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Two-stroke rant

Paddling can be a contemplative action. One stroke, two stroke, one stroke, two stroke. The murmuring of moving water surrounds the craft. Water drips off the paddle and sparkles in the sunlight. A Merganser family hides in the reeds; sandpipers lure the floater away from their camouflaged young. Eastern kingbirds, cedar waxwings, yellow-throated warblers provide the background songs. One stroke, two stroke.

Many Americans choose outdoor recreation to find moments of mindful quiet. Some of our greatest poets received their inspiration from tranquil countryside walks. In an ever-increasing busy and noisy world, strolling along a seashore, casting spinners into a lake, or floating down a river is a soul-renewing activity. As I drift down one of our region’s sweetest rivers, I think how lucky we are to be in this green, serene place. One stroke, two stroke.

Suddenly the bird music is obliterated. The quiet sound of paddle meeting water is drowned out. The Mergansers flee in panic, some ducklings upstream and some down. A different type of two-stroke has burst upon the peaceful scene. With rooster tails of water and screaming whines, monster mosquitoes from hell speed into the river. Personal watercrafts -- AKA jet skis -- with their two-stroke engines make their grandiose entrance.

Over a million of these obnoxious machines are ruining the quiet seashores, peaceful lakes, and serene rivers of our country. The noise decibel is between 85 and 110 decibels (dB) per unit. The American Hospital Association recommends hearing protection for occasional sounds above 85 dB. The noise level is damaging the eardrums of the operators—savvy chain saw operators wear earplugs—and destroying everyone else’s quiet experience. Noxious fumes and the injurious noise level are the reasons that the two-stroke engine has been banned in motorcycles. All motorcycles are now the quieter, cleaner four-stroke.

According to EPA statistics, two-stroke engines, which run on a mixture of motor oil and gasoline, are America's number one source of toxic water pollution. The inefficient two-stroke engine of a jet ski spills an alarming 25 to 30 percent of its unburned fuel into the water. A two-hour ride on a jet ski can discharge up to four gallons of gas and oil into the water. Hydrocarbons in gas and oil float on the surface of the water and, through wind, wave, and current action, are generally deposited in shallow water along the shoreline, a significant habitat area.

As if floating, unburned fuel was not harmful enough, these odious playthings are designed to run even in shallow water, causing a direct, physical hazard to spawning fish, nesting waterfowl and birds.

At Lake Mead in Nevada, the Park Service estimates that on a busy weekend jet skis release 27,000 gallons of gas and oil into the lake. Has anyone wondered how many gallons are being spilled into Lake Pend Oreille?

Friends who live by Bull Lake and along the reservoirs are becoming alarmed at the rapid increase of jet skis. “They just go around and around in circles. It is like a busy interstate cloverleaf. Who are these nitwits?”

The drivers and their clinging riders are generally on the young (and dumb) side. I have no problem with young and dumb seeking thrills; we all need excitement in our lives. If humans do not get that adrenaline rush through sports, outdoor recreation, or performing, then we turn to actions like shoplifting, reckless driving, adultery and jet skis. Hey kids, for a real thrill try whitewater kayaking, backcountry skiing, sky diving, or rock climbing. There is a whole world of challenging, exciting activities that are not socially and environmentally destructive.

It could be argued that jet ski riders have a right to enjoy their activities. Their rights only extend as far as my right eardrum. Change from those loud, polluting two-stroke engines or be banned from use. Scream into a river and face a firing squad.

Good sense has not caught up with our technology.

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Author info

Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

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kayaking, jet skis

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