Sexual Wonderland or Just a Couple of Good Peeps?

“Oh, this guy is in for the night of his life!” he affirms.  He is captain of the boat.  His two hot harem girls remain near the stern of his power yacht.  Another man roams around in the back as well.  This man, not the captain, looks ineffectual.  He is bald with a handlebar mustache.  Douche, I think.  I hate handlebar mustaches. (The guy I met at the Adventist Church in La Crosse was the first cool guy with a handlebar mustache I’ve ever met.  So kudos to you, kind sir.  You are a first.  :))  While Handlebar mumbles around, swirling a Miller Light in the 28 foot yacht, the two women snipe glances at me. My Sea Eagle is being towed… again.  “You want to ride up here?” they ask.  Hell no! I think.  “No thanks,” I say.  After my boat capsizing debacle, remaining squarely in my boat where I can steer and notice every little thing that happens to my baby, er, boat is the only option allowed… hotties gawking at me or no.  “You sure?” Todd asks.  Todd, the captain, is cool.  The yacht is immense, powerful. The dude has money, I think.  The women continue gawking and Todd starts dancing.  He’s moving his butt like a 40-year-old, though later I find out he’s 49.  White dudes dancing is funny; middle-aged white dudes… funnier.  “Shake it!” I scream.  I’m feeling good.  I had my sail up after having just left Slippery’s.  “What the hell are you doing!” Todd said.

“Paddling down the Mississippi River.”

“Paddling down the Miffer River, my ass!” He swirls a Bud Light around.

“No, really, going all the way to the Gulf.”

“Fuuuuucccckkk youuuuuuuuuu,” he says and starts laughing.  The women start laughing.  Handlebar looks like he’s at a zombie convention.  “Ahhhh man,” Todd continues, “throw that piece of river trash a rope.”  He starts laughing harder and shaking his ass more fervently.  Women – gawkers.  Sound travels very well on water, probably about 10 times as well as on land.  Sound does not travel will mixed with yacht motor; but, as I tied my boat up, refused to get into theirs for fear of another dumping, and watched Todd throw a beer over his shoulder that hit me right in the bread basket (Nice pass!  Freaking Stockton to Malone!), the water/motor equation was balanced such that I could, pretty much, make out what Stacey (Todd’s wife) and her friend were talking about:  “You think he’s hot?”  “Do you?” “I dunno.”  “Yeah.”

“Let’s fire this baby up!” Todd bellows as he revs the motor.  “This too fast?” he checks.  That was real sincerity.  He’s being extremely sarcastic telling me to go F myself, calling me river trash, and being an all around dillhole (ha, ha, get a blog, Todd, if you want to respond :)) but he’s also being very mindful of me and checks back every few minutes to see that I’m still there.  “How ya doin’, Ryan?”

“Good!”  I give him the thumbs up.

“Like I give a shit!”  He starts moving his rump to Bob Seger.  “Little too tall, coulda used a few pounds…”

Girls continue gawking.  Handlebar looks like he might die with his eyes open.  Maybe he’s an observer, I think, not a talker.

I can hear Todd over the motor:  “This guy has no idea what he’s in for.”

What?  What does that mean? The flirty vibe of the women coupled with the sarcastic, anything-goes nature of Todd’s ramblings set my mind into motion:  Okay, so what does ‘night of my life’ actually mean?

Todd chats with the ladies a bit; they start giggling.

Night of my life to me means like 1,800 supermodels all yearning for you-know-who.  Like, imagine a starving animal who would bite its own limb off out of a trap for food.  Okay that’s how starved these women would be for me. Like, “Ryyyyan, weeeee neeeeeed youuu noooowwwwww!” Commence bodily attack.  “I’m ready for you whores; bring it on!” Then they rip me to shreds, I die and make the cover of Newsweek – MAN DEVOURED BY HUNGRY HOT WHORES.  Okay, yeah, so my fantasies are a little far-fetched.  Anyway, the yacht party kept going on and on like this.  Todd would make some comment like “He’s in for the night of his life.”  The women would giggle.  I’d fantasize about some palace where I was worshiped as a god.  I would like be put on a pedestal and then disrobed and then all these hotties wearing bikinis made out of snake skin would inform me that I was their personal slave…  Or are they my slaves?….. Uhhhh, anyway so someone’s a slave, and the whole damn palace is made of chocolate.  There’s like wine flowing from the ceiling.  Michael Jackson’s Gotta Be Startin’ Somethin’ (“you’re a vegetablllllleeee….”) would be playing 24/7.  There’d be springer spaniels everywhere I could play frizbee with, meat, grapes, lamb, beer, wine, A FREAKING SLIP N’ SLIDE!!!  Okay, that’s the night of my life!  I can’t wait, baby!  Bring it on – night of my life, yeah yeeeaahhhhhh!  “Hey Ryan,” Stacey says to me when we arrive at the dock.  “would you like me to do some laundry?”  What?

So they turned out to be really nice people, and there was no sex paradise.  Damn.  I think Todd was just a little drunk (they all were) and got a kick out of implying that I would be gang raped or something once I got on shore.  It turned out that they were just partying and horsing around.  Handlebar was going out with the other chick, I found out.  Part of me was wishing for the sexual wonderland; the other part, the practical part, was happy they had a dryer for all my clothes.  Todd let me use his garage to air out my wet books and other gear.  Once on land, it seemed, the anonymity of sexual innuendo was gone.  It’s much harder to be a miscreant when you’re known.  The lights from their riverside home in Wabasha shone on our faces.  Everyone was somebody now.  No chance to be anonymous.  Stacey’s friend turned off the flirtatiousness altogether.  When I was in the bathroom, I could hear them through the door in the kitchen.  “Don’t you think he’s hot?” Stacey asked her friend.  “No!” she affirmed.  With boyfriend there, we were squarely back into real society, not on the river where “what happens on the river, stays on the river!” I shoulda had one of the girls get in my boat!


It was nice to hang with these guys.  Handlebar and girlfriend went to bed.  Handlebar literally said two words the whole time I was there.  Todd, Stacey and I stayed up while I pretended to drink (I didn’t really feel like beer) and listened to their stories.

Todd:  “This river…”  He slicks his hair back.  “This river, I mean, I lived in Wabasha my whole life.  I live in Rochester now.  When I was a kid we did the stupidest stuff.  My claim to fame was that I could barefoot waterski and cross both wakes.  That was…”

“You could not!” Stacey giggles.

“The hell…  Yeah I could.  We would so some crazy trick in front of Slippery’s and then we’d walk in like playaz!  I was a playa!”

Stacey starts lauging.  She is in love with him.  I don’t know what all the flirting and Todd’s prepare-for-the-night-of-your-life-ing was all about, but these were genuine people.  “I met Stacey in Rochester,” Todd continues.  “I was a dope!  I mean I was recently divorced.  I was fine with being a single dad the rest of my life and then…”  They look at eachother.  Todd is about 13 years Stacey’s senior. “Duhhh, gee, Stacey, you wanna go out sometime?” Todd mocks himself explaining his 9th-grader-esque awkwardness around the woman he was to marry.

“And I had no idea!” Stacey affirms to me.  “Everyone at work did!”  Stacey was giving eye exams at an optometrist.  Todd left his glasses “accidentally” four times before he got the nerve to ask her out.  Todd retains a little bit of that playa edge to keep Stacey on her toes. “I freaking went to my 30-year high school reunion last night.  I was bombed out of my mind.  And I wore these contacts to impress my old girlfriends,” he snickers as he takes off his glasses to rub his eyes.  “I think they were impressed.”  He winks at Stacey.

“And he comes in!” Stacey exclaims.  “And he gets in bed with the contacts on!  Do you know how bad that is for your eyes?”

“You don’t…” Todd is still a little drunk.  “You don’t need to take ’em out…”

“Oh my god, yesss! you do!”

“Look…” They start hugging and kissing and horsing around.  I’m glad I didn’t mess with the wife… I think.  I don’t know if that was ever an option, if they were ever really serious, but I’m glad this is my experience and not the other one.  I look at Stacey again.  Ummmmm, I think I’m glad this is my experience.

Stacey continues to dry my clothes in mother mode.  She helps Todd raise his kids from his first marriage.  “You need anything else?” she asks.  It’s funny how roles can be donned on and off like hats:  sexual hat, flirting hat, mother hat, friend hat, enemy hat.  We all have labels for everything and for everybody, even ourselves.  Right now I was wearing the “weary traveler” hat and Stacey was wearing the “motherly I-will-help-you-out” hat.  Todd was cycling between “sarcastic son-of-a-bitch” hat and “helpful, older guy, I-really-appreciate-what-you’re-doing-and-I’d-like-to-help-you-out” hat.  I was grateful for the latter hats and happy to put on my “I-hope-I-get-to-sleep-in-a-bed” hat.

The next day Handlebar and girlfriend left.  Todd let me use his internet and asked me a barage of questions as I typed the Capsizing post – the usual ones:  “How long you think this’ll take?  Why did you do this?  Does 11 Visions make any money?  What does 11 Visions mean?”

I was happy to answer.  Stacey gave me a plate of macaroni.  The kinky, crazy people on the yacht were all but gone now.  We had settled into our roles as mother, father and adopted son.  Much better this way, I thought.  I looked at Stacey again.  Damn!

“We’ve really cleaned up this river,” Todd says to me with a swell of pride.  He’s in love with it, the river; you can see it.  “I’ve seen bald eagles come back in my lifetime due to the efforts of people in this area.  I once counted 37 bald eagles outside my window in a single day.  When I was a kid, you’d be lucky if you saw one all year.  I wanna live here till I die,” he says.  He nods his head up and down as if he were crying, but he’s not.  Todd bought the property from his folks.  “My parents didn’t even tell me they were selling it!” he affirms.  “I found out when friends of theirs asked me how high the ceilings were!  I was like, ‘Why do you want to know that?’  And they said, ‘Because we’re thinking of adding on.’  I couldn’t believe it!  My own parents didn’t even tell me.  I grew up here!  It broke my heart.”  Todd’s parents had felt embarrassed needing to sell their home even if, perhaps especially if, that meant selling it to one of their children.

“Yeah.” Stacey is rubbing Todd’s shoulder empathetically.  “It was hard.  To this day, I don’t get it.  The good news is we got it.”

Todd looks out on the river.  Crazy man is completely gone now.  Sincere, deep-feeling man is staring at an island they call Sioux Encampment.  “That island used to be a place where all the Sioux would come to have a sort of family reunion.”  He looks proud again, crying without crying.  “I can’t leave here,” he says.  “I mortgaged my home and I’d do it again to keep this place.”

I Stay Another Night

I can’t help it.  Internet, refrigerator, and home-cooked food are all too enticing.  “Yeaaahhhh I guesss you can stay another night,” Todd says bringing sarcastic man back.  “Let’s pick up a pizza!” Stacey says.  “You have to drive though!”  Sweet, I think.  I get to drive for the first time in a month. Stacey’s SUV has this camera in place of rear-view mirrors.  The monitor shows you what’s directly behind but I keep treating it like a mirror and reversing the angles while trying to back out of the driveway.  “You’re going the wrong way!” she screams.  “Oh ,” I say, “there’s nothing but weirdos in Minnesota anyway; if I kill one what’s the difference?”  She starts laughing.  On the way back a guy looks like he’s going to tear out of his driveway and hit us.  I blare the horn at him.  “I know that guy,” she says.  “Oh crap,” I say.  “I shoulda flipped him the bird.”  She laughs.  “Yeah m—er f—er, the name’s Todd Hein!” I mimic Todd’s voice.  “You gotta problem, just come and say it to my face!”  I blare the horn again and Stacey laughs harder.  Damn!

Thank you once again to Todd and Stacey, truly good people.  At my mom’s behest, I wrote a poem for them.  The conversation with my mom went something like this:

Mom:  “You need to write people poems on the river!”

Me:  “Como se what?”

Mom:  “You know, then you’ll be known as the river man who left poems as thank-you notes.”

Me:  “Mom, are you on crack?”

Mom:  “Just do it!”

Me:  “(sigh) All right.”

The poem I left Todd and Stacey Hein went something like this:

Thanks to the Heins
For a wonderful time
You’re simply the best
In spite of the jokes about sex

Don’t ever change
Though you may be strange
This experience I would not exchange
But try not to be so deranged

I thank you again
I feel I have a new friend
If this movie is a success
It will be because people like you… by whom we have been blessed

Thank you sincerely,

Ryan Jeanes

I got lots of “awwwwww”s from Stacey and hugs.  Todd gave me a man hug and then said he was going to hook me up with the owner of We-no-nah Canoe, which he did!  I’ll tell you about that story later.  I left the next morning.  Stacey looked like a nurse in her eye clinic uniform.  Dddddaaaammmmmnnn!!!!!!!

“Thanks guys!”

“Any time, bud,” Todd says and is sincere.  He is wearing his sincere hat, and I think… this is the one he feels most comfortable in.


Okay, so look, y’all, I’m in Iowa!  Yes, yes, I KNOW!  I made it out of Minnesota.  I felt so bummed thinking I wasn’t making any progress, and boom! new state!  So I’m jazzed again.  My current postion is Lansing, IA.  I’ve eaten, I’ve shopped.  And I know I’m about a week behind on these stories but I’ll catch you up.  Once again my number is (512) 828-2471 if you wanna drop me a line or send a text of encouragement.  On to Davenport!

“Free Lunch” Movie Will Document Hitchhiking Adventure

I’m going to take a quick break from the Mississippi River news to tell you about a new hitchhiking adventure beginning later this week which is similar to our own hitchhiking trip from back in 2007.

David, Docta, and Erik
David, Docta, and Erik

While Ryan and I have been pleased with the success of our own hitchhiking movie, there is always room for another one. That’s why I was so excited to hear about Erik Price’s new film tentatively titled “Free Lunch.” Erik and his team of two other friends will start together from Cameron Park in central California and plan to cover a route that will take them to the four corners of the continental United States AND hit every single state. It’s an ambitious goal to be sure and one that may end up taking longer than their estimated 4 week timeline.

The great thing about hitchhiking movies is that every one of them is guaranteed to be unique. The experience is so unpredictable that nearly anyone can go out with a camera and come back with very different stories. Erik’s also managed to one-up us by bringing an high-definition camera and covering a much-longer route. Both of our stories focus on a similar theme of the kindness found on the American highways, and follow the rule of not bringing any of our own money. By including three people in his group he’s not only tripling the fun, but also breaking new ground as most hitchhikers travel solo or as a team of two. It will be interesting to see how this affects their ability to get rides.

The Proposed Month-long Route
The Proposed Month-long Route

I spoke with Erik briefly about his plans and he seems to be well prepared for the journey. His team has just completed a 1000 mile trial run from central to southern California and back which helped them all get into the grove of what they will be experiencing during the long weeks ahead. A solid HD camera, a dozen extra batteries, and a dedicated cameraman means they are unlikely to miss any of the action.

Erik plans to record video continually for up to 10 hours per day, but I have a suspicion they will reduce this amount as the journey progresses. After all, hitchhiking inherently has lots of downtime and the resulting 300 hours of raw footage would certainly slow down the post-production process. Following the grueling trip, there is the even bigger task of editing down those hours of video into a entertaining movie. We wish Erik and his team the best of luck on their epic American adventure. The hitchhiking community certainly needs more media featuring the activity positively.

Follow Erik’s adventure:
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Rhymes with Witch – Part II

This is the continuation of Rhymes with Witch -Part I.

I apologize for cutting off Part I so abruptly. I had little choice. Allegra was like, “K, we gotta go.” And I was like, “K, but I need to write 2 more paragraphs,” and she was like, “K, but I’m you’re only way to get to the river,” so I was like, “K, you’re right.” Anywho, here’s the continuation of Lake Winnibigoshish:

Winnie is a bitch. Let’s get that straight and not use euphemisms. Phillip said so; I thought so; and God even looked down from the sky and said, “Daaaaaaang, dog, that lake is on fire today! I should get on that! Oh wait, house call in the Middle East, gotta run!”

After camping in the Eden of Mosquitoes (Read this; it’s hilarious. See, I’m not the only one who cusses in his posts. This guy’s big-city legit and dropped an F-bomb in the damn title! So back off you foul language player haters!) we headed out per our follow-the-west-coast-to-the-north-shore plan. It was a solid plan. Phillip could not have come up with a better one; but in the words of Dwight Eisenhower, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” When we neared the northwest corner of Lake Winnie, our plans became useless.

“The mouth of this inlet is only a mile across,” Phillip said. “Let’s angle a bit and try to get a little farther northeast. The waves shouldn’t push us out too far, and we can still make that north shore.” Riiiiiiiight. “Shouldn’t” but did. As soon as we were halfway across the mouth, the wind was unbelievable – 35 miles per hour. For those of you who don’t know, that qualifies as gale force wind. So like, um, blowing really hard and stuff. And where there’s wind, there’s waves.  Things were looking good… for the first 10 yards, and then we were being blown (tee hee) noticeably east.  “Hey dude,” I said.  “We’re kinda being blown out here.”  “Yes,” Phillip responded, “but what’s the big deal?  We’ve dealt with that before.  Keep paddling.”  I kept paddling.  “Hey dude,” I said 2 hours later, “we’re not exactly making that north shore.”

“I don’t know what you want me to do.  Just stick to the plan!  Do you want to paddle across the entire lake?  I sure don’t!” Phil exclaimed.

“Well, I mean, it’s an option.”

“No.  It’s not.”

Phillip was still shaken about our experience on Cass Lake two nights before.  I remember him that night at the campsite standing in wet shorts and a sweatshirt I gave him.  He really thought we were going over that dam.  I remembered how grateful he was when we didn’t, when we found the shore and set up camp.  He was feeling so good that night, happily building fire and making food… not in danger.  Twenty minutes before that moment we had been cursing each other out – “It’s your fault!”  “No, it’s your fault!” – and now he was munching on Ramen noodles and talking chipper as if nothing happened.  I thought about bringing up our blowup on the big lake, but I thought, This is good enough; he’s in a good mood; if I try to apologize while inciting him to apologize, it’ll just ruin the moment.  Let’s just eat and talk of positive things. This is how guys make up.

Once again, a Lake Winnie picture.  Our      's dimensions are 13 by 17 miles.  She's single, likes long walks on the beach, and has plow experience.
Once again, Lake Winnie. Her dimensions are 13 by 17 miles. She's single, likes long walks on the beach, and has plow experience.

That experience, the memory of that experience, was Phillip’s fuel for not wanting to cross Lake Winnie.  I looked at the situation and thought we could take advantage of the wind to blow us across to the eastern shore.  That would, of course, mean no lunch breaks, no pee breaks; we would be in the boat the whole time until we reached the other side, and it was 13 miles across.  I would say, by the end of the day, we paddled close to 17 due to the curved angle you need to maintain not to be blown too far south.  I know a lot of people have knocked our inflatables, but they saved us that day.  The waves were big –  5 1/2 feet at times – and I am not an experienced kayaker.  Phillip isn’t either.  In spite of my recent boat dumping 😉 (not Sea Eagle’s fault, my fault), the Sea Eagle boats proved to be incredibly durable and stable.  “If we were in a canoe,” I told Phillip, “I’d be fearing for my life.”  “I am fearing for my life,” Phillip told me, “but, yeah, in a canoe I’d be terrified right now.”

I knew we could make it across the lake.  I just knew it.  Phillip was intent on maintaining our heading toward the north shore.  He had visions of us chilling there and resting, hot food perhaps?  After two hours, I knew it was not to be.  “Dude,” I said, “we’re not making that north shore.”  Phillip was silent.  He kept paddling.  He kept paddling harder.  I waited five minutes.  I knew he did not want to hear this.  I knew he really had no plans to be out in the middle of Lake Winnie, where two kayakers died in years past under similar conditions.  “Anything can happen!” he chided me when I had brought up the possibility of crossing the lake an hour earlier.  I know when Phillip is serious about his decisions, and he, I believe, knows when I’m serious about mine.  I let it go at that time.  At that time my wrist wasn’t hurting.  At that time I had plenty of energy.  At that time I wasn’t hungry or cold.  At that time I truly believed too that we could make that north shore.  That was that time.  This time, I was hungry, and felt that I was beating a brick wall with my fists.  That is what it feels like when you’re paddling into a headwind, into a headwind in inflatables no less:  pound, pound, smack, smack.  Your hands get bloody, you feel like you’re perhaps making progress, but the wall looks the same.  This wall, this lake, looked exactly like it did 2 hours ago.  I was mad.  “We’re not going to make it, dude,” I said.  He tried the silent treatment again.  “Listen to me, man!  We’re not doing this!  It’s useless.  That shore has not changed in two hours!  We are not closer!  I have been checking every 15 minutes our position relative to the northwest inlet and we have gone NO-WHERE.”  Phillip tried a pause, then spoke, “Well, so?”

This inflamed me.  “Sooooo, what?  What do you want to do!  Beat our heads against the wall?  I don’t.  I know you don’t want to be in the middle of the lake…”

“Anything can happen out there!”

He was scared again.  I don’t blame him.  I was scared too.  But analyzing this situation, I didn’t think it made any sense anymore to paddle straight into a north headwind.  Sometimes that tack works, like when the winds are below 20, but not today.  I was in pain and not getting anywhere either with Phillip or the lake.  He was paddling harder than ever, determined.  I put my oar down.  “I’m not doin’ it!”  Silence.  “I’m not doin’ it!” I added again.  “Well…” he started (he could sense I was serious).

“Phillip, this is pointless.  We have been paddling hard 2 hours, we knew that shore was only a mile and a half away, and we are barely closer.  Yes, we can make it, but at what cost?  It’s like saying I can hammer this nail in with a piece of Jello.  Yeah, you caaaaannn; do you want to?”

“All right,” he acquiesced.  “What do you want to do?”

“Okay, on the GPS it shows a big opening to another sub-lake.  Look at those trees over there.”  There were tall pines in the distance.  Almost imperceptibly there was a break.  Water!  Water was between those trees.  But was it just a small break or was it the bay we were looking for, the one that would lead us to the dam, our final destination?  We had been fooled two nights earlier by the GPS.  Would we risk being fooled again?  Was this our bay?  Phillip tentatively agreed with me.  “I agree,” he said, “that’s probably our bay.”

“So let’s go for it.  Let’s let this angle this north wind and grab a vector or two in our favor.”

“But if we miss…”

“We won’t miss it.  I can steer the boat slightly into the wind.  I just can’t steer it 45 degrees like we’re doing.”  For all you physicists out there – I was going to ask my dad this question but haven’t gotten around to it – what is the difference in work between paddling into a headwind at a 45 degree angle than a ten degree one?  “C’mon,” I said, “et’s let the wind do some of this work.”

“Okay,” he said eyeballing the shore.  He still wanted to make it.

I played a game to keep myself from going insane in the middle of the lake.  Since the north shoreline was still far off, it was nearly impossible to track how far we had gone.  Try it sometime:  paddle or even walk or jog next to a close tree line.  You can see the trees going by clearly, right?  You feel like you’re making some progress.  Now distance yourself from those trees by 100 or, if you’re dramatic like me, 500 yards.  Now try to track your progress by those same trees.  Impossible!  It looks like you’ve barely moved.  You might still be going 4 miles an hour in each instance, but the perceived progress is wildly different.  So I took a wild approach given our circumstances.  I tried to spot a land marker exactly perpendicular to where I was.  That tree looks like a C-clamp, I said to myself.  I kept repeating to myself over and over, “C-clamp, C-clamp, C-clamp.”  Sometimes I would say it out loud.

“What did you say?” Phillip said.

“Nothing.  C-clamp, C-clamp, C-clamp.”

I refused to check back until 15 minutes or so later.  I looked exactly 90 degrees from my boat.  The C-clamp was farther back.  I had made progress.  I didn’t know how much, but it was progress.  I had, for the moment, successfully averted insanity.  I kept repeating, C-clamp, C-clamp.  I looked back 15 minutes later.  Still there, though farther back.  C-clamp, C-clamp! Look back.  It’s still there.  C-clamp. Look.  Gone!  I was elated.  I couldn’t find the tree.  Guess what now?  New marker.  There’s an American flag.  American flag, American flag, American flag.

“What the hell are you saying back there?”

“Nothing.  American flag, American flag, American flag.”  Phillip shook his head, “Weirdo.”

Oh     , here comes another wave!
Oh , here comes another wave!

The gap between the pines was opening up.  We could see that we were right.  There was indeed a large bay between the two tree lines.  Yesssssss! I thought.  My navigating skills have improved.  It feels good to learn something new.  Though in pain, I was elated.  I knew the dam was on the other side of that bay, but it was still 3 miles across!  We pushed for the end of the lake.  It was primal.  The wind was blowing, the waves were five feet, the boat went up and down, up and down.  From time to time our tow boat would ram me in the back.  No time to scream; we’ve gotta make that shore.  The wind and waves perk up your instincts as I mentioned in a previous post.  It is indeed a primordial defense mechanism to want to be on the shore, to not want to be in the middle of the lake (The image of the two kayakers dying perused my mind:  They had been through Lake Bemidji.  A kayak outfitter stopped them.  “You guys got a hole in your boat.  You need to fix that.”

“How much you want?”

“It’ll cost you a hundred bucks.  I don’t want the money, but you need to get that fixed and…”

“No way!” they laughed.

Four days later, the would-be Mississippi kayakers were attempting a Lake Winne cross – the most dangerous part of any Mississippi adventure in my mind.  Forgoing the boat fix, they had opted for duct tape instead.  The waves were high that day; the wind was higher, and they died.  Drowned. I searched online but couldn’t find the story.  Everyone in the Lake Winne area knew the story and warned us about it.  (UPDATE:  This could be them. It really puts things in perspective.  Don’t ever take unnecessary risks.  You are not better than the system.  Fate favors the bold, but not the stupid.  I think all great endeavors require risks; but, none require ignorance.  All I’m going to say.  May these two kayakers/canoers rest in peace.  Thank you, fellas.  We learned from you.  It was a hard lesson for you; but, maybe, you saved our and others’ lives.  Que descansen en paz.).  I cinched my life jacket tighter.  “C’mon, Phillip,” I said.  “We’re getting closer.”

Soon it was apparent that at the end of the bay was undoubtedly the dam, was our put-out point, was the end.  I was happy but tried not to show it.  I knew that the last 10% percent of the journey is often the point where many beginning explorers trip up.  The Obama campaign showed an interesting video to their campaign volunteers when the the ’08 presidential campaign was wrapping up.  Here it is:

It was of course to illustrate, “We ain’t won yet.”  Many were celebrating Obama’s “victory” as early as October.  The campaign was smarter.  That video did the trick, and the volunteers put their nose to the grindstone during the final days.  You know the results.  I wanted those same results.  I wanted to win.  I wanted to make the finish line.  I did not want to die, capsize, flood in the final moments.  I kept my landmark spotting technique until the very end.  “End, end, end,” I was saying now.  We were getting closer.  I refused to celebrate. Simultaneously, God had a few more obstacles prepared for us before we could dock.

Those Darned Reeds

Some Bible scholars maintain that Moses did not part the Red Sea but the Reed Sea.  The translation was apparently off by a letter.  This somehow made Moses’s act more plausible.  Obviously these guys never had to paddle through reeds.  They’re a lot harder to part than straight water.  “Head for the reeds!” I shouted to Phillip when we spotted the damn.

“Why the hell would I do that?”

“To break the waves!”  The advantage of reeds, even though they are harder to paddle through, is that waves are literally disintegrated by them.  About 10 yards into the reeds, the 5-foot Winnie waves were diminished to kid-playing-in-bath-tub size.  We plowed into them.  It felt good to not have the boat bobbing everywhere.  Paddling would be more difficult now, but at least we weren’t having every warning bell in our neuro-circuitry fired off with every swell, gust and splash that hit the boat.  We could, unbelievably, rest a bit.  “We still got two miles or so to go, man,” I said.  “Let’s get movin’.”  I was tired.  Phil was tired.  We really did not want to paddle.  We had seen but a sliver of sunlight all day, and were suffering from mild Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It really blew (yeah the wind too :)).

Finally we made shore.  I was mindful enough to ask Phillip to turn the camera on.  He really hates doing any camera work, or any work, when he’s uncomfortable but tough , I thought.  There’s no way I’m letting all this suffering go to waste.  My art will be my suffering. “Turn the camera on.”

“Okay,” he said.  Wow, that’s a first.  I guess he didn’t want all this effort to go to waste either.

Look what Lake Winnie Washed Up!
Look what Lake Winnie Washed Up!

He filmed me falling to my knees and kissing the ground.  “Here, hold this,” he said and passed me the camera.  Though his intention was for me to film him kissing the ground as well, the funnier footage was of him trying to get out of the boat.  His hands wouldn’t work and his knees wouldn’t work.  He literally could not pry himself up off the seat, lol.

We portaged the boats to the other side of the dam and, relatively quickly, got situated and headed on down the river (what had now turned back into a river, thank God).  A lady ran to the bank.  “What are you guys doing!” she shouted.  “Urrrrr Crrrraaaazeeeeeeeeyyyy!”

“Yeah, I guess,” I replied.  I hadn’t noticed but a light rain had started to fall.  I checked the temperature gauge – 55 degrees (that’s 13 degrees for all you Euros, Latin Ameros, and Asian-uhhhh-os on the Celcius scale; catch the net!  Farenheit is sooooooooooooo much easier! :)… and if you want Kelvin, you’re just weird).  It was cold and raining and two guys were kayaking in the middle of it all.  For us this routine had become normal.  Compared to Winnie, canoeing a straight river was nothing even if it was cold.  I really didn’t even notice it.  We were just happy to be pushing on, letting the rushing torrent from the dam carry us on; no muscle power required.  When the woman had said, “You’re crazy,” she was referring to the fact that it was cold and raining and we had decided to kayak.  She hadn’t even seen what we’d been through.

“Yeah, a little crazy,” I added and smiled.

“How far are you going?”

“New Orleans,” I said.

She was taken aback.  “Yurrrrrrrrrr rrrrrreaaalyyy craaaazeeeeyyyy!”

How satisfying.  How satisfying to make her day.  How satisfying to allow my ego to be assuaged.  I had, after all, paddled one of the most difficult lakes in Minnesota, and certainly the most difficult lake on the Mississippi River.  I had survived.  Phillip had survived.  Winne was a bitch, but she was of no consequence – We left that bitch behind.  My navigating skills were better, Phillip’s were better, everything was better.  I was taking a paddle stroke ever y 15 seconds; Phillip, every 20.  We were taking ‘er easy.  It was nice.  “Only 3 miles to the campsite,” Phillip said with a pang of relief in his voice.  And so it was – relieving – to be back on the river.  Are we crazy?  Yeah, probably.  But we have also grown.  The arguments have made us grow, the mistakes have made us grow.  I remember when I needed to find a campsite at night around St. Cloud.  My mistakes in using the GPS actually helped me that day.  I didn’t make the same mistakes, was able to match my map and Garmin up perfectly and found the site in the dead of night.  Nothing was lost; everything was gained.  Winnie was behind us, and though she was a bitch, sometimes the bitchy ones… make the best teachers.