Baylor fed, I tuck him back into the tent. Drag the small kayak to the water’s edge and slide silently into the early morning water.
The glassy, black surface broken only by the occasional jump from an overexcited carp, low lying clouds mute the arrival of dawn. Switching between various paddle strokes, I look for the most efficient way to move quickly across the current-less river. Test an idea that’s been brewing. An idea involving a dog, a kayak and a long holiday paddle. My arms burn almost immediately. My back aches after just a short distance. The adventure would probably be marked by discomfort and struggle, but I’m still tempted.
Back on land, I begin to tear down camp. Thank Mac for the kayak loan, chat about adventures, business and life.
I’m guessing you don’t have a significant other?
No. It’s just me and Baylor.
Keep it that way. Sure there are pluses on either side, but you’ve got freedom. You can just up and do whatever you want.
I lean down, pull tent stakes from the ground. Break the pole to canvas connection. Pull and fold. Stuff and pack. Ponder.
With Baylor as my sidekick, I have intentionally built a life chock-full of freedom. And it turns out I’ve done it sans-significant other. But is that because I’m being independently brave? Or heartbrokenly scared? I fear it’s more of the latter than the former. And I made vow. I sigh. It might be time to leap a bit more, worry about the landing a bit less. My stomach clenches, jaw tenses at the very thought of it. It seems life is a never-ending call to be uncomfortable. An infinite cascade of possibilities and challenges. Invigorating and annoying.
Bike mostly packed, I check email. Smile. A campground couple from just a few sites down somehow found my website. Read all about the adventure and would love to know more. Have invited us for a “chat and chew” lunch outing.
Settled next to the window, I watch Baylor snoozing happily in the sidecar out front.
After I saw you tight-rope walking yesterday, I went back and googled, girl, dog, sidecar, 18-month adventure. And it came up right away. We just love it.
Cheeks warm, I thank them. Learn that Lee and Betty used to spend their days as educators, hail from Michigan, come down this way part of the year to spend time with their daughter and granddaughter. We exchange stories of travel, family and life. Lee and I discover we’ve been to the same remote region of France. Having never been on the Appalachian Trail several times, I’m fascinated to hear Lee’s tales of trail angels, turning strangers to friends and the various adventure-seeking characters that thru-hikes attract.
Betty laughs, claims she isn’t very adventurous. Through the flow of conversation I don’t properly disagree, but thinking back on the conversation I see how wrong she is.
Fed and befriended, we roll happily down the road. Pull off to prepare for the coming rain. Cruise west. I wonder what it really means to be adventurous. Some say I’m on a real adventure. Others argue that I don’t stack up to others who go farther, fastest, more dangerously. Some would say Betty hasn’t had any great adventure. I would argue she and Lee have a life filled with it.
Every couple years Betty switched grades; taught English to children of all ages. Well, except 6th grade, never did teach 6th grade. Raised two daughters, built a family. Made countless things by hand. For some reason three is the maximum. Once I’ve made three of anything I get bored, ready to move onto something different. Traveled around the country, created a home, formed a partnership that has lasted nearly 50 years. These may not be the things that get media attention, that prompt newspaper write-ups and crazy fans, but they count. They’re the everyday adventures that mark a life well-lived. Love, laughter, community, family. These, I think, are the greatest adventures of all.
Racing nightfall, I wish for the endless summer days of Alaska. Watch as dark sets in early. Head straight for the park, hope there’s space available on this rainy Sunday. Arriving to a locked visitor center, I call the number posted. Await entry at the door as instructed.
Jeff enters data while I lean against the tall counter. Criss cross my arms and rest my chin on folded hands. So did you major in ecology or something before becoming a ranger?
Jeff laughs, No. I was planning to be a doctor. Got all the way to the point of being accepted to medical school when I realized I spent all my free time staring out the hospital windows. That more than anything I was in it for the money. So I made a change. Decided to build a career out of what makes me happy – being outside. Now I get paid in sunsets and my kids get to grow up with a 5,000 acre backyard.
I smile, nod. That is awesome.
Referencing the map, he points out where the campground is. It’s about a 2.5 mile hike in. If you get to the bridge, you’ve gone too far.
Goodbyes made, I motor over to the parking area. Pulling out the headlamp, it becomes obvious we’re not exactly prepared for hike in camping. I dump out the backpack. Replace power cords, books and work materials with as much camp gear as possible. Grab a shoulder bag and shove the rest in. Make a sandwich in the rain and share a soggy parking lot dinner with Baylor. Gear mostly packed and rearranged, I dig for the tarp. Look up as a car pulls in next to us. The couple rolls down their window, ask when the park will be open again.
Not exactly sure. 9 tomorrow morning maybe? You can head to the visitor center and call the ranger if you need anything.
They thank me. Roll up the window. Kill the engine. Sit in the dark.
I tell myself they’re probably just after a soul-searching talk or dark car make-out session. Try to convince myself that it’s just heeby jeeby rollover from the other night. But despite the internal pep talks, their silent sitting is giving me the creeps. I’ve watched my share of horror movies, misspent my youth devouring paperback thrillers. And dark, rainy, abandoned parking lots within dragging distance to dense woods make for the ideal murder-mystery setting.
I call Baylor over. Keep him close. Pack up the rest of the gear, cover the rig. Never take an eye off the car. Shoot them frequent paranoid looks. Mentally will them to go away.
I look up as a car enters the lot. Watch headlights approaching. Don’t know whether to feel relief or apprehension.
Window down, I smile as Jeff waves. Can I give you a ride to the campsite?
Oh, no that’s okay, I respond automatically.
Really, I’m happy to.
Okay, thanks. That sounds great.
We pile in. Bump along the dark, muddy private access road.
Jeff informs that I should keep an eye out for possums. For this park is known to have the most attractive possums around thanks to the arrival of a handsome creature known as Slow Poke. You see in the 1970’s Slow Poke went to the local hollering’ contest and entered the possum equivalent of a beauty pageant. Met with praise and wonder, he easily won the contest and his dashing good looks earned him a spot with the Governor. Unbeknownst to Slow Poke, the Governor was a possum eating man, had plans to turn this comely creature into a tasty meal. But, as is often the case, outroar from the voting public had the governor changing his tune. And so Slow Poke was given a pardon, released at Raven Rock State Park with great ceremony and public applause.
I laugh. Promise to keep my eye out for Slow Poke’s handsome great great great great grandchildren. Hope that I’d be able to see past their reptilian-rat features and fully appreciate their shining good looks.
Pulling to a stop, Jeff points, Head on down that path and you’ll be at your site.
You bet. I’ll sleep better tonight knowing you made it safely. That you aren’t out here alone, lost in the dark.
142 days down. Many to come.