Monday, May 28, 2007. Central City. Central?
Ten days have ended, and I have not. For those who are eagerly awaiting the results of our fundraising competition to correctly predict my last bridge by 9:00 PM today, it was Central City East, #43. 401.72 miles, or right at 40 miles a day on average. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but the GPS doesn’t lie.
There have been ongoing highs and lows.
Friday I dropped my radio in the river, which immediately rendered it a fancy decoration. Believe me, the time goes by much more quickly if I’m listening to the news from Lake Wobegon or Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, so this was definitely in the category of disaster. Fortunately Tammy and Sheila replaced it for me by Saturday morning.
Saturday’s big story was the wind, which slapped me right in the face all day so strongly that if I wasn’t poling, I wasn’t advancing. To make matters worse (yes, dear Reader, things can always get worse), I went over three more big diversion dams, each with a long lake preceding it. Those lakes are deeper, so my pole has trouble finding a footing, and I have no current to help me out. With the strong winds, it was challenging just getting to the dam, much less dragging boat and baggage up, over and down. Whine, whine, whine.
The greatest excitement Saturday was hearing gunfire up ahead of me. Since no one expected to see a boater on the river, it was not unlikely that they would be shooting right across my bow without ever knowing it. As I approached the battle field, I was in a channel that ran between tall weeds. I couldn’t see the shooters, so I just hunkered down on the board and went as fast as I could until I was sure I was out of range. Then I had this little prayer meeting. These are the kind of things Tammy and my mother worry about.
By the end of that day Tammy and Sheila had to virtually carry me up the stairs to our hotel room. I had so many blisters, scratches, cuts and aches that I told Tammy it would be a great opportunity to practice for when I’m an old invalid and she has to feed me, clothe me, wash me. She undoubtedly thinks I’m already there. Even I have started thinking of myself as older now, as if this trip has carried me from the enthusiastic optimism of middle age to the border of pessimistic wisdom, summarized as “I’ll never do this again.”
Sunday was better, with the wind shifting so that although it wasn’t helping, it wasn’t hurting either. My near disaster came when my pole stuck in the bottom in the middle of a fast, deep channel. My hands are so sore that I cannot hang on to the pole very well, so I went shooting off without it. Couldn’t jump in with my replacement radio in my shirt pocket – and by the time I hand-paddled over to a sand bar and got off the boat, it was a bit of a walk back. It made me realize how much I depend on the pole, and wonder how I would ever go on without it.
Sunday’s highlight was the family reunion on the bank of the river. I heard this loud roaring sound coming up the river, as if a float plane were trying to take off, but it turned out to be an airboat with about five people in it. The noise was so ferocious that they were all wearing ear protection, which I think might have put a dent in their conversations as they raced up the river. It crossed my mind that they probably wouldn’t see as many deer or raccoons as I’ve seen. Anyway, shortly after their boat roared past, sending high waves over my boat, I met the rest of the family playing volleyball, throwing horseshoes and BBQ-ing meat that I would have killed for. I stopped to visit and was told they were celebrating a couple’s fiftieth wedding anniversary and the wife’s seventieth birthday. It looked so traditionally American that I wished I could join them.
So now, day ten. For the first time in all of those ten days, the three elemental ingredients of a good trip were aligned: water, wind and will. The current has been fast, the wind strongly at my back and my will indomitable. Not really, but indomitable is such a great word.
Today, Memorial Day, I actually indulged a bit of fantasy for the first time this trip. At one point, everything was going so well that I lay down on my back and stared at the clouds while racing along a perfect stretch of river. It only lasted five minutes, but this was something I had imagined doing endlessly when I first envisioned this little lark. Alas, the reality is that as long as I’m on the boat, I’m poling. I’ve had my five minutes of fun.