“It’s coming around.”
“No it isn’t.”
“Get back there!”
“It’s not coming back.”
The disc that shot like a bullet from the hand of Michael Jordan made like it would bank slightly to the left — all of us felt this intuitively — but instead it continued on a straight path and landed thirty yards from hole 1, in a patch of trees and mud. According to the group of men playing disc golf at 4pm on Memorial Day — Ben, Adam, Chris, and Mike — this was a throw that could have been better. To me it was astounding how well the piece of plastic was thrown. Mike might have been frustrated, but he broke into a warm chuckle and stood way for the next golfer.
My own throw was miserable, and the group commiserated. “I’ve done that a million times.” “Better than most for their first try.” “Not too bad!” They were a supportive bunch. I was out in the woods and the muck, looking for a disc. It was the first sunny day in weeks of rain. My disc golfing companions had all partied hard last night (for at least fifteen hours), but today they would not miss the nice weather. Although everyone I met had a severe hangover, they would have been “banging chains” on hole 18 while I was stuck on 6, had they not been waiting for me.
“I love disc golf. You get frustrated like nothing else, but then remember you’re outside with friends, drinking beer.”
“God dammit, I shouldn’a worn my disc golfing shoes.”
Disc golfing is, I learned that day, a thing. And like all things, it can be monetized, and it is. There are disc golfing shoes, and disc golfing bags designed to hold disc golfing discs. There are special, very small discs to drop down and mark your place. I suppose it is a little like golf, although I am disc golfing in the Maine woods — what feel like old logging roads — in the swamp, with good-natured golfers who swear like sailors, drink beer and smoke pot on the course. Still, there is a maintained level of seriousness. Many golfers shuffle around with a staggering number of discs, and there is some ceremony in approaching a new hole, putting down the bags, selecting the proper driver.
“A driver is heavy. You fling it and it’ll move. Use the putter for short distances, for finesse.”
Ben has selected for me a driver called the “Wraith”. According to innovadiscs.com, the Wraith is a distance driver, suitable for “long hyzers, tailwind drives, long distance with great control.” It “performs predictably in the wind.” It performs predictably for me: nearly every throw goes into the woods. It is impossible for me to throw backhand. I am used to throwing a frisbee, and this is quite different.
“Just think of a two-by-four level across your arms, and you have to move the frisbee over it.”
One option for the less-skilled disc golfer is the “tomahawk” throw. Hold the disc vertically, firmly between thumb and forefinger, and fling it hard over the head. It will swoop and dance but stay straight. It’s a good throw to get out of the trees, too.
Ben has arms that are the size of my head. I wouldn’t be surprised if they balanced a scale with the gear I am packing on my Nishiki road bicycle, around 45 pounds. Including me and my gear, the bike hauls less than 200 pounds — not much more than your average American’s weight.
I had pulled into Ben’s driveway Monday afternoon, when the party from last night was still dying down, and just before everyone decided to go play disc golf. Ben’s an old friend from high school. He had agreed to host me after the first day of my trip, and I was visiting for the first time in a long time. He had bought a house and carved out a life for himself, here in Chesterville, Maine, near Farmington.
(I was not in Quebec where I planned to be. This was central Maine. I decided, last minute, to change my route, and head through New Hampshire and the White Mountains.)
I noticed quite a few flags flying that day, around towns, around cemeteries. Of one cemetery I ventured into, at least half of the gravestones had a veteran badge with flags flying. I realized many of Ben’s friends I met that day had served in the military. Maine is ranked first of states for military recruitment per capita. It is also ranked first — by a wide margin — in deaths per capita from the war in Afghanistan. In the little town of Madison I was stopped on my way by a Memorial day parade, which, as a parade, to an outsider, was a little pathetic. But the cheers for the marching recruits and veterans were heartfelt and authentic, a small town supporting its own.