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Submitted: 01-14-1999 by Forrest Brownell
Utilitarian. Not a very glamorous word, is it? No sex appeal. No hint of thrills, licit or otherwise. A word that lies on the page like lead -- heavy, dull, inert.
Well, maybe. Remember _The Merchant of Venice_. "All that glisters is not gold." Treasure can sometimes be found even in lead. If your circumstances are such that you have to make one boat do all things, then utilitarian isn't so bad. Consider....
Working a mountain lake for landlocked salmon, just after ice-out. You get a strike on a Grey Ghost. Your rod-tip bends almost double, and you strip line from your reel as fast as you can make your half-frozen hands work. Later, much later, when you horse your fish over to the boat to release the hook, you realize you're just about sitting on the gunwale. There's still ice in the water. The boat is still floating right side up.
A month later. A whitewater weekend. The runoff-swollen river's bank-full, and the standing waves are curling back on themselves with a noise like the jaws of Hell. You look toward the bank. You can see bits of broken boat in the trees. You look forward again, and there's a hole bigger than a bus at the base of the chute. "We're going in!" you scream.... Two heartbeats later, you're parked in an eddy only the bow-paddler saw. You sit quietly, waiting for your pulse to drop below 120.
Another two months pass. A summer picnic with two friends, a fire pan and a full cooler. You load one-third of a ton without worrying about putting the gunwales under. You find a sand beach even the jet-skis can't reach. Chilled chardonnay, baguette and brie. Grilled trout. Fresh fruit and crisp berry tart. Life doesn't get any better than this.
August. You've gone "up North." Everything you need for the next month -- just about everything you own -- is in the boat. It's late afternoon, you're tired, and you've got just one more scratchy little rapid to run. No problem. An hour later, when you've levered your pretzeled boat off a mid-river rock, hauled it into the shore eddy and stomped the bottom out into some semblance of canoe-shape again, you've learned to see the golden treasure hidden in that leaden word "utilitarian."
OK. The Old Town Tripper is utilitarian. It's heavy, unfashionably thick about the middle, and made of that most unromantic of materials -- plastic. It's also stable, capacious, quick to respond to the paddle, and as close to indestructible as anything made by human hands can be. There are prettier boats, there are lighter boats, and there are faster boats. No doubt about it. But there aren't any better boats. Period.