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.
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.
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.
“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:
- 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.
- Lake Winnie – Working on Part II.
- Cass Lake
- 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!