Have you ever tried to steer a pedal boat? I should probably ask if you know what a standard pedal boat is. My husband, Wild Greg, and I, took ours out for a turn about the local lake this past Saturday. Our pedal boat is a thick, square, plastic flotilla with a very UNimpressive paddle wheel. This paddle wheel is powered by two sets of pedals on 6 inch axels. I don’t know if that is the exact technical term, but work with me here. The point is that one rotation of the pedal does not transfer much force to the paddle wheel. This is probably just as well, because the black plastic paddle wheel only has a diameter of about 12 inches. It is amazing it pushes any water at all.
Suffice to say that no one should ever try to use a pedal boat as a get-a-way vehicle. If we pedal too fast, the front end magically lifts out of the water and we get absolutely nowhere. Although, it can take a few moments to realize we are going no where fast. Even in the best vector conditions, we still have to regularly sight off of some focal point on shore to verify that we are moving. At about a quarter mile an hour.
This doesn’t even take into account the pitiful steering apparatus. Whoever designed that had a wicked sense of humor. There is a 4 inch handle for each pedaling driver (there can be two passengers in the back, but this is not advisable for traveling distances greater than 10 feet). Figuring out how to steer and propel the pedal boat is a good substitute for marriage counseling. We can either fight over the control or cooperate for at least some minimal progress. A regular boat paddle can be of use once in a while, but the pedal boat is not shaped right to use it much. If we have any kind of ‘directional disagreement’ out in the middle of the lake, there will be time to work it out, because if we don’t, we won’t go anywhere. The loons will laugh at us as they dive under and swim underwater like jet submarines. At least they don’t leave a wake.
Not that motor boat wakes are a danger concern. The pedal boat, after 10 years of experimentation, appears to be untippable. Wild Greg likes to experiment with these things. Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t humiliating to be sent into uncontrollable circles of variable speed as a motor boat putters or zips by. A fraction of an inch correction with the ‘steering’ handle can result in being rerouted to any of the 360 possible degrees. But this hardly matters, since the next wake wave is going to come in a few seconds anyway and knock the flimsy keel in another random direction.
You can see why we mostly stay in the no wake zone of the lake. Unfortunately for me, the best way to get to that area of water in Lake Lowell is through a mucky side channel that rivals an Amazon jungle swamp. Today was no different. The gangly trees grew up out of the eerily buzzing shallows, their leaves whispering taunts and their thin woody arms swinging out to grasp my bare arms. Half in jest, I scanned the banks for crocodiles and the surface of the green opaque liquid for hippo ears. All the insects in the valley breed here, but they didn’t do more than tickle me. We saw a sparkling dragonfly and a couple of meandering butterflies. Wild Greg rode contentedly.
I used to feel so relieved to make it out of that passageway, which is long enough that the lake is not visible most of the time. Then, last week, I read that in 2007 someone (a non-swimmer?) had released his still growing piranha-like fish into our local Lake Lowell. He (I think it is fair to assume it is a male) obviously needs to do more research on his tropical fish. Or maybe he needs a measuring tape to be able to visualize the mature size compared to his fish tank. Or maybe someone needs to take his fish tank away. If it has been done once, I figure there is a good chance it has been done again. Now, every time a three foot long giant carp jumps into the air to snatch a bug, I have to wonder if it is a piranha. The news reports say such fish ‘cannot’ survive the winters here in Idaho. I think they are just saying that to calm the masses. It is a tactic that should work until someone get an exfoliation treatment they weren’t expecting.
Wild Greg got in the water for a swim during this trip. It is easy to get off the pedal boat. Of course, the simple transfer of mass makes the pedal boat sway and spin like a chubby toddler learning to walk. Wild Greg can usually man handle the boat back to its originally desired direction. Then, he typically challenges me to a race. He gives me a head start, not because he is a fast swimmer, but because he is laughing so much at how fast I am NOT going.
Maybe you will concede by now that this is not totally my fault. I can tell that I am pedaling with adequate force. Also, I had been trying harder on this particular day after our little test (see video below) to see if Wild Greg could tell when I was helping him. He could not. Apparently he had been pushing just fast and hard enough that my feet were just along for the ride. But, since the outing had been presented to me as one where we both got some exercise, he shared better after that.
When he started swimming, he tried to align himself to swim alongside the pedal boat. I will swear to a judge that this time I was consistently steering straight, but Wild Greg was veering off into a perpendicular universe. I called and called, hoping he would hear my voice one of the times he turned his head to breathe. In this case, it was good that he is not a fast swimmer. I would not have been able to catch him, but he would have steadily plowed into the middle of the lake. The motor boats are supposed to go slow through there, but they don’t all follow the rules. If the piranha didn’t get him, a drunk fisherman would.
Getting back on the pedal boat from the deep water is no easy feat. It cannot be done delicately or gracefully. I chose not to watch Wild Greg deal with this. Pedaling or steering couldn’t help him, so I leaned back and took some more photos of birds. The world needs more photos of birds, right? Until my camera got sea sick. It started giving me messages about “too much motion,” and then it stopped working. Wild Greg thinks the memory card malfunctioned, and since his engineering job entails working closely with these products, I have some hope that all I need is a new memory card. But, so much for further photo documentation.
By now we had been pedaling for over an hour. This isn’t the same as riding a bike, and I wasn’t exactly tired, but the legs do get weary of creating tiny rotation circles. We turned around and aimed at the buoy that we thought marked the entrance to the creepy swamp.
It’s kind of like looking for the Stargate during a stressful chase. It was so easy to find the portal at the beginning of the adventure, but when you want to go home, NOW please, the wind picks up, the sun light goes through a series of surreal color changes, and the communication device fails. Well, actually, I had left my communication device on the mother truck, so I couldn’t post on facebook that we were riding 12 inch whitecaps on Lake Lowell. Pedal boat surfing! The wind was directly against us, so we had to hit the waves head on to make any progress. If we had tried to zigzag, we’d still be out there. Maybe you would find our sun dried bones in August. I’d be the one in the bikini… As it was, we were rockin’ and rollin’, but not coming close to capsizing in spite of the force with which the waves splashed over the sides. Hey, it was a pedal boat. Proportionally, it would be like a yacht in a major squall. However, it is solid and stable, so you may not get anywhere , but wherever you are, you will be above water. Bring snacks and drinks.
Finally, the pedal boat was slowly skimming the huge water weeds that grow in the 30 feet of water adjacent to the shores. We were nearing the swampy portal. That’s one advantage of not having an outboard motor or a sizable paddle wheel. Nothing catches on it. We pedaled in happily synchronized unison, with Wild Greg steering to near perfection. Over two hours alone with me and he was still calm, and our relationship was stronger than ever. He even says we should do it again, for “maintenance,” though he was hasty to add that “maintenance” is a very positive word.
When we drifted up to the slimy boat ramp, he managed to maneuver the pedal boat so that I didn’t have to put my feet into the semi-solid algae eddies lapping the shore. There was a family nearby in the small, hot parking lot, looking for good fishing spots. They eyed us dubiously, like we were unexpected creatures emerging from the lake. Or maybe I looked like I should have been lounging on a southern beach, not coming out of the swamp. After a couple seconds, a rather robust looking woman asked Wild Greg if he needed any help! Hmpf. He smilingly declined. Then, he brought the mother truck around and I helped him lift the hefty pedal boat into the truck bed from a downhill angle. He had plenty of help, thank you very much.