Moose: Algonquin for 'twig eater'.
We were canoeing in Michigan's Upper Peninsula during the late summer. I was in the rear, and Ice Pick Sally (my migraine du jour) was in the front. The second canoe was manned by my best friend Fast Eddie and his own bim du jour, Connie. Against my better judgment, Eddie's brother Wilbur and his sausage jockey, Phyllis, had decided to come along with us and were in the third canoe. Phyllis aspired to become an exotic dancer when she grew up; Wilbur had certain impulse control issues which were generally exacerbated by alcoholic beverages and audiences.
I can't remember the river we were on, but it was wide and pretty deep in places. I had the beer in my canoe (4 six packs - how can you go canoeing without beer?) along with a bottle of 40 rod in case anyone got bitten by a snake. Eddie had the picnic lunch, and Wilbur had three bags of junk food.
Between Eddy threatening to beat Wilbur's ass if he didn't stop screwing around and trying to dump one of the other canoes into the drink, and me keeping an eye on the beer consumption, we were doing pretty well. That should have been a warning sign, but remember that I was pretty young at the time (around 18, I think) and didn't have the experience I have today.
So when I saw something down river that looked like a floating log jam, I neglected to notice that the log jam wasn't moving with the current. All I did was point and say something brilliant like, "Huh, look at that."
We got closer and I decided that it was an animated log jam. Then Wilbur steered his canoe over next to mine and uttered those prophetic words...
"Hold my beer a minute, I want to try something."
Moose Fact: An adult moose will weigh 1600 pounds and can run at 35 mph.
Out of reflex I accepted the proffered can and remained mute. I wasn't sure what this thing was, and I really didn't want to find out. Personally, that is. Wilbur clearly had other ideas.
Wilbur steered his canoe over to the log jam and gave it a few healthy pats on the rump on his way past. The moose, who was swimming, turned in a tight circle to face Wilbur's canoe, which was drifting slowly down river. That's when Phyllis got into the act.
"Oh look, it's a deer! Awwww, he's cute. Do you think he wants a potato chip?"
I got as far as thinking that it wasn't a deer, it was obviously a moose. I'd only seen pictures of moose; they are much, much larger when they're up close and personal. Phyllis, in a fit of back-to-nature brilliance, extended a potato chip to the moose, leaning over the gunwale to try and reach the moose, who was closing on them. Doubtlessly the moose wanted the chip - right?
Wrong. What the moose wanted to do was get rid of Wilbur, Phyllis and their canoe. I'm not just exactly sure what happened next, but Phyllis screamed, Wilbur yelled and there was a big spray of water. The next thing I saw was an overturned canoe, and Wilbur and Phyllis were in the water on the far side of the canoe. Phyllis was yelling and thrashing around, but Wilbur was treading water and laughing.
Encouraged by its victory, the moose swung around to face Eddie and me. I think Eddie said something on the order of, "Let's get out of here," but I wasn't paying much attention to him. I dropped the beer into the bottom of my canoe and dug my paddle into the water, trying to back away with everything I had.
The thing is that when you reverse paddle on one side of the canoe, you don't back up. What you do is swing the bow of the canoe towards the side you're paddling on. So the bow of my canoe swung sharply into Eddie's canoe, causing the ever helpful Sally to squeal a warning. When I smacked into his canoe, I caught Connie's paddle between the two boats and the end of the paddle came up and caught her a nice one right on her cheek, giving her the nicest school yard shiner you'll ever hope to see. Maybe worse, neither canoe was moving away from the moose. Instead, the current was taking us towards the moose.
I switched my paddle to the other side and backed water with everything I had. The bow started swinging the other way, but it was incredibly slow and Sally wasn't helping; she was yelling and pointing at the moose. I was watching Eddie and Connie, who were paddling for all they were worth. Then I looked back at the moose to see which one of us he was going after first, and I saw something I'll never forget:
Wilbur was riding the moose.
The idiot had gotten astride the moose and was pulling on its antlers, trying to steer it. I stopped paddling and watched in amazement.
Moose: English for 'large, pissed off quadruped'.
The moose was making a sort of grunting noise and kept reaching around to try and bite Wilbur, but it couldn't really reach him. Wilbur kept riding and saying encouraging words to the moose.
"That's it, boy. Come on, little more to the right now. Good boy!"
I don't know how long this went on, but the moose finally headed for shore and Wilbur slid off, unharmed. The last I saw of it, the critter was headed into the forest, making a beeline away from us.
We finally got everything straightened out, but it wasn't easy. Phyllis kept trying to climb into the canoe, and the canoe kept rolling. Eddie and I towed everything into shallow water, where we could stand and get the canoe emptied out. The only other high point was when Phyllis came out of the water and the wet tee shirt contest started. The girl was well-endowed and too young for gravity and old age to have any deleterious affects. No one had thought to bring any dry clothing, so I eventually took pity on her and gave her my shirt. Sally told me later that that was a sweet thing to do.
When we finally got to the pick up point downriver, we told the guy at the canoe rental place what had happened, and he got a laugh out of it. I learned that you actually can ride a moose, so long as it's swimming. Once they get their feet on the ground, they are not friendly. Well, no kidding.
I never went canoeing again with Wilbur, nor have I ever been back to the U.P. wilderness. If I want to rough it, I'll get a motel room without air conditioning in the summer.