He knew he had a dime in his pocket somewhere. He had some old bus transfer tickets in there, a large rubber band he was planning on using to make a sling shot, and some matches in case they’d make a fire. The bus was approaching fast. He knew he only had seconds left to find it; otherwise he’d have to wave the bus driver on. He didn’t want to do that. This was going to be a great day for Steve and his other thirteen-year-old buddies. Their friend, Mike Nakoneshny, invited them to come up to his place Saturday morning. He had promised them a great adventure. He’d be leading them on a hike to a local abandoned quarry. Steve had never been to the quarry. Mike told them about other hikes he’d taken to the quarry with some of his neighbourhood buddies. It was sure to be a great day.
Ok, it wasn’t in that pocket. He’d been through every little piece. It had to be in his other pocket. He felt the outside of his pocket to see if he could feel the dime. He felt something hard in the bottom corner. Maybe that was it. Sure enough, he reached down pulled the pocket out and unfolded the end; the dime popped out. He grabbed it just as it headed down towards the sewer. He knew if he didn’t catch it, this trip was history. The guys wouldn’t wait for him; that’s what he told himself. The reality is, like always, Steve would likely be the first one at Mike’s, even if he missed the bus. He hated being late.
The bus stopped. The door opened and Steve hopped on, climbed up, and put his dime into the coin machine and watched it slide down like a pinball. He always liked to hear that final clink as it fell into the coined filled metal box on top of what he pictured to be a small mountain of dimes and nickels. He headed towards the back of the bus. Being early Saturday morning there weren’t many people on the bus; in fact, there was only an older lady in a white sundress with and a small yellow flowers pattern. He wondered where she might be headed to at eight o’clock in the morning. He thought maybe she was also going on an adventure. He tried to imagine what kind of adventure an older lady might be going on. He looked down at her opened toed sandals and the pink nail polish on her toes and decided he couldn’t imagine it could possibly be much of an adventure if that’s how she was dressed. Anyway, he wouldn’t think about her adventure anymore. He was too anxious and pumped about his own adventure.
He was excited. He knew it would to be a great day. He was convinced that this June 2nd, 1972 would be a day he’d always remember. Little did he know why. Even though it was early he could already feel the sun’s heat. He loved hot summer days, and this one was shaping up to be a dandy. He threw his packsack onto the last seat. Pushed it into the corner, opened the sliding window and sat with his head half way out so he could feel the warm wind against his face. Suddenly a bug splattered against his cheek. He pulled his head back in, sat back and enjoyed watching the activities outside as the bus made its journey up the mountain towards Mike’s house. The bus wasn’t really going up a mountain.
Hamilton was Canada’s steel city. Being at the end of Lake Ontario it had an escarpment that followed the lake’s contour about 3 miles away from the lake’s shore. This escarpment was known to Hamiltonians as “the mountain”. The mountain, or upper part of the city, was relatively newer than the lower mountain. It had much nicer homes and those who lived there were rich according to those, like Steve, who lived on the lower mountain. Mike’s parents weren’t rich. Mike’s Dad was a steel worker like many other fathers in Hamilton. Steel workers made enough money to be able to live on the mountain.
The bus came to a stop at the corner of Upper Ottawa and Tenth. Steve grabbed his packsack, threw it over his shoulder and hopped off the bus. It was a short walk over to Mike’s house. Steve felt great as he started towards Mike’s. The sun had warmed the morning up even more during the half hour ride up. Steve was excited. This would be a great day—he felt it in his bones. Mike was the real hiker or camper in the group. Mike’s Dad was an avid fisherman and camper who taught Mike a lot about the outdoors. Mike was always more than willing to share his knowledge with his friends. He didn’t tell you how to do things with any arrogance brought on by his knowledge. He did it with a genuine intent to share what he knew with his friends. Today was going to be a day where Mike shared what he knew and took his school buddies to the quarry.
Mike and Steve, along with their other hikers for the day, Mike Cormier and Mike Melanson were all French Canadians who attended Hamilton’s only French elementary school at the time. They were all bused in to school from different areas of the city. They all led these dual lives. They had friends from their own neighbourhoods and they had friends from school—French friends, as Steve called them, even though they never spoke French together outside school. It wasn’t often they’d have the opportunity to do something like this. Most of their interactions were either at school or as part of their Cubs and Scout troop. Now that they were getting older, they were able to see each other more often because they could now take the city bus on their own. They no longer had to rely on their parents for rides.
As Steve walked up Mike’s driveway, he saw Mike at the end of the driveway. Mike was finishing packing his own packsack and putting a large sheathed knife into the outside pocket of his packsack.
“Hey Stevo,” Mike called out. “I knew you’d be the first guy here.”
“Cormier and Melanson aren’t here yet?” Steve asked
“It’s still early. There’s lot’s of time. It’s gonna be a long day. Did you bring your canteen?” Mike said
As Steve reached the end of the driveway he swung his packsack off his shoulder and said, “Yeah, it’s right here. I haven’t filled it though. I want the water to be as cold as possible.”
Mike motioned towards the house and said, “I got up early this morning and put a large plastic milk jug filled with water into the freezer for us. The water will be nice and cold. As soon as the others get here, we’ll fill up our canteens.”
Mike pulled the knife back out of his packsack to show Steve, “Look at this knife. It’s my dad’s hunting knife.”
Steve had never seen such a knife in person, one that he could actually handle. He had only seen them in the Canadian Tire catalogue or in the Canadian Tire store locked up behind a glass cabinet.
Mike passed it over to Steve, “Here, feel how heavy it is.”
Steve held the knife. He sensed that their great adventure had just begun. “This is a cool knife. What are you going to use it for?” Steve said.
“You never know what we might need it for, or more importantly, what we might meet out there.” Mike always had a great way of making everything more exciting. It’s not likely that on their hike to a quarry they’d meet any wild animals, at least not any that they’d have to fend off with a knife, but Mike wanted everyone to feel that the possibility existed. Mike wanted to take his friends on an adventure. He was ready to do his part to make sure it felt like there was an element of danger to it.
Mike and Steve both looked up the street as they heard Cormier and Melanson. They were throwing stones on the pavement as if they were trying to make them skip on water. Unfortunately, one of the stones took a bad hop and hit a parked car. In a panic they started running hard towards Mike’s house.
“You’re such an idiot,” Melanson was whisper yelling to Cormier as they ran.
“How was I supposed to know that these stupid stones wouldn’t hop straight,” Cormier shot back.
“That’s the problem. You didn’t think, you goofess.”
They settled down and walked up the driveway and tossed down their packsacks beside Mike’s and Steve’s.
Mike Melanson was the school athlete. He was tall, well built for a thirteen-year-old, and had the looks all the school girls loved. He also had the confidence to match his abilities. Mike Cormier, on the other hand, was the shorter stocky type of kid. He got teased a lot by others for being fat, not by his buddies though. Cormier made up for this lack of athletic skills and physical deficiencies with his sense of humour. He was the joker in the group.
Mike asked if anyone needed to go to the washroom before leaving, because if they didn’t go now they’d be shitting in the wilderness. No one went in. This was a hike and taking a crap outdoors was all part of the adventure. Plus, no one wanted anyone else to think that they had any fear of shitting outside, or that they weren’t real hikers. If Mike didn’t go in for a shit, no one would. They all took their wilderness cues off Mike.
Mike brought the now ice-cold water filled milk jug out and filled the canteens. They had all done as Mike suggested and went to the army surplus store and bought an army issue metal canteen with the green canvas cover. They had also stocked up their packsacks with the other suggestions Mike had made: matches in a plastic bag, a slingshot, a jackknife, a sandwich, and a chocolate bar for extra energy.
Mike went to the backyard and got his hiking stick. He had carved it out from an oak branch. All the guys thought it was great. It had Mike’s nickname, Knuckles, carved into the handle. Earlier that year Mike and Steve decided to come up with nicknames for themselves. Mike had chosen Knuckles and Steve had chosen Oats. Lots of people had difficulty pronouncing their last names, so they chose nicknames that represented their names.
As they started up the street the guys kept commenting on Mike’s hiking stick. They asked if he’d help them make one. “Sure, they’re not hard to make. We’ll find the right branches and you guys can use your jackknives to carve them out,” he said.
They walked through the city streets for about twenty minutes and eventually came to a set of train tracks that led to the quarry. The walk up to the quarry was only about two miles but it cut through an undeveloped part of the city and it made it seem like the quarry was in the wilderness.
As they headed up the tracks Mike reviewed some basic hiking rules. There wasn’t likely going to be any danger, but if this was going to be a hike, Mike wanted them to feel like they were on a real hike, real in the sense that they were all heading out for a great adventure. He told them all about the snakes they might see, which ones were poisonous and which ones weren’t. He told them about the hawks that they might run into, and told them about the coyotes he’d often see in these parts. He warned everyone that if, and when, they did run into wild animals that it was extremely important they not show any fear. He told them, “You show them fear. It’s over. You’re a dead man. Coyotes attack in packs. They can be deadly.” It worked they were scared.
Mike did a great job setting the mood for the hike. Cormier, who was the least confident kid among the group, wasn’t too sure about this hike anymore.
“Are you guys sure we know what we’re getting into. Maybe we shouldn’t head up a train track. What if we run into coyotes, and they attack us? What if a train comes?”
Melanson piped in, “Quit being such a big suck. We’re going to the quarry. You can chicken out if you want, or you can suck it up like a man”
“There’s no need to worry about coyotes. You should see the knife Knuckles has,” Steve said, motioning towards Knuckles.
“What knife?” Melanson said.
“He’s got this huge knife that would kill any coyote in a heartbeat. Show him Mike,” Steve said.
Mike pulled the knife out. They all felt its weight and were impressed that Mike had this knife with him.
“Do you feel better now you big suck?” Melanson said to Cormier
“Yeah, as a matter of fact I do, so bite me!” Cormier bantered back.
They headed up the train track and moved away from the city. They came upon an old oak tree that had been struck down by lighting. Mike said that on it they’d find some dry branches they could use to make their own hiking sticks.
On the one side of the train track the ground sloped down into a ravine. That’s where the dead tree was. The boys made their way down the hill to the tree. They picked out branches and brought them over to Mike for inspection. He gave the nod and instructed them how to remove the bark and square off the bottom end. They took some time to carve their initials into their sticks. The crew headed back up the rail track towards the quarry.
It’s socially impossible for four thirteen-year-old boys to walk down a track without attempting to balance themselves on the rail itself. They’d take runs on the rail to see how far they could go without falling off. There was no doubt about who’d be able to go the farthest without falling. The real contest was to see who could almost go as far as Melanson. They took their best shots but no one could come close to his eighteen strides at top speed. They were lucky to make it to five or ten strides before falling off. Invariably as they hit their stride they’d have to jump off the track or risk total disaster.
As they resumed a normal pace along the trail they came upon a snake skin. A local Gartner snake had shed its skin. With the exception of Mike, none of the boys had any experience with snakes. Mike gave them all a little lesson on how snake shed their skins. They had learned about it in school but it was much better seeing it live. Mike had seen snake skins many times before, and they were glad to have a friend who was an expert. They looked up to him.
Cormier thought the snake skin would make a great headband. So, he tried to wrap it around his head; as he did, it tore apart.
Melanson wasted no time letting Cormier know what you he thought, “You wrecked it. We could have kept it and made something cool with it. Now it’s useless.”
“We can still do something with it, can’t we?” Cormier asked, hoping someone would bail him out.
“No, it’s pretty useless now,” Steve said.
“Not to worry guys. We’ll find another one, and we’ll make sure we don’t tear it,” Mike said.
It was just after 10:30 and the sun was starting to heat up even more. It had to be at least 85 degrees by now, they thought. They knew it would be extremely hot later in the day if it was already this hot.
Mike took a couple of step up a path that led away from the track and said,
“This is where we head off towards the quarry. If we stay on the track it will go right by the quarry. We have to cut through this trail for a bit to get to the quarry.”
They made their way down a small slope and through a series of bushes. They came up to a barbed wire fence.
“How the hell are we going to get over this?” Cormier asked.
“Don’t worry. There’s a secret entrance spot,” Mike added. He walked them down about 20 yards to a part where the wire fence had been cut and put back together with wire. They pulled the wire back and snuck through the opening.
As they gathered on the other side of the fence they could see the quarry. As far as quarries go Mike told them this was one of the biggest. It was no longer active and the quarry hole had been filled in with water, however, not completely. The quarry had a depth of about eighty five feet and had a diameter of about half a mile. There was about fifteen to twenty feet of water, which left a good seventy foot cliff into the water.
“We’ll rest up for a while. Have a drink of water and then go for a swim,” Mike told them.
“I’m starving. Let’s eat first,” Cormier said.
“If we eat before going into the water, we might get cramps,” Mike told them.
“Yeah, everyone knows that, pea brain. I don’t want to be dragging your ass out of that quarry,” Melanson snapped.
“Don’t worry. You won’t have to. I could out swim you any day,” Cormier replied.
“In your dreams,” Melanson said while laughing.
“Nobody’s going in yet. We’ll rest, and then take a dive in”, Steve said.
“Dive?” Cormier asked
“Yeah, there’s no way down to the water other than going off this cliff,” Mike said.
“What about that shore over there?” Cormier added
Mike pointed over to the other side of the quarry and said, “Can you see the cows along that shore? They’ve pissed and shit all over that side. You can’t take a step or a stroke without going through shit. We’re not doing that.”
Melanson added, “Don’t be such a big suck Cormier. We’ll all dive off the cliff here.”
Steve asked, “Have you ever done this Mike?”
“Yeah, me and my buddies have done it. If you don’t want to dive you can always jump. It’s a good way to start off. You can work your way up to the dive. That’s what we’ve done in the past,” Mike said.
They sat around and rested for a while, drank a little bit more water, talked about the girls at school that were starting to grow tits. That kept their mind off the cliff for a bit. Then Melanson said,
“I’m ready. Anyone else up for it?”
“Sure,” Steve and Mike said.
“What about you Cormier? You ready?” Melanson said.
“Yeah, I guess,” he said, hesitantly.
Mike said, “No guessing about this. You’ve got to be sure. We have to push off nice and hard because we have to clear at least ten feet away from the bottom of the cliff. The water is too shallow at the edge. We’ll kill ourselves diving into five feet of water.”
Cormier shouts, “Are you guys nuts? I’m not doing that.”
“Well, we are,” Melanson said with his usual sense of confidence.
Mike told them that since he had done it before, he’d go first. He walked up to the edge of the cliff. Looked down, saw that the water was clear right up to the edge of the cliff. Knowing that at ten feet beyond the cliff’s edge the water would be plenty deep.
He stepped back about fifteen feet, yelled out, “Here goes nothing,” ran, and jumped off the cliff. The other three ran up to the edge and watched Mike head down into the quarry. Mike’s splash shattered the mirror like water and sent ripples throughout. Mike went under water. They all looked down. Waited. Worried. Then Mike popped his head out of the water and yelled out,
“The water’s great! Dive in.”
Together, Steve and Melanson took a run at the cliff and jumped in. They could feel their adrenaline rushing through them as they headed down. Splash. The water was cold. Mike’ hadn’t been quite accurate about the water. It felt a lot colder than expected given how hot it was that day. Anyway, they soon adapted and swam to the edge of the cliff.
“What do we do now?” Steve asked Mike.
“We just climb up this section and do it again,” Mike said.
They slowly and carefully climbed to the top. They convinced Cormier how great it was. He eventually jumped in, after the others had jumped off three times. Soon they were all diving in head first.
After a couple of hours worth of diving and climbing up the cliff they were tired. They sat back in the sun and dried off. They opened their lunches and ate, revisiting their great dives into the quarry.
When they were dry, they packed their packsacks and headed back towards the rail way track. Once on the track they t kept talking about their great adventure. They hadn’t seen any coyotes or other wild animals, but diving into the quarry more than made up for it.
They talked about how they’d have to do this again, and how they’d have to bring some of their other friends. The boys entered high school the following year, each one going to a different high school in separate ends of the city. Not only did they never bring their friends back, they never returned themselves. Little did they know that day this would be a one-time adventure for them – there’d be no repeat.
Knuckles and Steve ended up hooking back up a few times during high school but it wasn’t until they were in their mid twenties that their journey as friends would get back on track. It became a great friendship that lasted their entire lives. Many different events shaped their lives, both good and bad. The constant was their friendship.