This is the last of three parts about Carding’s annual Amnicolist River Race, a contest of homemade rafts down the frigid waters of the Corvus River.
So far, we’ve been introduced to some of the rafting teams and their assortment of whimsical craft. We’ve also learned about the current state of angst among some of the town’s teenagers.
This week, we get to watch the race and congratulate the winners.
Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.
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Excitement fizzed through the air on the beach in old Carding town as Charlie Cooper raised a bullhorn to his mouth. He’d been the master of the Amnicolist River Race ever since its inception. (If you catch him after a second glass of wine, he might even tell you how it all got started.)
Now it was time for this year’s race to begin.
“In order to make the race fair,” Charlie’s voice obliterated all other sound from the crowd, “everyone starts on shore behind this line.” He pointed to a white streak of lime across the still-greening grass.
“When I say go, you run to your raft, push it into the water, and get on top or into it as you can. Does everyone understand?”
“Yes!” the rafters yelled.
“Are you ready?” Charlie yelled.
The crowd roared back.
“Get set.” He raised a duck call to his lips.
“Go!” The magnified squawk matched the roar of the rafters and Carding’s annual Amnicolist River Race was on.
The four teenaged Pirates pushed and pulled at their galvanized steel stock-tank raft. The rounded rocks in the water made their footing treacherous.
Suzanna, being the smallest of the quartet, was challenged to keep up with the much taller Wil Bennett and his friend Dave. As they swung their waders over their craft’s gunwales, they just caught Suzanna’s hands before the current grabbed their raft and propelled it downstream. As Faye jumped in, she caught a glimpse of her grandmother flailing to get on the soda-bottle raft she’d made with the other Old Ladies, her friends Ruth Goodwin and Agnes Findley.
As soon as it was launched, the raft made out of styrofoam coolers was sucked into an eddy and jammed against a rock as its crew applied themselves to their paddles with a furious energy. As predicted by the crowd, the air mattress raft began to sink.
The crowd roared with laughter and approval.
“Paddle,” Faye shouted to her shipmates.
“Get ’em girls,” Agnes hollered as she hauled Edie into place. “This is no race for pirates!”
The shoreline was crowded with bellowing spectators shouting advice, watching for spills, and cheering on the intrepid rafters.
A crew from a college fraternity with a raft made of empty beer kegs were the first to overturn, tipped up by a succession of hefty rocks that the locals knew as the “shark’s teeth.” They were greeted with hoots as they waded to shore as the rest of the rafts swept downstream.
“Watch the curve! Watch the curve!” Dave yelled to his fellow Pirates. “Get to the inside. Paddle, paddle.”
Behind them, Faye heard her grandmother and her friends laughing and shrieking but she didn’t dare turn her head again to see what was happening. Suddenly, the frayed end of a summer rope swing appeared on her right.
“We’re at the kettle hole,” she screamed, digging her paddle into the freezing water. The mad swirl of the kettle hole was notorious for eating kayaks and canoes. No telling what it would do to a leaky stock tank.
At that moment, the tank began to tip and water rushed into Faye’s waders. Dave lunged at her, pulling her to his side of the raft. The force of Faye’s lurch made the back of the tank kick out wildly and the pirates were suddenly headed downstream—backwards.
The four of them shrieked with one voice. Wil dug his paddle into the water, hoping to hit bottom so he could swivel their craft in the right direction.
Just at that moment, the Old Ladies and their soda bottle raft swept by. Agnes and Edie weren’t paddling any more because Ruth was half in the frigid water and half out and they were attempting a rescue.
Panting, Faye reached her paddle across the gap between the two rafts. “Grandma! Grab it!” Edie caught the end of the paddle with one hand as she tightened her grip on Ruth’s hand with the other. At that moment, the back end of the stock tank hit a submerged log near shore and both rafts lurch around in the opposite direction. Dave reached over to grab Ruth’s other arm while Agnes tried vainly to control their wild swing by jamming her paddle between the rocks just twelves inches below the surface of the water.
A great wail went up from both crews.
“I don’t know how much longer I can hold on,” Edie yelled.
Just then, a horn blast made their heads swivel toward shore. Hands reached out to bring the panting rafters to safety.
“Who won?” Ruth gasped. At that moment, an empty green plastic bottle floated loose from her raft.
“Get that raft out of the water before it comes apart,” Andy Cooper yelled from shore where he’d been standing snug and warm in his jacket and jeans. He’d helped his brother Charlie with the first couple of raft races when they were much younger but nowadays, Andy figured he’d earned the right to watch from shore. “I got five-cent deposits on each of those soda bottles and I want them all back.”
The crowd laughed.
Suzanna was shivering and she couldn’t feel her feet. She had no idea who had dragged her onshore but she knew she was grateful. Just then, her Uncle Ted appeared with a bag in his hand filled with a pair of dry socks, jeans, and shoes. He pointed toward a nearby tent. “The girls change in there,” he said, his eyes twinkling. “And there’s something hot to drink when you’re ready.”
His niece grunted her thanks and trudged toward the changing room with Faye and Edie and Ruth and Agnes. For the moment, no one had any power to speak.
Later, as tales of the race were told indoors by a wood stove (yes, Vermonters often run a wood stove in May), Charlie Cooper declared the Old Ladies the winners of the Amnicolist River Race and awarded the trio of rather shaken friends the official Rafting Rubber Duckie.
“They won by a nose,” Charlie said. “Ruth’s.”
“And we promise not to do it again next year,” Agnes said.
Wil tried to argue that it was really the Pirates who had won because “our raft didn’t come apart.”
But he was overruled when it was pointed out that no one on the Pirate ship could have seen who came in first and who came in second because they were floating backwards at the time.
And really, when you get right down to it, isn’t the whole point of a spring raft race in Vermont getting outside to enjoy even a chilly day in May?
Remember, you can visit Carding any time by scouring the archive of older stories or by reading one of my four Carding novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, or Lights in Water, Dancing.
Thanks for stopping by.