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Sandbagged

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Eric Bergeson Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

After napping away the evening last Thursday, I flipped on the TV to find that Fargo and Moorhead needed to raise their dikes another foot.

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Hoping to give my lazy self a sense of higher purpose, I decided to drive down to help with the last desperate push to save the cities.

I threw together a dozen pairs of wool socks, gathered some apples and bananas for snacks, found as many pairs of work gloves as I could muster, dug up an extra pair of boots and headed out at 10 p.m.

Having napped plenty, I figured I was good for a night of work, perhaps part of the morning if they needed.

As my Ford Ranger flew across the ice-covered roads in the dark of night, I could hear the trumpet fanfares. Bergeson to the rescue!

When I drove up to the college where they filled the sandbags, I saw two college students limping away, leaning on each other, utterly exhausted, probably injured.

Poor things, I thought, used to reading textbooks. Imagine the cruel shock of some actual physical labor!

At the check-in line, a dad with a family of kids, including one snotty 16-year-old girl dressed in a light jacket, signed up to help. I couldn't help but wonder how long she would last.

They sent us outside. It was 15 degrees. Under klieg lights, hundreds of people worked like ants on the hills of sand. No fancy machines here: just shovels, bags, pallets and forklifts.

I found myself at the end of a conga line that passed filled bags over to somebody who stacked them on pallets.

Some young kid shouted commands and kept things on our line going at a breakneck pace. We passed a bag every couple of seconds, stopping only to switch pallets.

Passing sandbags looks easy on TV, but in real life it is not.

After a few minutes of this, I could tell I wasn't going to last long. I turned around and faced the other way to use other back muscles. That extended things five minutes.

Then I kneeled down and passed the bags that way for a while, which used different muscles and got me through another 10 minutes.

After a total of 20 minutes, I slyly slid out of the conga line and crawled over to where they were filling the bags.

This was easier, except new sandbags are as difficult to open as those plastic bags in the produce section. I had to take off my gloves and fiddle just to find the opening.

Meanwhile, the kid with the shovel stood there waiting. He had been there since three in the afternoon. It was now midnight. He seemed energized by the whole experience.

I huffed and puffed, even though I was now at the easiest job on the line. Meanwhile, the others told stories about homeowners who sat in the hot tub while volunteers sandbagged their homes, or who wouldn't let people in their house to use the bathroom, or who demanded that their house be bagged first even though they wouldn't help.

The stories, perhaps apocryphal, seemed to build up morale.

As I huffed and puffed, I was amazed by the kids who seemed enjoy this all immensely.

Finally, all of our pallets were full. It was time for some hot chocolate, the young captain of the line decided.

I stood up. My frozen knees barely bent. And then I became aware of my back. It was on fire from top to bottom. I tried to act tough, but I knew it was over.

Instead of heading in for hot chocolate, I snuck behind a big semi and limped back to my pickup.

On the way I passed the snotty 16-year-old girl. Red-faced and puffing, she barked out orders as she tugged on an empty pallet. She had taken over the entire line she had joined an hour before and by gum, she was taking no guff.

All the way home, I pushed my feet against the floorboard to press my back into the ergonomic seat in the Ranger, which eased the pain a bit.

By three a.m., I was home in bed, waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in.

Yes, there are a lot of unsung heroes in this flood fight -- but I'm not one of them.

No, the big thanks for this one has to go to the kids.

(Visit Eric's weblog at www.countryscribe.com.)

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