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