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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Acts of Kindness

These are all real instances, committed mostly by complete strangers:

A woman called us (my number was relayed by someone we met on the river) to make sure we had supplies and good gear. She also wanted to bring us breakfast and deliver us any other supplies we might need.

3 boaters invited us over to their house, gave us a jeep for the day, gave us a camper, fed us, granted full access to a salt water pool. Simply let us right into their lives! 

Many people at the end of their docks invited us to use their yard for camp and facilities to clean up.

A news reporter made calls to his personal friends to check up on us along our route.

A kayaker and his family gave us a fishing rod, soda pops, flint, seat pads, some Indian artifacts for good blessings, and told us of some great local camp spots.

A family on the river took us into town for supplies, gave us a cabin to ourselves for the night, and took us out to eat. 

Two great guys helped us carry our canoe and 200 lbs of gear up a 2000 foot mountain and 6 miles down the road to portage a dam. Gave us a ride to town for supplies. 

All the lock masters were extremely helpful locking us through and offered us supplies.

A couple let us sleep on the aft galley of their boat.

Passing kayaker turned around to chat and show us an amazing place to camp. 

Countless offers for rides, supplies, tows, water, ice, and any possible way to help us.

Countless gifts of cash for extra food and supplies. 

A Native American family gave us Job's Tears (Indian corn blessed with prayers) to protect us on our journey. The children made us cards that said, "be safe and have fun, I hope you don't get bit." They also made sure we had food.

The marinas that gave us accommodations at the level of yacht club members.

A man who chased us down the river to give me a pair of sunglasses.

Many meals "on the house" from the managers, many meals bought by new friends.

The conservation police whom stop to make sure we are safe.

Given a ride from Chicago to North Carolina to begin our adventure. (12 hr drive)

Getting picked up in Mobile, Alabama for a ride home. (18 hr drive)

Given a beach house on Dauphin Island upon our journeys completion.

Put up in a Bed and Breakfast.

Given a house to recover in Chattanooga and a ride to a bluegrass show.

Picked up and taken to Lynchburg for rest and recovery. 

Columbus Veterinary gave Tombigbee the cat free medical care.

Set up at exclusive campsites by the USACE. 

Help around 3 closed dams on the Tombigbee waterway.

Care packages awaited us at various destinations.

People who saw us on the news and came out looking for us to lend us a helping hand in any way we needed.

Calls ahead down river to give the next town a heads up we were coming.

Woke up to coffee delivered to hammock!!!

Frozen water jugs delivered to us on the hottest of days (valuable stuff!) 

Nolan's cousin picked up the crew and took care of them in Birminghham when Pete was ill.

Locals that took us under their wing to show us the best spots in town and on the river.

Passing boaters that stopped to hear about our cause, share their appreciation, and keep us company on the rivers.

Marina owners let us store our boat free of charge.

Allowed to camp on folks private docks and land.

Friends, family, conversations, stories, laughs, tears, dreams and fears. Hugs and handshakes, good will and good faith. 

So many countless acts beyond our wildest dreams, this list can go on for days. 

All those who have stop to talk to us, encourage us, help and support us; you have warmed our hearts - This is the fuel that moved our canoe down the river.


Monday, September 1, 2014

The Great Mystery

Every muscle burned in unison as we sweated through the final strokes into the gulf. If I could have paddled faster or smiled wider I would have as we spilled into the sweet blue sea. Excitement fueled each paddle stroke with wonder and the salt water scent flew in the wind. The tip of the canoe pointed straight into the abyss of the gulf as we paddled like mad men. We praised in passion and awe of 1000 miles passed in what seemed like an instant and a millenia.


We turned around heading ashore to conclude the final pages of our adventure. As we paddled back I reflected back on those first few strokes of the entire journey, 69 days earlier.

The canoe was loaded up and we pushed out the starting point ramp. Waving our chauffeur goodbye we sang in anticipation of the adventure to come. The canoe wobbled and tracked straight as a tree branch - 2 amateurs taking on the world.



I looked about just as we peeled around the first bend. Surrounded by 6000 foot mountains and water in every direction. It was so vast. I glanced down at the map; Fontana Lake, a thousand finger lakes jetting from the main pool. It was as natural as planning your European backpacking trip with a model globe. The landscape doesn't look much like the map when your that tiny dot in a page of real wilderness.



We pushed onward, miles of water running straight into mountain foothills. I was slowing drifting into a void - stepping into blank space. For a moment there I was cold with fear. Silence struck and it was just us and the wild. I asked myself, "what in the world am I doing out here."

150 pages of maps with squiggles in every direction. And here I am, on page one. I took a drag of mountain air and mentally set forth into what I call "The Great Mystery."




You can always plan it out more. Dig up more details and etch your plans in stone. What you can't plan is the spontaneous essence of Mother Nature. You can't plan it out or control it. And if you try you will quickly find yourself licked and ready to retreat. The only method I found to work is to trust The Great Mystery and use the clues and opportunities it gives.

The cues given by The Great Mystery are what's used to know which moves to make next. Anything from where to set up camp to who to talk to. There is a sign for every turn on the path to keep you on The Way. There is no way to beat nature's happening. Its game is unique to each man and his adventure. He must learn to play the game of the unknown and adapt. Things are always changing and conventional thinking doesn't always apply.



The things that saved you life yesterday can kill you today and those things that didn't work before are your new found solutions. Always stay open to your leads in life - even if they don't agree with your logic. Succumbing to stubbornness will only limit your potential. This helps you move beyond pure linear rationalization and teaches you to "feel" your way through life. How many times has your logic lead you to fail when really you knew the right answer deep down before you even began speculating. This is the key of life.


The feeling of living in accordance with The Great Mystery is one every person needs to find themselves. It is so pure and clean, yet words cannot deliver its lightness. You must experience this on your own. Believe in yourself and allow it to reside with you. The more you release the clutches of control on the world the more harmonious you become. It is what every soul searches for - to be complete.



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Qualities

There are many assets that make a good person. Being a good person is not about perfection, but a display of dignity and giving of respect. Numbers, dollars, status, and processions are insignificant in terms of value. Using such symbols is like measuring a liquid in inches. What really makes a true human being is his or her ability to live with themselves and their fellow man. 

It's apparent the less self-absorbed we are the more worldly we become - someone who can coexist with anyone, not just someone like them, stands out admirably. Having an eloquent presentation can be initially impressive. Although this has no longevity for friendship or real kindess. Instead of showing how great yourself is, try helping someone see how great they are themselves. The key is to remove our obstructions (egotism & impressions) so the true good can shine through.



I've met many people who claim their religious dedication and superiority. God bless all those with strong convictions and if it works for you to become a better person that is beautiful. Things begin to lose their merit when there is condemnation. Whether you follow Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna, or any other Deity, you have that right without ridicule. Patriotism is stong in the south and freedom is the cornerstone which our country was founded. The true Christain or spiritual seeker is one who strives to be Christ-like, not inform people they are going to hell because they don't think the same thoughts. Christ hung with all the lepers, atheists, crooks, and homeless - maybe we have some lifestyle adjusting to do. There needs to be less talking of dogma and more living out of the teachings. 

All these qualities are assets I've seen in people on this trip. To be kind without conviction. To be tolerant and accepting when it's not the norm. To be inviting and hospitable. To live out the qualities of the saints and not stuff them down peoples throats. In my perception it is significantly more effective to teach someone by showing them rather than forcing or giving ultimatums. It's human nature to resist what is forced. If you really want change for a better world just plant the seed. The most important thing is to  step back and let it grow. You won't make the plant grow faster by pulling on its leaves.




It's better to be kind than it is to be right.
The friends you keep will save your life.

And those who know it all have no room to learn,
for their mind is closed like old cellar doors. 

It's better to listen than to do all the talking, 
it's harder to hear when your jabbering all the time.

And wise are those who question all the time, 
for their mind is open like like summer garden gates.

Sometimes we don't know it all. 
And Sometimes that's all we know. 



Monday, August 25, 2014

Compassion on the Bayou

There is always the other side of the coin. Without pain we would never know pleasure, life cannot exist without death, and happiness without sadness. All adventures in life, on the way to work or across the world, offer blessings of warmth and tears. Misfortune and hardship is not a shame, but a part of life. We need this friction in order to be grateful, otherwise the world is just a child's careless stomping ground. If life is dependent on how many positives you can try to hoard you will be plagued by the truth of life. Experiences of pain typically cause suffering because our inability to to forgive and let them go - to amend our wrongs and show compassion to the wrongs of others.

If there is one thing that stands out to me about people down south is that most will look you in the eyes when you talk. When they look into you eyes they put themselves in your shoes for a moment and listen. Feel what it's like to be someone else. Respect them as a human of emotion that differs from yours. Some how people have gotten a bad wrap; Cons, deceivers, and mischiefs. It's quoted that "it is not like it used to be, you just can't trust anyone anymore." The number of people that cannot trust other people for suspicion make up a greater number than all the ill-intentioned. Often someone is relying on your trust, and you may want to give it because one day you may need it too.


For a portion of the route the amount of garbage littered about was noticeably increasing. A few people littered right before my eyes throwing beer cans into the river during mid conversation. It did not phase them. 4 refrigerators, a toilet, suitcase, car bumper, an entire car, dozens of tire, hundreds of beer cans, and thousands of wrappers were counted within our first week southbound. We were told by a riverboat owner he had left a marina, in which I am keeping anonymous, because they decided to pump over 100 gallons of gasoline right into the Tombigbee Waterway because is went stale in a houseboat tank! And unfortunately racism and segregation became more prevalent.

Just as we crossed over the Mississippi border I started becoming ill. As days paddled by my symptoms came in waves. At the peak of my affliction we were far out from any towns or resources. My body was sending signs or urgent medical care. The only thing for miles was one private boat dock leading up to a residential home. We didn't even have the opportunity to trespass to ask for help getting to a hospital. As we neared the shoreline, not even touching the dock, a gun fired. The bushes not 10 feet from our heads rustled and the bank directly behind us took the bullet. One day your famous and then next thing you know your dodging fire arms. All coins have 2 sides. 

You know what they say, "shoot first, ask questions later."  I took my only option and got back in the canoe and began long paddle back up stream to find a hospital. 



These occurrences are not a criticism of people, but they are very real. All parts of the world are equally guilty for various faults, but this is the other side we have seen on our trip. It's not glamorous, but it serves no integrity to stuff things under the bed. Many parts of the world are more violent, unsanitary, and unwelcoming, but it is no excuse for us to not improve ourselves. Maybe I cannot change these people, but I can offer them my compassion. And just because things are not right does not mean they are unworthy. Things can be improved and repaired, but they have to be uncovered and accepted first. For that, you can have mercy in your words on people. We all have shortcomings and room to grow.

It will only dig us deeper to hate those that are different from us, no matter how wrong they may seem. People have reasons for behaving they way they do, and if I can't put myself in their position even for a moment, I have no right to blame. Even the marksman who wizzed a bullet by my head; he was shooting at his own fear, not a guy on a canoe. There was a point in my life when I couldn't look the world in the eyes and was plagued by loneliness. I don't want to have coffee with the happy-trigger but I can relate to his fear. Empathy is a gateway to understanding and if you understood your so called enemy you could not hate. Look those in the eyes that you oppose like you would someone you admire. Not to condone, but to accept and forgive. Only through openness can we see and hear enough to help make a change. By cutting off the guilty you only cut off their solution. And by forgiving others you set yourself free. 

*** As an addition after this was written: this series of behaviors and common personalities fizzled out as we continued further south. Showing that it is not necessarily a "southern thing", but merely a pocket of society that was not as enthusiastic of life. The southern hospitality continues to grow on our journey, as we continue to give it back. 


Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Zen of Canoeing

You are going plenty fast.

The miles you make for the day is perfect.

Goals are only good if they cannot be measured in stress.

You will always find somewhere to sleep.

If you spot something interesting, pull over and investigate. There is always enough time.

Take a nap.

There are rainy days and there are sunny days. Both are canoeing days.

Never hurry up to relax.

If you stare at the map too long you will miss the scenery.

Reflect on your life because the water is reflecting on you.

You can get there in an hour or you can try really hard til you turn red and get there in 59 minutes. 

Listen closely to the voice of the universe, he speaks in silence. 

Going downstream is easier than going up. Don't fight it.

Talking is not as good as listening.

Get on the river early, if you feel like it.

Just breathe.





Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Legend of Tombigbee the Cat

Mile marker 424 read the post as Nolan checked his watch that flashed 4:24 on the dot. Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time. We had a pick up later that evening 5 more miles down river. For the first time in weeks pure silence swept over the water and it laid flat like a soldier's bed sheet. We could hear our breath and feel the beat of our hearts as each paddle stoke glided through the water. We were the only thing moving within a beautiful picture of stillness.

The sound of a moaning toad belched off the banks as we drifted along a straight away. As we approached closer the sound resembled quite that of a deranged cat. And that it was. Short high pitched groans with barely a second between each. He finally became visible poached upon a rock bank about 15 feet up - his tiny orange head and ears barely poking over the jagged stones. 

Implications of hunger were strong in the screeching calls of our wild friend. Nolan dug through our food bag for some pepperoni, surely cats like pepperoni. Drifting along the banks edge we tossed shniplets of spiced meat to the feline, but it might as well been invisible pepperoni. He raced down the banks to the shoreline and trotted along side our canoe, yelping for mercy. We threw more useless pepperoni, but to no avail.

Then the unthinkable happen. Maybe a half breed of a flying squirrel, the tomcat leaped from the edge, arms extended out like superman landing perfectly in the belly flop position on top the water. His legs turned like motors as he cut right over swimming up to the boat side. Nolan scooped the kitten up with his paddle and placed him back ashore. I couldn't paddle much, for imagining leaving the little guy was a heart-pierce. Surely he dove again and swam up and I called to Nolan to bring him aboard. "Embark little kitty for you now sail with us!" I hailed.


The furred sack of bones stood nimble in the bow of the canoe, lavishly devouring 11 pieces of the roni. A proper introduction was in store for Nolan as he sunk those razor sharp wildcat teeth into Nolan's hand. My wonder seized as laughter filled the stern of the boat. Nolan jumped up posted upon his seat like a gargoyle. "He drew blood," Nolan exclaimed as he tucked his knees to his chest and cover his feet. The comical nature was too much as a 135 pound man trembled at the pale 2 pound furry skeleton with oversized ears and a nub tail. Rabies was a concern, but my hysteria preceded. In Nolan's shoes I would've been shaking too. I tossed Nolan the medical kit to clear his battle wound.

The wet wad climbed his way back by me in the stern, purring his little motor, meowing like a veteran. Taking the appropriate cautions to my companion being viciously bit I prodded the cat and he rolled over to be pet! I had already been sick for a few days at this point and now Nolan is a contagion of rabies. We were the diseased ship floating off into the abyss. After the wounds were clean, it wasn't a question of do we keep him, but rather what do we name him. We looked up and down the desolate stretches of river, with not a soul to be seen. Tombigbee, appropriately so.

Tombigbee was a fixer-upper. We spent the next day picking over 150 ticks off him, hitching rides to the nearest faraway town for vaccines, getting him food and accommodating him to our lifestyle. Some hours later we hopped back into the canoe and away we went. The rest is history. Tombigbee is a proud canoe chap. When we pull over for camp he wanders not beyond a 100 foot radius. He sleeps in the hammock, alternating Nolan and I each night, and prefers to slumber on top our heads. On the canoe he runs a sequence of nap, eat, litter box, roll around, and repeat.    

Some things were meant to be. Surely we were not searching for an aquatic hitchhiking cat, he found us. And many things in life will find you, they don't always have to be sought out. The spice of life is in they mystery; saying yes to things out of your element. I never canoed before this trip and never started a charity event. This entirety has been the greatest challenge I've ever took on and in the most extreme conditions I've faced for such an extended period. And to make the stakes a little higher, I'm agreeing to teach and care for a kitten on the river. (certainly with Nolan's help). You don't need to know how to do something to be able and the only way you will know is if you try. Even if I fail, at least I can say I've tried something new. The greatest skills are learned "on the job training." Half of my plans for this trip were out the window on day 2. Life is a learn as you go kind of deal. Anyone who says they know whats going on is blowing smoke - we have no idea about anything! And that I promise you, is all the fun. 

                                            

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Holy Water at Lover's Leap

I could feel the rain pelting down on the tarp through the night like a handful of pennies being dropped from the sky. I was dry in my hammock, breathing in the cool misted air. The sounds of the wind blowing across the lake was the only noise over a sheet of dead silence.


We had camped the night at another friend of ours, Angie B, in Waterloo, Alabama. The "B-Spot" as it's coined, is a beautiful camp and RV park right on the shoreline of a small bay just off Pickwick Lake. 

Angie B emphatically expressed the necessity of traveling out to Second Creek to receive our Baptism - to help keep us light for our journey. Symbolically, Angie had made a ritual of this place to wash her worries and sorrows away in the ice cold creek, now called "The Holy Water." Piled in the minivan we weaved through the Alabama hills and trees to a road no one living would know. 
These are not places you can find on any map or in any book. Only as one immerses himself in these back-corners of America does he find such arcane pockets of unsulliedness. 

The Holy Water is located in the center of an old Native American legend, Lover's Leap. The tale tells that 2 lovers, whom broke from the shackles of an arranged marriage, head for the hills to be together at last. Heading along the Second Creek, the women's arranged husband stand waiting up then cliff around a bend. As the couple landed below the spiteful husband he cast a boulder from the bluffs edge to crush the lovers forever in the creek bed. Their spirits converged and tucked themselves back into the caves at the footing of the cliffs, indefinitely to protect and keep love pure in the land nearby. 

Upon arrival the site was just as the story told; a big oxbow bend in the creek which opened up to a rock cliff. An enormous boulder sat in the center of the pool. Another larger shard had broken off a few years back during an earthquake exposing deposits of crystal formations. The sight was breath taking. The water was a deep blue green that shone like the sun through stained glass. It ran up to a smooth peddle beach that eventually broke to lush grass flexing gently in the breeze. 




My feet broke the surface of the holy water sending chills up the back of my legs and hiking my shoulders up. Gradually I submerged down the sloped creek bed to my waist, and the low temperatures hugged my muscles to the bones for warmth. One deep breath in and I exhaled it all out lunging towards the center. 

The pool was deep and my body sunk towards the floor. As the water shocked all around my body I could feel my lungs contract and hear my heart thump hard and slow. My body was electric and still; slowly my eyes opened and thin beams of the sun cut through the crystal clear cobalt pool. Each little bubble of air reflected the light like glittering diamonds. Everything slowed down, sadness died and the world became still. My limbs were numb and I could sense neither good nor bad. My mind spoke no thoughts, it was just calm; at peace. It felt as though I was floating in that pool for a millennia. A feeling of compassion embraced my body as it surrendered into the void. 




I'll never forget the moments spent at second creek, and I thank Angie B for taking me to such a sacred place known to such few. There is something special about that water beyond bathing canoe hippies. I may never return to Angie's Holy Water, but I know where to find the spiritual source that freely resides there. That same power can be either everywhere or nowhere. In every grain of sand and closer than your hands. It's up to each individual to find their own "Holy Water." A place on earth or a space inside where you can let go. It's too easy to carry around extra "baggage" and pain, and this extra weight serves us no justice. Rather than suffocating life by clutching, trying to claim new things; unclasp life and give it room to breathe. It will certainly give you more room as well.