No reason to be thinking about rafting with fresh snowfall on the ground in Leavenworth, except I just received an invitation to compete in a nationally-sanctioned horseshoe tournament to be held in Petaluma, California, in the spring after finishing third in my division at the World Senior Games in St. George, Utah.
I started throwing 'shoes on a Green River raft trip in the mid-80s. The Green is a tributary of the Colorado, and this was one of those "busman's holidays" river trips where guides come together following a season of harrowing, heart-warming and hubristic experiences to . . . unwind. Despite being an expatriate Texan living in the Northwest, I had never thrown a horseshoe in my life. As a matter of public record, the only horse I ever rode I paid twenty dollars an hour for the privilege to do so.
I cottoned to throwing horseshoes from the outset.
Unlike slow pitch softball, you could be competitive in horseshoes with a beer in hand. Now, I don't consume alcohol to excess, but I have attempted to play third base with a buzz and that has to rank fairly high as one of the dumbest things I have ever done.
Horseshoes is competitive, but it is also very social.
I liked the heft of the shoe in my hand and I liked the concentration required to be competitive. It helped that I pitched on my slow pitch coed softball team, since the motion is similar and the official distance is almost identical. I was pre-accustomed to trying to drop an object close to another object at forty feet.
Of course, what really sealed the deal for me was the ease with which horseshoes could be packed up and carried along on a river trip. The shoes and the posts are as heavy as cast iron metal, but --- hey! --- river rafters cart cast iron Dutch Ovens down the gnarliest of rivers as our primary means of cooking. Another heap of metal is not an issue.
Other than horseshoes, I suggest a game I learned long ago --- from the era of Stewart Brand and the age of New Games --- called Hunker Hawser. All you need is a forty foot length of dry tubular webbing, two stable objects to stand on and two willing competitors. Place the "platforms" fifteen feet from one another, or so, have the participants start with each holding the webbing in hand while mounted on the "platforms" (which on a river trip could be ammo cans or buckets). Each contestant should have an equal amount of excess webbing to be fair.
The objective is to pull one another off their platform by tugging or releasing. It is similar to the technique you might use fishing and like fishing you don't fully let go of the webbing as you wouldn't fully let go of your fishing rod.
In any event, I was the master of this riverside game with its combination of balance and sly cunning, until I ran into Jasper Hickman. A former All-State lineman and a bear of a man, Jasper was an immovable object on a bucket and coupled that with a fine sense of how to 'play' his opponent. Suffice it to say, if Washington river runners had their own All-State accolades to hand out in regards to Hunker Hawser, Jasper would earn one without any doubt. He was unbeatable.
Consequently, on a river trip, I am going to stick with horseshoes.