The Summer of the Raft

April 20, 2008
By Ethan Schwanke, Amery, WI

One of my favorite freshman summer activities was fishing with my friend Blake. For the first two or three weeks, Blake and I went fishing in a small country lake located between our two houses. We caught snapping turtles, swapped jokes and stories, and had some man-to-man talks every once in a while. We had a lot of fun that summer, and grew closer in our friendship. These two weeks were very memorable due to the way Blake and I went about fishing.

Our usual day of fishing consisted of driving a golf cart and John Deere Gator down to a small lake while transporting a handmade Styrofoam raft. The raft is eight feet long and four feet wide, capable of carrying four passengers. It helped make our fishing trips fun and memorable. The raft was powered by a trolling motor run off a marine battery and had old boat seats to sit on. We drilled holes into it to serve as rod holders so we could relax while fishing and not have to hold onto our rods. We would bring coolers and our tackle boxes, and would go out and fish the same lake every day. This small lake that we fished contained, among fencing and garbage, a famous snapping turtle that one day came right up on shore and ate an entire sunfish in one bite that Blake and I had on a stringer. It scared us because we didn’t even see the turtle coming. Since we were loading the raft up when this happened, we grabbed our fish and scurried to our houses.

On one occasion Blake and I were fishing off the raft right after it rained, hoping to catch some crappies. We found a great spot fishing near a fallen tree and were able to catch some nice crappies. Once we were all done fishing, we loaded the raft onto Blake’s Gator, and he drove off. I decided to stay and drive through some puddles that the rain had made, with my electric golf cart. I finally decided to head back home, and was going through one last puddle, when the golf cart shorted out. This unfortunate dilemma left me stuck at the lake, with no way to get home. So I called Blake, and he came back and pulled the golf cart with his Gator back to the end of the road were I had called, and asked my mom to pick me up at. While I was waiting for my mom to get there I was playing around on the golf cart, trying to get it to move. I found that it would only move in reverse. Since it would move, I called my mom, and told her I didn’t need to be picked up. I then began the one and a half mile trip back to my house. The trip in reverse was extremely fun. I enjoyed watching peoples faces in passing cars as they stared blankly at the 14 year old kid with an afro, and a golf cart. Every once in a while the golf carts front tires would begin to wobble making the golf cart swing back and forth, causing me to have to stop before continuing on. This make the trip take even longer as I maneuvered a golf cart backwards down a country road in the hot sun. About a half mile into the trip I tried out the forward setting, and it worked, so I was able to drive forward the last mile to my house. The next day the back of my neck was as red as a cherry and it hurt to move it. This experience taught me a good lesson to never drive electric vehicles through water, and to make sure I bring sun screen to the lake.

Another day that summer, Blake and I were out on our raft fishing and I caught what seemed to be an enormous fish. It fought hard, but I was soon able to get it onto the raft. To our dismay it wasn’t a fish at all, it was a snapping turtle. When I pulled it up onto the raft I wasn’t too worried about the turtle because I was able to keep it away from me. Only because it was still hooked to my pole. But when Blake realized that it was a snapping turtle, he jumped to his feet with speed that could only be described as “cat like.” The funniest part of the whole fiasco, was that Blake jumped to his feet on a styrofoam raft making it shake violently, and letting the turtle escape from my line. It harmlessly climbed off the raft, most likely more afraid of Blake’s violent reaction than we were afraid of it. That was basically the only thing that we caught that day, other than a few sunfish and a bass, but it was more fun than the average fishing day that most people experience.

On the way home from the lake that day, Blake and I decided to race my golf cart versus his Gator. Since we were in such chipper moods, we couldn’t resist having just a little more fun. Instantly Blake pulled ahead of me due to the greater power of his gas powered Gator. We were only on a flat stretch of road for a short amount of time, until we got to the top of a very long, steep hill. Blake crested the hill first, with me trailing him by about twenty feet. But to his dismay, and my glee, my golf cart started to gain momentum carried on by its heavy weight advantage. What I really remember about the race, was flying down the hill, and passing Blake. As I passed him I looked over, and saw him smiling and laughing, which was exactly my reaction to the situation we were in. As I raced down the hill, now in the lead, the wind made my hair fly back giving me the feeling of flying. As I sped down the hill I would pass under the shadows that the trees would cast over the road, giving a flashing light effect to my moment of first place glory. But, my first place position lasted only as long as the shadows, because as soon as I approached the bottom of the hill I encountered a flat stretch, between two corn fields. Since there were no trees to create shadow, and no hill to create speed I quickly was overtaken by Blake in his more powerful Gator, ending my glorious first place standing. Blake got back to my house before I did and parked his Gator in my driveway.

I was about a minute behind Blake, so I pulled into the driveway, and due to my recent loss, decided I needed to do something cool in order to keep the respect for my golf cart. So I entered the driveway at full speed, locked up the rear tires, and spun the wheel, putting the golf cart into a skid and with accuracy that can only be achieved by practice and skill, slid the back of the golf cart within a foot of Blake’s Gator. After the dust settled because of the dryness at the time, I saw Blake’s amazed face laughing at the amazing tricks the golf cart could still achieve with the right amount of imagination. This ended our day of fun and laughter with a good bye and few more laughs over the days adventures.

But like they say, all good things come to an end, and it rung true with Blake and my adventures that summer. Blake soon got a job, and had very little time to hang out, so I found myself fishing at the lake all by myself, day, after day. One day, close to the last day without football practice, I was out at the lake fishing. I always sat at the same spot if I didn’t have the raft, it was a rocky shore with over hanging trees and a peaceful feeling about it. It rendered a great view of the lake shore without having to look at the road, and always yielded a few fish making the trip worth it. One day I biked down to the lake and sat on my tackle box on the same rocky shore as I usually did, and began fishing. The lake was perfectly calm, and the sun shone just right to make the lake gleam, like an enormous mirror, reflecting the blue sky, with freckled clouds, and a beautiful sun. I sat there for close to an hour, just watching the lake, and listening to birds sing their songs that echoed over the calm, quite lake. As I stared at the lake I noticed two loons at the far side, and began to watch them. As I watched, they came progressively nearer by going under the water, and smoothly resurfacing in a different location creating, small ripples changing what angle you would see of the sky. They did this until they reached the middle of the lake bringing them close enough to me to really enjoy their smooth motions. I was also able to enjoy their soft call that sounded so peaceful, it made the whole setting seem like a postcard. I sat there for almost three hours, enjoying the beauty around me, while only catching three fish. Even though I only caught three fish, I will probably remember that day of fishing more than days when I caught a lot of fish.

The last half of that summer went by very fast, due to drivers ed. and football practice. Blake and I still possess the raft, and hope to bring it back to the lake this summer for old times sake. But the memories that Blake and I made together in that short amount of time, will last far beyond high school, and college, and into the rest of my life.

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