The last leg of my trip was action adventure compared to the tedious poling I’d done for the previous eleven days. Due to severe rainfall recently in Western and Central Nebraska, the Platte River was in flood stage. Thursday morning I pushed my boat into the river with a huge knot in my stomach, wondering how it would handle the churning, boiling water.
It looked like the liquid in a blender when you're making a chocolate shake. It was impossible to believe that this was the same river I'd slogged down for over eleven days. The current was moving so fast and powerfully that trees were toppling into the river, standing waves reached two feet high and cross currents boiled and churned, alternating small whirlpools with powerful burbles. About all I could do was avoid the worst of it and hope for the best."
Fortunately, Plattepus I handled the currents and the waves as if it had been designed for them. Larger waves just washed right over the boat, and swirling currents spun under the shallow draft hull without causing problems. I thought it was humorous that about the only boats that dared to be on the river were $10,000 airboats and my little Plattepus.
Friday morning, with the end in sight, I took a rare opportunity to just enjoy the ride. For once, everything was finally in my favor. The wind was at my back, the current was strong, the river was wide and I knew that I'd make my goal. So I sat back in my chair for half an hour and listened to the birds, watched the clouds, reflected on what an amazing journey it has been, and thanked God for the privilege of being able to do this and for all of the people who have made it possible."
Although I was alone the whole way on the river, there is no sense in which it was a "solo" voyage. None of us ever accomplishes anything on our own, whether in business, in school, on the river or in life. There are always an incredible number of people behind the scenes making it possible. I even think of the people years and years ago who first sparked my interest in building boats, and my parents who taught me to try to achieve the improbable. Then there is Tammy, my wife, who dropped everything to be a support person for the trip along with Sheila, our daughter. And Beth, who keeps things on an even keel at the shelter while I'm gone. The list really does go on and on.
The homeless have never been far from my mind as I’ve poled and paddled. I have this image stuck in my head from the last couple of days. I picture all of us out here floating down the flooded river. Some have luxury liners, some have speedboats, some have canoes, and some are clinging to scraps of wood, barely staying afloat and desperately wondering how long this is going to go on.
I think it is still too easy even for me to give myself all kinds of credit for where I am in life and just dismiss those who are clinging to flotsam and jetsam, as if it is all their fault somehow that they don't have a better boat. When I fall into that kind of thinking, I'm failing to recognize all of those who have contributed to my being where I am, and failing to recognize that some people have never had the same backup I've had.
In the end, the current pushed me to my takeout on a muddy bank, burned, windblown and tired. For the sake of completeness, I paddled across the Missouri River to Iowa, picked up a handfull of Iowa mud as evidence, then paddled back for hugs and pictures. And a long, long nap.