Ode to A Mosquito
Mosquito. Oh you @!*^%*# mosquito.
My loathing toward you has no bounds.
You are my nemesis.
No friend would torment me so.
Painful proboscis poking.
Suck, suck, sucking away at me.
There'll be no quarter for you.
Why must you torment me?
I’ve done you no harm, yet.
Come hither my pretty. Just a little closer.
Steady now. That’s it.
Time for you to meet your maker.
Leave me be.
Mosquito. Oh you @!*^%*# mosquito!
If we were to paddle the Mississippi again, there a few things that I'd consider doing differently. First off would be to have more of a cash cushion to work with. Jess and I were both in the middle of our PhD programs at the time, and were your typical broke grad students. Having a little more cash to fall back on would have taken some pressure off many decisions, like whether or not to get a motel room when we probably could have used the rest.
I would have treated this more like a backpacking trip and carried less junk. We didn't have a cooler or dutch oven, but there were certainly things that we could have cut out or combined. There's a simplicity to cutting out almost everything and going lean that I've grown to appreciate.
The canoe worked out fine, but was larger than necessary from the headwaters down to Bemidji. Bemidji State University's Outdoor Program Center rents smaller (pre-scratched) canoes that would have been more appropriate for that first stretch.
We'll definitely have better rain gear along for the next trip. Paddling-specific clothing, with tighter cuffs and better design would have been great to have as it rained for the better part of the first month. My rain pants were marginal to begin with, and they failed completely about two weeks into the trip.
I was trying to get a newspaper article out once a week, sending out dispatches largely from libraries along the way. Next time I'd stretch that interval to every other week, and either carry a laptop or PDA / folding keyboard combination. Technology is changing rapidly, and there are already several products on the market that would make ideal small expedition computers for writing, sending photos, and getting info on the fly. Flash memory has gotten so inexpensive that we would probably just carry a few memory cards for the entire trip instead of juggling one card and burning cd's along the way.
We needed to have a firm ending date in order to get back to school, and that was a stress inducer for the entire trip for me. Next time around, we'll finish when we finish, ending dates be damned.
That's about it. Most of these are fairly minor, but collectively had a large enough impact on the trip to affect decisions along the way. Long trips are often a crap shoot as to whether they'll be successful or not, but it doesn't hurt to stack the cards in your favor whenever possible
Get Busy Living, or Get Busy Dying
Been thinking about Dad today. He worked himself into the ground at the ripe old age of thirty-nine. I often wonder what he’d think about these kinds of trips I’ve been doing if he was still around. I wonder if I’d even be out doing these trips for that matter.
Sometimes I wonder just what I’m doing out here. Shouldn’t I be doing the respectable thing and be working at some job right instead of wondering down a river all summer? Wouldn't it be easier to just settle down and start going down the road that everyone else is travelling?
I feel as if I have a foot on two different trains going in opposite directions and I’m torn with which one to hop on to. If I continue with this PhD I’m probably going to end up with a decent job at a university with some time off to sneak outside every once in awhile. Then again, many professors seem to have abandoned that part of their life to chase tenure.
The other direction has me working some random jobs piecing together more of the things that really make me tick. An old friend of mine told me once that I’ll either be a graying professor somewhere or a chair maker. Right now I don’t know if I’d argue with that prediction.
I think that Dad's early passing affects how I look at all this. I could get run over by a bus tomorrow for all I know, but I spent years doing all kinds of stupid crap and I feel lucky just to be around right now. I feel like I wasted ten years of my life to finally get to this point, so now what am I supposed to be doing with myself?
I spent the better part of my twenties floundering around from school to school, job to job, and relationship to relationship. A decade lost to decadence and depression. I've always a tinge of regret to all those years, but I can't do anything about that now. Live and learn.
Now I'm here at the ripe age of thirty-five, winding my way down the Mississippi River with someone I'm passionately in love with. Not exactly sure how I ended up here, but I couldn't be happier. Jess has been a god-send, and I'm one lucky, lucky dude.
I don't think that just going through life based just on what feels good is any way to live. I’m not much into goal setting either, but it feels great to watch something that I’ve planned and worked hard for come together. I planned on being a professor, and now that what I've worked toward for the last five years gets closer I just don’t know if it’s worth it anymore.
I can’t obsess about this much more, and I’m not sure this trip is helping anything. Everyday is one hundred percent living. There’s not a moment that goes by that we’re not right in the middle of what’s going on around us. That’s a hard act to follow, and certainly harder to recreate back in the working world. I think about the Appalachian Trail every day even now, I’m sure this trip down the Mississippi is will be the same way. I swear it’s like a drug.
Do you go on some life-changing trip only to pine away for another for the rest of your life, or do you just work your way through and never really get to those super-high points? Those super-highs also come with some awfully low points in the end as well. I honestly can’t get my head around the whole thing.
2. Listening as about four hundred pelicans took off while we floated by. They sounded like a bunch of white-feathered helicopters.
3. Paddling and sailing with a great tailwind on Lake Winnibigosh for about thirty minutes. Nothing like being scared silly while making good time.
4. Full moons, quarter moons, and every moon in between.
5. Getting stared at by bald eagles. Staring back.
6. Watching a porcupine wander around camp trying not to stick itself.
7. Thinking. Lots and lots and lots of thinking.
8. Listening to the red-wing blackbirds serenade us.
9. Watching the loons dive underwater and pop up twenty yards away.
10. Meeting some great people. Real salt of the earth folks.
Rituals are important for Jess and I. Little things
make a world of difference when you're putting you
head down in a different place every night. We take
an inflatable pink flamingo along on every trip. Flo
the Guard Flamingo watches out for us when we’ stuck
in the middle of some kind of maelstrom or another.
We haven’t died yet so I guess she’s doing her
Another ritual is the unwrapping of a peppermint patty to finish the day. That’s not to say that I won't unwrap those tasty treats any other time-I’d eat the whole bag if I knew I wouldn’t be sick as a dog. During my thru-hike I'd have to ration the patties out carefully because I could only carry so many. I would sit on a cold log somewhere and gently peel back the wrapper, savoring the pepperminty scent as it wafted in the air. Slowly, I would eat away those delicious chocolaty edges then woof down the core. No matter how crappy things have been, everything's all right as long as there’s a patty waiting for me. There’s some serious mojo packed into those things.
Setting up the tent the same way each night is
another part of our routine. My watch and headlamp
are always wrapped around a water bottle. That bottle
gets put next to my sandals. Jess puts her book and
glasses in the gear loft and her headlamp stays in
the mesh pocket by her head. I sleep on the right
side of the tent. She sleeps on the left. This feels
all nice and homey, but more importantly it helps to
know where your headlamp is when you’ve got to pee in
the middle of the night.
She asked what we were eating on the river among other things.
We ate much better on the river, and I credit Jess for that. I felt better and stronger as a result.
I can't help but get nostalgic every time I pass by the Twizzlers at the grocery store. They really bring back some good memories of paddling down Big Muddy. That's my excuse for buying them again and I'm sticking to it.
I'm not an addict. I can stop any time. Really.
World's Easiest One-pot Meal
This was the first meal I ever cooked for Jess. We were helping lead a school trip in the Okefenokee Swamp when I saw what she had in her foodbag. Nothing but packages of dried soup, pretzel sticks, wasibi peas, and other unmentionables. That wouldn't do, so I said I would just take care of the food. Since then we've probably eaten this a hundred times. We take this on every trip.
Eyeball measurements are fine. Most of the time I'm lucky if I can find my spoon much less measure anything.
World's Easiest One-pot Meal (serves two)
12 ounces of pasta (any kind, we like the tri-colored twist type)
4 ounces or so of Italian dressing (about half a small bottle)
3 ounces of cheese (whatever you have. We use cheddar and parmesan)
1 small onion
3-4 carrots, chopped
1 small can of pineapple chunks
salt and pepper to taste
Whatever else you want to throw in (nuts, spices, garlic, chicken, etc)
In a 2-liter or larger pot, boil the pasta until soft. Don’t overcook, and watch to make sure it doesn’t boil over. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. (Hint: cut the bottom four inches off a one-gallon milk jug and stab some holes into the bottom. Voila—Instant strainer!) Dice up the cheese, onion, carrots and dump in. Open the can of pineapple, drink the juice, and then stir in the chunks. Add whatever else you have on hand. Stir in the Italian dressing. Eat until you see the bottom of the pot. Burp. Go enjoy the sunset.
Selected excerpt from the book Source to Sea:A Journey down the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers
Release date: October 2006
Rain and Heat
Rain can be a funny thing. Not necessarily funny - HA, HA, but funny “Oh this isn’t going to turn out good” Thirty-five degrees and raining is the worst combination. You can’t stop moving because you’ll promptly freeze. Freezing is bad. You can’t go too fast because you’re sealed up in a waterproof-breathable cocoon and would roast. All things considered, I'd rather stew in my own juices than get cold. There have been times I would have killed to have another layer of clothes add under my raingear just to stay warm. Even a gore-tex condom would have been appreciated.
Heat is another issue. I’m a dainty flower and start to wilt when it’s gets hotter than hell’s half-acre. Not really, but given my druthers I’d rather deal with the cold than the heat any day. Seeing as we’ll be rolling into Mississippi and Louisiana sometime in late July or early August, I probably need to get over this.
Actually, once you get acclimated to the heat it’s not that big of a deal. I try and tell myself this when I’m sweating my tail off and the mosquitoes are feasting on what’s left of my curdled blood. The power of positive, delusional, thinking.
Boredom can be the hardest thing to deal with while out tramping around for weeks at a time. I've heard all about this idealized view of constant inspiration of nature’s beauty. I’ve spent hours myself just looking at the clouds or some kind of gelatinous larvae rolling around in a blob of goo. Most of the time there’s plenty to think about and look at. Other times, however…
Part of long-distance traveling is dealing with sheer, unadulterated, boredom. Out of that boredom can come the creation of all kinds of mental and physical diversions to amuse yourself until the next neat thing lands in your lap. I’ve held conversations, mostly one-sided, with chipmunks, rocks, mud, trees, and the beforementioned gelatinous larvae rolling around in a blob of goo.
We played games of “throw the rock” and “jump over the creek” just to pass the time while on the river. I probably skipped two hundred pounds of rocks by the time we hit Morgan City. Anything to keep my brain from just melting from boredom and leaking out the ears. I might just need that thing someday.