Thy Bounty: Prayer is the Sauce on my Fried Eggs

Real Peas from the Fuechtmanns Garden - I think I will eat my peas this time, Mom.
Real Peas from the Fuechtmanns Garden - I think I will eat my peas this time, Mom.
I ran into the Fuechtmanns kayaking between Brainerd and Little Falls.  They took me in.  I must have a very good puppy dog look.
I ran into the Fuechtmanns kayaking between Brainerd and Little Falls. They took me in. I must have a very good puppy dog look.

For those of you out of the loop, Phillip and Ryan of 11visions.com are heading down the Mississippi River via kayak and filming it for your entertainment.  Check back regularly for blog updates, pictures and web videos.  The feature length documentary The River is Life, made from the exploits of this epic journey, will be available on this website February 2010.  Need some adventure right now???  Check out The Hitchhiking Movie.

Paddle and Prayer

My Location:  Little Falls, MN

Miles Traveled on the Great River:  Approx. 380

Fun Had and and Friends Made:  Too Much and Too Many to Count

Not all moments are dangerous.  Lake Winnibigoshish was dangerous, nighttime at Cass Lake was dangerous.  (Guys, when all this cool stuff stops happening to me, I swear I’ll write about these ordeals; but, believe it or not, they happened almost 2 weeks ago now!  I’m severely backlogged!  I promise I’ll do my best to have nothing happen to me for the next few days so that I can write about the two times Phillip and I almost died.  I swear.  I’ll like camp in a black hole and write a post like, Uhhhh so like today it’s like really dark and stuff.  OOOP, I think I see some movement… no, that was that little speck on my eye.  Cool, when I wiggle my eye it just follows me.  Rad, so like… it’s still dark and stuff.

The truth is that neat things keep happening, and this post is the most current of it; but, believe you me, we’ll get to that scary shit – I really want to tell you about it!  For now…

Moments

Sometimes the moments in a trip such as this are loving, sometimes they are bittersweet, like when we had to say goodbye to the Mobergs.  Sometimes they are aggressive like my “have-out” with Phil amid the 3-foot white-cappers in the middle of Cass Lake at 11 at night (coming, coming, coming!).  Sometimes the moments are pure joy or pure beauty or pure awe, like watching a Bemidji sunset (best sunset EVER! hands down; though the one last night in Little Falls rivaled it) or watching a flock of swans, or seeing 3 bald eagles perch not 10 feet in front of you on the same day.  All the moments have all been… what they were – incredible.  There has been no adding.  This is real reality TV:  there is no heightening of drama, no planning, no scripting.  When I end up in someone’s house to stay the night, I did not, nor could I have, planned it.

I am in Little Falls, Minnesota, home of Charles Lindbergh.  The family I am staying with (Yes, another one.  I dunno how.  It just keeps happening!) tells me of their son as a young lad.  He wasn’t obsessed with Charles Lindbergh but he was obsessed with Lindbergh’s cars.  Apparently Lindy had tons of ‘em.  The boy sneaked in to the aviator’s back yard and curled back around to the garage.  He peeked in a Volkswagen:  “Oooooo, that’s nice.”  He peeked into a Packard:  “Hooooly crap, awesome.”  He peeked into a…  “WTF!  That’s Charles Lindbergh sleeping in a Chevy!”  Lindbergh, according to my hosts, did some pretty eccentric things like sleeping in his own cars; but, for the most part, he tried his best to quietly keep to himself in this small Minnesota town.  Old Lindbergh stopped the boy before he could run and talked to him a bit about sneaking around other people’s houses, while simultaneously being the most cordial of cordial.  I imagine he gave the boy a soda pop and said, “Run along now.  If you ever want to drive one of them, just bring your dad and we’ll go together.”  I imagine he had a soft tear in his eye as the boy ran back home; I imagine the boy reminded him of what his kidnapped and murdered son could have been.  The Lindbergh baby kidnapping has always touched me deeply; so sad.  Even as I write a pit grows in my solar plexus.  Perhaps being closer to Lindbergh’s hometown has made that pain grow stronger; perhaps it’s easier to identify with it, to feel the poor child’s pain, or the father’s.  This man, Chas Lindbergh, accomplished something that no one had, that no one had even thought possible – a solo airplane crossing of the Atlantic.  Earl Fuechtmann, the man in whose house I am staying and on whose computer I am typing (Actually I think I’m on Mary’s, his wife’s, computer.), waxes philosophic about Lindbergh:  “It was amazing, you know.  He had no instruments, no GPS.  I don’t even know how he did it.”  He leans back and pours me a little more of his homemade wine.  Mary notices I’m enjoying it.  “We grow our own grapes, you know,” she says.  They are wine connoisseurs and amateur wine makers.  It is delicious.  “Well,” I respond to Mary, “You grew some really good grapes this time; this is excellent.”  She laughs.  “Actually, that was from a kit!”  She folds her hands and starts laughing harder.  It was a good joke, but I still love the wine.  I’ll say again:  anything from strangers, now new friends, is good.  Once again, this morning, I have drunk coffee (though I don’t drink it).  Last night I have eaten homemade pumpkin pie (yes, with pumpkins grown in their garden!).  I have eaten left-over turkey that made my mouth sing.  I have listened to Earl’s stories of being a Vietnam vet, his positions on Iraq and Afghanistan, his more important views on his own kids, his views on happiness and on how having a new truck is nice but will not bring the feeling to you.  “Though the truck is nice,” he quickly adds.  I am here, I am alive, I am in a home still in rural Minnesota… alive, living with strangers (strangely alive!); and, it is all very, very good.  What a time to be living, rolling slowly toward the Twin Cities.

Fuechtmanns in front of their Garden - This time I think I will eat my green beans and peas, Mom.

Earl finishes his story:  “So Lindberg without the aid of electronic instruments uses a wind-up clock and compass to navigate from New York to Paris.  He knew he had to take advantage of the wind currents by flying on kind of a curve.”  Mary offers me more wine.  No need to ask! “So this guy is up there…”  Earl seems flummoxed.  An aviator himself, he’s in genuine awe that a man was able to accomplish this feat.  I’m sure he’s told this story about a thousand times; but, as with all passionate people, the emotion rings true in his voice.  He recognizes in me a person with genuine interest in… anything genuine.  And his passion is genuine, the wine is genuine, the marriage and home he shares with Mary are genuine.  This moment, though not dangerous, is genuine and (I believe) makes for good writing.  Earl knots his hands up and wrings them.  He’s still flummoxed.  “I mean, imagine it!  This guy takes a wind up clock.  He hasn’t gotten any sleep the night before because there were all these high society people wishing him good luck, all these reporters, and he’s got to fly 27 hours straight the next day.  I mean, c’mon!”  More wine.  “So Lindbergh gets in his plane practically falling asleep.  This thing is loaded with fuel.  He just brought along 2 liters of water and two sandwiches.”  Mary laughs and agrees, “Two sandwiches.”  “And,” Earl continues, “he’s flying across the goddamn Atlantic; a bunch of people died trying this same thing, and he’s flying oh so many minutes in one direction… then he realigns his compass.  Then he flies so many minutes in that direction and ticks off in a new direction with his compass, thus, forming the curve.  I mean, amazing!”

Phillip would always criticize me when I used the word amazing or incredible or unbelievable when describing a physical phenomenon or feat.  “It’s not incredible; it’s just physics,” he would say.  “I know,” I respond, “but it’s incredible to me.”

“It’s not incredible though.  It’s just the natural order of things.  If you see water coming out a hose, it’s just the law of gravity and pressure at work.  There’s nothing incredible about it.”

“Yeeeeessss.  But the very fact that that law exists or that we are even here to utilize it or create something wonderful such as a hose with it IS incredible, my friend!”

Phillip would just shake his head.  He’s so finely tuned to the physical world.  “It all just makes sense; there’s nothing incredible or unbelievable or amazing about it.  The world works; what’s so amazing?”  Benjamin Franklin and his Rationalist cousins would have made Phillip their poster boy.  They would have had him tour around giving talks on how not to be amazed by the world.  No matter.  I have told him firmly that I’m not giving up my amazement.  And I will continue to use the word and its cognate companions to describe things like red-winged blackbirds, bald eagles (“Dude, there are so many of those in Arkansas; what’s the big deal?”), barges, the fact that I’m alive, everything under the sun and on this Mississippi adventure.

Right now Earl is using that word.  He reminds me a lot of Peter Moberg:  instantly practical, hands-on, good family, smart man with a blue collar background (dirty grime on the back of his neck, grows up on a farm, leaves for the war 2 days before his draft notice, “volunteer before they getcha, that’s what I say”).  “Amazing,” he says punctuating his story of Lindbergh’s crossing.  And it was, and it is.  Earl is a practical man with a touch of romanticism.  I seem to have brought it out in him.  He asks me what I do.  “I paddle down the Mississippi River,” I laugh.  They laugh too.  “Noooo nooo nooo.  Well…” he pauses, “I guess what I do is pick up random river people.”  Mary laughs and pours more wine.  It is good, so good.  “No,” Earl corrects, “I have my own business as a general contractor and I have been blessed.”  I look around.  Catholic paraphernalia everywhere.  I feel strangely at home.  “We’re Catholics,” they say.  My first experience with the Catholic religion was as a young lad in Memphis, TN.  I went to a Catholic school called Chistian Brothers Academy.  My Catholic friends never took their religion seriously, and the teachers took it very seriously; subsequently… I didn’t take it seriously.  I then moved to Mexico City and lived there for a good 3 years.  My girlfriend was Catholic and so were her parents though they never went to mass:  CINAs – Catholic in Name Only.  They really didn’t take it seriously; and, at a time when a respected adult’s opinion might have persuaded me, this all but drove the no-possibility-of-Ryan-becoming-Catholic nail into the coffin.  Then the kicker:  the lady who blew my chances of ever becoming a servant of the Pope forever:

When I first moved to Mexico, I was living at my girlfriend’s parents’ house and, to say the least, was not comfortable.  It was time to get out.  I wanted a place where I could live alone, have my own privacy, and still live in Satélite (a suburb of Mexico city that had an American feel).  I had the perfect solution.  Though Satélite was all houses, one woman had a little apartment at the bottom of her house she was renting at a reasonable price.  Separate entrance, pretty secluded from the rest of the house.  Bingo, I thought.  While there were several rooms available at other houses, the owners would say things to me on the phone like, “Ningunas visitas femeninas! (No female visitors.)”  Screw you. This woman was different:  no weird rules, seemed pretty legit, and though I did have a weird-ass vibe from her, I decided to give it a shot.  I moved in no problem and then the prying came in:  “When will you be home?”

“Uhhhh, excuse me?”

“I’d like to know when you’ll be home.”

I’d like to know the winners of the next five World Series, but that’s not gonna happen; what the hell? “I don’t know when I’ll be home; I’m going out tonight and it might be 12; it might be 3; why?”

“Oh, I don’t know if I can accept that.”

“I’m sorry?”

“No it’s just that…”

I was getting angry and her off.  “Uhhh, I gotta go.”  Dropped her flat right there.  Maybe not the best move; but, as my mom will tell you, the quickest way to get me ultra Ultra ULTRA pissed off is to start telling me what I can and can’t do.  Hell, that’s what got me motivated to do The Hitchhiking Movie.  Everyone told me it was impossible.

I came back to the apartment that night.  Lucky, the bitch is asleep, I thought.  Okaaayyy, okayyyy, I’m sorry; she wasn’t a bitch; she was just, ummmmmm, confused, or… o c’mon! she was a bitch!  So the bi… er, nice little old lady who had nothing better to do than to pry into her inquilino’s personal affairs wakes up as I open my door.  I hear some rumbling and see a light come on on the upper floor before I slip in.  I get into bed as quickly as possible and turn my light off.  I’m not talkin’ to her now!  Jesus Christ!  This is why I moved here – to NOT have to deal with this shit. Long story short, the next day I’m cleaning my new place up and there are Catholic crosses everywhere.  There’s a pure iron one.  There’s a wooden one with a plastic Jesus; there’s a plastic one with a wooden Jesus, a wooden one with a wooden J.C. who is experiencing a most gruesome death.  There’s one with a more tasteful death.  There’s a cross made of doughnuts.  There’s…  Okay, no doughnuts, but that’d be hella cool if there was.  I’d consume the body then!!!

So, I do what any heathen would do – I take the crosses down.  It’s my room, dammit.  My mom raised me on Unity.  We believe in a happy Jesus and focus on the positive stuff.  This doom and gloom is making me sad.  Yeah, that’s great:  Stick a few dying people in a room with a manic depressive (yes, diagnosed, scared of me yet?).  So the crosses come down.  Little bit dusty in here; I vacuum it out and rearrange some plants.  No Jesuses hiding under the bed? Christ, no pentagrams, I hope!  What if this beeyotch is a witch or something and all this is a put-on! Nope, no pentagrams.  We’re good to go.  I retreat into my nice Protestant-ized hole, and on the 7th hour, I rest.

An hour later, I got to get going.  Girlfriend, who will be known as M.E., wants to meet me.  Sweet action! She meets me outside the door and we take a walk together.  I didn’t see it exactly, but I swear to God someone is eyeing me from the witch’s window.  I turn around.  Did I see that curtain move?  Ah hell, c’mon, M.E., let’s walk.

M.E. walks me back home.  Kiss, love, etc.  Nice.  I walk in my room.  BEEEEYOTCH is there!!!  “Uhhhh what are you doing here?”

“Where are the crosses?” she demands.

“I set them outside the door.”

“You what?”  She holds her heart.

WTF is going on with this lady?

“I can’t… oh, dear me!”  She crosses herself.  It is not genuine.  It is all a show.  She takes a deep breath and heaves her chest like a sick Michael Flatly.  She turns her head, bad-soap-opera style, and leaves.  The back of her wrist was pressed to her forehead as she trudged dramatically up the stairs.  FFFFFFF-iiiinnnggggg bbbbbbb…  rrrrrrrrrr… Aaarrrrrrrrrgggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhggggrraaahhhhhfffmmmmmmnnnnnaaaaaa! I swear – Death, get ready – I’m sendin’ you one early.

I can’t stand it.  I hoof it on over to my girlfriend’s house.  It’s about a mile away, and I walk through the door.  M. E.’s mother is on the phone.  But with whom? She’s looking at me.  “Yes, yes,” I hear her say.  “Yes, ok, señora, I will tell him.”  M.E.’s mom rolls her eyes at me.  They say:  “WTF is up with her! (lol)”  She hangs up.  “Well,” she huffs, “I just got off the phone with the señora. She is…

A.  very angry you didn’t come home at a decent hour (I make the wrist-slitting sign while trying unsuccessfully to barf.)

B.  very angry you took her crosses down (Herrrrrrrrrrr crosses???  Herrrrrrrrrr?  It’s my… aaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!)

C.  and is very angry that your not a nice little Catholic boy who is not interested in sex, only comes home and stares at a cross praying, only says nice things, does not want a social life, did not hold hands (oh dear me, no!) with my daughter outside her house (I knew she was spying!), and is, in general, a heathen who is going straight to the fiery pits of hell.  Other than that she thinks you’re top-notch!”

I barfed right on my girlfriend’s mom’s rug.  Then I took a flying leap off the balcony to my death and am writing this posthumously.  Hell isn’t as bad as they say it is.  If only I had known that the Catholics were right I wouldn’t have joined that damned Scientology sect.  Fuck!

Long story short (Second time I used that phrase in a post; I must be a fledgling writer.), I returned to my recently acquired, over-protective-psycho-mom-who’s-not-my-mom-demon-witch-from-hell’s apartment to have it out.  It’s time to rumble, baby.  You and me, mano y mano.  Fight to the death.  I’m going to sucker punch her and throw salt in her eyes.  I might even grab a chair from the audience or try a flying elbow or leg drop.  Uhhhhh, that is I’m going to…ahem… get very angry and assertively tell this fu… darned old lady that she needs to stay out of my room, and if I want to have a girlfriend over, it’s my business, and don’t be calling her mom.  We’re both 21 for crying out loud!  If I want to hang posters of Ozzy Osbourne sucking down bat heads all over my room, it’s, yup, you guessed it, my ffffffffffreaking business!  And if I want to come home at 4 in the morning, as long as I’m not making any noise, bbbbbbbbbbuuuuutttt the flying Fig Newton out!  Got me, psycho whore!!!!! (C’mon, mom, psycho whore isn’t that bad.)

The Having of It Out

So we had it out.  I told her to butt out.  She told me I was a heathen.  “I went into your room,” she said.  “I felt this cold chill up my spine.  I felt like…”  (She grabs her heart and crosses herself; I consider punching her in the boob.)  “…Like the diablo was in the room.”

For the love of Christ and all that is holy, this woman is Beelzebub.  If I behead her, I get all her powers, right?

“And so,” she goes on, “I just… I just don’t know if this’ll work.”

“Babe, I’m gonna tell you, this ain’t gonna work.  You were on the phone with my girlfriend’s mom (I had put her down as a reference.) and are going on and on about my whereabouts.  I rented this room to get away from this kind of stuff.  Who are you?  The goddamn devil???”

“Devil?  You’re the devil!  Get out of my house!”

“Get out of my room!  Ever hear the song Devil with a Blue Dress?  You’re the devil with a telephone and no time on her hands!  You want to know what sends a cold chill up my spine?  YOU!”

Long story short (third’s a charm!), I left.  I found a place that was more expensive, but the first thing I said to the landlord was, “I got a girlfriend and what I do with her is my business.”  “No shit,” she replied.  “Pay your damn rent on time and keep the music reasonable.”  Holy crap; finally someone sane.

Back to the Feuchtmanns

Now I am surrounded with it, Catholic crosses, dying Jesuses, and I feel very, very good.  I feel very comforted.  The love of these two people are apparent.  We sit down to eat.  It is salad with raspberries.  I’m in heaven again.  I know instinctively that we are going to pray.  I sit with my arms folded.  I know it; I just know it.  And they begin.  Earl clasps his hands; Mary leans back and closes her eyes.  “Benedic, Domine, nos et haec tua dona quae de tua largitate sumus sumpturi.”  Just kidding; they’re not Opus Dei!  No Latin.  I had you going there, didn’t I?  No, it starts, “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord…”  My stepfather would always offer this prayer half-heartedly when it was his turn to pray at our table; but, here it is very, very sincere.  They go into verses of this prayer that I hadn’t even heard before, and I can’t keep up after the first couple of lines.  I feel very at home.  How strange:  the same crosses, the same religion, but different people… make all the difference.  They cross themselves same as psycho lady, but you can sense the difference.  These people are sincere.  Devotion is why they are Catholic.  They don’t really care if you like their cross or not.  To them, it’s not about you; it’s about a connection, and it is real, and I can feel it.  Did I mention I feel good here?

I wake up in the morning.  Earl and Mary are not there.  They soon drive in.  “How was mass?” I ask.  “Great!” they say, and they mean it.  Same crosses, same symbols, actual love.

Last night I went to sleep at new friends’ home.  They had only met me 3 or 4 hours before kayaking down the river.  A snap judgement they had to make:  Do we trust this guy? A snap judgement I had to make:  Do I trust them? We go by feel, and the feeling is a resounding yes.  I am so glad I spent this time here.  But the moment changes.  I will, momentarily, be on my way to St. Cloud.  I hope the rest of the river feeds me to people as good as the Fuechtmanns, as good as the Mobergs, as good as who’s to come.  I walk out the door and recall my going to sleep the night before:  They had given me a shower, they had given me food, and now they were going to give me a bed.  “Which room do you want?” Mary asks.  Ooooooh, I have a choice! “Well Mary,” I respond, “Last night I was sleeping on top of a log in a mosquito den, soooooo I am kinda hard to please.”  Laughs, more laughs, good feelings all around.  I look into both rooms.  One has a large wooden cross over the headboard.  I walk in and put my stuff down.  “I would say, Mary, this’ll do just fine.”  I feel comforted now dozing off, and have no desire to take the cross down.

On to St. Cloud.  Twin Cities, we’re getting closer!  Check back for more!

Ryan, July 12

The Mobergs Continued and Gratitude for a Red Roof

(I have no idea why, but the post Into the Waves – The Scary Kind seemed to cut off abruptly at when Nelson carries our bags up to the cabin.  If you were scratching your heads wondering, “What the hell happened at the cabin?” uh, I was too.  I wrote a bunch more about Peter telling me how to make headcheese, Janice claiming I had voices in my head, and Amber insulting me into fits of laughter.  So, I grabbed an old save; here is the post as it was intended.  Skip down to The Mobergs if you just want to know what happened after we went up to the cabin.  Photo from Aitkin, MN:  Thanks to Shelly and Jack for teaching me how to fish and forgiving my mangling of their smallmouth bass while applying my lackluster gutting skills.  Love you guys.  Shelly, will be calling you on your B-day.  What are you?  Like 36 or something?

I will tell you in an upcomming post about our crossing of Cass Lake at 11 pm at night, about being blown to the far north shore when we needed to be far, far east.  I will tell you about our brush with death as 4-foot waves blew us precariously towards the rushing dam.  I will tell you about Phil screaming for us to push towards the portage point with no light to guide us, about his shaking with cold, about my moment of compassion where I took off my sweatshirt to give it to him as his teeth chattered on the rocks.  I will tell you about our subsequent crossing of Lake Winibigoshish.  5-foot waves this time.  Striving to reach the far north shore, failure, desperation, hurt muscles and an inability to stop for fear of stranding or swamping or worse.  I will tell you about our arguments over GPS interpretations, over trivial details, my string of profanities leveled at the night, Phil’s angry silence, my angry silence and breaking thereof.  I will tell you about our easy coast with a beautiful tailwind, the meeting of a Chippewa woman who pushed a wooden canoe filled with posessions of her dead daughter into the water and asked us to guide it along the river.  I will tell you about the quick building of fires, the envy of other paddlers, the hate of haters, the love of lovers, the pulling of 4-wheelers on top of drunken human bodies in a gleeful Minnesota redneck celebration, free beer on the 4th of July, free chicken, free hamburgers, free games of Bocce Balls with the 9-year-old kid, free sticks thrown to the dogs who picked up the scent to our campsite, lonely walks in the woods, lovely sunsets, and our beautiful, beautiful experience in Aitkin, Minnesota.

This will all come.  You will know all that has happened between our departure from the heaven which was the Mobergs, our hell which was Lake Winnibigoshish, and our purgatory (though I think I like purgatory best) which, recently, was Aitkin.

For now, however, I would like to do something very important:  give thanks.

Gratitude

As I type this, I am at a Red Roof Inn in Brainerd, MN.  Phillip threw down for a room.  It is heaven.  I know I have said this several times.  When we were cold and hungry and couldn’t find the campsite at Coffee Pot Landing at Lake Itasca, beans cooked on a fire were heaven.  When it was about to rain and shelter was elusive, the Moberg cabin and their warm foam beds were heaven.  A ride in Nelson’s dirty (Ha, ha, sorry Nelson; it was!  No sweat though, my cars have looked far worse!) Pontiac as he wailed on about Ted Nugent, fat Indian women hitting on him, douchy frat boys and his fears about seeming too much like them… all of this was heaven.  Now the Red Roof Inn in Brainerd is heaven.  Phillip using the last juice of my cell phone to track down a cab to bring us here (as opposed to powering through the 30 mph headwinds – swear to God we had our first south wind of the trip today and it was brutal! – into town) was heaven.  The hot tub after 2.5 weeks of gunk stuck to our skin is, well, you know.  Jumping into the cold pool… (A man plays with his 3 beautiful kids.) …jumping back into the hot tub, back into the cold pool, a run to the sauna, into the pool… hot to cold, to hot to cold (my muscles are grateful) is all heaven.

I am appreciating the little things.  Can you not see?

For most people, a hotel is a for granted.

If you go somewhere that is not your home and you do not stay with a friend, you stay in a what?  Of course.  Duh.  You go to a Courtyard Marriot, or a La Quinta… somewhere with Wi-Fi internet, somewhere with HBO surely, somewhere that can remind me of home, home, home.  Creature comforts, they are beautiful.

Our home for 2.5 weeks now has been floor, ground, cold, water, boat, living, nature, beauty, harsh, live, mellow, distant, weeds, grass, ground again, power lines, may-I-please-camp-on-your-land, may-you-not-bite-me-mosquito-for-the-love-of-God, elements, outside, not inside, wind, rain, hot, lovely… life.  We have been thrust into all that is real.  It has been cold and hard and wonderful all at the same time.  It has made me crave Skor bars (I confess I ate 3 of them at the gas station in Pallisade.), it has made me appreciate rice and beans, it has made me love and crave salt, pepper, olive oil, instant potatoes that I had always thought were gross.  I love those things now.  How hokey to say that going on this trip has made me more appreciative of the simple things!  Well, my friend, hokey it must be – I appreciate the little things after being on this trip for only a week and a half.

I appreciate the article that was done on us in the Minneapolis St. Paul Star Tribune.  Paul Walsh called me out of the blue.  I had no bars on my phone, only a T.  I can barely hear his voice.  He’s crackly.  “(Crrrrrrrraaaccccckkkkkk.) I’m from the Star Tribune…..(crrrraaaacccckkkk.)”  Holy CRAP!  TTTTHE Star Tibune, I think, the same one I used to follow the Al Franken Norm Coleman saga a year ago.  I mean, dude! that’s a maaaay-jor paper! “Errrrrr, ahem (clears throat), yes I’m Ryan Jeanes and I would love to speak with you.  How may I be of assistance?”  Dude, you sound like a storm trooper; be natural! “I mean, what up dog!  I mean, Mr. Walsh.”  Shit!

That last paragraph made me smile, and I am smiling.  I love injecting humor into my posts.  I love injecting humor into my life, into others lives.  2 nights ago, Phil and I were invited over from the river to dine and drink with a family camping on the banks in Aitkin, MN.  We were treated to fish fries, to good Natural Ice, to camraderie, to laughs and laughs and more laughs.  We were treated to an interview by Lakeland Public Television (I’m warning you – you’ll have to wait to the very end to see us; it’s almost not worth it because the buffer is all screwy but if you really want to see my mad interviewing skills, wait till the very end; it’s the last segment.)  Josh, the reporter, was asking us about the river, about the bugs, about the effort required.  He had finished taping when Shelly, the woman who had enticed us from the river with catcalls of free beer, turned to him and said, “Hey Josh, you need to go get us smokes and beer after this.  You’re probably the only sober one left.  And also I want you to get me and my family on camera.  You can start with me.  My name is Shelly, and I’m a pedophile.”  She laughed and laughed and laughed.  Josh looked scared and nervous.  I was rolling on the floor.

For What Else am I Grateful?

After leaving Aitkin, I called up the Aitkin Independent Age, the local newspaper.  I convinced the editor to meet us on a dirt, country road.  She accepted.  Phil and I climbed the bank and popped our heads up nearly scaring her half to death.  “I thought you guys were hay farmers,” she said.  “Then I realized, ‘Why the hell would a hay farmer be climbing the banks of the river?'”  I filmed Phil fielding questions like a pro and felt very, very grateful.  “I need to get a shot of you guys in the boats,” the reporter said as she pulled out her camera.  “Well ma’am,” I said tongue in cheek, “I’d love to climb all this way up this bank to say goodbye to you after the photo, but the chances of that happening are slim to none.  So let me say my goodbyes and thankyous here and you can get the shot as we leave.”  She laughed and we got in and left.  I haven’t seen the photo yet but I feel that must have been the coolest photo she’s taken in her life.  It sure felt like the coolest photo I’ve ever had taken of me.  Dirty, sweaty, grimy, on camera – what other way is there to be?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this post is brimming with optimism.  I feel good.  For the first time in a long while, I feel really really good.  The work we’re doing is… bringing the country together.  Is that conceited?  To think that creating a documentary that unites the people of the northern river with the southern river, a documentary that shows all people of all walks of life united by a common body of water.  We’ve met rednecks, Indians, blue collars, light blue collars, rich folks, news reporters, carpenters, dogs of all types, fishermen, backwoods hippies, transients; the number of people we’ve met already, only 300+ miles in is staggering.  We’re not even out of Minnesota yet; and, if we had to, we could make a movie out of what we’ve shot.  I’m happy, very happy.

Not for Distance, Not for Speed

This trip will break no records.  Realistically, if we were out to break records, we would not be carrying this much gear.  We would have hard-shell kayaks or canoes, we would have special paddles, etc. etc.  In the comments section of the Paul Wash piece, you’ll see a lot of haters:  Jeez, these guys are going to take three months???????  What a couple of douches! or I met these jokers; they’re gay; f— them, etc. etc. etc. What’s funny about the guy who says he met us is that he says our trip was slated to leave on May 15.  The only people who knew that was our original date were people who were reading the blog early on, which consisted of my mom, my dad, my dog and hampster and maybe 10 other unidentifieds.  So I have no idea how this dude claims he met us, presumably on the river, and says our departure date was in May.  For over a month the departure date was the first day of summer, June 21.  Anywho, haters, haters, haters.

They’re not Prepared!

That was the gist of several other comments.  Oh, you guys, aren’t using the right boats; You guys are gay whores; Your feet smell; Yadda Yadda Yadda… I’m a dirty tramp. For the hatemeister-B’s out there who cain’t understand the logic behind the inflatable boat, I’m going to give you the short version:  They were given to us!!!  Sea Eagle is our sponsor!!!  Sea Eagle is a reputable company that, dollar for dollar, makes some of the best boats in the business.  You use what you have, not what you don’t have.  We’re going down in inflatables; end of story.  You don’t like it?  Go down the river in a rocket ship or whatever you feel is best.  Hell, ride a g-damn sea turtle for all I care; but tone down the hatin’, y’all.  We’re on the river.  It’s too slow for your tatstes???  WE’RE MAKING A MOVIE!!!  That’s the whole point of this!  We’re not breaking speed records.  We spend 5-10 hours at a time with people we meet on the river.  We film them.  We find out all their dirty, little secrets and air them on Fox News.  We’re muckrakers, not paddlerakers.  Jeeeeez.  Oh, if you want the nice, technical reason for why we’re using inflatables, read Phillip’s post; it’s top notch.

We’re Not Supposed to be Prepared

We’re city boys, y’all!  We’re doing this by the seat of our inflatable boats.  Of course we have no idea what we’re doing!  We never said we did.  The first time I hitchhiked, I went out to the side of the road outside my parents house, stuck my thumb out and hoped like all heck someone would stop.  I didn’t really think anyone would, but lo and behold a red jeep flipped a U-ey and picked me up.  Then Phil and I did The Hitchhiking Movie, and the rest is history.  Now people would consider us seasoned hitchhikers.  I would consider myself a seasoned hitchhiker.  I sure as hell didn’t know what I was doing the first time I tried it.  Those first few paddle strokes out of Lake Itasca were, uh, fledgling, to put it lightly.  I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.  Where in the living Bejesus did you ever get the impression that you need to know how to do something before you do it????  I mean is that even logical.  You need to know how to paddle before you paddle.

Uh, how the heck to I learn to paddle before I paddle.  Don’t I paddle to learn how to paddle?

Don’t you sass me, boy.  (Slap.)

Obviously the only way to learn is to learn by doing.  Right now I can tell you that I can start a fire fairly quickly.  Before it took me 30 minutes.  I was a city boy, remember?  Right now I can tell you what kind of clothes to wear to keep the bugs off, the exact moment to strike to kill a deer fly, the best spots to take advantage of the current.  How to cut the wind’s force in half.  How to tie the supply boat so it tracks better.  How to say hello in such a way that people want to offer you a beer or ask you where you’re going and why.  How to do an interview.  How to handle sore muscles.  When to take Ibuprofen.  When to lay off the pain-killers.  When to take a break.  When I don’t need to take a break and when I’m just being a whiner.  How to shield myself from headwinds with jutting banks.  How to use the reeds to break the waves.  How to keep the boat from swamping.  How to use the supply boat as a sail.  How to hook up solar panels.  How to use the slo mo function on the camera.  What point to climb to to get cell service.  What kind of boat I’d take if I ever did a trip like this again.

I mean, dude!!! how the hell do you learn all this stuff before you go???

The answer?  Ta dah!  YOU DON’T

I’m Grateful for Haters

At the risk of sounding like Alanis Morisette’s “Thank you India…” song, I am grateful for even the people that have poo poohed the journey because, in part, they’re right.  All of their perspectives have a place and are welcome.  Though they be inartful in thier expression, or perhaps even crass, (Though how can I fault someone for crass expression, have you read some of my posts???  I think I got the whole crass bit down.) many of their points of views I already share.  It’s just that, the details are unimportant.  What’s important is that I’m on the river.  I’m moving.  I’m doing it.  No this is not a perfect situation.  Yes, I need a hard-shell canoe, but I don’t have one, and everyone! asks questions about the Sea Eagle boats.  They’re like, “Whoa!  What are those!”  The point of this trip is to attract attention, make people ask questions, not burn down the highway like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.  Wile_E_Coyote_1

I’m Grateful for…

  1. Shelly and Jack for giving me beer two nights ago.
  2. Tailwinds.
  3. This hotel, this hot tub, recuperated muscles, the ablility to type online unfettered and share this adventure with you.
  4. You.
  5. Paul Walsh and the readers of the Star Tribune who went to our site and increased our traffic by 800% (no joke, thank you!)
  6. Of course, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner who taught me how to entertain, and that the journey is best enjoyed… slow.
http://www.11visions.com/2009/07/inflatable-kayaks-the-right-equipment/We

Inflatable Kayaks–The Right Equipment?

DSC00314Over the last two and a half weeks on the Mississippi River, we’ve noticed that our Sea Eagle Explorer kayaks attract a lot of attention. Some people are impressed with their portability and stability, while others voice concerns about maneuverability and speed. The choice of boats was a very important decision as we both knew that we would be spending many weeks living and dying by these crafts.

I am a long-time owner of a Sea Eagle kayak and it was determined early on that this type of boat would be ideal for us because of the quantity of gear we would be bringing (about 300 lbs) and the fact that Ryan (and myself to some extent) were both inexperienced paddlers. It also seemed to be a “problem solved” situation right out of the chute when Sea Eagle agreed to supply us with two of their finest inflatable kayaks for the journey.

However, after a few trial runs down the Cumberland River in Nashville we had some concerns about the speed loss when towing a second equipment boat behind us. So Ryan and I decided to do some scientific tests which we completed by paddling a short a length of Greers Ferry Lake using several boating configurations. Here are the results:

  1. 2 Kayaks (1 towed), paddled normally – 8 minutes
  2. 1 Kayak, paddled normally – 7 minutes, 50 seconds
  3. 1 Kayak, paddled swiftly – 7 minutes
  4. 2 Kayaks (1 towed), paddled leisurely – 8 minutes, 40 seconds

There is a margin of error in these results as each trip was pretty short. However, in spite of the perceived difference in speed while towing the second kayak, the actual difference isn’t actually very significant. Over the period of the entire Mississippi River, it would probably add perhaps a week or two to our final duration. Also, speed is not our primary goal of this particular adventure so these results didn’t bother us. Then some other concerns came up…

Ryan and I sat down with Joe Beck of Fox, Arkansas to discuss his own trip paddling the Mississippi and he strongly advised us against using inflatable kayaks for our trip. Here are Joe’s arguments:

  1. Maneuverability. Inflatable kayaks don’t turn or steer as well as a solid craft and this will make it more difficult for us to avoid other vessels and obstacles on The River.
  2. Durability. The River is unforgiving in places and as tough as Sea Eagle kayaks are, they could still be destroyed depending on what we encounter on the float trip.
  3. Comfort. Joe felt that the contact between sand, plastic, and our city-boy skin would be very uncomfortable after a long period of time.

Joe instead recommended that we invest in some hard-shelled sea kayaks. I took his suggestion very seriously as Joe is a boat builder, he has already paddled The River, and one of our primary goals over the course of this trip is to “not die.”

But after a discussion and a little research, Ryan and I pressed on with the original plan. We took both Sea Eagle Explorer kayaks to Lake Itasca and are presently towing the second boat full of supplies.

At this stage of the trip, we are still satisfied with this decision. Our lack of experience on the open water has been handled safely on several occasions which may have been very dangerous in an open canoe or kayak. And since we’re not in a particular hurry, the slower pace of an inflatable boat isn’t a big issue either.

The river conditions are constantly changing so it’s possible that we’ll change our minds as well, but for the time being we are still in agreement that the inflatable kayaks are perfect for our own journey. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

Into the Waves – The Scary Kind

Cass Lake - Not Named after Mamma Cass
Cass Lake - Not Named after Mama Cass

From Stump Lake to… now.  Aitkin, Minnesota.  Close to Brainerd.  The towns are getting bigger now – this one has a McDonalds; the last one had a gas station; we’ve yet to see a Starbucks; it’s still pretty wilderness, but we love it.  Either way, we are definitely moving south.

A lot has happened.  Let’s sort through it.

First, we’re in Aitkin – a town with over 1000 people!  Yeah!  Civilization never tasted so good.  Also, we’ve almost completed our 300th mile!  Only 10 more to go today and we’ll hit the tri-hondo.  Thank you once again to everyone following us on this amazing journey.  Thanks to our 4-wheelin’ friends in McGreggor, MN (Shout out to Litchfield!) who were so kind to let us film them getting completely hammered and pulling their ATVs on top of them in a mud pit.  Turn a little bit this way, smile, let the 400 pound Kawasaki crush you, aaaaaaand got it!  Great shot, guys, thanks.

Shout out to Jack and Shelly who shared their campsite with us last night.  Apparently the universal phrase for “Hey, would you like to spend the next 5 hours with us and our family?” is thinly veiled as “Hey, you wanna beer?”  And finally, thanks to the Mobergs of Bemidji and Cass Lake who shared their wonderful cabin with us.  Amber, please refrain from using racial slurs if you do, in fact, visit us in Texas; you will get shot by the Aztlan posse of San Antonio.

Stump Lake into the Waves

This is the continuation after our ordeal at Stump Lake.

I’ve had coffee and doughnut holes now.  I feel good and the cold ground, its cold grass, is being shook (shaken sounds too formal) off of me.  I feel good.  I don’t normally drink coffee, but coffee, or anything for that matter, from a stranger is always good – fires started by strangers have been good, candy, venison – everything from new friends – have been tasting… wonderful.  When I was young I would eat doughnut holes with my grandmother during warm Indiana mornings.  My dad would have coffee; he was a man and drank man drinks.  Today I have coffee.  In roughly 36 hours, I will, without a doubt, have to deal with some man-size problems.

Phil and I paddle out of Stump Lake more or less scot-free.  The river turns into lakes turning into river again.  Lake Andrusia is merciful.  You only need to take a tiny corner of about 250 yards and you’re back on the river again with current, merciful current.  Even with the clouds forming large, dark thunderheads in the background, we’re in high spirits.  The Bemidji Pioneer had interviewed us 5 or 6 hours ago.  They seemed very interested in our story, took photos and everything.  It was a great interview; but, now we skid into a a tiny bay bordering the great Cass Lake, originally thought to be the source of the Mississippi River.  Shortly a pontoon boat blazes by.  “Where you headed?” the driver calls.

“New Orleans!”  This has become our stock answer.  It is usually the best for getting the most surprised facial expressions.  It always starts conversations.  This time it doesn’t:

“Cool, well where are you campin’?”  Peter, his name we will learn later, is instantly practical.  While most fisherman and lookers-on on the banks of the river express shock or dismay at our venture, he is immediately trying to find a solution for the gathering rain clouds.  A man shouts from the bank:  “Just heard the weather report!  2 hours and this rain is on us!”  The pontoon boat is motoring away and Peter shouts back:  “I know you’re trying to reach Star Island!”  How the hell did he know that! “Don’t do it!  You won’t make it.  Hit the second Potato Island.  Oooon the nooorth shooore… (louder now) you can camp therrrreeeee!”  “Thanks!” I shout as loud as I can turning 180 degrees.  Phillip offers his thanks as well and checks the map.  “Dude,” he says, “the second Potato Island is much closer.”  He’s right.  It will save us about 6 miles.  Thunder rolls in the distance.  We’ve probably got an hour and a half.

I turn back one more time.  Peter’s pontoon has petered out in the distance.  It’s hard paddling ahead, really hard.  Cass Lake is large – about 25 square miles.  Huge glaciers dropped a nice chunk of ice here thousands of years ago, and today it’s beautiful, by far my favorite lake of the trip.    Originally called Elk Lake, General Lewis Cass changed the name when he found it.  Why? you ask?  Well he thought it was the source of the Mississippi River.  You see, about 200 years ago, people were jonesin’ to know the actual source of the Mississippi.  Several expeditions were formed, some funded by the federal government.   Many eager, young explorers were anxious to put their stamp on the veritable source.  Cass thought he had it.  I don’t know for certain but I think the conversation when he found it went something like this:

“Cool, guys, I think I found it.  This is a big ass lake, and I don’t see the water goin’ anywhere else, so let’s name it Cass Lake and get the hell out of here.  These mosquitoes are sons of biznatches.”

A French fur trapper pipes up:  “But monsieur, zis cannot be Cass Lake, ziz is Elk Lake, we and ze Indians have named it so for 100 years.”

“Yeah Frenchy, I don’t have time for this crap (slaps a mosquito).  I gotta get back to Washington and attend a parade they’re throwin’ for me, so just shut your mouth, and make sure you tell Napoleon or whoever the hell your leader is nowadays that this is the mouth of the Mississippi, and we should be good.  Okay, let’s get the M to the F outta here.”

Turns out Cass was wrong.  Though he enjoyed some level of fame for about a decade.  In 1832 Henry Schoolcraft found the actual source of the Mississippi.  He just looked a little harder.  Returning to Cass Lake, he found Star Island where a young Indian chief by the name of Ozawindib promised to take him to the real source of the Great River.

As Phil and I paddle, I’m hoping we can still reach Star Island.  I’d love to stand in the exact spot where Schoolcraft pulled his canoe on shore to try and prove that douchebag Cass wrong.  I want to see where he and Ozawindib shook hands, where Ozzy said he would take him to what would be known as Lake Itasca personally; but, it’s not going to happen.  We’ve got to make the second Potato Island and set camp.  The wind has picked up, and it’s drizzling.  “I think we can beat the rain,” I tell Phil.  “Yeah,” he responds, “I think so.”

The Wind Blows Harder

I was on a bus in rural France 3 years ago.  An old, old man looked at me and asked me where I was from.  “Texas,” I responded.  We talked.  “Your French is very good,” he assured me.  “I was an English teacher,” he says.  “Look up on that mountain.”  About 18 miles away there is a weather tower on a long, dark hill.  He switches to English:  “The wind blows very much.”  I remember that phrase vividly.  He looked me in the eye when he said it, and I couldn’t help thinking that this man was imparting on me some sort of wisdom, some sort of French to American, Old Man to Young Man bit of wisdom before he deboarded (not died, just got off the bus!), which he did 30 seconds later…uh, got of the bus.  “Aurevoir,” he said, and that was the last I saw him.  He lives in my memory and he is living in bright color now because the wind is picking up more and more.  The wind blows very much…….blllllllooowwwwwwwww. It is the only thing I can hear besides the sloshing of my and Phillip’s paddles.

I hear something else now.  It is Peter on his loud, motoring pontoon boat.  His whole family is lounging, comfortably ahead of the rainstorm, on the deck and seem unperturbed to see two paddlers fighting for their lives in the middle of the lake.  They are off to warmness, a home, a fire, 4 walls, something; and, I envy them.  I spy a young kid whose name I will learn is Nelson, Peter’s brother, his wife, a younger girl – Amber.  Janice, Peter’s wife,calls out, “We don’t have a hot shower, but we do have a hot sink!”  I’m not getting what the hell is going on.  Rain is hitting my face.  “She wants us to follow them,” Phillip says.  Phillip can sense when I’m not grasping the obviousness of the situation.  “Follow us in,” Peter says.  “Just follow the wake of the boat.”  I smile; I still have no idea what the hell is going on.  “Phillip,” I say, “just what the hell is going on?”  “They’re inviting us over,” he growls.  The waves are over a foot and a half.  “Hot sink sounds good to me,” I shout (I have grasped the obviousness.) and start singing.  My lap is swamped with a sidelong blast of water.  “Anywhere but here sounds good to me,” Phillip sings as if part of my impromtu lyric.  We paddle harder.  Food, I think.  Hot anything, Phillip thinks.  Out of rain, the universal traveler prototype thinks.

The Mobergs

I watch the pontoon boat disappear into the shoreline.  It’s only a mile and a half away but it’s dark and gloomy; I can’t exactly see where it went to.  “What if this is a big farce?” I ask Phillip.  “What do you mean like if they’re pulling our chain?  No way!”  What if it is a farce? I ask myself again.  Closer to shore we can see Peter’s pontoon boat.  A young man walks out on a long aluminum deck.  Glasses on face, smart shirt and smart shorts, cool hairdo – it’s Nelson.  This guy’s been to college, I think.  “I’ll carry your shit up!” he yells at us and smiles.  Holy crap, it’s not a farce! “Cool,” I call back.  Peter and Janice walk out. “You found us!”  They’re a little uneasy, I think, to be honest.  It’s kind of like the hitchhiking situation:  You don’t know them, and they don’t know you, but here you are going to spend some time with each other.  With hitchhiking you’re spending a few hours in someone’s car.  They can kick you out if they really need to.  Here, we’re being invited into someone’s home… a little different.  I weigh 220; how the hell you gonna kick me out!

Nelson carries my black stuff-sack up.  He offers to carry my giant Gregory Pack up too.  I try some humor; I think I got a read on this guy.  “Give ‘er a shot,” I say.  He pulls and can’t even pull it up.  “Gotcha,” I say, “it’s heavy as hell.”  He laughs.  Bingo.  I did have a read on this guy – cool, college guy.  Peter tells us where we can stash the boats.  The wind is picking up even harder now.  Holy crap, I think to myself, what if we were in that mess! It’s colder now.  Janice starts in, “Get inside!”  She’s turned motherly.  “You guys are just getting cold out here.  Go up, go up to the fire!”

We walk 30 feet up and a fire is casting light on a large cabin’s brand new facade – new wood from a new hardware store –  stuck on to three walls of an older Lincoln log style.  Peter eyes me.  “We just replaced that wall,” he says.  He smiles; I smile back.  From the time they passed us on the pontoon boat, the whole family has had about 3 beers each.  As they say in Mexico, they’re feeling “happy-zon.”  I look around.  There is a thermometer with the Celcius side covered.  Peter eyes me again.  “Yeah, Papa Moberg covered that side up.  He was tired of trying to figure out which side was Farenheit.  So one year I switched the tape.  He came in madder than hell yellin, ‘Somebody get the hell out there and fix that damn broken thermometer!'”  I laughed sincerely.  It was time for supper.

“I got deer brats,” Peter says.  “They’re made from deer who’ve fed only on wild Minnesota rice.”  I can’t resist a cause Phillip some trouble.  “Well, Phillip’s a vegetarian,” I say loudly.  “Reeeeeaaaallyyyyy,” the whole family responds in unison.  They’re undeterred.  Janice gives the strongest argument.  “Phillip, no, listen.  Deer is the leanest meat you can eat.  We don’t feed them corn; we feed them only natural wild rice.”  Phillip is uncomfortable.  I’m laughing my ass off.  I know he’ll eat it.  In The Hitchhiking Movie he ate mutton because it was new and different and being offered by a host.  I knew he was going to eat it anyway but I thought I’d cause him some trouble.  “No, no,” Phillip says, “I’m going to eat it.”  They demur.  “Well, I mean, don’t eat it if you don’t want.”  I know he’s starving; this is f—ing hilarious.  “No I’m going to eat it!”

“No dude,” I continue, “I got this; I’ll eat your portion.”

“No!”

I give in.  “I’m kidding guys.  He is vegetarian but he eats meat from time to time.  I know he’s hungry.”

Phillip takes a bite.  “Best damn thing I’ve ever eaten,” he proclaims.  And he’s right.  Deer bratwurst has got to be the most amazing thing I’ve had in my life.  I wolfed down 3.  Awesome.

Night

The Mobergs are drunker and things are getting more fun.  Amber is Peter’s neice.  “Dude, are you guys like paddling?” she asks.  “That’s retarded,” she asserts.  “I could like so paddle better than you, in fact, I am better than you, I don’t even know who you guys are and I know I’m better than you.  I paddled, yeah, I paddled all the way here too.  In fact I invented paddling.  I’m like the paddling goddess.  I command you to kiss my feet otherwise I will like throw a wave at you or some shit.  Are you guys like drinking our beer?  What’s that shit?  You need to like pay, you need to like pay me.  I don’t really mean that, but you should.  You guys are a couple of douches, but I like you… as far as douches go.”

Nelson does his best to explain Amber.  “She’s a fuckin’ bitch!”  I nearly lose my lunch.  “You are!” he asserts to Amber, “you always pull this shit.  These guys are paddling the entire Mississippi.”

“Yeah, and it’s gay, or retarded… take your pick.”

“No, you’re fucking gay, shut up, jeez.”

Nelson turns to me.  “Dude, okay so we’re out one night and Amber is taking handfuls of popcorn and throwing them over her shoulder.  And there’s this douchy fraternity guy at the table behind us, and he gets up and is like, ‘What the hell!’  And Amber goes, ‘Whoa, what’s up with that guy?  What a jerkoff.  So rude.'”

Ahhhhh Amber.  I told her that she should try her hand at standup comedy, but also to be careful when she does.  Naturally funny people oftentimes have egos that bruise easily; and, you can be the funniest person in the world and have your jokes tank in front of a live audience.  Amber, let me know if you went on stage.  I’d love to know how it went.

Janice invites me inside the cabin now.  Peter is outside instructing Phillip on every last corner of the lake.  Peter’s brother-in-law is chatting with his wife about Amber.  Amber’s mother now:  “Uhhhh, honey, cut it in half, you’re kinda crossing the line.”  This just incites her more:  “Dude like I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, mom.  These guys dig my shit and shit.”  I roll on the floor laughing and into the fire.

Inside, Janice is a little tipsy.  “I know you,” she says to me.  “I know you have voices.”  Whoa!  I think.  This is eerily reminiscent of Fred in The Hitchhiking Movie who told me he could tell I was thinking all the time.  “How do you know that?” I ask.  “Takes one to know one,” she says.  “I’ve had voices since I was little.  Do you know the one time I didn’t have any voices whatsoever?”

“No.”

“When I was paddling the Mississippi.”

Cool.  Very cool.

At any rate, the constant thinking, or voices as Janice prefers to call them, subsides rapidly inside this kind of candyland of goodness, the Moberg cabin on Cass Lake.  These people are so nice; they are goodness itself.  On the 7th day God looked at what He created and saw that it was good; he must have looked upon the Mobergs that day as well.  Janice applies vinegar to my sunburn.  “You’ll smell like a pickle, but the pain will go away.”  Peter is instructing me on how to make headcheese out of a moose’s nose.  Phillip is yammering away with Nelson about music.  Nelson stands up and tells us about the time he saw Ted Nugent almost die.  “Dude!  We were in the middle of a storm at Moondance Festival in Bemidji, and lightning is going off all over the place, and Nugent gets up on the very tip of the stage with his guitar wailing away and wagging his tongue singing the America, Fuck Yeah! song and we were all like, ‘Holy crap, this is the last anyone will see Ted Nugent alive!”

All in all, I feel very very good to be here.

We sleep in real beds.  In the morning I shave with a real sink.  I help them build a new deck for their new front wall.  Amber cracks more jokes.  Nelson offers me more beer and says he wants to paddle the River as well.  I feel very very good.

Time to Go

The waves are blowing in our direction now.  I turn to Phillip.  “We gotta go,” he says.  “Yeah,” I say.  “It’s too nice here.”  I hate to say it, but it’s true:  you can’t get too comfortabe and complete this trip at the same time.  We say our goodbyes.  Nelson is cordial.  Amber says, “Oooooo, we finally scared these guys off.”  Peter is sympathetic and Janice is, as always, motherly.  We shove off.  This was our first true, blue interaction with a family on the trip.  And we are glad, because the movie will be, always and after all, about people.

How Not to Find a Campsite when You’re Cold, Wet, Hungry and Want to Kill Someone

It’s cold, it’s wet, we can’t find the campsite.

“I think it’s back here in this corner,” Phillip says.

He’s wrong.  It’s not back in that corner.  It’s not in any corner.  We’ve been paddling through the night.  Lake Bemidji was hard.  A young and amiable man offered us to ride his Sea Doos.  I declined but asked him to please tell me where Lake Bemidji emptied into the Mississippi.

“Just right between those two tree lines,” he assured me.  He was wrong. “The exact spot!” I assured Phil.  “This is the exact spot he said.”  Phil was annoyed.  We were nowhere near where we were supposed to be.  3-foot reeds stuck out of the lake.  They were blocking our path and making paddling unbearable.  I was mad, really mad, and cussing uncontrolably.  “G-damn, mother f—ing, sonofa fag-humping…  I asked this guy three times where this place was, and he told me right there between the two tree lines!”  Between the two tree lines was only the backyard of a Podunk McMansion.

Phil pulled out the GPS and told me our exit must be further north.  He tried to calm me down:  “Look Ryan, some people actually don’t know their own hometown very well.  He actually knows where the Mississippi River continues on, but he’s probably not had to explain it to two paddlers before…”

“Sonofa ass-licking…”

“And besides he let me ride his Sea Doo!”

I glared.

We paddled through the reeds.  The sun was nearly gone; that meant it was 10 o’clock.  Darkness, reeds, thick lily pads for thick frogs we couldn’t see but could hear.  And finally, after intense effort, we find where the Mississippi continues on and leaves Bemidji.  Another lake.

“Another lake?” I implored God.  “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

I’m madder now.  I’m paddling through more muck.  It’s even darker now.  People in their lakefront mansions are getting ready for bed, making midnight snacks, watching Direct TV… I hate them.

“It’s just around this bend,” Phil says.  He’s trying to appease me.  He knows I’m mad and is too tired to deal with mad Ryan.

A few miles farther.  A few thousand paddle strokes more.  The wind picks up.  It is cold.  More mansions.  More soft yellow light escaping from their back windows.  They don’t even know I’m here, I think, I’m a murderer in the night and you don’t even know it, I think.  What the hell, I’ve got to stop this.  Yes, but why?  No one knows I’m here.  I’m cold, I’m wet.  I’m a Navy SEAL planning my mission, paddling clandestinely in the night.  No one knows I’m here.  Fish now plopping about.  They’re beautiful even though I can’t see them; they sound beautiful.

Stump Lake

“This is where the campsite should be!” Phillip screams as loud as one can at one in the morning, over a substance that carries sound as well as Cher carries plastic on her face.  Stump Lake is a tiny lake, but it’s big enough to let a good size breeze roll over the tops of our wet shirts.  I’m chilled to the bone.  Phil looks mad.  He can’t see the shore well and is sure that the campsite is somewhere in the area.  “Take out my headlamp,” I tell him.  He laughs.  “Why, because you want me to look like a douchebag?”  He had made fun of me for it before.  My mom had insisted on me getting it.  It is a goofy looking headlamp with a long extending rod that comes straight out of your forehead.  Craig Ferguson had given a monologue a month earlier where he claimed that “while cell phones do not cause cancer, what they do cause is Douchebag Earlobe.”

So the running joke was that my headlamp caused Douchebag Forehead.  “Put it on, goddammit, and find the shore.”  I was mad, I wanted to sleep; it was 1:15.  He put it on and lo and behold my douchebag headlamp was great for spotting things in the night at long distances.  Thanks, Mom.  But still, no campsite.  Burning, burning anger.

“I swear to f—ing God it should be right here!”  Phil pointed to the map and turned it back to me so I could see.  He could see I was irritated.  His eyes said, Look man, I don’t know what else you want me to do, this map says it should be right here in this corner of Stump Lake.  I looked at the map; he was right.  It should be right where we were, floating in the night, bobbing like corks, being eaten by mosquitoes, angry, angry as hell.  “I know it should,” I told him.  I knew it was not his navigating that got us in this predicament and I wanted him to know it.  “Let’s keep paddling; maybe it’s further down.”

We paddled back and forth, spotting, searching.  “That could be it… that could be it.”  Nothing.

“Maybe the map is wrong.”

“No way, DNR would never do that.”

“Maybe we went past it.”

“It’s cold.”

“I’m hungry.”

“It’s 2 in the fucking morning!”

We Settle

I told him I had given up.  “I can’t do it anymore man.”  I’m shivering now, and Phil can see it.  “Are you alright?” he asks. “Yes,” I say. No, I mean.  “Let’s just camp there,” I say.  It’s a small patch.  Our tents will barely fit on it.  Our boats will have to stay tied up out on the water.  Phillip looks resigned.  He was sure, so sure we’d find the campsite.  Nothing.  He turns in his letter of resignation.  “Okay,” he says, his heart broken.

“Phil,” I say.  He looks up.  “It’s not your fault.”

The ground is cold.  I don’t put down my inflatable camp bed, and that is a big mistake.  The temperature drops 10 degrees, and the ground gets colder and colder.  Waves are plopping our boats against the bank.  I’m mad, I’m cold, I sleep, I awake.  It’s…

Tomorrow

We’re up.  “I wanna get the fuck out of here,” I tell Phillip.  He’s still asleep, stiff from the night before – 12 hours of paddling.  “I can’t move,” he says.  I don’t respond.  Cold has filled my lungs, cold has filled my skin and my hair.  I breathe in and cold is still in my throat.  I slept maybe three hours.  “Please Phil, do your best, I gotta get out of here.”

Like zombies we load the boats.  It takes us an hour to pack our gear though it was very little.  We paddle like zombies.  We look back at our makeshift campsite like zombies.  We feel… like the paddling dead.

The bend turns.  We’ve made a left turn and not 150 yards from our 10 x 10 patch of wet grass… the campsite.  It was marked wrong on the map.

“I love that campsite,” a young girl of 27 or so tells us 30 minutes later.  We have stopped to use someone’s phone.  A smart and funny man named Bill who just moved to the area from Michigan is serving coffee chipper.  His daughter looks on as I make my call.  “In fact,” she continues, “that’s my favorite campsite.”  I want to glare at her, but she’s too nice.  “The map was wrong,” Phil says to her dryly.  She smiles.  We have coffee and doughnuts and everything is all right.  It wasn’t our fault after all; the map is not always the territory.

For those of you out of the loop, 11 Visions is paddling down the entire length of the Mississippi River for it’s next film titled The River is Life.  We want you to come along so check back in at 11visions.com to share in the adventure.  Stay tuned for our next post with 4 1/2 foot waves on the 3rd biggest lake in Minnesota (I hope my knots hold up), a random family offers us their home and then offers deer bratwurst while instructing on how to make head cheese out of a moose nose; and, the mother load, I mean the very Eden of mosquitoes is finally found.  I come bearing gifts and proclaiming I am the Mosquito Messiah.  Check back soon for more craziness.

Ryan Jeanes

Grand Rapids, Minnesota

On to Brainerd!