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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.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Day In the Life

The sun shines through your hammock like wax paper; just enough light to ease you awake. The insects are still performing their symphonies from the night before, and the birds bring new life into the air.

It takes a moment to remember where you are or what your even up to in the first place; but it feels good. It's the opposite of jolting up and flipping over the clock wondering if you slept in for work. 

As you swing you feet over the edge of the hammock, seeing an early-bird sailboat pass by, your mind looks to start planning the day - it's always a better day when you watch out over the river and allow the plans to float down stream. Since the vessel only travels 3 mph, the key is to slow your mind down to the same speed. Sometimes you set some goals, but making them should never be measurable in stress. 

It feels like you could sit along the waters edge forever, but the sun would surely lick you, so inevitably you roll on. Grab your shorts off the clothes line - when you slide them on they feel like wet paper towels. The consistent morning dew keeps everything feeling damp. Like it wants the land to still be part of the water in some way. 

Your bug bites surely have flared up by now, so you grab the jar of Vicks Vapor Rub mixed with salt and rub that into the bumps. It'll sooth the chiggers itch enough to let you get your coffee started. Just another day in the life. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014


An explorer's life entails enduring storms, hydrating through long days in the heat, protecting your skin from the sun and poisonous plants, preventing the bugs from devouring your soul, the list goes on. All these things can take you down for the count if your not cautious and attentive to your body. The next hurdle on the pilgrimage is mold. We noticed all sorts of new and exciting bugs all around the boat and putrid stenches coming off our rope and gear. The perpetual sequence of dirty river water and hot humid air can strike disaster. Virtually all our processions reeked like dead hell, quickly reaching an unsanitary level of toxicity. Keeping everything dry while living on the river and being rained on constantly with 99% humidity is like blowing at the wind to slow it down. It was time for us to completely tear apart all our gear, throw much of it out, re-outfit, and bleach the rest - or we would be in store for mold illness.

We finished up Wheeler and Wilson Lakes, locked through into Pickwick and pulled into the Harbor at McFarland Park, Florence, Alabama. We scouted out the campground and found an employee washer at the marina, but this couldn't suffice; we needed something to the equivalence of an autoclave. On our long walk back we noticed a chap and his 2 friends having a little trouble pulling their boat out of the water so we gave them a hand. The owner of the boat, Eric wouldn't except us camping at McFarland and threw us and our gear in his Jeep and homebound to Eric's we went.

A saving grace would be a light way to put it. "Come on in, here's the washer, cleaning supplies, shower, pool, house. I have a camper you guys can sleep in as long as you want and here are the keys to the Jeep." Welcome to Rorieland! I don't know anyone else in the world who asks if I want a warm fluffed towel ready when I get out of the shower. The accommodations were unbelievable. Eric is accompanied by many wonderful close friends and family, Robbie, Gerry, Stacy, Angie B, Corey, Kathy, Kristin, the list goes on! The whole crew made us a poster with awesome quotes on it, then they all signed the back - such a heart-felt gift. Eric's home reminds me of my own growing up; people constantly coming in and out, laughter and friendship, the central hub of friends and companionship.


Eric and friends met us again 2 days down river in Waterloo, and is meeting us again in Burnsville, MS at his parents home to help us resupply again. He is almost making it too easy on us. 

As Eric put it, he felt a nudge of instinct to invite us over and become our friends. Friendships of a lifetime can happen in an instant, you only need to give someone a chance. You never know who your going to meet. 

In the words of Eric " As you know there are bigs ships and there are small ships, but the best ships of all are friendships."  

Loose Ends

As we approached the train bridge running through the heart of the industrial hub, Decatur, a man named Jack and his family pulled along side us in their boat. They gave us the invite to come by their river cabin to camp and wash up. Naturally we weaseled our way inside as we always do through conversation and eccentric presentation. We spent the evening with the Stone family, hearing stories of their long linage within the neighborhood. From tales of business to legends on the waterways, they gave us the authentic experience of an old town laced with family history.

Old Porcelain Bath 
Bill and Stacey (jacks parents) owned a cabin on the river, which they graciously handed over to us for the evening. Jack treated us to dinner and took the liberty of showing us his toy house, fully equipped with a Ford Model T, 13 boats, toys for the kids, camping gear; the outdoors-mans dream. He expressed the importance of passing on the lifestyle of his parents to his children - unplugging from the matrix and spending time outside, living life, and taking a risk. Compile you dreams and most importantly live them.

Model T

The following day, Nolan and I paddled on like ducks. A local TV station wanted an interview so we pulled off to shore for the account. The newsman, Al W. was very accommodating and wanted to make sure we had the things we needed. He was on the scene for more than a story, he wanted to join the adventure. He passed my phone number off to a friend down river knowing she would reach out.

I received a call the next day by Al's friend, Susanne B. We got to talking, and she had been riding the river on the lookout for us just to say hello and give us some food. She also wanted to know where we would be the following day so she could bring us breakfast. Al had informed her of our torment by chiggers and fleas tearing our sweet northern flesh into road rash chicken skin. She made the offer to come drive out to wherever we may be to buy us new sleeping bags and help us eradicate the parasites. Only on the river can you meet people of such generosity. There is this romance for the Tennessee River and everyone on it thrives and shares this warmth. Its a fellowship based not around money or things, but on the freedom and companionship of the water and it's people.

The Stone Cabin

Jack, Mr and Mrs Stone
Not 24 hours after talking to Susanne I received a surprising email from her; A letter filled with exclamation points and the words "oh my god" popping off the page. Susanne had seen a post I made on Facebook with pictures of Nolan and I with the Stones. She enlightened me to the fact that the Stones and her are long lost friends. Memories flashed before her eyes as she saw pictures of the very same Ford Model T she rode in the Homecoming Parade 30 years ago. She vividly painted reflections of her long lost high school comrade to me in her letter. Susanne hadn't talked to the Stone family in over 10 years when they lived down in Florida. By the bends of the river they only live 15 miles apart now.

It is quite staggering to imagine the odds (if they even exist) of this conjunction. Each person is a tiny link connecting the 7 billion independents into one interdependent. Distance and separation do not stop the thread of life from weaving us all together in an incomprehensible way. No matter how small or how far, everyone is a piece of the puzzle making the totality of life. Allow The Great Mystery to guide the brush as we paint the canvas of our lives.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Why canoe 1000 miles?
- Freedom

But why a canoe? 
- The great lesson in patience, acceptance and tolerance. It's slow and at the mercy of Mother Nature. You move 3 mph, so yous forced into the present.

How long have you guys been canoeing? 
- About a month now

I'm sorry, I meant in your life.
- Yeah, about one month. We never canoed before this trip. We learn as we go.

Are you insane?
- Just enough. 

What will you do when you get to Mobile Bay? 
- Well, stop canoeing and eat some BBQ at Dreamland! 

How long will this trip take you? 
- 70 days, one day at a time. 

How many miles per day?
- 25 on a good one. No rush.

Your arms must be sore?
- It took our bodies about a week to acclimate. The rest is a psychological game. 

What do you guys talk about on the boat? 
- food, canoes, new trip ideas, birds, fish, wildlife, past, present, future, dreams, failures, jokes, stories, people we met, and where we are going to sleep tonight. What do you talk about on a boat? 

Any run-ins with bad people? 
- Nope, we are running this trip on good karma. 

What do you guys eat?
- yes. 

So do you stay in hotels?
- Never. Only hammocks on the banks. Or nice peoples homes. 

Favorite part of the trip?
- The solitude and amazing people we meet in between. Also the slender egrets.
And The Great Mystery

Least favorite? 
- Bugs. Headwinds. Boats with big wakes. 

Most valuable item?
- A giant sponge.

If you have any questions for the river gypsy pirates, please email. We would love to entertain your wonders.