"Opening the Cottage" by Ed Aarntzen
Opening up the Cottage by Ed Aarntzen
There are very few things that I wait with such great anticipation for as going up to the lake and opening the cottage after the long winter. We are on an island on Stoney Lake and cannot get across until the ice is out. My brother and I went for a ride in the area the other week and could see that by the following week we would be able to get across since there was very little ice left in Lake Couchiching.
You have to be armed with a variety of tools when you go up because there are a number of chores that must be carried out to get things back to running order again and you just never know what would need to get fixed. With my luck I went to visit a girl friend of mine a couple of weeks before who wanted to put up shelving in her new condo in Toronto. As it turned out we just hung out and went out onto the town. By the end of the weekend there were no shelves hung and I left forgetting my tools. But I was hopeful that little will have to be done and I grabbed a few tools from my dadﾒs place that I thought would be sufficient. Why we donﾒt have a second set of tools dedicated to the cottage I will never know.
So up I went with my brother for this happy event. When we got to the landing we threw in our 10ﾒ aluminum boat and put our electric motor onto it. We use this means of travel at the beginning of the season and when we close up again. We pull out our bigger boats onto shore on the island and store the gas motors in the cottage. It actually works very well but that 10ﾒ aluminum boat is very tipsy and you have to be careful while crossing the lake. It didnﾒt help that my brother has a fairly big dog that gets so excited about being up there that she runs around from side to side. Well we made it across with no problem and that little electric motor moved us along at a half decent pace when at full power. Lucky I remembered to charge the battery before we left.
There are always things you look for as you cross the lake to the island especially as you get within eye distance of it. Did the docks survive the winter? We have to push the docks from the large front bay out into the back around the island where it is much calmer. There they were just as we left them, always a good sign. So we pulled up to the docks and marched up to the cottage. You just never know what you are going to find when you open the doors for the first time. Itﾒs like that old commercial where that guy pulls his hand out of the Bits & Bites package and shows you what he got.
We have had animals break in and make the cottage their home for the winter. My brother claims that two muskrats once mated and gave birth on his bed. Not sure if that is something they would do but the mess on his bed would lead you to believe it is. The most common pain is the mess an army of mice leaves behind. The first day up sometimes leaves you with an entire day cleaning up after them. But this year there was nothing. Not a single mouse dropping and certainly no births on anyoneﾒs bed. My brother and I looked at each other and agreed that this was a banner year.
Before we unpack the dishes, before we put the big boat into the water, before we do anything else we always take a tour of the island to see what our friend the beaver did to us this year. More often than not we lose a few trees to that darn rodent. It always seems to pick our favorite tree. Itﾒs as if it knew which ones we cherished the most. Again, to our amaze, only one tree was downed and it was on someone elseﾒs property and it was an ugly little tree anyway.
It was a beautiful Saturday getting close to noon. I was so happy with the fact that we didnﾒt have any rodent problems that I decided to put the 18ﾒ steel boat into the water and get the 20 horse motor going. Itﾒs and old motor but only has maybe one hundred hours on her. We had a very reliable motor that was stolen the year before at the landing. You know, 30 plus years we have been up here and we have never had the need to lock the motors on our boats. Well that all changed last year and several motors were taken by, what I like to call, assholes. The landing owner had this old 20 sitting in storage for years and we bought it since the price wasnﾒt too bad and it looked brand new. But would it start after being in our hands for one year?
We lifted that beast and hooked it up to the boat. A problem with a motor that old is that a 20 weighs about the same as a new 40. But that went without a hitch. Where the heck did I put the gas tank? It is funny how you can put things away the year before and not have a clue as to where it is in the spring. I found it pretty quickly but it took a while before I found the gas line. Why didnﾒt I just leave the gas line attached to the tank? The gas tank is almost empty. There is no way I would be able to make it to the landing with the gas that is left in the tank once I get it started but there should be enough to get the engine started.
I hooked the one end of the line to the tank. It fell off immediately. I forgot we had that problem last year. I put it on a gain and again it just popped off. I twisted the connector pointing straight up and tried again. It seems to be holding okay. I went to put the other end on to the motor. Do we have the right connectors here? I just had to push a wiggle that connector on with too much force for it to be the right one but I got it on. Started to squeeze the ball to force the gas up into the motor. Gas was flying out of the connector at the motor but this must have been the way it was last year so I started to pull the chord to get the engine started. Maybe once it started the gas would flow without any leakage. I pulled and I pulled and I pulled.
There arenﾒt a lot of things that make me mad but after fifty pulls I was clearly losing the luster of the day. I had to give up since we were now out of gas. I took the tipsy aluminum boat with the electric motor back to the landing to get some gas. This year I am going to make sure we have some gas left before we close up. Yeah right, been saying that every year but this is not the first time we have been without gas. The electric motor worked great. There is something very serene about the quietness of crossing the lake with no engine noise. My stress level has gone way down once again. It is so nice to be up here.
Well I attacked the motor again armed with a full tank of gas. I pulled and I pulled and finally I thought I heard a heart beat. Pulled a few more times and she started up. I looked up at my brother and we both smiled and just as we did that the motor conked out. I pulled and I pulled some more and each time the engine would start but shut off. I thought if I could get it to rev higher I would get the winter malaise out of this old beast so I untied myself from shore and pulled and pulled. It started and I kicked it into to forward gear but it died again. Kept this little cycle going for a while but no luck. I was now a fair distance from shore and the wind was kind enough to be blowing me away instead of towards shore. Of course I didnﾒt put the paddles into the boat before starting on this folly so I yelled over to my brother to come around the island with the aluminum and pull me back.
While in the boat waiting for my brother I once again started to calm down. It was such a nice day and I was at the cottage so I had no excuse to be mad. I looked at my hands and they were bleeding in four places. It must have been 10 minutes or so and no sign of my brother. It should have only taken him a couple of minutes to round the island. I waited another 10 minutes and decided something must have went wrong so I used the motor lid and paddled my way back to the cottage. I went around to the back dock and he wasnﾒt there. By the time I went back up to the deck I could see him coming around the corner at a very slow speed. I told him to put the electric motor into high power and he said it doesnﾒt work. It only worked on power level one. I figured the battery must have been low. So when he finally got to shore I hooked it back up to the battery charger.
After the battery was on charge for a while I tested the electric motor again but with the same result. Maybe there was some loose connection in it or something. Time to take it apart and have a look. Of course, I do not have the screw driver to open it up. My tools are, after all, at my friendﾒs condo. I have always prided myself on being able to make do with what resources I have at hand just like McGuiver. Remember that show? So I used a pair of scissors that remotely came close to a Phillipﾒs head. Got the motor apart but could see nothing. After playing and prodding and pulling connectors for a while I tried it again. Same result. The electric motor is toast. The ironic thing about this is that my brother mentioned earlier that he really liked electric motors because there is very little that can go wrong with them. I blame him for it not working now.
Well here we are with a gas motor that wonﾒt start and an electric that could get us back to the landing if we left a couple of hours early and hope there was no wind. So I knew I just had to get that 20 horse working. The problem is clearly the gas line fitting at the motor so I concentrated on the solution for that. My thought was that if I could find some kind of tie to pull the connector tight the leak problem would go away. We have a storage unit out back we call Beckers because a hundred years or so ago we picked it up from a Beckers store that was getting rid of it. In there we keep nails, screws, clamps, you name it. If you needed something, it would be in there. The funny thing is that we never replenish the store but there is always something in there that would serve the purpose. We think that the items in Beckers mate and create new ones. I found some plastic pull ties that will work just great.
I clamped the connector on as tight as I could get it but still gas was leaking out. Decided to make a little rubber grommet to fix the seal problem and it worked. After several more pulls, this time with gloves on, the motor started up. We were so happy that we now had a way back to the landing. I got into the aluminum boat to paddle it over to where we could pull it out and store it until the fall. As I was paddling I looked up at my brother and said, what else could go wrong this weekend. Just as I said that I lost my balance and fell flat on my back in that stinking tipsy boat. Note to myself, stop jinxing the situation and keep my thoughts to myself.
All the time saved because of not having to clean up mouse droppings was just spent on this stupid motor but at least all the problems were behind us. I worked up quite an appetite from all the pulling so it was time to make some burgers. We bought a new barbeque last year because the one that lasted longer then my first marriage had given up the ghost last year. We pulled the barbeque into place and went to start her up. Nothing. Donﾒt tell me we were out of propane. Reminder to myself, donﾒt be in such a hurry to leave in the fall and make sure we have certain amenities like gas and propane ready for us for the following spring.
Well, itﾒs time to hook up the water system. At least we have learned over the years not to skimp on our efforts to properly shut that down in the fall. You leave any water in the toilets or pipes or tanks or pumps and you are guaranteed problems the following year so we take a lot of care to empty everything and add antifreeze. We donﾒt have a well so we rely on pumping the water out of the lake. Ever since that wonderful boat came across the ocean and dropped off their ballast into the great lakes we now have to contend with the zebra mussel. As such, you have to have a zebra mussel filter on your intake otherwise those little buggers will get into your hot water tank and plug it up. Our zebra mussel filter is attached to the end of the hose and affixed to a cement block to hold it in place in the water. What a person with half a mind would do is go over and get the boat and use it to properly place the filter into the lake but since I have had spent enough time in those stinking boats for the day I decided to just throw the unit into the water. Carefully holding the cement block in one hand and the zebra mussel covered filter in the other I began to pendulum swing the block back and forth until I was comfortable that when I let it go it would reach the target. With one burst of energy I went to toss the block.
I have this pair of running shoes that I bought for my yearly basketball tournament in Guelph. They are quite nice except that the laces keep coming loose. One year I decided to tie them extra tight and not have to worry about bending over every 5 minutes to tie them up again. The problem I created with that was the back of the shoe was rubbing very hard on my Achilles tendon. With 10 seconds left in the second game those nice Nike shoes snapped my Achilles tendon. It took me more than a year to get back to normal. The other problem with these shoes is that they are not the best at giving me traction on wet rock. As I went to toss the block I slipped and the block went up, the zebra filter went out and they came crashing down on one another. Of course the block came down on top and snapped the zebra mussel filter in half. I am going to get rid of these damn shoes.
Well that was about enough for this day. Of course I did find epoxy glue in Beckers and fixed the filter. There was no doubt in my mind I would find the glue in there. Time to relax and watch some TV. My brother put a satellite dish up at the cottage so we have quite a selection to chose from. If there is nothing on, we have a huge selection of movies we have on VCR. One peculiarity of the satellite dish is that you have to turn it on the first time you use it and let it just sit there for a few hours to allow the signal to synch back up. We did that as soon as we arrived. We sat down in the living room after our crappy day and turned on the TV. No signal. I guess we have to call the provider and see what the problem is but thatﾒs okay we have the VCR movies. Nope, not a single movie in the place. Guess we took them all home for the winter. I remember I had one movie in the car so I went back to the landing and picked it up. We put the movie in to the VCR and it started to play but no sound. After playing around with every connector on the back of the units still no sound so we turned the VCR unit off and back on. Now we have sound. Can you explain the logic behind that? This only happened because someone up there watching down on us was just having a great day of making our first time up at the cottage a challenging one.
So thatﾒs about it. The day we look so forward to each year ended up pretty much the same as it does every year but I am so glad to be back up at the cottage.