If you go by the saying "adventure is when the outcome is uncertain" then today I ended up having a quality adventure in the city trying to retrieve a kite stuck way up in a tree at Columbia park along with 4 young kids. I think many would have given up long before, but the ridiculousness that ensued is perhaps what makes it a story worth telling...
First, a little background. Mid-pandemic things started to slow down at work, and I was put on reduced hours. That, coupled with Fenya's 4-day school week, prompted me to take all the kids - F (7), N (3), W (1.5) - as well as our housemate's (part-time) kid, E (5), every Friday. 4 kids is a fair number of kids, but it's been rewarding. Anyway, today the forecast was for sun and wind so the activity for the day seemed obvious - let's go fly kites in the park! First step - get 4 young kids out of the house. If you're a parent you understand. Anyway... about an hour after starting the procedure we're off. The kids all wanted wheels, so we've got F on a scooter, E on a pedal bike, N on a run-bike, W in a chariot, and me on a cargo bike (towing the chariot). We've got extra jackets/mitts, kites, snacks, masks, hand-san, and diapers. Everything one needs to go a couple blocks from the house.
Before setting out we have a talk about how 3 kids on wheels is a lot to manage, and I need everybody to follow instructions exactly so we can stay safe and don't need to immediately walk instead. We come up with a plan - F will lead the group, not going too fast, E and N will follow like ducklings, and I will supervise from the rear. All the kids do a great job, we obey all traffic regulations, and are making pretty good progress. But, just a few blocks from the park, E is all tuckered out and wants a free ride on the cargo bike. "If E is riding the cargo bike I want to ride the cargo bike!" all around. Ok, so now I've got three kids on the cargo bike, E's bike strapped to the back, N's bike strapped to the front, and F's scooter dangling from the chariot.
We get settled in and it's a bit chaotic as I can't help launch everyone's kites at once, but everything is right with the world - kids are joyously running back and forth in the field, kites flying in the air behind them, while W has fallen asleep strapped to my front in a soft carrier. N eventually lends her kite to F, it's becoming windier, and F has let out a lot of string. Actually, all the string. I'm busy helping E launch her kite when I hear F's yells - she's dropped the spool and is chasing it across the field. I can't run my fastest, because I've got W strapped to my chest. Somewhat dramatically I almost catch the spool as it reaches the far side of the field, but the string hits the top of a huge tree and the spool lifts off the ground out of reach towards the top of the tree, snagging another branch and stopping higher up. N is beside herself, upset about her kite, which is still flying happily some 200 meters off above the neighbourhood (it's a long string) with the end now attached to the huge tree. The other kites, abandoned at the other end of the field after the chase, have also begun to blowing away. I rally the troops to run back across the field and hold down the other kites. Having packed down the other kites we return to the tree to contemplate our next move. The spool is high, but not actually that high. I hatch a plan to return to the house and get a long pole to try and drag it down, so load all the kids and all the stuff back onto the cargo bike.
As I bike along I realize I probably shouldn't get just one pole - what if it goes higher? I should get all the poles I can in a short amount of time. N cries the whole way. Back at the house F feels guilty and wants to help; I'm going for a quick turnaround time, before the spool pulls through the tree, so I ask F to try and keep everybody out of trouble while I gather supplies. I quickly angle-grind the tangle of pipe fittings off some scrap steel leftovers from my canoe trailer project, unscrew the head from a punch of brooms, mops, and painting sticks, and quickly hammer a piece of 3/4" gas pipe into a crude spool-grabbing hook. All told I've got about 60 feet worth of things. Then I run back inside to pull pairs of skis off the rack and take the ski-straps that were holding them together. I've almost got them all when F starts screaming for help from the backyard. Somehow she flipped upside down while swinging and banged her head on the ground. I console/evaluate - she remembers everything, no soreness when palpating the spine, no particular tender spots on the head, eyes dilate normally. Ok, no need for the hospital, good to continue, strap the junk to the bike and back we go.
Back at the park with all sorts of long things strapped to the cargo bike and stuffed in the chariot. The kite is the little white spec in the sky at photo centre. The string passes through the tip of the tree on the left, with the spool eventually stuck off-image at the top. The tree on the right appears later in the story.
I can see the kite flying happily over the neighbourhood as we bike back to the park. As I'm unloading the stuff F yells - "Dad it's going up!". Sure enough it is - a gust of wind has dislodged the spool from the lower branch and it's lifting up towards where the string is running over the upper branches of the tree. It stops, right near the top, and get stuck again. Periodic gusts of wind cause the kite to pull and the branches holding the spool to flex dramatically. I start lashing poles together, testing out how high it all reaches periodically, trying to convince the kids to stand farther back than the contraption is tall and also to spot how close it is (since I don't really have depth perception at that distance). The assembly is rickety to say the least. It looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book as it flexes precariously under its own weight. I wish I got a picture. I know several bystanders got a number of pictures. It's also pretty heavy - I don't have the core strength to simply muscle it upright. Instead I jam the bottom end into the ground and walk my hands up it, leaning into it and raising it slowly; it's so bendy that the tip stays on the ground until it's at something like 45 degrees before it finally springs (somewhat) upright like a pole vaulter and then flops around all over the place while I try and keep the bottom underneath it, moving around by letting it tip over and then running the bottom underneath the new center of mass.
Finally the kids report that it's almost long enough. I add one more broomstick for good measure and attach the hook. But the hook is too heavy - this time, instead of springing up like a pole vaulter, the gas-pipe segment permanently deforms right where it's lashed to the 1" sched 40 pipe. I put it back down and attempt to bend the pipe over my knee. Not a chance. But, using the ground and my body weight, I do manage to get it (kind of) straight. I double up on gas pipe as for the first section after the sched 40 pipe, add some more broomsticks to make up for the loss of the pipe section, and remove the hook. I'm trying to think of a lighter-weight hook option when there are screams from the kids - F has stuffed the hook into W's diaper, declaring it to be her tail. W is not happy about it. Concentrating has never been easier. I notice an old fork in the bottom of the chariot while consoling W - perfect! I bend the fork around to make a new hook, lash it down, and am ready to give it another shot. Except that the kids now (claim) they "can't" move back to their usual observation spot. I carry them, one at a time, far enough away, and tip the assembly upright.
But it's just out of reach - when the assembly flops straight it's long enough, but I can't quite get the timing right and manage to wiggle it into being straight only a small fraction of the time. And it's heavy. Eventually a bystander wants to give me a hand. We mask up and, after surprisingly little flailing around, actually manage to hook it. We tug and a bit more branch than I would have liked comes down along with the spool and the contraption. I pounce on the spool, but it was solidly tangled and wasn't going anywhere. The string still passes through the very top of the tree, but after untangling the spool I walk backwards with it to the middle of the park, and pace side-to-side so that it goes through the tree at a variety of angles. Eventually, gloriously, the kite flying high above lifts its string clear of the tree and it's free. Victory! I start the laborious process of manually re-spooling the ridiculously long string.
One might imagine the story stopping there, and it would have been a better story, but while re-spooling the string some lady and her dog start approaching the kids. The kids who are not in the middle of the park, but still kind of close to the trees at the edge of the park. It would have been an awkward situation anyway - the kids don't look interested in the dog, but the dog is interested in the kids, the lady seems to be trying to get the kids interested in the dog, at least one of the kids is afraid of dogs and another isn't old enough to act properly around dogs - but it's also a pandemic and nobody is wearing masks. I start walking over so I can figure out what's going on and intervene if necessary, trying to spool up as quickly as I can... I think I'm maybe still far enough from the trees, maybe the lady is leaving, maybe I can walk back to the middle or just call the kids. I'm spooling frantically and wondering why I didn't just make the kids stay exactly with me when a gust of wind causes the kite to spin and crash straight into the top of a slightly taller tree than it was in before.
I'll skip a bit of the next part, where I try to entertain the kids while standing next to a tree holding a kite string for fear it will tangle further, waiting for Line and E's mom to show up (they just got off work). I attached all the sticks I had, found it was still too short, got the kids a snack, tied off the string, got the kids home, and return with climbing gear. Harnessed up, with Line ready to lead-belay me up the tree so she can pass me the stick and I can grab it from halfway up I'm trying to throw a second rope over a low branch to start the climbing (the trunk is too smooth to climb outright, and I don't think it's ethical to use crampons on a city-park tree). I'm having trouble, though, because it's so windy. The whole tree is swaying, and the rope gets carried off course. We re-evaluate the plan - it's now the kind of day where the tree could blow down even without somebody climbing it. So we decide to just pull on the string - either the kite will come or the string will break and the kite will become litter. We pull, and it comes.
(Note that the picture with the fork at the beginning of the article was taken afterwards, after the length had been substantially reduced, but when Line realized a picture was necessary.)
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