Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Canoeing While Intoxicated

I have solved Wisconsin's drunk driving problem...or at least the problem as we know it in Madison and other cities with abundant bodies of water and canals between them.

Forget drunk busses. Balls to taxis. Keep your safe rides, your designated drivers and your red bicycles. From now on, whenever I head downtown, there's only one vehicle I'll take. And when bartime rolls around and my BAC is comparable to the flammable content of jet fuel, I'll climb back into my canoe and happily paddle my drunk ass home.

My buddy Cam and I made the discovery this weekend that canoeing presents a safe and remarkably enjoyable alternative to driving drunk. As I mentioned, we competed in the 2008 Paddle and Portage on Saturday, our first, and we were actually pretty pleased with the results. Not only did we finish in fifty-two minutes, nine seconds -- 93rd out of the close to 350 boats in the standard class -- but we trounced all the people we knew or recognized in the race.

UW Men's Hockey coach Mike Eaves, a tough guy to be sure, finished 176th. UW Dean of Students Lori Berquam locked in at 196th. A guy we know from high school came in 314th, and we were none too sorry to see it. And in my favorite result of the day, Channel 27 reporter Carl Agnelly and his team "Making a Difference" came in 327th place, two slots away from where they stopped timing and 11 from dead last.

Then again, it's got to be tough competing in a race that grueling when you're only 13, and I should cut Agnelly some slack.

For my own part, I finished the race and went down HARD on a park bench. I am no athlete, and trying to keep up with the D3 national track champion on my team wore me down to nothing. Cam kept trying to convince me to abandon the fake water beverage I was inhaling and join him at the free beer tent, but I was convinced I needed to rehydrate. When he responded that the best way to rehydrate after a race was with copious amounts of beer, I had my doubts.

Those doubts were washed away after two plastic cups full of Goose Island. I don't know if the beer rehydrated me or not, but I felt a whole lot better. From then on, our mission became seeing how many free glasses of beer we could each consume before the Finish Line Party ended and how many of our fellow "athletes" we could befriend or alienate before the sunburn got the better of us.

The answers ended up being close to a dozen and more of the former than the latter. I think at one point I offered to buy a canoe some guy was selling, but I got neither his name nor his number.

At any rate, eventually the hour came when the kegs were cashed and Cam and I had both crisped to a nice, glowing crimson. It was time to get to our respective Vilas neighborhood homes and get horizontal for a quick nap before a long night worth of other plans. The only problem was that, in nautical terms, we were a full three sheets to the wind with no one at the rudder. Neither of us was in any condition to drive.

Enter, stroke of brilliance.

Instead of wrestling a canoe onto the top of Cam's Cavalier, strapping it unsteadily on, fighting traffic, dodging cops and trying to keep it all between the lines, we came to the hazy, dawning realization that if we just paddled the canoe up Wingra Creek to Lake Wingra, it was simply a matter of portaging the boat another five blocks from the zoo to my house. Compared to what we had done earlier when we carried it a mile across the isthmus during the race, the trip home would be a cakewalk...AND at a more liesurely pace!

So we announced our intentions to canoe home drunk to the dozen or so competitors within immediate earshot and put in.

In my five years living in Madison, four of them as a UW student, I have amassed a number of stories about zany, intoxicated trips home, many of which strain the limits of plausability. But it's been a long time since I had as much fun on my beer scooter as I did boating down Wingra Creek on Saturday.

It was like being an explorer, a voyageur, in my own city. My previous knowledge of Wingra Creek was confined to the parallel facts that it was, A) a creek that connects Lake Wingra to Lake Monona, and, B) that trickle of water that runs underneath Fish Hatchery Road down by the newspaper offices. Travelling down that stagnant canal and waving at the people that rode past on bicycles was a chance to get to know the city of Madison as I had never known her before, the "Pina Colada Song" of romances with a city, if you will.

So yes, I know we already have our share of "green" transportation advocates in Madison. Some folks are keen on busses, others are bonkers for bike racks. Well, damnit, where are the champions of Madison's canoe cause? Where are the public canoe parking racks at the Union and paddle locks along the isthmus and life jacket hangers at the bars and restaurants?

Because I've found the best way to get to the bars and back without digging up a designated driver. In downtown Madison, you're never more than a half mile from one of the lakes or rivers or creeks that make it so impossible to navigate this city on the roads. And as long as I can't get arrested for Canoeing While Intoxicated, this is the best idea I've ever had.

Note: I'm not actually certain whether or not there's a law against canoeing drunk. But if there is, let the bastards try and catch us.


Anonymous said...

"Yes" yes it is illegal. quite, actually. the "bastards" who will catch you are the DNR.

In addition to intoxication being illegal, you also need to have proper lighting to use a personal watercraft after sunset. You could probably have been on the line for a good $1500 in fines.

just FYI.

Dustin Christopher said...

Well, touche, "anonymous..." Or should I say... CARL AGNELLY FROM CHANNEL 27!!!!! ( outed).

But no, seriously, that doesn't surprise me much. As with many of my "best ideas ever," this one lost some of its luster once sobriety rolled around. The point I was driving at is paddling a canoe drunk is a lot better than drunk driving. You're not going to kill anyone or do massive property damage in a canoe. And it's a damn lot of fun.

AND, we were canoeing in broad daylight, so no night lighting was needed. That's not to say I haven't broken that regulation as well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this blog- it definitly made my day at work a lot more amusing and light-hearted!
I'm going to wait for Carl Agnelly to do a report on this one.

Anonymous said...


Wisconsin BUI law

"30.681  Intoxicated boating.
30.681(1)(1)  Operation.
30.681(1)(a)(a) Operating while under the influence of an intoxicant. No person may engage in the operation of a motorboat while under the influence of an intoxicant to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safe motorboat operation."

If they were paddling their canoe, it was not a motorboat.

Anonymous said...

oh yeah and "proper lighting" in a paddle canoe consists of possessing a flashlight.

doesnt have to be on all the time, or visable, but you need to possess one