate as everyone became more comfortable on the water.

The next day we spent the morning at the reservoir playing games that utilized our skills from the day before. After lunch and a lesson from the land about river etiquette and the dangers that exist on the water, we skirted up and hopped into our kayaks once again. Applying the techniques from the drills we slowly learned to maneuver about the river. Everyday there were countless swims (for me at least), but each one was just an opportunity to learn, and cool down. It was refreshing, I just felt bad that someone had to pluck me out of the rapids every time I flipped.

When we got back to the house, I spent time in the hot tub. The conversation was good, and the corner seats had jets that quelled any aches in your shoulders after a hard day of paddling. Dinners were on par with, if not better than breakfast, and stump/nails, mafia, and a campfire were musts. When the sun was out we played stump, a drinking game that I had only heard about and am glad we played without alcohol. Tossing and catching a hammer soberly is enough danger for me. Fortunately everyone made it to campfire each night without any carpentry tool related injuries (besides broken egos when Tinkerbell adorably won  a round with her two handed hammer swing). Patch guided campfire discussions with questions that led us to open up about ourselves. He and Mrs. Robinson gave awards out the first day. From the next night forward they were passed down from one recipient to the next. One night the Dude handed the award for being helpful to me. He said it was because he and I had spent that evening searching for the source of some incessant beeping on the second floor and because I narrated every mafia game.

As the mafia narrator, I guided the players through the night and day. In the twilight, the mafia silently selected a sleeping townsperson to kill, usually Clutch, and the sheriff (inspector) gained intel by asking me if certain players were in the mafia. During the day the townspeople and secret mafia members argue about who would commit such a heinous crime as murdering Clutch (poor guy was killed first nearly every round) and select a person to hang for the crime committed. If the townspeople root out all of the mafia members they win, but if they fail to do so the mafia wins. It is a head game and I love it. Watching the little nuances that change in people when they had to lie was so interesting to me that I was glad to not play.

The award for being helpful was a hat that looked like a shark biting the skull of those who donned it. I wore it with pride during the mafia games I narrated that night, all the way till the next night when I handed it over to Pinecone for her instruction on the water and for dragging my soggy self to shore on the numerous occasions in which I swam.

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