I heard about a paddler in the hospital after heatstroke took its toll. Heat is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and, below St. Louis, heat advisories continue. Other paddlers report blistering, numbness in the hands from paddling, dangerous sunburns, and excess weight loss when nonstop movement cannot be compensated with tuna and trail mix.
I knew this river trip would be challenging but I only itemized a small number of difficulties before leaving. When these things are only thoughts there are no consequences. Going is still on the mind, like a teenager who’s been warned but only scoffs. They’ll do whatever it is they want.
In real life on the river, I have been overdrawn most days out here. It’s like being in a foreign land unable to hear or speak with full understanding, where I can’t count the money for a product because the writing on both is outside my knowledge.
In the Netherlands, I walked my feet to blisters because I bought new shoes there and didn’t wait to wear them when home. I limped into a pharmacy saying “Band-Aid” in english, showed my feet, made a pained face, and still wobbled out with nothing. I left behind two store clerks looking puzzled at one another.
Places outside our comfort, they can bring hazard. It’s why people cling to what they know. While on this river to mark a challenge about what we grasp tightly, I also am struggling for familiarity. I’ve been in flood waters at night, severe weather without cover, near drowning, unable to find dry ground. I've not known where I'll sleep or who I'll meet on most days. Concern for safety hovers over everything like a smog. I recently experienced severe dehydration and had a three-day blackout when my devices failed. I miss my family, my home, and the familiar. This is human weakness, my weakness.
At the moment, from my side of the river, I’m witnessing a young person stranded from a disabled jet ski on the other side. It’s too far to holler so, after an hour watching her try everything, I called the county sheriff's water patrol. Through my scope, I saw the teen's desperation after these unfamiliar circumstances came upon her.
Two days ago, a parasite invaded my camp and I was confused, but that was his intention. Food or money wasn’t wanted, not my boat or gear, and he didn't drink my water supply. It was me he was after. I woke abruptly in the night with an awareness of it as if a message just downloaded to tell me what to do. By morning, I arranged to go on the river alone, as rescue for myself. I was unharmed, but felt like prey for many hours after and still.
As I sit here now, watching the jet skier’s rescue, I feel relief to hear the familiar as she’s given help. For me, I wonder how long I’ll remain out here. Sun, heat, weather, risk, exhaustion, and thirst, yet no critter has encroached or harmed me. It was a fellow paddler who came, not as friend, but foe.