The Battle for the Rubber Chicken

There were eight contestants in the Best BBQ Chicken Wings in the Northern Hemisphere Competition (also called the Ving Off and the Battle for the Rubber Chicken), held yesterday near Pinckney, MI. The contest brought people from as far away as Idaho to sample a broad mix of homemade recipes. Like these Burning Ring of Fire wings prepared by Wendy and Jen. True to their name, they were scorching hot last night and this morning.

Cheeseburger (yes, that's his name) concocts a batter made from Cheeze It crackers and mustard before immersing his wings into a deep fryer.

Chris won the coveted Rubber Chicken trophy with his wok-cooked recipe called Velvet Heat.

Since we sat on the judging panel, we were officially banned from the competition. However, nothing precluded us from delighting our friends' palates with five pounds of swinging sirloin from Fairbury Steaks in Nebraska.

Rocky mountian oysters deep frying in oil, seasoned with Old Bay and a dash of cajun spices.
Sam dips a golden-brown huevo de toro in seafood cocktail mixed with horseradish and hot sauce. Yummy yummy for the tummy.


Pine River

One of the finest canoeing rivers in not just Michigan but the entire Midwest, the Pine twists and turns some sixty miles across the northwestern corner of the Lower Peninsula before entering the slack waters of Tippy Dam Pond. Also reverred for its blue ribbon trout fishery, the Pine is almost entirely encased by the Manistee National Forest and other than the occasional summer cabin or oppulent log home, the scenery is mature hardwood forest or high sandy ridges covered with towering pines. A day on any river is a good day but a day paddling the Pine can make for a most exceptional trip.

Our trip was two years in the making. In 2005, plans were made with old MSU buddy Drew to go four-wheeling in his Jeep in northern Michigan. The weekend before he drove over from Wisconsin, Drew attempted to replace the tire rods. While removing one of the rods with a cutting saw, the metal disc jammed and bound inward into his right forearm. In the span of a half-second, the razor-sharp blade buried itself into the soft tissue above his wrist. Not a good thing. A couple of pints of blood spewed across his garage floor and luckily for him, a neighbor heard the commotion and called for an ambulance. Too make a long story short, for the next several months, Drew underwent several operations and unimagineable nerve pain. That he recovered to where he could hold a canoe paddle two years later is amazing.

Speed ahead to 2007, and the four-wheeling trip in the woods finally happened (as you'll read about in our next posting). But not without additional drama. Thirty miles from the Wisconsin dock to the Ludington Ferry, Drew's Jeep blew an axle seal. Further inspection by a mechanic determined the entire axle was fubar. We considered shit-canning the weekend and then said, hell with it, life is too short. So Day One was spent scrambling old logging trails in our Yota truck and Day Two was spent running the Pine, with cold Labatts delivered on a paddle.

The Pine may not be the Salmon or Owyhee, but nonetheless, the River Banshee demands respect. A gradient of ten feet per mile down a narrow glaciar-carved river corridor creates strong current lines pushing towards logjams on the outside edges of many curves. Add countless stumps and mid-stream rocks and you have a river not for the unintiated. Like these frat boys who flipped 100 yards below the launch. Other than losing their beer cooler and Teva sandals to the Banshee, they were okay. Can't say what happened to them downstream as the river gained momentum and the logjams grew larger- we sped by quickly and wished them luck.

They weren't the only skilletheads on the river. We encountered mullet-haired locals kicking their way down on inner tubes, adolescents stuck in tree branches yelling obscene comments at each other, large flotillas of college dormmates, and a group of Vietnam Veterans from Detroit. One minute we'd witness a brood of wood ducks swimming upstream in a lazy river eddy. Then around the corner, we'd pass 1,200 pounds of humanity loaded in a raft made for no more than 600 pounds. The amazement of a river trip never ceases.

We can't complain about our river mates too much, though. As we passed a college group from Grand Rapids, the girls yelled and asked if we wanted some turkey sandwichs. They made too many- and besides, most people in their party were too busy guzzling Jagermeister to enjoy a proper lunch. Thank you very much. We had a bag of trailmix and probably would have survived the canoe trip without having to eat bark and leaves and whatnot, but the sandwiches hit the spot. The Banshee is both merciless and merciful.

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