It’s been a week since we entered the Gulf of Mexico in our kayaks, a week since we completed a trip of a lifetime, a week since we left a different way of life. Only a week, but it seems like a lifetime ago. As we were traveling home, I started reflecting on our trip (Surprise!). I don’t want to forget! My life on the river was so much different from my life on land. I loved the simplicity of my life on the river and will miss many aspects of it.
What will I miss? What will I not miss? I made lists. (Anyone who knows me is not surprised.) As I was making my lists, the first line item on my “miss list” was time with John. I have loved spending almost every moment of the last three and a half months with my best friend. Some of the most precious moments of the trip were stormy days spent in the tent with John playing eurche, eating snacks for dinner, reading, talking, planning, and discussing conversation questions sent via text by a dear friend. As we lived our simple life, our only choice when it rained was to spend time together in the tent. In our modern life, we fill our rainy days with “work”, feeling guilty if we aren’t checking tasks off our lists. This is a choice that can be changed.
Choices were easy on the river because few options were available. We packed only three sets of clothes – one was for going into town, one was dirty, and one was clean – no decision necessary. Likewise, since we carried only a week’s worth of food at a time, the menu options were limited. We usually just reached in the bag and grabbed. (No trips to the grocery required!) I will miss the simplicity of meal prep and clean-up. Actually, the best part of clean-up was that John always did the dishes – I will REALLY miss that phenomenon!
As we did in our meal prep, we worked together as a team in all aspects of the trip. Everything we did was for a clear and common goal – survival. Many perceive this way of life as hard work and complicated. They are right and wrong – it is hard work – very hard. However, it is very simple – the simplest life there is. Working together as a team, focused on survival and successfully completing the trip, was extremely fulfilling and bonding. I will miss this connection with John as we return to a much “easier” and more complicated way of life with many obscure and separate goals.
In the midst of our survival, we lived with/in nature. I will miss camping on the sandy beaches, viewing beautiful sunrises and sunsets, hearing the lapping of the waves on the shore at night, living in the midst of the animals, listening to wildlife and insects as we lay in our tent at night, and spotting eagles and their nests. We were one with nature. Many times the animals ignored us as they went about their business. (Coyote, beaver, raccoon….) Civilization didn’t interfere with the view.
The view! So different from the river than from land. I will miss the underside of bridges and railroad tracks, animals drinking from the water, the river-view of towns, blue heron rookeries, and so many other sights only a small percentage of the population experience from the river. I feel privileged to be included in that percentage.
John provided me the privilege of being entertained with “Paddling Edna”, “On the River with Uncle Louie”, and his rendition of the children’s story “Little Red Riding Hood.” I will miss these episodes (and reruns after three months), and our daily singing of “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”. Laughter was such a huge part of our trip! Life with John is never boring.
Stopping in civilization was never boring. Before each stop, I wondered who we would meet – if they were ready for us and if we were ready for them. I will miss the “just happened to be there” moments and the wonderful people we met on the boat ramps and beyond. I miss the new friends we made, hoping to stay in contact with many of them. I left a part of me along the Wabash, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers. Likewise, I carried back to Indiana a portion of those I met along the way. I will never be the same, having met these new friends.
With these new friends came new experiences and the opportunity to attend different churches. New restaurants, new food cuisine, new historical information, new places, new sights, and new education about the river, tows and barges all became part of our memories. Four different churches provided four unique experiences, all of which touched me deeply. I will miss expanding my horizons.
As I reflected on expanding my horizons and the aspects of the trip I will miss, I created a list of things I won’t miss. I was, however, surprised at how short the list was. I won’t miss the cold nights we experienced at the beginning of the trip, when my cold feet kept me awake, as the rest of me shivered. Conversely, I won’t miss the heat of the south where we desperately tried to find shade. In addition, the heat intensified what we called “sweaprene” – the odor released when removing our sweaty neoprene garments. This is an odor that is intensified when two people simultaneously remove their neoprene in the confines of a small tent.
Even a small smelly tent can be a haven from mosquitos, once the clothespins are in place, fixing the hole resulting from a broken zipper. Proper clothes pin positioning is essential and will not be missed. In addition, I will not miss the mosquitos at 4:00 am, nor the alarm sounding at 4:00 am.
The last two items on my “won’t miss” list are results of the flooding. The first is the large trees floating down the river in mass quantities – drift. Maneuvering around these while trying to stay upright, not run into John, and stay out of the way of the tow boats was challenging. The second is trying to find a place to stop for breaks and to camp. As the floodwaters increased, the available shoreline decreased, creating a few stressful weeks.
As with everything in life, positives and negatives exist. One doesn’t exist without the other, creating a complete package. As I reflected, I created two lists. However, these lists are in reality part of one list – memories. I don’t want to forget and will miss the simplicity, purpose, sense of accomplishment and, yes, exercise of this trip of a lifetime. In addition, I don’t want to forget and will not miss the uncomfortable times. Two lists – one memory!