Category Archives: Philosophy

Sometimes we’ll delve into subjects of an other-worldly nature.

Maury Davis Takes us to Hell

“We’re here for the hell house,” I say.  She looks like I just farted in her face.

“Judgment house,” she winces and holds her face into a permanent scrunch.

“Sorry, judgment house.”  Scrunchy face leads us into the sanctuary, the waiting room for Tusculum Hills Baptist Church’s Judgment House, an annual Halloween event and a walk-through simulation of hell on earth.

This is Phil’s and my first experience with hell, or rather the prelude to hell because it took these jokers an hour and a half before they told us they had no idea when we’d be able to go in “because I’ve got a few groups ahead of you,” she said and, “I don’t know when y’all’ll be able to go eeun, um, lemme check, are y’all walk eeuns?”

“Yes.  We’re walk-ins.”

“Oh well, groups take precedent…”

“I know, I’ve seen several people go in ahead of us (I must have been really anxious to see hell!) and we’ve been waiting for an hour.”

“Well,” scrunchy face continues, “there’s nothing I can really do.”  I wanna see hell, godammit!

I go back and sit next to Phil slouched in his seat.  More groups are trucking in and filing out almost as fast.  There’s a pew full of Hmong or Cambodian immigrants over there – they go in, there’s a group of trendy white kids over there – they go in, the women with bobbed hair go in and the Southern accents and the non-Southern accents go in.  Why do they get to go to hell and not me! Phillip and I stay put.  A young black kid virtually lays on the seat.  “Bored?” I ask.  “Uh huh,” he nods and I laugh.  “What’d the woman say?” Phil asks.

“She said she didn’t know when we’d get to go in.”  A mixed bag of Hispanics possibly filipinos (neighboring churches) gets led out of the santuary, and I’ve had it.  “Doesn’t look like we’re going to hell tonight.”

“Well that sucks.  The nerve of these people!”

“I know, these church groups have already come to Jesus; we’re the customers they need to take care of.”

“I know, right?  I’ve never had such crappy service.  I’m never going there again.”

“Who do they think they are?  They totally lost my business.  I’ll get Jesus somewhere else!”

“For real.”

Try #2

First of all, try #2 was successful (you can see it in the video above).  We got to see a hell house, or rather an “illustrated sermon” (preacher + live theater + pyrotechnics apparently = illustrated sermon) with a, um, very strong hell theme.  Rev. Maury Davis, whose organization Cornerstone Church did a MUCH better job of filing us into their marketing opportunity and getting our contact information (Phillip filled out a card, and maybe they’ll call us in a day or two.  Much better service!), scared the shit out of us AND offered a way to take the pain away – you got it – Jesus de Veracruz.

Coming to Jesus

It took me a while but I figured it out – Jesus takes the pain away.  While listening to this sermon I experimented a little bit with their ideas – take Jesus into your heart, give your life over to Christ – and I must say that the results were mostly positive.  A lot of you aren’t going to expect me to say this but when I “let Jesus into my heart” as instructed, I did feel better.  I felt like there was a glowing coming from the center of my solar plexus.  It felt extremely positive!

Then the bad parts…

Okayyyyyyyyyy, now the bad parts.  This will scare the shit out of you.  Yes, this happened in church.  Um, I don’t know how I feel about all this yet.  “Give your life over to Jesus,” may be true, but this, this…  I don’t know.  Make sure you’ve watched the video above before you keep reading.

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Maury Davis preaches on through the fire and brimstone.

Do you need to scare people into religion?  Why can’t you just focus on the good parts of Jesus?  “Because the people need the WHOLE truth!”  Really?  This is the truth?  I don’t know.  The same Jesus that infiltrated my heart that day would not set his children on fire and rip their flesh out.  What would be the point?  “Toooo proooove that the non-believers are wrong!”  Does God really need to do that?  Is God so insecure that he needs to torture his own children?  “God doesn’t do it; the Devil does!”  I don’t care who does it; it’s fucked up, and now I have more questions than answers.

Think about your own children.  If you don’t have children, think about your future children.  Imagine that they do something horrible, something really really bad.  Do you forgive them?  Most of you parents/future parents are saying, “No matter what my child does, I will forgive them; nothing they can do or not do will make me withhold my love for them!”  OK, forget them doing something bad.  Imagine that your child comes to you and says, “Mom, Dad, I want to be Buddhist, I want to be Muslim, I want to be atheist…”  Even if you didn’t agree with your son our daughter, even if you KNEW that they were wrong, would YOU set them on fire?

Would you take a knife and stick it into your baby son or daughter’s stomach?  No, no, don’t run away.  Think about it!  FEEEEL that knife in your hand turning in your child’s stomach.  Feel it!

Would you rip out their intestines?  Feel it!  Feel yourself twisting that knife!

Pour gasoline all over them?  Burn them!  Cut off their heads!  Take a rake and rake off their flesh!  Laugh at them!

“God’s not doing it; the Devil is!”  Okay, would you pay someone to do this to your child???

Would you, as a parent, even allow this to happen?

A preachers son discovers himself in hell.
A preacher's son discovers himself in hell.

Even if you were in heaven, would you not give anything, do ANYTHING! to get to them?  Help them?  Save them?  Would you look upon a God who had sent your son or daughter to this torment with loving eyes?  Would you not look upon Him and say, “What are you doing!  Please!  Please, stop!  Please don’t do this to my son!  Please send me instead!”

And you would love a God such as this forever?

I would never send my own child to hell for ANYTHING! he could ever do.  Would you?  Would you send your child to eternal torment?  Think about that for a moment:  Are you more compassionate, more loving than an ALL-LOVING BEING?

YOU, AS A PARENT! WHAT WOULD YOU DO????

Really imagine pouring the gasoline on your child’s body! lighting the match!  Could you do it???? – for not believing something?

Sorry to hit you over the head with this, but these are some questions I need answered.  “But Ryan, we cannot understand God’s way.”  Maybe not, but I know how imperfect I am, and I would not strike that match.  Would you?

Some religions interpret the clause mentioning “eternal damnation” as eternal death – that, yes, God casts you into the lake of fire, but that’s it.  You are dead.  God gets rid of your sinnin’ ass and adios.  No eternal torment.  Damnation = death.  You’re gone.  You’re otta here, sayonara.  I can believe in a God that does that.  I can believe in a dog who’s gone rabid and is a danger to himself and others, whose owner decides the best thing for all would be to put the poor animal to death.  But think of what we would do in our society to the owner who tortures his or her animal with the excuse, “He was just too bad.  I needed to teach that dog the error of his ways.  I needed to poke him with sticks and shock him with a taser, then I cut off his limbs and soldered them so I could keep goin’,”  Getting sick?  You should be. If you’re an advocate for hell and eternal damnation, that’s exactly what you believe in.

11 Visions, What Happened to the Happy, Fun Times?

I know we’re bastions for fun and happiness and adventure; but, this, ladies and gentlemen, is an adventure too.  It is an actual walk into hell.  Perhaps the realest exploration of hell that anyone has ever embarked upon.  There’s a scene in The Da Vinci Code where Sophie asks Langdon why these people are trying to kill them.  Langon explains that it doesn’t matter if this stuff is real or not – they’ve entered a world of people who BELIEVE it’s real.

Whether or not hell is real matters not.  Many people believe it is; and that, therefore, is a world we must explore.

We’re not backing down.  We will explore.  This may be 11 Visions’ weirdest journey yet.

That Thing (You Have no Idea How) You Do!

What is that thing you do?

What is that thing you do that no one else can do?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I don’t know the answer…exactly.

What is “That Thing?”

Check out this email from a fan:

…I believe that your blog is successful because of your writing style/skills and that you have a knack for finding “that thing” about a situation or person that holds a readers’ interest.  You are also able to write with humor about things that might not seem humorous on the surface.

You are on to something big by living life’s adventures and sharing them with those of us who (for the moment) might not be able to take that adventure.  Sure, lot’s [sic] of people paddle the Mississippi, but you found “that thing” that made it unique; that made it sharable with and connected to your audience.

Thank you!

Troy…

Thank YOU! Troy!

I don’t know how “successful” we are, but we did build up a sizable following during the Mississippi trip.  I was proud of it.  Troy’s words, “that thing,” stuck with me for a long time.  What is “that thing?”

A Story from the Past

I was a comic writer.  I never got paid for it but I wrote sketch comedy fairly regularly for my Second City class and for my sketch troop.  People liked them; they were fun and irreverent and bizarre; sound familiar?  I started thinking that it wasn’t enough for me to be “good” at writing without having gotten some training.  I thought that I better take some comedy writing classes at Second City (the school in Chicago where Gilda Radnor, John Belushi, Bill Murray and pretty much everyone from the original cast of SNL cut their teeth).  I wanted to be legit.

I remember the first sketch I wrote for Intro to Comic Writing.  It was about Star Trek.  Spock had gone rogue.  Instead of “logical” and “fascinating” and “I do not have emotions, Captain,” he was “what’s up, bitches!” and “hey Uhuru, gimme some lovin'” and “big up y’self, Kirky, lemme take the Enterprise for some honnies and fo’ties.”

Highly... logical!
Highly... logical!

It had cussing and crassness, and everyone in the class laughed… except the teacher:  “Good, good, um, very interesting.  I noticed you didn’t really have a three-act structure.  There’s no kicker at the end, and, um, the cussing…  Um, really it’s unnecessary?.  “Well,” I replied, “Spock doesn’t cuss.”

“I know, you don’t want to use cussing as a crutch.”

Crutch?  What am I a polio victim?

“Just, try to give it more structure, cut out the cussing, and let’s make Spock a little more believable.”

This is f—ing sketch comedy for crying out loud!!!  Believable??? “Okay, teach, I’ll try it again.”

I really thought the sketch was good as it was.  The class was in stitches, but teachers (experts) know better, right?  (“If he’s such a good comedy writer, why’s he teaching?” Wish I woulda asked myself that, really wish I woulda.)

I sanitized the sketch.  Spock didn’t cuss.  I threw the “crutch” out.  I made it the way teach wanted it and reread next week.  Silence.  The sketch was nice and sanitary and up-to-spec for the all-knowing teacher… but no one laughed.  It sucked.  I was so angry.

Other sketches by other aspiring writers: hilarious!  One was about C3P0, Chewbacca and R2D2 doing a DVD commentary on the first Star Wars.  Another had the Tooth Fairy as a nasty, smelly 45-year-old  from the Bronx.  He was moving to adult teeth to meet quota, offering to knock them out with a baseball bat for cash.  Funny.  It was fresh and exciting and irreverent and WEIRD!  It was special… until teach asked them to dumb the sketches down, make them fit “the format” (whatever TF that means).

Is There a Format?

No.  There’s not.  There’s only laughter, there’s only what works.  If people are having a good time, then that’s “that thing.”

The reason the Spock sketch worked is because it came from my heart, and that was “that thing.”

The reason the belligerent Tooth Fairy worked was because it was unique.

Non-human characters conducting a DVD commentary… funny, from their heart, cannot be planned… does not fit a format.

I think “that thing” is nothing more than an inspired idea.

Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire, wrote a book called The War of Art.  In it he talks about his 20-year failing as a writer.  He had gotten a steady job as a screenwriter in Hollywood when he suddenly told his bosses that he was leaving to write a novel.  They told him the logic:  Novels don’t make money.  Why would you leave a steady job?  Good luck coming back.

Steven went for it.  Something inside, “that thing,” told him to.  He said he didn’t know why exactly; but, after 20 years of failings, his first book was a critical and mild commercial success.  He thinks it was due to him following an inspired idea.  Some “thing” told him to.  He was inspired and he went for it.

So What is That Thing?

I still don’t know.  My minister says that ideas are angels, higher aspects of consciousness infiltrating the earth plane.  When you follow them it’s like God going, “Hey, dude, go this way!  I know you’re scared but go for it!”  I heard a quote once that said, “The joy of soaring is always accompanied by the fear of falling.”  If ideas are indeed angels, you are certainly apt to fall you follow them.  High-flying ideas like paddling the Mississippi, hitchhiking America, making a movie about religion… you can always fall, but what else is life about?

Troy, I think you’re right.  I think we are on to something sharing life’s adventures, but I cannot take credit for the ideas that come.  I cannot take credit for the Spock sketch, or The Hitchhiking Movie, the blog posts, the words I’m writing now.  I’m not writing them.  I don’t even know how it’s happening.  All I know is that something about what we’re doing is striking a chord with people.  Hopefully my writing is striking a chord with people.  What is that chord?  What is “that thing?”  It’s got to be something from God, something higher, something more lofty.

It cannot be a by-the-book rendition.  It cannot be something from the earthly plane.  The world is too much with us…

Wordsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This poem came from God.  Ideas come from God.  It has to be something more.  “That thing” is the inexplicable.  It is… what we’re here for.  To follow, to rise higher.  “Go for it!” God says.  “I’ve always wanted to do that,” our hosts say.  Why?  Because the desire is there, the desire to go, be, do and see.

Dearest Troy,

I still don’t know what “that thing” is, and I don’t think I need to know.  All I know is that the ideas are sent, and I can say yes or no.  I hope, I pray to have the strength to follow… even when I’m scared.

Ryan

Adjusting

I like this photo.  It is very fitting.  We must paddle as one... again.
I like this photo. It is very fitting. We must paddle as one... again.

There he is – beady red eyes, disheveled beard, doesn’t this guy sleep?

“Hey bitch,” I say.

“Hey fag,” he says back.

He sits in front of me and now there is a man, a dude, in front of me where my gear used to be.  I’ve been paddling alone for so long, but now someone cracks and bangs my paddle.  WTF!  This is my stroke!  Now I’ve got to modify my stroke??? Yes, I do.  I must play nice with the neighborhood kid, and his name is Phillip Hullquist.

SMACK!  CRACK!  CLANG! It’s been an hour now and we’re still not syncing our strokes.  We did this at the start of the trip, way up in Minnesota.  Back then we were very vocal about whose fault all this paddle banging nonsense was.

Phillip – mine.

Me – Phillip’s.

Now we say nothing.  We’re mature now.  We know that our strokes will sync up soon; and, in another hour, it is so – the banging stops.

I was hoping my last stretch of solo paddling would be a bittersweet one.  Ahhhhhh, I am here in front of the St. Louis Arch; it is beautiful.  A gentleman named Kyle helps me patch a hole; a gentleman named Bill helps me pack and asks when I’ll get to New Orleans.  An Asian family gawks and takes pictures.  An elderly man tells me how amazing I am and how amazing this is and how amazing it would be for him to do this but he can’t because (insert stock excuse).  I am happy; I want this to last forever, but I can’t because Phillip is thirsty and says he hasn’t drunk water since 3 o’clock yesterday and I’m taking too long and we have to get going because we need to make New Orleans in 30 days.

It was not to be.  The stretch between the Gateway Arch and where Phillip was camping (just below the I-255 bridge) was harrowing, an absolute washing machine.  Barge traffic is thick, and each barge has its own brand of wake that bangs and ricochets off a narrow concrete-lined channel where your oar hits air here then wave there, you cuss and scream because your boat is being tossed about then to then fro then back and then Jesus this is a madhouse and then this is much worse than Lake Winnibigoshish!   I’m digging my oar into this mess of confused sea, cussing verbally, angry.  “Mother F-ing dashedy dashedy dash!”  The help on the parked barges looks at me like I’m out of my mind.  “I AM out of my mind,” I respond to a fat deckhand though he said nothing to me.

The washing machine is over now, and I’m on my way to Phillip where he’ll suck down Gatorade like a fish gasping for water, and he’ll tell me I’m late, and we’ll try not to argue with one another, and we’ll try to play nice like neighborhood kids should do.

We’ve got to average 35 miles a day to make New Orleans, to make it back to Nashville where The Hitchhiking Movie is showing in a film festival on October 9.  Impossible before the locks and dams.  Entirely doable now.  I pull out the GPS before reaching Phillip.  “Holy Mother of God,” I say aloud.  “I’m gasp going 8.3 miles an hour!”  Im-freaking-possible! I check again.  Holding steadily at 7.5. “Ohhh my god!”  If you didn’t know, my average speed (without a headwind) was around 4 mph in the locks-and-dams portion of the Mississippi.  Now, it seemed, Phil and I would be able to hold 7 without much trouble.  I was ecstatic.

After Phil downed his Gatorade (thanks, Kyle!) and seemed rather impressed with my ability to pack a boat (hell, I’ve only been at this for the last 6 weeks), I could see he was happy to be back on the river.  “It’s like she was a little girl in pig-tails,” he said, “and now she’s all grown up.”

The River is Life and It must grow like all else.

The paddles bang and clack, we adjust.

Phil moves his seat straight back, my feet are cramped, we adjust.

The river grows from a little girl to a big raging hag with three kids, we adjust.

Phil is back, I must adjust.

I’m happy until he criticizes the condition of the water-tight camera housing.  “It’s all scratched up,” he forlorns.  That’s life, I think.  “I’m sorry,” I say.  I know life is also keeping relationships solid, on an even keel.  He is my new bedfellow, my new kayakfellow.  He’s here; life has changed as the river has changed; and now two men are flowing down the river instead of one.  Two men are making decisions.  Two men are deciding when to eat, when to stop, when to go, who to talk to and why.

What other changes will come?  Who will decide what?  When?

I don’t know.

We didn’t expect for me to have to do the Middle Mississippi alone; I did.

Part of me wasn’t expecting Phillip to return; he did.

We adjusted; we had to; the river was life, and the only way to end that life was not to adjust.

Phillip says, “You seem much more comfortable with the wear and tear on the gear than I am.”

I want to defend why the gear is worn and torn and say, “I think it is part of life, part of being on the river, but yes I don’t take care of things as well as you probably do.”

He offers a half-smile.  This is sufficient for now – a morsel of honesty, a candy-coated apology.

“Well,” he says, “what do you want for dinner?”

I smile.  “Beans, anyone?”

We laugh and make Miley Cyrus jokes and Wes Herndon (hey, Wes! comin’ your way!) jokes and curse and talk loudly and comment that the barge spotlight looks like the Eye of Mordor, ha ha ha ha ha.

And it is good.  We are safe in our tents – two men, two sets of decisions… one goal.  The River is Life and now we are one in that life, together in one boat, on our way to the point where we won’t have to adjust anymore.

What if…?

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

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

How to play What if…up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan

Location: La Crosse, Wisconsin

Destination: La Gulf of Mexico

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

The River is Life–Whose story is it anyways?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Feel So Incredibly Important

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

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

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

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

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

The Stakers

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Small Amount of Fame

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

“Yeah, where you goin’ tonight?”

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

I’m freaking famous!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Quick Word on “Cheating”

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

“Rules, huh, what rules?”

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

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

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

“Of freaking course!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

WE ARE NOT SURVIVORMEN!

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, it’s awesome anyway.”

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

“Very French,” I say, and he laughs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Ryan

Lake Winnie – Rhymes with Witch, Part 1

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

“Dip?” I asked.

“Yes,” Phillip responded.  “Oh dip!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Partnership

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is funny.”

“Then?”

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

“But it is funny!”

“I know, but it shouldn’t be.”

“But it is!”

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

“68.”

Lake Winnie

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Next Day Was Definitely, Definitely Bad

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

Morning

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

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

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

“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

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

“What?”

“We’re staying here?”

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

“Well…  I mean look at this place.”

“You got any better ideas?”

“We keep paddling.”

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

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

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

“Just let me do it my way.”

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

“Which I don’t.”

“Yeah but…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan

My Mom is a Genius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan

Sasquatch Dance Video is a Metaphor for Nature

Stop laughing and hear me out.

At first the guy is dancing saying, “C’mon.  C’mon!” and you can feel the people going, “Dork.  Look at this guy.”  But then he just keeps at it, and then the green guy comes in, then the fat dude, then three more people, three more, and the breaking point hits.  Suddenly it becomes okay to dance (as if it wasn’t okay if someone just danced alone).  It becomes exponential at that point; more and more and more people keep piling in until finally… you’ve got a dance party!

I just wrote a post on the Mississippi that comments on how a great and might river starts as a trickle at a little-known lake in central Minnesota.  This principle can be applied to anything:  dance parties, rivers, multi-level marketing schemes (Notice how the only people making money started at the top?), businesses of any kind, popularity of musicians and actors – they all build.  They all start as something small and grow into something large.  So, the dude who started the dance party had to have some balls, he had to take a risk.  I don’t know how long he endured out there before the green dude came in, but in this video he seems to be working a long time with nothing seemingly happening.

What balls.  I mean several in the news media have commented on the balls it took, but what about the faith and the persistence?  I think there are a few principles at work here:

1: Transformation, Growth

As we already mentioned, something large starts as something small:  A tree was an acorn, a river was a stream, an adult was a child.

2:  He Kept at It

Persistence.  Even though he had an image in his mind of a whole bunch of people following him to the promised land, they, uh, weren’t.  In fact they were just staring at him for a loooooooong time.  The dude didn’t lose…

3:  Faith

He kept at it because he had faith.  He knew that in a matter of time, people would join in, and that he’d be all over YouTube and the hero of millions……  Okay maybe not.  I think he did have faith, but it is possible that he didn’t know anyone, for that matter, would join in.  I’m sure he had no idea he’d be an internet sensation.  But he had the final thing that has to keep you warm during the cold winter of no one giving a shit about what you’re doing:  Love.

4:  Love

I think this guy was dancing for the love.  I’m sure he would have loved for a bunch of people to join in and validate what he was doing.  In one video I watched he’s inciting people to join him, but he quickly goes back to just dancing.  You’ve got to have that…

5:  Detachment

Detachment allows you to enjoy your love.  It says, “Yes I do want people to be interested in what I’m doing, but it’s okay if they don’t.  It sure would help if people were interested in my MLM business, but I just need to be persistent.  And what will get me through the dark times is my love; I’m doing this because I love it.  If, by some set of strange events, I never get one sale, I never make it to the Gulf of Mexico, I never win that dance competition, get my degree, get my Ph.D., get a perfect girlfriend, swim the English Channel, find true love, feel a direct and spiritual connection to God, then that’s okay… because I love the journey.

So while we love this journey, not just our journey down the Mississippi River, but our journey as a business, it sure is nice as more and more of you join in the dance party.

David Carradine is Dead Today

David Carradine, star of Kill Bill, apparently committed suicide.
David Carradine, star of Kill Bill, apparently committed suicide.

 

David Carradine is dead.  All reports indicate that it was a suicide.  David Carradine was star of the hit series, Kung Fu, which brought joy and a spiritual dimension to millions of people’s lives.  

He was a movie star.  I remember seeing him a movie where he was trapped in a hellish post-WWI Berlin.  I thought he was great and that he didn’t get much credit for being a good actor.  Unfortunately David self-destructed.

In the 90s, I believe, he made a successful series of VHS tapes on Tai Chi.  He seemed so spiritual and peaceful in the promos for it.  I almost bought the tapes myself.  He confessed later in an interview that he was drunk during the majority of the taping sessions.  He said that he would film and then go back to his dressing room and order a bottle of tequila and a 2 liter bottle of root beer.  I thought it was humorous at the time but I don’t think it’s humorous now.

John Belushi was revered by millions.  He was quite possibly the most beloved, funny, amazing comic actor of a generation.  He died.  OD.  Dead in a hotel room while celebrites partied in the room next door.  Immersed in the nothing, so souless, he had to use drugs to cover… what?

Chris Farely.  Have you ever seen Tommy Boy?  A masterpiece.  He died.  He OD’d.  He had ordered a prostitute in his high-rise Chicago apartment and implored her not to leave as he convulsed to his death.  When they found him, he was clutching a rosary.

Apparently there is something that fame cannot fill.  I learned this the hard way, and luckily, I’m still alive.  I was not going to share this with you, but I can relate… to David, to Chris, to John.  I have not attained near the level of fame as them but, in a way, that might be a blessing.  Because I did start down that road.  I started to get a taste of people loving and appreciating my work as an actor and couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why all the adulation made me feel like shit.

I surmise that Chris and David and John felt something similar:  No matter how many people tell you you’re great, it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel that you’re great.  They had no soul, or more accurately, they lost contact with it.  And they tried to fill the void with drugs, alchohol, root beer, money, fame, girls, pussy (I was not asked to say that word either but I’m using it since every male reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about and how it makes them feel – great… at first.).  

Why?  Why did they do it?  Why does a man in good health wind up dead in a Bangkok hotel?  Why does he, after making a successful comeback with the Kill Bill movies, kill himself?  Why?  Most people who have never been depressed, who have never tried to fill the void with sex, money and new and NEW and MORE NEW! have no idea.  I talked to a girl once who was very interested in me.  She was beautiful and quirky; I loved her.  I have no idea why but I confessed to her that I was a depressive.  She understood but she didn’t.  “I’ve never felt that way,” she told me.  How can you explain color to a dog?  Until he sees it he won’t know what you’re talking about.  (I’ve heard this combination – “roorrrr, ruuuuurrrrr arrr arrr mmmmrrrarrrmmrrraaarrrrrooorrrr!” means squirrel though.  Try it and comment below. :))

Until you have felt depression, you have no idea.  Now I have to be careful here and not wear depression like a red badge of courage, but it is true.  It does suck.  And most people equate the word depressed with sad.  Not even fucking close.  Sad is actually a good feeling.  Sad is when you miss someone or long for what was or what could have been; there is a positive aspect to sadness.

Depression (clinically, non coloquially speaking) has none of those things.  It is empty.  It is emptiness.  It is nothingness.  Imagine the movie Neverending Story.  Remember “The Nothing?”  It was emptiness, nothingness; now imagine that eating at your soul.  Imagine that devasating arrancar.  Sorry, Spanish has the only word that comes close to what I’m talking about.  Arrancar is to pull up by the root, to devastate, to take out, to destroy.  Imagine all that going on in your heart, in your gut, yes, in your very soul.  That’s depression.

Okay, enough talk about depression.  What does all this mean?  It means (and this is what I started to realize before I gained any sort of pararegional fame) that fame, and money and sex and drugs (though lovely in the moment) cannot fill you.  They, in fact, make you hollow and empty; or perhaps the emptiness is caused by something else.  I actually do not believe that sex, drugs and rock n’ roll cause it, but what I can say without any doubt is that they do not cure it.  I’ve tried.  

If you read David’s resume, it reads like an obsessive-compulsive’s resume.  He never, NEVER! stopped acting.  I don’t know if he used that as well to fill up his time, to fill up his heart, to numb his mind from the horror of what he must have felt inside.

But the bottom line is…

He Shouldn’t Have Died

Now I’m not going religious with this.  All of you who believe that those who commit suicide are going to hell, forgive me if this offends you, are more likely to go to hell.  Love thy neighbor as thyself.  Shouldn’t you have some compassion for a person who experienced so much pain that the only way he knew to escape was to end his life?  “Well still!” some say, “He shouldn’t have done it.  It’s cowardice.”  All I can say is, buddy, once you’ve been there, once you’ve experienced the bottom of despair, then come back to me and tell me that suicide is an impossibility for someone in that position.  Have compassion, not condemnation, my friend; because, you may very well find yourself there one day.  I certainly didn’t expect to.  

No.  The real issue is not what’s going  to happen to David’s soul now that he’s dead, or whether or not suicide is right or wrong; and, despite what I said about having compassion for those who choose to end their lives, I do not feel that suicide is the right choice.  The real issue is how does one; especially one with all the fame, fortune and money one could want; get to a point emotionally where she wants to end her life?

How does someone get into that emotional position?  I don’t know.  If I knew I wouldn’t (from time to time) be there myself. So, in actuality, the only relevant question becomes…

 

If You’re There, How Do You Get Out?

First of all, I know that becoming famous will not magically cure my emotional, phyisical, chemical, whatever -al problems.  I think Chris and David and friends taught us that.  I don’t think Heath Ledger committed suicide but I did read several interview of his, and despite his fame and sexual appeal, he was not very happy.  

What is, indeed, happiness?  And how does one go about getting it?  How does one get to a point where fame and fortune are nice things, but not needed, not things I use to get happiness?  

What I do know is that going after the fame is a losing proposition.  What I do know is that worldly success does not make you feel good about yourself.  It can be nice, but it does a shitty job of filling the void.  If money and fame were all it took, David would not be dead in a hotel room in Thailand.

I believe some care must be given to the heart.  I believe that what you do has nothing to do with what you feel.  I am slowly but surely learning this.  It is hard sometimes when the storm of depression overtakes me but, it’s there…  It’s quiet but it’s there.  There is a peace at the center of each and every one of us.

Read this.  Will I ever get rid of my Scottish connection?  Probably not.

Hard as it may seem, nothing you do will make you happy.  You can only be happy as you do the things you choose to do.

Going down the river this summer will not make Phil and me happy.  It may give us an opportunity to be happy, but as Abraham Lincoln said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  We will be happy only if we choose it.  Nothing more, nothing less.  No amount of women (though they be nice, ;)), sex, money, rivers, adventures, will help.  Connect with your soul.  Connect with your spirit and move forth.  

I invite you to come with us, and I invite you to be happy.  

Rest in peace, David Carradine.  We will miss you; and wherever you are, I hope you have peace.  

 

Ryan