PUMPING IRONY: Bringing In the Dock

I married into a family cabin almost 30 years ago, which is a marvelous happenstance, except for the October Saturday every year when My Lovely Wife and I are called upon to drive 200 miles north to Cass County, Minn., for the annual bringing in of the dock.

Cabins have docks because people like to walk out over the water and climb into speedboats and sailboats and even rowboats, I suppose, without getting their ankles wet. Others like to jump into the water from the end of the dock, swim around for a while and then lay on the dock in the sun in order to bring a well-earned sunburn back to the office after their vacation. Still others enjoy standing on the dock while casting a line far out into the water in hopes of snagging a walleye or some other form of aquatic life. I do not actually belong to any of these groups of dock-lovers, but I understand I’m in the minority on this.

Anyway, MLW’s grandfather, who purchased the property on Woman Lake in the 1920s, was a civil engineer who invented the BridgeCo dock, which, according to the marketing materials, was “built like a bridge”. That means it has beams and stanchions and bridge decking — a whole lot of very heavy redwood and steel, all designed for durability and convenience. And, in fact, this particular dock has been in use at the Parker cabin since before my first visit there in 1977, when MLW was simply My Lovely Girlfriend.

So, I have nothing but admiration for the creativity and engineering skill that went into designing this particular piece of north woods infrastructure. And, over the years, I’ve marveled at the technique developed to bring the dock in without having to set foot in the 40-degree water. This is the primary advantage, it seems to me, of owning a dock built like a bridge. And I have watched in wonder as, first, MLW’s father and, eventually, her most mechanically minded brother, guided us through the process.

Very briefly, here’s how it works:

You loosen the bolts holding the two beams to the far stanchion, loop a burly rope around the stanchion, then remove the decking until you’ve reached the point where the beams are held in place on the next stanchion. You remove the bolts holding the beams there, drag them onto shore while the far stanchion quietly falls into the icy water — still attached to the sturdy rope. Then you simply grab the rope and pull the stanchion (which weighs, I’m guessing, maybe 50,000
lbs.) along the lake bottom until it’s close enough for you to yank it out of the water and stack it on the shore next to the boathouse. Then, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat and repeat. Piece of cake.

Until very recently, MLW’s mechanically minded brother would handle most of this. He’d unscrew the bolts without dropping the socket wrench into the lake, wrap the rope around the stanchions, etc., while the rest of us carried in the decking (not a particularly easy task, but you get my drift). He eventually tired of this particular arrangement, and for the past couple of Octobers, it’s been me and MLW’s less mechanically inclined brother wielding the socket wrenches and hauling the steel out of the water.

So, last Saturday we were out there in a persistent drizzle, wrenching and yanking and schlepping along with our two LWs (all of us, I hasten to add, in our 50s) and getting the kind of workout that creates a Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness that’s not really delayed at all. It’s a good thing I’ve been working out, I was thinking as I struggled to pull the first stanchion out of the water. But this was lifting of a different sort: deep squats with a clean and jerk thrown in for good measure; a tug-of-war with a big old wet rope and a two-legged hunk of steel; dead lifts with soggy redwood. It all kind of reminded me of the stuff John Hinds does at his Madison, Wisc., Monkey Bar Gym — only not so much fun.

Anyway, the dock’s all packed away for the winter now, and most of the soreness has left my body — just in time for me to hit the gym tonight. Maybe I’ll work on those deep squats and deadlifts. Or . . . I could start working out an argument for the aesthetic pleasures of an unadorned shoreline.

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