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Boat thief with a heart of gold

Flickr Creative Commons photo by GlacierGuyMT

A longer version of this story was originally posted on my blog on June 24, 2004

My dad, my brother and I were finishing a 5-hour hike in the mountains of Montana when we passed a family in mild distress.

The mom was limping. The father was sweating trying to support her. Their college-aged daughter looked upset.

They moved to the side for us to pass them while the mom explained that she sprained her ankle.

“That sucks,” I said. Then I kept going, barely giving it a second thought.

“I’ll see what I can do,” my dad said.

I had no idea what he had in store for us.

We hiked on and suddenly my dad veered off the path. I asked what we were doing, since the trail didn’t go this way. My dad explained that he was going to build a sled with some random 2x4s that were leaning behind a shelter.

My dad, a mechanic and all-around handy guy, is known to MacGyver out of tricky situations. Still, I was a little incredulous about his plans to build a sled from scratch to aid an injured hiker.

While he got to work on construction, he asked my brother Mikey and I to run 2 1/2 miles to the ranger station to see if they were around to help. We started toward the ranger station together, but Mikey stopped about a half mile into the run, saying his lungs hurt. I kept going.

When I got to the station, it was closed.

With no other alternatives, I ran back. Oddly, I didn’t see Mikey anywhere on the trail.

When I found the family, the lady with the sprained ankle was getting a ride in my dad’s homemade sled. I was shocked at what my dad had whipped up. He had used a rock to pound in nails and found a rope to pull it. He even whittled down the runners on the bottom with his pocket knife to reduce friction. This was a sled you could go tobogganing in.

But now Mikey was lost and we were still two miles away from civilization. What now?

My dad’s next plan: Steal a boat on the other side of the lake. Never mind that he’d never driven a boat and couldn’t swim. Or that we were stealing a boat!

As my dad and I jogged to the boat I asked him what the family thought when he showed up with a sled.

“They were surprised,” he said, in typical understatement.

This boat was a big tourist craft designed to fit at least 30 people. It was no rowboat.

Except it had no key. Things looked grim.

That didn’t stop my dad from popping the engine, digging a nail out of his pocket and starting it right up.

I untied the boat from the pier and he was ready to go.

Just before the boat sailed off my dad tossed his disposable camera to me on the shore and I took a picture. “You know,” I shouted to him, “this picture could be used as evidence.”

While he sailed across the lake I ran back to the truck to see if I could find Mikey. He had just got back and was sitting in the front seat. He had been wandering around lost for the last two hours.

We drove back to the trail just in time to see my dad carry out the injured lady on his back.

“Where’s the sled?” I asked.

“It got too heavy on the hills,” my dad explained. “We had to leave it.”

Some day, a ranger is going to come across it and be very, very confused.

The way I figured, this lady had to have a compound fracture, the bubonic plague and be foaming at the mouth for all this to be worth it. It was just another day at the office for my dad.

We drove the family back to the lodge. While the mom got her ankle looked at, the dad bought us dinner. It was 11:30 by the time we left.

After everything we still had a 90-minute drive back in the rain, darkness and curvy mountain roads overlooking sheer drop-offs. My dad drove. It was almost 1 a.m. by the time we got back, 12 hours after we started hiking.

I had to be up at 6 to start my first day of work. My job was to carry luggage up and down the stairs, because there’s no elevator in the building. My knee throbbed just thinking about it.

My dad thanked me for helping, but I didn’t really do anything. I must have hiked and ran about 15 miles, but none of it really amounted to anything. My dad did all the work.

My dad can be frustrating, exasperating, and extreme, but that’s also what makes you so proud of him, too. He just does what it takes — even if that means stealing a boat.

Thanks again for everything, dad.


After I posted this story, this comment was left on my blog: “The great thing about your dad driving the boat was that he had never done it before and couldn’t swim. My wife broke her ankle, we found out once we got back home and had it x-rayed. The park ranger at the hotel didn’t think it was broken so he only wrapped it and didn’t splint it. Our trip back to home (1400 miles) was interesting as I had to carry her into the restaurants, to the restrooms, what a trip! Thanks for your help and good luck on your future travels. — The 3 crazy hikers.”