What if…?

ryanunicycleUp! “What the hell are you talking about Ryan? This is probably the weirdest start to a blog post I’ve seen yet.” Yeah buddy, you got it, I’m weird; it took you that long to figure that out??? The name of this game is the What if…up! game. So remember the portly spiritual guide 😉 I told you about in the Slippery’s post? Well I called her. She asked me to. She gave me a free EFT session. It was awesome.

We’re probably talking about one of the coolest people I’ve ever met here, and she shared this game with me that I’m going to share with you…

How to play What if…up!

Most of us play the What if…down¡ game. That is to say, “What if my car doesn’t start tomorrow? What if my kid calls me an asshole (I actually called my step-dad this one; he was so pissed!) What if I go to church tomorrow and they try to convert me? What if I get allergic to cats? What if they cancel Desperate Housewives? (That one would pretty much end Phillip’s world.)” We imagine all the possible negative scenarios that, quite frankly, haven’t happened, probably won’t happen, but boy do we feel like shit thinking about them happening: “What if, what if, WHAT IF, WHAAAT IFFFF (insert bad horrible thing that we don’t want to happen)!!”

Well Jody Hagedorn; trained EFT professional, trained reflexologist, untrained giver of random foot rubs to random river dudes on docks in Wabasha, and all around cool badass; created (borrowed? modified? who cares!) the What if… UP! game:

“What if my boss gives me a raise? What if supermodels descend from the sky and start giving me (I’ll let you fill in the blank here)? What if I make a million dollars doing absolutely nothing (That’s right, nothing! You just sit on your ass and people start bringing you loads of cash! What? Not likely? Well is it really likely that your car won’t start? I mean as long as we’re imagining fanciful scenarios, let’s imagine the ones that are cool!)? What if my kid stops skateboarding and hanging out with the wrong crowd and takes up unicycling (this one is real)? What if I never have an argument with my spouse again? What if my spouse and I have amazing sex!

So what I’d like you to do as a fun aside as I bide my time in La Crosse (Phillip is sending me a part to the air pump I need; I think it’s gonna get here Saturday; what if it doesn’t! What if it gets here tonight served on a silver platter!), is play this What if…UP! game. Just say to yourself, “What if…” and then end the question with the coolest, most outrageous, amazing scenario you can conjure (an up scenario).

I’ll share one before I leave and then I’ll tell you the results: What if a million people donate one million dollars to my blog! What if I get so much money I have to stuff it in sacks like in that movie Blow? What if a bunch of girls invite me over for dinner and beyond foot massages? What if my credit card debt goes away? What if I stop being allergic to cats? What if my mom calls me just to tell me she loves me? What if Chase Bank calls and says, “Look, bud, you don’t owe us anything… Merry Christmas.” What if, what if, WHAT IF!

So play the game yourself and tell us what happens in the comments below. Say how your feelings changed throughout the day. Did you feel better just playing the game? And of course say if you created some amazing things for yourself.

What if Phillip didn’t just send the part I need, but he also sent a wad of cash! Hey, I already made 67 bucks doing nothing. Why not!

Ryan

Location: La Crosse, Wisconsin

Destination: La Gulf of Mexico

Photo courtesy of Jane Hallock, All-around Nice Person and Awesome Vegetarian Cook Extraordinaire.  That’s me attempting to unicycle.  Thank you to Jane and Tristan and Rick for inviting me to their unicycle practice.  I can sit on it pretty well; now I just gotta ride it!  Stay tuned:  I swear to Holy God I am finishing, as we speak, Lake Winnie, Part Deux.  Aurevoir, Ryan

Slippery’s When Wet

OK, so this kayaker walks into a bar and comes out with 67 bucks, a foot massage, Neosporin, a captain’s hat and 789 pounds of goodwill and wellwishes. Waiting for the punchline? There isn’t one. This isn’t a joke; this actually happened. After the debacle on Lake Pepin (How many lake debacles can we have! Should 11 Visions make sure they avoid lakes altogether??? We report, the wind decides.) I pulled into Slippery’s, a riverside bar in Wabasha, MN. (Slippery’s is mentioned in the movie Grumpy Old Men; check out Scene 27.) My bow is barely 10 feet from the dock when a guy walks up. “Welcome to Wabasha!” he bellows. Before I know it he has my front rope tied to a hitch, my back rope tied to a hitch, has read War and Peace, and found the cure for death.

No, this guy was a whirlwind. He came out of nowhere. “Uhhh, do you greet everyone who comes into Wabasha?” I ask.

“I do my besht [sic].”

“Wow! What service!” I assumed this guy just worked at Slippery’s. Not so.

“Well, my name is David Schmidt; I’m the shity [sic] manager.”

“Ooooooooohh, you can’t be that bad,” I reply. He looks at me cockeyed.

“Well thersh bathroomsh over there; you can camp in that plashe over there. Aaaaand if the copsh give you any trouble just tell them David Schmidt, the shity manager shaid it wash OK.” Crap, mother freaking A, this guy has a cleft palate! I’m a moron.

“Oh, great, David, thank you,” I say feeling like a tool for the “you can’t be that bad” comment. I really thought he was the manager of Slippery’s and that he had joked by saying, “I’m the shitty manager.” He said, “I’m the city manager!” Ryan’s first act in the city of Wabasha: Accidentally insult the mayor.

A Soldier’s Story

I thanked David and looked at my surroundings. My things were still wet from the boat dumping. I didn’t have time to check them out fully at the marina, but now it was apparent that the situation was worse than I had anticipated. I opened my clothing bag. Sopping!!!! I mean they were soaked to the bone, er, thread. My big, green Gregory pack was sopped. My food bag was fully infiltrated by H2O molecules. And my tent looked like a wet canole. Unnnnncoooool, I thought. To be honest, however, I was still in a great mood. I mean just to be on the Mississippi, to have to have dealt with a situation like your boat tipping over was… new. I never had to deal with something like that before. It was exhilirating. Draping your feet over the dock and taking stock of your supplies – gains, losses, salvageables, unsalvageables… it made me feel like a great explorer! I was king of the world, in control of my destiny. I had survived a boat capsizing. I was head of the expedition: “What decision shall we make, gents! Tally hoooooooo!” Exhilirating.

And yet the cold hard reality of just what I was going to do with all this wet stuff was, uh, not so exhilirating. This, my friends (heh, channeled McCain for a second), is the flip side of traveling, of adventuring: It’s not all tea and biscuits. There is a lot, a lot of work to do to make your dream come true. Right now, getting my stuff dry and figuring out if I would have power (My marine battery was completely submerged.) was paramount.

“Whatcha doin’?” a lady asked me. I looked around. I guess I was kinda causing a scene. The entire row of outside tables perpendicular to the dock was watching me. (Wasn’t really anything else to watch!)

“I’m running for president. Ma’am, are you satisfied with health care in this country?”

“Ha ha ha, funny. Really!”

“What, a man can’t paddle from town to town running for president?”

“Not if the side of his boat says MINNESOTA TO LOUISIANA ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER.”

“Excellent point, madam. I am… paddling from Minnesota to Louisiana on the Mississippi River.”

She laughed again. I gave her a business card.

“Whatcha doin’?” another woman asked. More banter. My stock response usually goes something like this: “I’m making a documentary as I paddle the Mississippi River meeting interesting people and having amazing experiences.” Then I turn the camera on and see if they’re camera shy.

A third man walks up. If you ask me what I’m doin’, I’m throwin’ you in the lake! “Whatcha doin’?” Uhhhhh, this guy could kick my ass; nevermind.

“I’m raping goats…” (Okay, you know that’s not what I said. :))

“Reeeally!” This guy was excited. I could see it in his face. He had a steely reserve, however, that contained it all. I couldn’t quite place it. He was… held together by something, some sort of disciplined use of his face that didn’t let emotions come out full force. I took a shot in the dark:

“You in the military?”

“Yeah! How’d you know?” Because I’m an important person; didn’t you read my 2nd to last post!!!

“Guessed.”

“Yeah, I’m deploying for Iraq in two days.” Woah. Holy crap. You know that feeling you get when someone farts in the room? The room goes silent. There is this pause. Something has happened. And everyone is still trying to figure out just how to react to it – like when someone screams at the top of their lungs in the kitchen. We think our reactions happen instantaneously, but they don’t. You feel a dud, the slightest drum beat, and then you react. This was a long drum beat. “I’m going to Iraq in two days.” The room was silent. I fell silent and felt a thump in my chest. I felt so, so alone. I think I felt… what he was going to feel… over there. “Yes,” he continued, “my wife is here and I’m on a leave of absense. It’s neat that I ran into you here. We’re going back home today, and I haven’t seen much of anything interesting in Wabasha. This is interesting!” I’m interesting??? Me??? What I’m doing??? What the… I felt like a fraud. Here I am, I dunno, going down a river, and this guy is deploying to Iraq. This guy is putting his life on the line for me. I didn’t know what to feel. Whether or not you agreed (agree) with the war is another story; but, this guy was going… in two days! My heart stopped.

“I don’t know what to say, my friend,” I said. I didn’t. All I could do was try to conjure up as much honesty as I could. “But I want you to know that I’ll be praying for you.” Hold on…. I just prayed. I implore each and every one of you reading this to pray for our comrade. Please. If you don’t know how, a silent thought of safety will do. Dear sir, may you be well. Amen. We talked for a bit. He was still being reserved. I thought, I don’t know, but I thought it was fear I saw behind all that controlled facial movement. His wife came up, and then, I knew the source of the fear – wife, kids, babies. “Hello,” I offered. “Hello,” she said. She was reserved. Not like her husband. Her reservation was one of disinterest. Our soldier’s reservation was controlled emotion. He really was excited about what I was doing, but had trained (had been trained?) not to show it. Maybe his wife knew she wouldn’t see her husband in a while, maybe she had disconnected completely from this reality; but, she seemed none too happy to see me or see her husband happy to see me. Maybe she knew this would remind him of what he would miss – good times, going down the river, adventure, the life you and I get to experience each day. He was walking into hell, and maybe she didn’t want him to think about what he would be missing… over there.

He had been serving in the Army Reserves in Wisconsin. I don’t know if he ever thought he’d be called up. But he was; and, as I type he’s probably in the Middle East right now. Fear, heart stops, I feel, alone. Dear sir, I pray for you again.

With the wife there, the conversation turned more businesslike. I thought about my brother, Jeff, when he deployed to Afghanistan. My father (one of two) was sitting at the dinner table and told us the news. “Jeff is being sent to Afghanistan,” he said and started to cry. I started to cry but held it back. I tried, much as this man was doing, to keep it in the box. “I just,” my stepfather continued, “want him to be safe… and…” He didn’t finish the sentence. How could one? There’s nothing to say. There is only sadness to feel: sadness over war, sadness over the situation. And that is what I felt for this man. I didn’t want him to go, but go he was. His wife, I concluded, handled this by remaining stoic: “Oh well, you know, these things happen. He’ll be back. Well I mean, hes’ got to; he’s got a lot of stuff to fix around the house. C’mon honey. This River Guy is boring.”

I wished that the interaction could have gone on all night. I wished that by some sort of connective power I could make this guy stay so he wouldn’t have to go off to fight. Again, I don’t know which way your political wind blows, but I think we can all agree that this man has a family; and, if there is going to be a war, it had better be for a good reason. I know my brother has one… a family.

He left. I was filming him. It’s odd being a camera man. You’re being so much, feeling so much, and yet you want others to know what the experience was like, so you film them. You try to capture their pain, their fear while trying not to intrude. It’s a balancing act. I hope I did the right thing. I hope he knows he’s doing the right thing. I don’t know where you are, sir, but please come back alive. We all want you here. I don’t know you, and the people reading this blog dont’ know you; but, I can say with certainty that we all want you here. Please return.

Amen.

Footrubs and a Wad of Cash

More and more people were coming up to me: “Can I ask what you’re doing? Can I ask what you’re doing?” I was happy to tell them. It was great. It just got monotonous in terms of saying the same thing over and over; but, that’s the price of fame :). Another woman walked over. She was portly and had a jovial smile. Have you ever met these people that have this… radiance??? I mean it’s amazing. I could tell this woman was healthy and strong. Her eyes were deep blue, and they focused intently and relaxedly at the same time. “You have some things you need to release,” she said. Oooooohhh no, another success guru! For those of you who don’t know, I have been through every self-help course on the market. I’ve done Avatar, Field Center, read so many self-help books you could light them all on fire and sometime next spring THEY’D STILL BE BURNING!… I mean I’ve had it with releasing, discreating, forgiving, yadda-yadda-yadda-if-you-only-had-this-one-technique-you’d-solve-all-your-problems-ing. But she was different. She was present with me. She didn’t have an agenda. “I’m a reflexologist,” she said. “I’m going to give you a foot rub. Give me the right one,” she ordered. F-in’ cool. I just had my boat turn completely over in front of my eyes. I think I deserve a hot super model feeding me grapes, but a foot rub will do too. It was awesome – best footrub of my life! “How much do you usually charge for this?” I asked.

“‘Bout 90 bucks.”

“Annnnn?”

“Hour.”

“An hour. Of course. And how much, Missssssss…”

“Jody.”

“…Miss Jody, will I be charged?” I smiled.

“Naaathing.” She laughed. “Ryan,” she said. “You need a spiritual guide. I want to be that for you. I am here to be here for you. This was not an accident – you ending up on this beach. This whole interaction is divine. This is quite amazing, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” I replied. I stared deep into her eyes. Oooooh, that’s a tender spot, I thought.

“This spot?” she asked.

What the… How the hell did she hear…

“Look this part of the foot is the spleen – you hold anger there… You need to release it; you really do.”

She stayed and chatted with me a while, telling me what I should do when my shoulders start hurting. “You can’t always rub your back,” she said, “but you can rub the part of your hand corresponding to the back.” I don’t know if this mumbo jumbo works, but I can tell you when she finished I felt phenomenal. Thank you, Jody. I’ll call you soon. We all need guides, not just on the river.

About 17 more people came up to me during my time on Slippery’s dock. Slippery Dippery Dock! I was getting annoyed. Dude! I thought, I got to get out of here! I was about to push off when one of the hottest women I’ve seen in my life came up to me. She was burnt-toast tan in a white bikini. In the words of Ali G, “Me had a semi lub on.”

“Whatreyoudoing!” she asked.

“I’m paddling down the Mississippi making a documentary,” I replied.

“That’s so cool!”

“You’re cool!” I touched her shoulder. She responded positively and took my hand.

“You’ve got to meet my husband!” Crrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaappppppppp!

Her husband was a meathead. That’s all I’m going to say. She jumped onto a super expensive boat that her friend and his girlfriend were piloting. She sprang back to the dock with something in her hand and grabbed my hand for stability. F-ing meathead. “Put this on!” she shouted.

What the hell is this? It was a captain’s hat. A cheap immitation with a plastic adjustible back but still a captain’s hat. I was flattered. She boarded the boat once again with Captain Meat for Meat. “Duuuuh, me have hot wife; me rub two sticks together to make pennies fall from skyyyy, duuuuuuhhhh.” As they pulled away from the dock, I put the captain’s hat on, and they all cheered. This, cheering, was a bad idea: they took their eyes off the water and ran into a sandbar. I thought it was funny. I’m keeping the damn hat, Meathead… humph.

It looked finally like I was going to pull away from Slippery’s. All of a sudden, the wind picked up. Like by 10 miles an hour! Crap, I thought, I need to bust the sail out! So I did. I got it all set up. When it was time, however, to bungee the mast (my 2nd oar) in place, I decided to use the new bungee cord Justin gave me. I wrapped it around the mast twice and let it loose. The mast bent down all the way level with the dock. This isn’t good. Now people were watching. I had a damn reputation to keep in tact. The whole bar by now knew me as River Guy Going down Mississippi. I was a damn expert. I couldn’t look like a tool, or it would shatter the illusion. I tried wrapping the bungee cord around the mast a third time. This just made the mast bend the other way. Fuuuuuuudge balls. I really am looking stupid. I don’t know if you’ve ever played golf, but I have. When I go to the driving range, I swear to Holy Jesus I can drive that ball straight up the middle 260 yards with no problem. Any club I choose, my ball is going 90 per cent of the time straight down the fairway. When I play on an actual course though???? It’s another story. The eyes are on you. What if I eff this up? There are obstacles on an actual course!: a sandbar there, a lake over there; now you’ve got to hit it straight! And when you have to do something, you experience what is known as pressure. And boy was the pressure on tonight! My mast was not sticking up straight. I tried 7 different combinations – nothing. I tried tightening the sail to the grommets in different combinations. Nothing. I tried to remain calm. Even great explorers had to troubleshoot, I thought. So I did my best to treat this problem like a great explorer would – I kept my cool and looked for different solutions. I could feel the eyes on me. Is he going to F this up? they were thinking. Oh my god, this guy has no clue! another thought. Does he even know how to sail? Oh my god, that guy looks like Tom Hanks! This last one is a strong possibility though not provable.

Finally I grabbed a shorter (but damaged) bungee. I really didn’t want to use this one, but we’ve got to get out of here while I still have some shred of dignity, I thought. The shorter bungee did the trick, and the sail stayed upright. I sat down in the boat. A man who had helped me locate a needle to get a splinter out of my heel came up to me (Hey Cap. Bob!). “What! You ready?” he asked. “Hell, I hope so,” I replied. I turned the boat around. More and more people ran up asking for business cards. “Hell, this guy might actually get out of here,” they thought. The wind was blowing the sail into my face. I still looked stupid. I’m going to show these MFers though, I thought. I made a hard right turn digging my left oar over and over into the river, aaaaaaaand FLAP!! The wind popped that sail out full bellow! It popped it so hard the metal clip I was using to furl the sail was flung into the river. With the 11 Visions Viking Sail in full force, the crowd started to cheer. He did it, they thought. He really did it. I can’t believe it. “Shit, I just lost fifty bucks… double or nothing, Jerry??”

I waved back to everyone. I really did feel embarassed. I mean I did look like a dufus with that mast hemming and hawing all over the place. But I did keep my cool and I did hold out for the sweet revenge on the non-believers. “Oh ye of little knowlege of jerry-rigged sails!” I let the sail out full. I’m not supposed to do this because it obstructs my vision, but I couldn’t help it. I felt so good. During my stay at Slippery’s, I made 67 bucks! No, not that way! Get a sense of humor! I made it by people giving it to me. They kept giving it to me over and over. I couldn’t believe it when I counted it, but sure as the day is long – 67 dollars cash. What were they giving it to me for? I wasn’t asking for it. They just sort of heard about my plan and felt inspired. I’m inspiring people, I thought. People are seeing in me what they would like to be doing. Money was their way of saying, “Go get ’em tiger. Dont’ just win it for you; win it for us; win it for the me I would like to be too.” That made me feel good. I have felt, and still feel, that this journey, if successfully completed, is not just my success; it is everyone’s who has helped me success as well. It is your who are reading this blog success as well. We’re all in this together. Thanks for coming along. Now if you have any caaaashhhh you want to send my way…

Love you guys,

Ryan

And we thought Minnesota was COLD!

I’m going to share a funny story that took place over the first couple weeks of our paddling trip. After you finish reading it, please take a moment to vote for us at the link below. We will love you forever!

Antarctica's only export is cold!
Antarctica's only export is cold!

Before leaving on our Mississippi River trip, Ryan bought a warm weather “sleep sack” to use while we camped nightly along the river. After all, it was summertime and the daytime temperature was in the 70s and 80s.

I was smarter and brought a quality 15 degree sleeping. So here’s how it went down: It turns out that Minnesota (where the Mississippi River begins) is really cold at night–even during the summertime! While Ryan froze in the night air which often dropped into the low 40s, I was toasty warm and sometimes even hot. I often bragged about this fact to poor Ryan while he shivered around the morning fire.

See, Ryan is a city boy from Texas and he doesn’t know the first thing about cold weather. I’m a country boy from New York state where we regularly see winter temperatures well below zero. I think it would be absolutely hilarious for Ryan and myself to blog from the coldest place on earth. Of course, I’ll remind him to buy a better sleeping bag first!

So basically how it works is that if we get the most votes, we’ll get a free trip to Antarctica! Please vote for me and I’ll force Ryan to come along and discover how really cold weather feels. Don’t worry…he’ll love it!!!

Here’s the link:
http://www.blogyourwaytoantarctica.com/blogs/view/437

I Just Got Dumped :(

My boat dumped into the water. Gear went flying, and floating. The bow went completely underwater, and my vessel filled up like a cup of tea. This is the first time this has ever happened. My Sea Eagle was being towed by a powerboat; and, I was convinced, so convinced, that not only were these tough little inflatables indestructible but they could do basket weaving, fire rocket launchers from their pontoons, and do flips and barrel rolls with one rope tied behind their backs. Not so; the boats can indeed (and did!) dump completely into the water… and I’m starting to believe that they can’t do basket weaving or interpret Spanish like the manual said. 🙂

First things first: I’m okay. I was physically unhurt which is a big plus. Actually and interestingly, when I was watching my camp gear do its best to sink itself to the bottom of Lake Pepin,

Wide isn't it?  The Mississippi turns into a lake around Frontenac, MN.  Thought we were done with lakes, didn't ya?
Wide isn't it? The Mississippi turns into a lake around Frontenac, MN. Thought we were done with lakes, didn't ya?

I wasn’t too fazed. I was actually observing this scenario as the speed boat driver, Justin (Justin Staker from a previous post) threw on his life jacket, started barking orders for me to throw on mine, and apologized to me all at the same time. Despite the orders, I jumped in the water sans life jacket. “My camera!” I shouted, “that’s the only important thing!”

“What the…” He was incredulous. “Grab your camp gear!”

F that. I can replace the camp gear, my clothes, etc., etc. but not that footage. I am a world famous cameraman! How dare you implore me to save my tent!

Justin jumped in the water. He felt so bad. We were flailing around not sure what to do. Again, I was surprisingly calm. I was just kinda like, Well, I mean, shit, if it goes down, it goes down. That camera though… Holy balls! I will dive to the bottom of the earth to get it! Justin was swimming trying to gather things. My boat was was completely overturned. The bungee cords I use to strap in my gear were holding my backpack, food bag and marine battery for dear life. These little babies, however, were taking on more and more water and getting heavier and heavier. The bungees looked at me: “I ccccaan’t hollld on mmmmmuch loonnngerr.”

“Stay with your kayak!” Justin shouted. If we both swam away from the boats, the waves could carry the speed boat/kayak tandem contraption away, and we’d be two morons in the middle of the lake who not only lost Ryan’s kayak but also Justin’s dad’s speed boat, lol. I latched onto the rope holding the two boats together and started pulling the speed boat toward us. I just gotta get that f-ing camera on the big boat. F all the rest.

“Let’s try and flip it!” Justin says.

“What? My boat? Oh, don’t even worry… let’s just get most of the stuff…”

He ignores me and climbs on top of the Sea Eagle attempting to use his weight to turn it over. Nothing doing. It’s too slippery; there’s nothing to grab on to. Justin is getting frustrated. I try to throw my camera and dry box, which contains electronics and other important things, onto his boat. Justin says it’s no use trying to swim after the gear and that he’ll have to try to flip the kayak from his boat. My clothing sack, cooking gear, dry bags that Patrick Hanlon gave me in the Twin Cities are all floating. It’s rather comical. I know if I lose this stuff I’m going to have to buy more with who knows what money; but, somehow it’s all okay. It’s all okay to lose all this stuff, I think. It’s just stuff after all. Justin feels so bad. He’s still apologetic as he barks more orders: “Okay, I’m getting on the boat!”

“Okay,” I say, “I’m going to hand you some of this crap; it’s full of water.” I’m semi-laughing.

He leaps onto the boat. “Okay, give it to me!”

I hand him my battery. It is a 30 pound marine battery stuffed in trash bags. The trash bags are full of water, and the whole bunch is about a foot under water. I reach to grab it and can’t find anything to grab! Crap! I’m going to lose this damn battery! I start laughing to myself. I mean this is so freaking comical. This is funny, man, ha ha ha. I contemplate briefly telling Justin that my sack is full and I need to empty it, ha ha ha. His face is stern, serious; he feels so responsible. I try to put jokes out of my mind by focusing on the practical. He’s gonna kill me if I make jokes now, I think. By some act of divine intervention I find the handle to the battery and hand it to him. With the water it weighs about 50 pounds. Justin lifts it up. His eyes are wild. Imagine a young bald man freaking out, pissed off, apologetic, businesslike, in survival mode, in holy shit! mode, (he’s a trained physical therapist so he’s in…) damage-control-paramedic-crisis-avert mode… It was crazy! I’ve never seen a man thinking, doing, and feeling so many things at once. In the middle of all this… I’m calm. I have no idea why. I’m probably the most likely candidate for a no-holds-barred, balls-to-the-wall, good old-fashioned freak out: I don’t really have more money to buy more gear, I was in the middle of a lake, didn’t know where the hell I was, thought Justin was a great guy but didn’t really know him too well or how he would react in this situation, and OH! have a history of mental health issues. Sooooo, all in all, this was a ripe old time for me to start punching the anxiety attack time clock! (VRRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOWWWWW! The anxiety horn has sounded. All manic-depressives get back to work. Especially you, Ryan Jeanes. VVVRRRRROOOOWWWW!) But I remained calm. I was Jesus upon the sea, Buddha in front of the insulting man. Something came over me. This’ll all be fine, I said. Why add fuel to the fire? It’s not going to do any good to get mad. Simultaneously, I will say, I was trying to save my stuff. I mean, c’mon, it’s not at the bottom of the lake just yet!

Justin hopped onto the stern of the boat. Wild man, wild eyed! “Hand me your green pack!” he said. Holy crap, there’s no way he’s lifting this! This thing is 50 pounds dry. It’s gotta be 75 logged with water. I pull it out from under the bungee. It starts sinking toward the bottom. Fuck! I lift it up; my body sinks. This is retarded, I think. Somehow I get the head of the bag pinned to the side of Justin’s boat. He leaps over and grabs the straps. No freaking way, I think. His eyes get about twice their normal size. This dude has some strength. Even though his feet are slipping on the fiberglass deck he lifts, I mean power cleans that mother effer! onto the boat. How the hell did he do that? I hand him the rest of my things that are bungeed. He flips my boat upright (without my help!) and scrambles for the steering wheel. “I’m going to go get the rest of your stuff!” he shouts. My clothing bag is floating. Other things are floating. It’s soooooo daaammmmnnn commmical! You ever see that Tom Hanks movie Road to Perdition? And the little kid asks Daniel Craig (doesn’t he make a good James Bond!) why he’s smiling, and he looks at the kid and says, “Cuz it’s all so f—ing hysterical.”? That’s exactly how I felt – this was so flipping, farging, freaging (happy, mom?) hysterical. (Although I know Phillip didn’t think it was too funny when I told him. :))

I grab my kayak. “Stay in your boat,” Justin says. He’s turning his boat around while untying the Sea Eagle at the same time. “Don’t worry,” I tell him as I dolphin plane myself up onto the left pontoon and swing my legs into my seat. “I’ll…” He’s gone. He throttles the boat far away searching for floating debris, er, gear. He looks like a coast guardsman looking for a drowning passenger off a sunken boat Cool, I think, I get to be out here alone a while! (I know! Of course I should have been more serious, but I wasn’t! Sorry. I promise to be twice as serious tomorrow…. naaaaaat!) . I turn my bow into the waves to break them. They’re about 3 feet – not Lake Winnie size but big. Big enough to sink my boat. I’m bouncing around as the waves lift me up and slam me down. Fun! I feel comfortable. You know what you’re doing, Ryan, I say to myself. You’ve been in similar situations and you can handle it! :)!

Justin whips his boat within 10 feet of me. “I found most your stuff!” he shouts. “Good, let’s get out of here,” I say. “I th…” I say.

Vrrrrrooooommmmm! He’s gone again. Gaaaaaddddammit, I think. “I gotttaaaa finddd your cooking stuff!” he shouts back.

“Um, no, that’s not important. It costs like 10 bucks at Wally World, uhhh, shit, he’s gone.”

So comical. I can understand Justin’s postion though. He feels responsible. A health professional, he’s trained in the caretaking arts and wants me to be safe, happy, comfortable not just now but in the weeks to come. It’s my fault, he thinks. My dad’s going to kill me, he thinks. Ryan’s never going to want to be my friend again, he thinks. He’s wrong. I do want him to be my friend. None of us could have predicted the boat would have taken on that much water as it was towed along. The fill-up happened gradually, and all my stuff was stuffed in the front. I was going to get in it soon, remember? Justin even had suggested we tow it from the back; but, I poo-poohed the idea because the directional stabilizer (non-controlled rudder) was in the back, and I was too worried it’d be tracking all over the place. I was wrong. Neither one of us could have predicted the Sea Eagle would ride the perfect wave to make the bow surf 7 feet off the water’s baseline and crash headlong into the sea. No one could have predicted the tension on the rope would have pulled that bow further under water ultimately causing the flip. It was like a dream when it happened. I couldn’t believe it. All was in slow motion. Holy crap, I thought, ha ha, my boat’s fucking sinking! Ha ha! Again, it was crazy. I was so zen-like and detatched. Buddha would have been proud. Phillip only fumed, ha ha.

When all my gear finally found its way to the speed boat’s floor, I got in and sat in the passenger chair. I was laughing. Justin was still trying to apologize. “I couldn’t save the cooking stuff.” “Pffft!” I laughed. “Cooking, schmooking.” I think he cracked a smile.

We pulled into Dan’s Pepin Marina in Pepin, WI. “Just play the pity card,” Justin implored me. “I have no cash on me, and they’re supposed to charge you 9 bucks to dock here. “Hey!” I said to the teen working the docks. He had a clipboard and a pen. He indeed looked like a taxman at a busy port ready to inspect your goods for smuggled rum. “I dumped my boat out on the lake. Yeah, I’m a moron.” I said. This teen looked a little too smart. He didn’t believe that I could have just straight dumped it on my own. The scenario we were going for was that stupid kayaker dumps boat and seasoned boatsman Justin Staker comes to save the day. “Just let this little dumbass stay here a while and get cleaned up, Justin would say. “Yap, yap, yap, I had to fish this little turd out of the water. He duddn’t have any money (tightens belt) so go easy on him, yap. So I played the chump and it worked. An older gentleman came on the dock and brushed the disapproving teen aside. “You tipped your boat?” he asked. “Yeah,” I said as if my prized turtle had just died.

“All right. It’s only temporary, so it’s okay.”

“Great!” I chirped up. “Where’s your crapper! I gotta go!” I left abruptly. Justin’s mouth was open.

When I came back, Justin had my battery open and was airing it out. “I think it’ll survive,” he says. “Hey,” he pulls me aside, “thanks for modifying that story a bit.” “Anything to save a friend’s pride,” I say. “Hell, I’ll take the heat; they’ll never see me again,” I laugh. “They shore gonna see you!!”

I rearranged my stuff and paddled out. I felt good. I don’t know why, but I (can’t believe I’m saying this) liked this experience.

Slippery Slope

I pulled into a bar made famous by the movie Grumpy Old Men, Slippery’s in Wabasha, Minnesota. Justin had told me if I wanted anything (“Anything at all!” he told me.) to call him when I got to Slippery’s. “Hey bud,” I said when I called him. “I want to fix my bed sheet sail, so if you got some screws and a power drill, you’ll be my personal hero.” “No problem,” he said. Justin arrived with not only the fix-er-ups but also a compass, new water shoes (I lost mine in the debacle), and a new bungee cord. What a friend! What a guy! I sensed, after he helped fix the yard of my sail, that he really wanted to leave. This was too much for one day. Too much interaction, too much experience at one time. He needed some time alone to regroup and reprocess.

I got an email from Justin a day later:

Hey I saw you are being towed again, make sure this person is qualified would you? Is your marine radio working? If you need more help in Lacrosse I have some contacts that may be able to give you a lift. I was a bit worried about you. I feel like i have a stake/responsibility for you now. Weird. Much luck and I will keep an eye on your progress via the web.
take care,
Justin

What a cool guy, yes, no? Yes, my dear J to the S, you do have a stake in it. We all have a stake in it. The success of the River is all our responsibility. My success is as much Jack and Shelly in Aitkin, MN’s success, is as much the Moberg’s success, is everyone we’ve met along the way’s success as it is mine. I am but a man in a vessel. Without your help, without all your help, all of you reading this blog, all of you cheering me and Phillip on, we will not make it period. We all have responsibility… for eachother.

Thank you, one and all, again. Next time hear about the craziness at Slippery’s (yeah! after Justin left!), and about the Heins who give me another tow to their cabin (I refused to get out of the boat!) and claim I’m being taken to some group sex fantasy land. (No, I’m not lying.) Turns out they were more sarcastic than kinky, and that they had a dryer for my sopping clothes (which was tons more important at the time than any Nero-sized orgy could have been.)

Adios, my muchachos. There is more, much more, to come.

🙂

Ryan

The River is Life–Whose story is it anyways?

Is this movie just about us?
Only about us? (not the real cover!)

Every movie tells a story, and each story is interpreted by the person who is telling it. When Ryan and I first discussed making a movie while paddling on the Mississippi River, my mind began working behind the scenes to determine the type of movie we would create.

Sometimes we get asked about our process when making a new movie. I’ll sum it up for you. Our filmmaking style works something like this:

1. I shoot a bunch of video.
2. Ryan writes a script after reviewing the raw material.
3. I ignore the script and we fight it out while editing. Ryan wins.

The first step makes a big difference in the type of story we will ultimately create as it’s hard to illustrate your story without relevant video footage. My first idea for “The River is Life” was to focus the movie about our personal experience on the river. We’d include logistical scenes and much more of our own interactions then in our last movie. For a short while, I actually considered wiring up a microphone that would constantly record our dialog which could be later mixed with the video.

Then about a month before leaving for the Mississippi River, I watched a travel documentary called 10 Miles per Hour. Hunter Weeks’s debut into the adventure documentary world is well produced, but I personally didn’t find the logistics material to be inspiring. His movie includes tons of their pre-trip setup and behind-the-scenes type of footage. In some ways, 10MPH is more like a long “making of” bonus and less like a feature presentation. That being said, I enjoyed his film (watch it here) and learned a lot about what type of material was entertaining on-screen.

Adventure travel movies like 10MPH often have the same simple “start-obstacle-finish” plot. In our own film The Hitchhiking Movie, we have a starting point (New York), a destination (Los Angeles), and an some obstacles to overcome (one week deadline). This formula is simple to follow, but if not done correctly it tends to be fairly predictable. We hate predictable. Predictable is boring. I needed some fresh ideas for the new movie. Who else could I look up to for inspiration?

If you take the time to count up piles of torn movie tickets, Michael Moore comes out as the most successful documentary maker in America. His stories are entertaining, often wacky, and always biased. Biased isn’t bad. Our bias is our interpretation. Michael Moore’s bias sells a bunch of movies. If Michael was shooting this movie, he’d do undercover interviews at every evil corporation along the route. He’s probably selling a ton of DVDs too! Maybe 11 Visions should start pushing a political agenda? Nah……….

I then did some research online to determine if anyone else was brave (foolish?) enough to try and video their own journey down the Mississippi. I found a movie made last year by John Guider who paddled much of the river and also photographed and videoed his journey. I wasn’t able to watch his entire movie as it doesn’t seem to be available for sale anywhere, but here is a (long) trailer:

John’s story appears to focus on the reality of his journey and he pitches the Mississippi River as long, beautiful, and full of danger around every corner. At that moment, I knew exactly what our movie should focus on. We’ll do the exact opposite and show primarily the fun times!!! My interpretation of this adventure will pitch the Mississippi as the greatest river in America paddled by two guys on a mission to have a great time. Yeah, sometimes the journey is shit, but I’m cutting out all that depressing stuff. I promise that you won’t be able to tear yourself from the screen as you witness an adventure like no other. I want every viewer to say the same thing as the people we meet: “I wish I could do a trip like this!”

Although many have made the same trek, I’m pretty sure we’re the first expedition to video the entire trip from source to sea. That why it’s important that we get it right. “The River is Life” will showcase the absolute best of the Mississippi River in two hours or less…coming to our readers February 2009!

I Feel So Incredibly Important

Photo courtesy of Mike Longaecker, probably the most thorough journalist I’ve met on this trip so far.  Kudos to you, Mike!

I am so important.  I mean I’m an important guy.  Newspaper reporters want to know what I think about things; they want to know just WTH I’m doing on the river.  WCCO Radio host Eric Nelson wants to know how big my lats are getting as I paddle like Sean Hannity trying to escape Ron Paul supporters’ snowballs.

And finally, I must be super important because people are starting to recognize me from the news stories.  There were Greg and Debbie, the ones who posted the videos of the bed sheet sail, the Urban Boatbuilder guys had seen the Star Tribune article, a few people texted me in Minneapolis (one rockstar helper in particular, Patrick Hanlon, holy crap, Pat, thanks for everything!  I’ll have to write an entire post about Patrick and his bald head and his unhealthy fetish for Mexican fruit tree bats – ha ha ha, gotcha!  I have a blog and you don’t; you can’t get me back, Pat!).

And the latest, Justin Staker, who ran up to me in his waverunner.  “Heeeeeyyyy,” he shouted.  “I saw you in the paper!”  Oh my ego, my darned ego is inflated the size of Hannity’s double chin… ha ha ha… okay okay okay, enough Hannity stuff.  Regardless of what which way your political wind blows, Hannity is a wiener.  I mean he’d be a cheese-filled Oscar Meyer weenie if he were spokesperson for the Soviet Socialist Republic.  I’ll try and be fair and balanced though:  Ummmm, okay… Olbermann looks like a pedophile.  Happy?

The point is I’m being recognized, which is pretty cool.  People are even texting me asking me what I’m seeing and where I think I’ll end up today.  Thank you to Wayne Meyer (no relation to Oscar Meyer) for checking up on me.  “Where are you?” he asked.  “Haven’t seen a post from you in 4 days, dog.”  (Didn’t call me dog, but woulda been cool if he had, yo.)  They’re coming guys.  Part II to the Lake Winnie story is coming.  I came through on Part I, didn’t I?  Hell, only took me 3 weeks.

The Stakers

Before Justin came up on me in his Polaris, I was kinda in a bad mood.  You see, I have left the nice confines of northern Minnesota where everyone is nice, where Allegra’s stern advice – “Make sure you wave to everyone you see!  It’s a Minnesota lake thing!” – is not being heeded as much, south of the Twin Cities.  98 % of the people I waved to between Lake Itasca and the Coon Rapids dam waved back.  Many times they would initiate the wave.  As I move farther and farther south, people’s willingness to wave is lessening.  I don’t know if that is because the river is becoming more businesslike – the channel is now clearly marked; at any moment you can know exactly where you are not because of a recognized lake or hill or home, but because of a number:  Mile Marker 807.2 (it is that specific).  The river is bigger and the boats are bigger.  Huge power boats throwing off swirling wake rush up and down the channel.  Suntanned bodies lay like bacon on the decks.  Loud music is blared.  No time to wave to a lowly kayaker. Barges!  Oh the barges; they are massive!  I thought Phil and I got our fill of barges on the Cumberland River.  I have news for you, ladies and gentleman:  those were nothing!  What I saw on the Cumberland was a one-stacker.

Those giant crates are also referred to as barges.  I'm told south of St. Louis they can be stacked 5 thick.
Those giant crates are also referred to as barges. I'm told south of St. Louis they can be stacked 5 thick.

That means that the “barge” was only one barge thick.  Here between Minneapolis and St. Louis, they’re 3!!! thick and 5 long.  I had no idea.  When Allegra was driving me to Prescott, WI, I saw one as we crossed the Mississippi via bridge.  “Holy crap!” I exclaimed.

“What?”

“They’re… holy crap!  They’re big.  I didn’t know they were that big!”  I was fully expecting to encounter a barge like the one in Nashville.  “Nothing doing,” the barge god said.  “Thou shalt encounter barges of considerable depth, weight and size!  And thou shalt be scared out of your knickers!”  Yes, barge god, I was indeed scared out of my… we call them pants here in A-murr-ica.

I shook off my scary barge experience as Allegra and I drove to Prescott with her nephew of 5 years, Mason.  Heyyyy Mason!!!  It was cool driving you around in the boat with no gear.  (The little tike only weights 45 pounds or so.  My boat was haulin’.)  “Can I go with you?” he asked me.

“Noooo, sorry.  You got to go to kindergarten.”

“Pssssst,” he scoffed.  “I can paddle back here before kindergarten.”  I love the way the mind of a child works.

Here’s to you, Mason, for reminding me what it’s like to be a child.  May I never forget it… ever.

So far I have run into 4 or 5 barges, and slowly but surely, my heartbeat level is reaching acceptable levels with each new one that passes.

A Small Amount of Fame

So Justin pulls up to me in his jetski.  “I read about you in the paper!”  Hope it wasn’t the article about the heist. “Awesome,” I reply.

“Yeah, where you goin’ tonight?”

“Um, I dunno.”  I’m eyeballin’ his Polaris.  It looks very fast, and the wind has been in my face all day.  I’d be surprised if I’d averaged 2 miles an hour.  It’s a harrowing experience when you’re paddling into the wind.  The breeze brushing past your ears incites a kind of primal desire to go, go, go!!!  Have you ever driven you car in the rain?  People drive like maniacs.  I think it has something to do with our evolution.  When we were all living in caves, completely dependent on the whims of nature to survive, and the wind picked up and the rain clouds started to billow… (If you’re a Creationist, this was 6000 years ago; if you’re sane it was… okay okay, there I go offending people again – Look, if you must know my position on the where-the-hell-did-we-all-come-from issue, I think Creationism and evolution are not mutually exclusive.  God could have just as easily used evolution as tool to, um, evolve the races.  The Catholic Church, just a bit ago, stated that what the Bible calls a “day” might not have been necessarily an Earth day.  The Greeks actually translated it “eon,” which is an unspecified length of time.).  Okay, lets leave the Bible-as-parable/Bible-as-literal discussion for another day.  For now…

I’m freaking famous!

“You’re trying to make Lake City?” Justin asks me.  God, his jetski looks fast.  I am sooooooooo daaammmmnnn envious.

“Yeah.”  I turn sheepish.  “I’m trying to make the library so I can use the internet.”  I add, “I don’t know if I’ll make it though.”

“Yeah, it’s kinda far.”  Yo man, help a celebrity out!  Spare a ride.

“Well, you want a coke?”  He tosses me a cool can.  Freaking awesome.  Ride would be better, I think.

“Yeah, great, thanks.”  Here ladies and gentlemen is where I pull a little stagecraft.  Or as our Phillip likes to call it:  social engineering.  “Um, yeah,” I say, “I really got to go; I don’t think I’ll make it, but you gotta try, you know… (sniffle, sniffle).”

“Oh maaaaaannnn.”  Bingo. “Don’t worry about it; come use our internet.”  Oooooo, even better.

He tows me in.  Wow.  This is the life. “Hey,” I ask him.  “Do you think I’m ‘cheating?'”

A Quick Word on “Cheating”

A quick word on this whole “cheating” business.  Ryder’s (my brother’s) girlfriend yesterday even said, “So like what rules do you follow on this trip?”

“Rules, huh, what rules?”

“You know like, do you only start fire with flint and can you not radio for help…?”  What the!  Radio for help???  Yes, I’ll radio for help.  Send the whole damn army if I’m in trouble!

“Catherine, um, I’m not like a mountain man here.  I don’t even know how to start a fire with flint.”

“Oh my god, so do you like buy fooood from a stooooorrree?”

“Of freaking course!”

“That’s cheating!”  Ffffgggrrrmmmmdnndndlkajfklffdsakflja;lfaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!  According to whooooossssee ruuuuuuuulllleeeesss??????

“Cheating?  What are you talking about?  I’m making a movie as I paddle down the Mississippi.  That’s it; there are no rules.  I don’t know how to trap animals.  I don’t know how to choose edible plants.  Do you know how many plants I’d have to consume before I’d have the calories necessary to paddle 20 miles every day?  Give me a freaking can of Chef Boyardee; give me 3!!!”

“Oh I mean, just cuz I’ve seen Survivorman and Bear Grylls, and they…”

And this, ladies and germs, is where I believe this idea of cheating comes from.  Perhaps with the advent of Survivorman, Man vs. Wild, Survivor and the song “I Will Survive,” people believe that Phillip and I are on a survival journey.  WE AAARRREEEE MAAAKKKING AAAA MOOOOVIEEEE!, not testing our survival skills.  Believe me; there have been plenty of opportunities to survive:

  1. Just north of St. Cloud, MN thunder and lightining were booming off.  Sirens were going off like a drunken Irishman at a wake.  I got blasted by the rain.  I pulled to the side.  There was a home with treehouse.  I got under the treehouse and considered going up to the home’s door and begging them to take me in.  No, I thought, I can do this.  I drained my boat and continued on.  The rain got worse.  More sirens this time.  I was scared.  Lightning was going off not 100 yards away.  Flash!  Crack!  Flash!  Crack!  No interval between.  I paddled hard for the shore.  I’m the only freaking tall thing out here on this river, I thought.  If lighting wants a target on the river, I’m it! I tried to keep my paddles low.  “Go!  Go!” I shouted.  “Keep low!  Keep low!”  My boat was not moving nearly fast enough to escape flashes and cracks that sounded like a massive tree breaking in half.  “Goddammit!” I shouted.  “Can’t you move any damn fasterrrr!”  Quick, go, go, go, keep movin’! Crack!  Bang!  That was really freaking close. “MOOOOOOOVEEEE!” I shouted.  It is a funny feeling when you think you’re going to die.  Your adrenaline kicks in.  It completely takes over your body.  It’s almost like your cells are trying to save themselves.  It’s no longer you; it’s your body trying to save itself.  “You” have nothing to do with it.  “Go, go, goooooo!” I shouted over and over until I made the shore.  Damn, this boat is slow, I thought.  To make a long story short, I had probably 2 short brushes with death before the storm passed.  A tornado had touched down not far from me, and though I saw no funnel clouds, I think “Survivorman” would have been proud.
  2. Lake Winnie – Working on Part II.
  3. Cass Lake
  4. Trying to find a campsite at one in the morning, wet and freezing.

The point is there have been plenty of times to survive.  There was even a time we were out of matches and Phillip had to finagle a lighter to spark the stove which we used to start the fire.  Plenty of finagling, plenty of McGyver-ing, plenty of using ingenuity and creativity to survive.  But…

WE ARE NOT SURVIVORMEN!

We’ve had and will have plenty of chances to survive, to be mountainmen to a certain extent.  This trip is not a wilderness course; it is simply a beautiful adventue with plenty of Survivorman/outdoorsy/mountainman stuff thrown in for flavor.  Believe me:  try a paddle trip like this on your own and you will see just how many outdoors skills you’ll need.

Back to How Cool I am Since I’ve Become Famous

“Hell no, I don’t think you’re cheating!” Justin says.  You’re paddling 2500 miles for godsakes; I think you deserve a tow every once in a while.”  Amen, brotha, amen.

Justin tows me in.  “Nice place!” I say.

“Thanks.  It’s my parents’.”  Know just how he feels.

“Well, it’s awesome anyway.”

“Here, sit down, make yourself comfortable.”  He brings yogurt, grapes and cheese.

“Very French,” I say, and he laughs.

And this, guys and gals, is another example of providence.  Huck Finn talked about it, scholars have talked about it, religious figures, esoterics, mystics, and plain folks like you and me:  The Universe gives you what you need when you need it.  Doubt me?  Phillip had taken back his i-pod which had all the maps of the upper and lower Mississippi River stored on it.  “What the hell am I going to do?” I asked him.

“Oh crap, sorry, I forgot you needed the maps.”

“That’s okay,” I said.  “I don’t know how, but they’ll turn up.”

Two days later I got a call from Patrick Hanlon.  “Hey,” he said, “I’ve been following your blog, and I paddled from St. Louis to the New Orleans.  Just let me know if you need anything.  I even have the navigation charts if you need them.”  Spooookeeeyyyyyyy.

I met up with Patrick at a bar called The Drink in Minneapolis.  “Hey,” he said, “I got your meal covered too.  What do you want?”  Uhhhhhh, providence… synchronicity, anyone?  Before I started this trip I had been reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi.  It was a hard bound book so I didn’t want to take it with me.  Three days before I met Patrick I had been thinking back on how cool that book was and wished I had a paperback.  Back at the bar:  “Ooohhh,” he says, “I don’t know if you’ve read this…”  He pulls out a book.  “But it’s really cool cuz he talks about the same places you’ll be seeing shortly.”  It was… taaa daaaaahhhh:  Life on the Mississippi.  Super spooky.

Finally, the latest:  the one that is the Universe and my own social engineering combined – Justin Staker.  To be honest, I did kind of finagle him.  I was hoping he’d give me a ride to Lake City; but, he one-upped me:  He let me use his internet and his family is going to give me fish for dinner.  I admit I did act kind of sheepish and tried to get him to offer, but let me tell you this first.  I had heard his jetski from a distance, and (as I was saying) was kinda in a bad mood.  As I was mentioning, the river has changed and people are not as friendly.  The river has gotten very big, and it is much more difficult for people to just call you over for a beer, or wave for that matter.  So today I had a string of non-wavers.  I was angry about it.  “How can they beeee sooooo arrogant!” I asked out loud.  “Don’t they know I’m famousssss!”  Ha ha.  But, for real, it was kind of disappointing.  So when I heard the jetski, I got a little negative.  Screw it, my first thought was, another party-boater who doesn’t have time for famous people who live in tents.  But I did something.  I changed my thoughts.  I don’t know why I did it, but I thought, You know what?  Maybe this guy does want to talk to me and I might be projecting negativity.  And even though I don’t want to be positive right now, even though I don’t really feel like it, I am going to deliberately think a positive thought (and fly like Peter Pan!) and if this guy does want to talk to me than it won’t be my negativity that gets in the way of it! I deliberately thought something like, This is a cool guy coming to talk to me, and I don’t know if he would have avoided me had I not thought that (We’ll leave that quantum physics discussion for another day. :)), but he did!  He stopped me!  He was cool!  He gave me a coke!  He towed me to his house!  Mr. and Mrs. Staker are going to give me fish in about 5 minutes!  I’m elated!  I met a new friend!  He told me correct paddling technique.  (He’s an enthusiastic paddler.)  He saw me in the paper!  He (his words) called me famous.  My ego exploded, and I had to go clean it up.  (Simple Green works, man!)  And this is a really, really, really cool experience.  Would it have happened without my choice to choose positivity???  I dunno, but we’ve got a comments section below; and, I’d sure love to hear your thoughts!

Best,

Ryan

Lake Winnie – Rhymes with Witch, Part 1

“Lake Winnie is a bitch today,” Phillip says.  He shouldn’t say this; no one should.  But everyone does.  Everyone uses swear words, and the people that don’t use them use euphemisms.  Phillip told me that at a Seventh-day Adventist university he attended, the students would not say “oh shit.”  They would say “oh dip!”

“Dip?” I asked.

“Yes,” Phillip responded.  “Oh dip!”

“Well…”  I scratched my forehead.  “Aren’t you thinking ‘shit?'”

“Yes, of course.  But you don’t say that.  You say ‘dip.'”

There is now a hole in my forehead from the scratching.  “Okay okay okay okay.  So you are thinking ‘shit.’  Your intention is really to say ‘shit.’  But you somehow force that word through a series of indoctrinated tubes in your brain until it comes out a nice, neat and sterile ‘dip?'”

“Yes.  What part of ‘final answer’ do you not understand?”

“No.  I understand.  It’s just that… I don’t understand.”

I was trained in Method acting.  Method acting, among other things, aims to take those same tubes that forced Phillip to say ‘dip,’ and rip them out.  “Rip them out!” my Method teacher would say.  “You don’t need them!  To be an actor, you need to be less trained, less thinking, less filter, less worrrry, less everything.  No filter!  No restraint!  Let it out!”  If you think I cuss too much in these posts, you should have sat in on one of the many Method classes I attended.  Not only I but all members would be engaging in a sort of ritualistic bliss of non-repression:  blasphemies against God, blasphemies against our parents, every single person who’d ever done you wrong got an earful (though you were really just imagining them and talking to the wall), people shouting, screaming, makeouts, pillows thrown; one dude even punched a wall (though that is an extreme no no; you’re supposed to show some restraint).  When you see an actor and they are breaking down crying in front of the camera and you say to yourself, “Gee, that seems so believable.  How does he do that?  I mean it really looks like he’s crying over his dead mother!”  Well, how do you think he does it???  It’s hard.  It’s hard to train your body to get to the point where it can respond like that to a script.  When Robert DeNiro is cyring over Joe Pesci getting shot in Good Fellas, he’s probably not crying over Joe Pesci.  He’s crying over someone else in his life who he loves and who he imagines has died, or gotten in a horrible accident, or been deformed or whatever makes him cry.  It takes some training.  It takes some removal of filters.  Most of us walk around in life with our filters firmly in place.  The movie where Rin Tin Tin dies makes the child in us cry, but we have a filter in place now.  We have some blockage.  We remember perhaps our father who didn’t like watching little boys cry.  “Don’t cry!” he shouted because his father did the same to him.  Emotions were a bad thing.  Hell, it could hearken back to the days where we had to hunt animals to survive.  If you were tracking a deer through the brush and stepped on a sharp stick with your bare feet, you couldn’t cry; you couldn’t show any pain, or the animal would hear you and escape.  This male-fabricated non-showing of emotions had its place in one context, but has now survived in the modern era without a true place.  My food will not escape if I cry, but Dad will certainly get mad.  There is a consequence to crying and being a boy at the same time.  We’ve got it.  We’ve placed the tube in our brains.  The filter is formed.  The blockage is formed:  I don’t let out what I think and feel.  Society is content – I am more manageable this way.

My training in lack of restraint is added to the fact that the Sedams (my mom’s side of the family) are crazy and have no problem letting all their emotions and neroses out all over their dinner plates.  Then my mom married a guy who was even more emotional than her.  Holy crap!  I mean, I had an extra helping of non-filter and lack of social restraint heaped all over my salad.  I was a kid, I was hungry, I ate it up!

Contrast this, of course, with Phillip who grew up in a nice, neat Adventist household.  “Dip!” was punishible by death.  “Only college kids say words like that, Phillip,” his mom told him.  Scold, scold, scold.  The two extremes.  The two upbringings have come to a head.

A Partnership

So here we have my social programming:  More, more, more!  Say more, don’t hold back!  Say f— if you mean f—!  (See, I showed some restraint there; getting better, am I?)  And we have Phillip’s programming:  Swear to Holy Jesus this is a true story:  His parents would edit his children’s books with a black Sharpie.  They deleted an entire scene one time where the child said he was angry at his parents.  Like I said, extremes!

After I wrote the Thy Bounty post, Phillip called me.  “It’s a little much,” he said.  “What do you mean?” I replied.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but postulating what it would be like to throw an old woman off the roof of her house might be a little much for our readers.”

“Well, I wasn’t really going to throw her off the roof.  That’s just how mad she had made me.  Everyone has gotten so mad they’ve wanted to kill someone.  They just don’t do it.  I go on and on about not having a filter, but I have one obviously.  I mean, c’mon, people can identify.”

“Yes, but not everyone is as comfortable as you with these types of thoughts.  Some people think those thoughts are… wrong.”

“Dude, I didn’t put the thoughts there!  God did!  Someone did!  I don’t know, Harry Potter did for all I know.  I just think it’s funny that I was so mad at her antics.”

“It is funny.”

“Then?”

“Well, I find it funny, but some of our readers aren’t comfortable with finding it funny.”

“But it is funny!”

“I know, but it shouldn’t be.”

“But it is!”

“Just… can you please not say fuck more than 67 times in a single post.”

“68.”

Lake Winnie

Despite Phillip’s filters, he cursed loud and clear that late June day, the day we tried to cross Lake Winnibigoshish.  “Winni is a bitch today,” he says mid-paddle stroke.  OOOOOOOOHHHH, you dun cursed, you goin’ straight to hailllllll! I think this but I have no time to respond.  I have no time to be funny, to cut up or sound off.  I am in mid-paddle stroke myself, and I am in pain.  Yesterday was a blast.  After our brush with death at the dam on Cass Lake, the next day held nothing but sunlight and warmth and beautiful tailwinds from our Lord Jesus Christ, Buddha, Vishnu, or whoever was in charge of the wind that day.  I personally am praying to whichever one serves up the best weather as I depart from Prescott, Wisconsin tomorrow! and head towards the Iowa border.  (Guys, for real, if this offends you, lighten up, please.  I attend church regularly; simultaneously, I believe it is important to maintain a spirit of levity even with issues such as religion.  I think if we all lightened up a little bit, we’d get more done, get along better, and have a much better time in life.

Life is too important to be taken seriously. – Oscar Wilde

I guess the only problem with quoting Oscar Wilde was that he was a dirty sodomite who is, unfortunately for him and other gays, burning in the fiery pits of hell.  See, I’ve offended the gays now, so we’re all square!  Seriously, this blog, this life and this adventure is about fun.  I hope you’re having a good time and please believe that all this stuff, ALL THIS STUFF is to be taken with a grain of salt… or cocaine.)

Jeez, okay, back to the story and stuff:  The weather between our Cass Lake ordeal and our Lake Winnie ordeal was amazing – 20 mph tailwind, beautiful sun that dried our clothes; me thinks I did hear the god Zeus laugh upon us from on high!

Wasn't Just a Northwest Wind, It Was West by Northwest for Cryin' out Loud
Wasn't Just a Northwest Wind, It Was West by Northwest for Cryin' out Loud!

It was glorious.  That day Phillip turned to me and was all smiles:  “I have exerted little to no effort this day.”  “Me neither,” I said.  We toasted paddles and drank our fill of goodness.  This day was definitely, definitely good.

The Next Day Was Definitely, Definitely Bad

Still on the good day, Phil studied the map and listened carefully to the weather report.  “K, I’ve got it,” he said.  “We are going to have a north wind from hell tomorrow.  If we can paddle as far as we can up along the western Winnie coast, we should have an easier time tomorrow.  The wind may blow us pretty far south, but if we fanagle it right, we should be able to ride the wind, in part at least, to our waypoint.”  “Sounds good to me!” I said.  Phil’s plan was solid.  Despite what happened tomorrow, I can’t think of any other way a responsible person would have planned it.  His reasoning was sound, his plan was sound, I agreed with him; Mother Nature had other plans.

Morning

We had paddled that night just south of Sugar Lake, a smaller but goodly sized sub-lake of Winnibigosh.  If a scriptwriter had wished to give our upcoming ordeal a fantastical brush of foreboding, she could not have chosen a better conceit than the one Mother Nature was able to provide:  f—ing, dashing, bad-word-ing MUSKEETOES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Holy crap; we found the Eden of mosquitoes!  I mean this was the birthplace; this is where Mosquito Adam and Mosquito Eve birthed their first evil offspring.  This was it!  This was Valhalla!  This was the multinational mosquito mega-factory for all of planet Earth.  The great, giant Mother Mosquito ordered her minions to bring her wine and cheese as she cranked millions of blood-sucking babies out of her unholy… okay, Mom, okay… I’m trying here, I really am… 🙂

The point is there were a lot of these egg suckers, and they didn’t want eggs; they wanted an espresso shot of my DNA (and they really liked Phillip flavor too) and they wanted it now.  I walked on shore.  The sun was going down.  Phillip looked over our possible campsite.  It was littered with shells mussel shells.  Strange nets were set up 10 feet from shore in the water.  I had no idea what they were for but assumed they were for channeling mussels to shore where fisherman ripped their soft bodies out of their protective chassis and sold the meat to the highest bidder.  Right now I was the meat, and godless, sanguinity-craving bugs with their godless, sanguinity-craving muzzles were looking for ripe, hairless flesh.  “This is good,” Phillip says.  “It’s full of skeeters,” I reply.

“Yes but, the next spot would be across Sugar Lake, and it’s getting dark.  This place is flat, there’s plenty of firewood…”  He slaps himself.  There is a small cloud descending around him, and it’s not mist.  (Slap!)  I look up.  There is a big cloud not 10 feet above us, and it’s not smog.  Smog I would welcome.  Give me good ‘ol Houston, L.A. or even Mexico City smog at this moment (1985 with a touch of gasahol, mmmmmmmmmm); but do not give me these.  The cloud is grey, and you can make out the fading color of blue arcing up into the firmament.  They are buzzing, they are many, they are legion.  “Uhhhhhhhhhhh,” I say, “remember the bug highway we say at Lake Itasca?”  “Yeah,” Phil responds.

“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Phil looks up.  The look of fear and dread on his face was classic.  Downturned jowls, the red of his eyes expanded, his nose flared and dropped… yeah, that’s dread all right.  “Okay,” hey says, “lets get the fire going.”

“What?”

“We’re staying here?”

“Yeah.”  He grabs some alcohol from the stuff-pouch attached to his back seat.  It’ll start the fire quicker.

“Well…  I mean look at this place.”

“You got any better ideas?”

“We keep paddling.”

Phillip looked at the map.  He showed me definitively that we were on the very edge of public land.  Further north on Lake Winnie it was private.  Private land could mean unhappy owners toting unhappy guns.  Private owners could also mean happy showers and happy playing fetch with their dogs.  Were we willing to risk it?

I’m being eaten alive.  Phillip seems to have not even considered my dissent and goes about busily setting up the fire:  small twigs, bigger twigs, small sticks, bigger sticks, and finally small logs to… you get the idea.  He’s getting them formed in nice neat piles; I’m standing there looking like a lanky Alfalfa from The Little Rascals scratching my head in dismay; I have no idea what to do.  Phil has already made his decision, and I don’t have any good arguments; I can’t guarantee, after all, that if we paddle farther north we’ll find a good campsite or that we’ll be welcomed with open arms by potentially angry private land owners.  F—ing capitalism with your private land!!!

“Okay,” I say, “this is good.”  I help him gather wood.  Phil and I have divided into roles when it comes to building a fire.  I’m the starter, he’s the gatherer.  This happened organically.  When we camped out in Arkansas in preparation for this trip, Phil took a stab at starting a fire all by his lonesome.  He put the dry grass down – good.  He put the small twigs over the grass – very good.  This is the point where I would light the grass and add or remove smaller twigs as needed to maintain the flame.  I’m very slow in getting the conflagration going but I’m precise.  I take my time, and you will have a fire.  In the end, it’s probably faster because I don’t skip steps and never move on to bigger logs until there’s enough energy in the present fire to burn them.  Phil has decided to keep adding more.  He piles on big logs now.  “What are you doing?” I ask.

“Just let me do it my way.”

“Okay, but if you want my personal opinon…”

“Which I don’t.”

“Yeah but…”

He glares.  I go away and look busy.  Long story short (I love this phrase):  Phil has got that fire stacked nice and high.  His theory was that if you light the grass, the whole rest of the wood pyramid will go up in tandem, kinda like a controlled demolition with each level of the building exploding in horizontal precision.  He lights it.  It’s kinda like Casey at the Bat:

And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,                                                        And now Phillip holds the match, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.                                                      And now the mosquitoes’ hopes are shattered by the possibility of the fire’s glow

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;                                                 Oh, somewhere in this Redneck Utopia the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,                                        Robert Earl Keen is playing somewhere, and somewhere beer is turned upright,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;                                     And somewhere men (and hopefully women) are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.                                                  But there is no joy in Arkansas – mighty Phillip’s fire has blown out.

Phillip lit the match, and the grass did indeed burn.  It licked the smaller twigs above it but was smothered by the larger ones a level higher.  “This should go up like a Christmas tree,” he contested.  “Should,” I said, “but didn’t.”  I felt gleefully self-satisfied.  Phillip and I take turns feeling self-satisfied at the other’s demise.  His latest was probably my being wrong about him buying so much food in Bemidji before we departed.  “You don’t need to buy that much food,” I contended.  “We’re going to be back here in two days.”

“Yeah but the Wal Mart will be 3 miles from where we tie up the boats; you want to walk it?”

“Sheesh.  I’ll walk it; I’m not a pussy like you.”

“K.  I’m getting all this food.  We don’t know when we’ll be back in Bemidji.”

Turns out he was right.  Extremely right.  We had one can of beans left by the time we got to Bemidji, and I was so tired I had no desire to walk one mile, let alone three miles to even a party of naked girls titled Ryan’s Intercourse Wonderland.  Truth is Phillip is right about logistical matters such as these at least 60 per cent of the time.  Not 100!  He thinks he’s right all the time; but, he’s not.  I’ll point out a few later.  For now, it was probably the most hilarious think I have ever seen watching him light that brush expecting World War III and seeing his flicker be dashed into a whimpering coal of nothingness.  “I don’t get it,” he scratched his head.  “You wanna try?”

OOOOOOOOOhhhhhhh.  I’d be glad to do something logistical and technical better than you.  Then I can hold it over your head for the rest of eternity! I had the fire going quickly and we roasted marshmallows.  I went to gather wood.  I came back.  “I can’t really find any wood,” I said.  Phillip was snug in his fold out chair.  “What do you mean,” he asked, ‘you can’t find any wood?”

“I dunno,” I stammered.  “It’s just not there.”  Phillip groaned and got up.  He foraged in the blackness for five minutes and came back with piles of wood.  “Not bad for no wood.”  Bastard.

Because we could, we divided into roles when it comes to building the fire.  He gathers, I start.  When it’s started, I work on my gathering skills.  Phil roasts more marshmallows.  It was a great system, until Phil left.  I will tell you, however, I am not the firewood gathering god that Phil is yet; but, after I camped on Cloquet Island, I did well, I tell you, well.

I’ll have to end the post here, because Allegra is taking me to Hastings, MN, and I am departing for the Iowa border todayyyyyy!  Wish me luck, send me a text message:  (512) 828-2471, and I’ll be on the river having to contend now with…

  1. barges
  2. a wider, deeper river
  3. more pleasure boaters not worried about NO WAKE signs
  4. a different state!!!!!  I will be paddling down the Wisconsin/Minnesota border
    Border Bash!
    Border Bash!

Yeah me!  Yeah us!  Yeah God!  Yeah life!  You ready for some more adventure?  I’m ready to give it to ya.  I’m ready for a brand new river.  A newer river with…

5.  locks and dams!!!!  That’s right we’ve got locks to go through now!  I’ll send pictures!

It’ll be a different adventure now as I pull out of Northern Minnesota.  It’ll be amazing.  I can’t wait.  I have no idea what’s going to happen or what it’s going to be like, and neither do you…  Let’s explore it together!

Ryan

My Mom is a Genius

You’ve got to read this.  My mom, holy crap, wrote this beautiful expose on the truth behind real religious devotees and the fakers.  Phillip told me one time of the Laodicean Chruch, who (I’m paraphrasing) Paul called a bunch of fakers.  Basically the Laodiceans weren’t sincere in their religious (or if you bend my way, spiritual) devotion; they just kinda went through the motions and hoped it was all good.  What I was trying to point out in the Thy Bounty post was that sincerity was present with the Fuechtmanns but decidedly absent with Little Miss Psycho Landlady.  The Laodiceans were insincere according to Paul, and he let ’em have it in his Epistle to the Laodiceans.

Well, my mom, is much better and much more eloquent at pointing out the grand difference between sincere and insincere spiritual practices than I.  I mean, it’s beautiful.  She also has something to say about my, ahem, language.  One day I’m a’ gonna listen to my mah and learn me some manners (hiccup).

Without her permission (manners, manners) here is her comment on the aforementioned post:

Comment:
Wow!  What an experience in Mexico!
My analysis of this is that you experienced different forms of “The Love of Christ”.

The old woman landlord used the “Image of Christ” based on the intention of her ego, her guilt and her manipulation.  When you refused to become part of her “world” you became to her “the devil” and all the superstition that she had been raised with as she lived and worshiped in her version of Catholiscism [sic].  You both then became blinded to the “Light of God” and saw only the “Devil in Eachother [sic]“.

The Fuechemanns [Feuchtmanns] revealed their devotion to you through the expression of the “Love of Christ”.  Their kindess [sic], their understanding, their patience, their generosity displayed to you the genuine intention to help make you comfortable and give you strength — through their food, their, wine and ultimatley [sic] through their love of God.

Your Truth line is:  I am genuinely interested in anything that is Genuine.

You recognized yourself in them.  The 3 of you reconginzed [sic]“God in Eachother [sic]:.

I still don’t like your cussing (and that is my right)… but keep up the writing!  You are amazing!
I love you,
Mom

I’m leaving from Hastings, MN tomorrow!  On to the Iowa border with a fish’s eye view of the west coast of Wisconsin!  Post about Lake Winnie comin’ up!

Ryan

Ryan is Wrong, and Phillip is Gone

Ryan has been teasing our readers with brief mentions of our time on two of the large lakes that we crossed early in our Mississippi River journey. These stories are now three weeks old, but I’m going to share them anyways because they are interesting AND I have to correct Ryan about the route we took across the first lake (Cass Lake). As the primary navigator during the first three weeks of our trip, I spent a good deal of time looking at the maps and assuring Ryan that we were paddling in the correct direction. Now I hate to spoil your image of our leisure trip down America’s greatest river, but Cass Lake and Lake Winnibigoshish are pretty huge and very dangerous in bad weather. Nearly everyone we spoke to during the first week of our journey remembered to warn us about crossing Lake Winni. Janice Moberg even tried to make Ryan and myself promise we would not attempt to paddle directly across it, but nobody thought to warn us about Cass Lake itself as we paddled away from the Moberg’s cabin that Saturday evening.

At the far east end of Cass Lake is a dam and a campground which is about a seven mile paddle from the Moberg’s cabin. Peter instructed me that after entering the lake, we should simply paddle along the north shore which would lead us to the campground. We left at about 7 pm which should have put us at the campground between 9:30 and 10 pm. Instead, by 10pm we were caught in the dark with large waves and no consensus on which way to go. And did I mention my tripod is at the bottom of Cass Lake??? Here’s what happened:

It's easy to see the correct route from space.
It's easy to see the correct route from outer space.

We entered the largest portion of Cass Lake shortly after 8pm and headed for what I thought was the opposite shore. Instead we were paddling toward the north shore of the lake when we should have been headed east. Just after entering the lake I commented to Ryan how it was nearly impossible to visually determine distance from our perspective because a shore which is two miles away doesn’t look much different than a shore which is four miles away. So true…so true. So after paddling toward the north shore for awhile, we realized that even in the decreasing light there clearly was not a dam in the direction we were traveling. Time to break out the GPS!

Sometimes people get the idea that because we are paddling instead of using a motor, we are somehow shunning modern conveniences like a GPS, sleeping bags, and toilet paper (yes, someone actually asked about that last one)!!! Nothing could be farther from the truth. We brought 370 lbs of gear with us to Minnesota courtesy of Southwest Airlines who still lets passengers check two bags each which we made sure used every bit of the 50 pound limit. The point is that we like our modern conveniences and skimping on stuff just wasn’t in the plan for this trip. Ryan actually brought a 2.5 inch thick form mattress for the ultimate in sleeping comfort!

The north shore looks just like the east shore from the lake.
The north shore looks just like the east shore from the lake.

But let’s get back to the story… Ryan saw some colored lights to the east which he thought was the entrance to the dam. After reviewing the GPS and the DNR maps, I determined a route going directly east would be correct. The colored lights turned out to be fishermen who were trying to squeeze a few more minutes of fishing out of the now dark lake which was increasing turning choppy from the strong northwest wind. The fishermen assured us that we were traveling in the correct direction and pointed out some lights on shore to help guide us to the dam. I didn’t understand their directions so I told Ryan to just stay on our current course and we would be fine. Paddling a boat with two people requires a lot of teamwork because while I was navigating in the front, Ryan in the rear did most of the actual steering. If both parties were not in agreement as to the exact route, a battle of paddling strength will ultimately ensue.

Going east seemed like a good idea at the time.
Going east seemed like a good idea at the time.

Upon reaching the dark shoreline, we both realized that we still no where near the dam which we had set out to reach three hours earlier. A verbal fight broke out where my skills as a navigator were hotly debated and I’m pretty sure there may have been a few comments about my mom’s former employment in the male “entertainment” industry… (that’s a joke)!

End result: The last part of the route we had to zig-zag to avoid swamping the boat with 3 foot waves, my tripod took an unplanned trip to the bottom of the lake, and we nearly paddled right over the unguarded dam on the end of Cass Lake. There is nothing like seeing a looming dam 30 feet away that you’re about to be sucked over if you don’t make it to shore. I’ve never paddled harder in my life! The morning light revealed  Knutson Dam to be rather small, but going over it still would have been absolutely disastrous.

A zig-zag route allows you to enjoy more time on the lake!
A zig-zag route allows you to enjoy more time on the lake!

Ryan was (is?) convinced that I had directed us the wrong way. After spending some time with Google Earth in the comfort of a Nashville home, you can see that although we didn’t take the most direct route, we were traveling in generally the correct direction. My angled route added just under a mile to the total trip resulting in a 7.75 mile paddle to the campsite. See Ryan, I’m right! Right?

Ryan’s not here to defend himself as he’s still on the river. For those of you who didn’t catch that bit in a previous post, I have temporary returned to Nashville, Tennessee and will rejoin Ryan further down the river. Ryan’s now learning what it’s like to travel “Mississippi Solo” and he is continuing to shoot footage for The River is Life “survivorman-style.” One of these days you might actually get to hear his tale of crossing Lake Winni…an even more dangerous lake which tested our skills to the max. Keep reading!

Ritual Killing or Sail Made out of a Bed Sheet?

“You never know,” Phil says to me (different Phil), “you could have just paddled into a hot spot of ritual killings.”

“I mean,” he continues, “look at all of us.  We’re like 20, and you’re like only one.  In fact! (laughs) you are only one!” Brian, same age as Phil, red-rimmed glasses and a bright smile that seemed to say, “Yeah I’m a dork; so are you; so is everyone!” chimed in:  “Don’t worry, Ryan, if we do kill you, we’ll be nice about it; we’ll disembowel you after you’re dead (smiles).”

Brian and Phil are camp leaders for a group of at-risk kids from Minneapolis’ inner city.  They smiled at me.  “Daaaaaang!” Perry, a young’n of 17 who looks like a basketball star, says.  “You paddlin’ this whole river?  Shooooot.  You gotta be crazy!”  Sidney, a young girl still growing out of her braces looks me over non-empathetically.  “What is this?” she says.  “Like rowing for God or something?”  Ha ha.  Phong wears what can only be described as a rice paddy hat (I don’t know who the woman in the video is either, but I think I’m in love.), and I instantly want it.  “Where can I get a hat like that?”  He looks up and is snickering.  “Uhhhhh, ha ha, you can get it… like in the Asian market, ha ha ha ha ha.”  His laugh is infectous.  Phong speaks Hmong with his friend in a perfectly flat-billed, white ball cap.  “He wants to know,” Phong says, “if dat boat like can go faster dan dis boat, ha ha ha ha ha.”  Phong points to a beautiful wood and nylon canoe that was built with the help of Brian, Phil, and other camp leaders Bob, Mike and Jun-Li (I know I spelt your name right this time, but I’m still such a freaking Anglo. :)).  They are the leaders of Urban Boatbuilders, a Minneapolis/St. Paul nonprofit that takes city kids and makes them into 10 times the craftsmen I could ever be before they’re old enough to drive.  Bastards.

Ed, a 16-year-old as tall as me, is forceful in his speech:  “Oh my god, that is like the coolest camera ever.”  His thoughts move a mile a minute; there is so much information bursting out of his brain that it explodes all over my face:  “Whoa.  Check it out, a plane in the sky!”  He knows exactly what type.  “That’s a DC10.  It’s flying out of St. Cloud.  That never happens.  Are those solar panels you have?  Oh my god, those are awesome.  I can tell you right now you’re getting probably 40 watts in this sunlight.  You need to paddle in one of our canoes!”  He fumbles with a GPS he has hanging around his neck.  “I clocked our boat at 9.2 mph, swear to god.  How fast does yours go?”

“Slow,” I say.

“Dang, it shouldn’t, we could rig a sail.  Hey Phil!”  Ed’s idea has caught wind.  So many of his great notions come through the pipe that one is bound to stick, and this one has stuck.  “Phil, come here, look at this!”  Phil is tall and good-looking.  (Dude, you know you are; don’t even front.  :))  He walks over.  He has had to deal with Ed’s exuberance before.  “Calm down, buddy.”  He puts his hand on Ed’s shoulder, and Ed looks like the stormy sea after Jesus told it to stop and be still.  “Let’s have a look,” Phil says and studies my boat carefully.  Brian joins in.  These two work in tandem often.  “No, yeaaaaaahhhhhh.”  Brian elongates his yeahs.  “Yeahhhh,” he says, “so like just sit there, and we’ll build you a sail.”

What!  Is this real? Phillip (the one we know and love) and I always joked about building a sail.  “Maybe,” I would fantasize to him, “we’ll run into someone that’ll help us build one.”  “Maybe,” he’d respond.  To date I have imagined the following things that have happened out of the blue:  I imagined we’d stay with a family when we were paddling through Bemidji; 2 days later we were in warm beds at the Mobergs.  I imagined we’d have a wild crazy 4th of July party…..aaaaaaaaaaaaaand it happened!  I imagined we’d meet another Native American who’d share a spiritual experience with us, like Fred from The Hitchhiking Movie… you guessed it.  I imagined we’d stay at a hotel… happened.  I imagined someone would help us build a sail.  And it happened, like from my mind, like from a storybook.  Amazing.

A Big, Massive ‘By The Way’

Phillip (our Phillip) is not here.  GASP!  What!  What happened?  Did he die!!! No, Phillip is not dead.  He did not quit the trip.  Phillip works full time.  We always knew there’d be a real possibility he’d have to miss part of the trip.  (OOOOOPS!  Holy crap!  I imagined that too.  That must be why it happened!)  So when Phil and I reached Brainerd, he informed me that he had to go back to work.  Bummer.  I thought we’d at least make St. Paul before he had to do that.  “Okay, man,” I said to Phil before he boared his shuttle bus bound for the airport.  “I can’t do it any other way,” he told me.  “I know,” I said.  I gave him a man hug, and he left.  It was sad for me because I had to now face the river alone.  No one to crack jokes with.  No one to yell “balls!” as loud as I can to.  No one to sing my crappy country music to.  No one.  The first couple of hours alone on the river I was extremely depressed.  No joke.  I felt alone.  Alone in the truest sense of the word.  Physically:  Nothing but trees, wind, sun, a cloud; an eagle or two was nice but they were not human.  I paddled on for a while.  Alone.  The clouds rustled in.  They were white and smoky.  An overcast shroud covered the valley.  I felt… trance-like.  I was in a vacuum, a nothingness.  I felt so horrible.  “I want my baby back,” I screamed and laughed.  Holy crap, I thought, Greg Judge was right – paddling the River together is like being married.  My spouse had left, and there was nothing I could do about it but feel alone.  Mentally and emotionally alone:  What if Phillip never comes back? I thought.  He said he’d handle his work situation and meet me in St. Louis, but what if he doesn’t?  What if the rest of the trip sucks?  When Phil’s here, it’s such a party; I mean, yeah we annoy the shit out of eachother, but that’s just cuz there’s no one else to annoy or be annoyed by.  If Mother Teresa was in this boat, I’d be annoyed to shit by her too.  Man, what if the rest of this blows?  What if this film doesn’t work?  What if… I never meet anyone cool or get to stay with anyone cool?  What if…  “WHO THE HELL IS THAT!”

In the distance I could see a boat.  It was gray, and by the high oars pumping rythmically in the water, I knew it was a kayak.  It was about a mile downriver.  What the hell? I thought.  That dude sure has a high paddle stroke. I paddled closer, faster.  Humans!!!!!  I’m so happy I’ll get to talk to… someone!  Anyone!  Shit, I’ll even talk to Barry Switzer if I have to.  I’d even talk to f—ing Sean Hannity if… okay no, I wouldn’t talk to Hannity, but pretty much anyone!  O’Reilly… maybe.

“Hey!” I said.  He turned his boat.  Holy crap!  It’s a Sea Eagle!  What are the damn chances of finding another Sea Eagle kayak on this river, or in the same spot period!  The boats are not widespread; and, if you read the comments off the Paul Walsh article, NOOOOOBODY takes an inflatable down the Mississippi!  (‘Cept for crazy morons who don’t know any better like me.)  Cool!  Another crazy moron!

I fished for my camera.  “Hey,” I said, “hold on.  I gotta get my camera out.  This is awesome.”

“Why?” he responded coolly.  What the hell?  I’m trying to be nice to this guy.

“Uh, I’m making a documentary.”

“About what?” he responded as if asking to put $20 on pump 6.

“Um, about the Mississippi River.”

“Yeah, cool I guess.”

WTF! I’m getting angry but still willing to jibe.  “Yeah, so, a Sea Eagle boat.  Not many of those!”

“Yeah, I dunno.  It’s a good boat.  Why are you filming?”

“I’m making a documentary.”

“About what?”

Okay, I’m getting nowhere with this guy.  He could be high or just an asshole.  I can sense an intelligence behind all this banter, but he seems…  Yup, I conclude, he’s an asshole.  “Okay,” I say, “I gotta get going.”

“Yeah,” he says, “take care.”

What the bloody hell! I paddle on for 30 minutes… alone.  I’m mad.  My one shot at human contact is blown.  Asshole, I think, what was his problem? I pull in to make some food.  I have enough propane in my stove to make the rest of the instant potatoes.  I pull into a boat launch, fire up the Coleman single-burner and spot some fishermen.  “What’s up, guys!” I say.  “Heeeyyy there.  Goin’ fishin’?”  “No,” I say.  “Ah,” they say disappointed.  They are friendly, but this is not the human contact I am looking for.  I’m looking to hook up (not sexually, perverts) with someone.  Link minds with someone.  These guys are friendly and nice but their life, their love, and everything about them is fishing, is blue-collar beer drinking, is trashy women, is… not me.  I’m craving something else besides cordial chitchat; I need (oh jeez, I’m wading into a minefield) someone intelligent.  I turn around.  Apathetic Sea Eagle dude is behind me and closing.  Fuck him, I think.  “Hey!” he yells.  He gets out and wades through the water.  A soft rain falls, and I scramble to cover up the electronics in my boat.  “Whatcha eatin’?” he says.  Still an asshole, I think.  “Potatoes,” I say.  “Cool.  You need some protein?”

What the hell? This guy was a total jerkoff not 30 minutes ago.  He pulls out a Johnsonville Summer Sausage and tosses it to me.  “They’re 4 bucks each but they’ll keep 3 or 4 days.  It’ll go good with your potatoes.”  He’s taken his sunglasses off now.  I postulate later that he becomes a different person depending on whether he has them on or off.  Sunglasses on:  dickhead.  Sunglasses off:  giving summer sausages and Reese’s cups.  He wades a little closer to me.  “It is pretty cool you have a Sea Eagle boat.  I shopped hard for this one.”  His is an older model, beautiful and gray.  He snaps a picture of mine.  Perhaps the last 30 minutes gave him time to think about the interaction he foibled.  Perhaps he didn’t realize what it was to lose an opportunity to converse with someone, someone in a Sea Eagle, someone in the middle of this wide river on a windy day, on a day too overcast to draw out the regulars; we were the only ones out there and didn’t connect.

But perhaps Tony – whose name he gives later, sunglasses still off – just didn’t go through what I went through – losing my best friend.  “Here,” he says, “I’m gonna give you my phone number.  Put it in your phone and call me when you’re in the Cities (Twin Cities) and I’ll bring you McDonalds.”  Holy crap!  Is this the same guy? I put it in my phone.  I thank him and offer him potatoes.  “No thanks,” he says and puts his glasses on.  A tinge of the Mr. Cool he was 40 minutes earlier is back, but the interaction is complete, and we are both changed.  “You know,” I say to him, “you look like a skinny John Popper.”  “Ah!” he shouts.  “At least you said skinny!”  He flops into his boat.  His sideburns cover his face and he looks cool, but is not cool anymore… and I like him better that way.  “Take it easy,” I say.  “Maybe we’ll run into one another,” he says.  “Yeah,” I say.  “That’d be cool.”  And, it would be cool because, in spite of the shaky start, I made a friend.  I made an exchange and have fed on real life and real connection… with a real human.

Back at the Boats

Urban Boatbuilders built me a sail which I used today.  I top-ended at 7.6 miles an hour.  Normally I go about 4 and can top-end at 4.6.  I was grateful.  The world is big, and these chance meetings (whether programmed by imagination or not) are precious.  Phil, I am sorry you are not here.  I am sorry you missed the asshole, the sail, the Fruechtmanns.  But I hope we’ll meet in St. Louis.  Just remember:  Neither you nor I nor any of us… is alone.