• Roberta Rathert

Things I Thought Would Happen. But Didn't. Day 5.

1. I thought my 98% Deet would work. It's why I brought four cans. Now I am mosquito-bitten. Everywhere. I've aways smuggly said, "Mosquitos aren't drawn to me!" And Punkies, they've left red dots around my face and ears. If you know about Punkies, aka No-see-ums, this is the exact pattern they make as if they read the Punkie Manual to know just how to do it. "Punkies attack around the eyes, ears, scalp and occasionally exposed arms and legs. Punkies crawl into sleeves, boots or neckbands to access other vulnerable places, favoring the head just beneath the rim of a hat, laughing all the while they do it."


After a recent shower, I found two Dog Ticks taking free lunch from my leg. I yanked them out, then watched them swirl in the toilet bowl whining like they didn't deserve it. These ticks, they don't die unless cut in half, Sandy told me, which I've learned to do with a miniature Leatherman. So the Deet, I thought it would, but it didn't.


2. I thought I would keep to myself. That didn't happen. A toothless bearded man with an extra-large-eyed chihuahua in a basket rode into my camp, loud sixties music blaring from a speaker ziptied to his electric bike. He asked if I'd like to visit with him and, in one-long uninterrupted sentence, told his story. I cynically guessed he really didn't want to visit but just tell me about himself. Then he peddled off, singing louder than his speaker. There go my new friends, Mike and Spike, me smiling after enjoying them.


Next came three quite elderly people walking slowly, one asked, "Are you the lady who's going all the way to the Gulf!?" I said, "I hope so." As they stared at me in silence, mouths open, the man genuflected on my behalf before shuffling off. I needed that blessing. The two ladies hesitated before following the man, one saying, "She's going all the way in that skinny boat?"


Another man purposefully walked up with a mini-mart sack. An ice-cold quart of spring water. I almost collapsed with glee when he handed it to me, "Thought you'd need this," he said. I gulped it right away. Nothing like a bunch of warm water in muddy bottles rolling around the kayak to make one water-beaded bottle look so good. Rick is a River Angel and heard where I was camped so, for that, he knew what would hit the spot. We talked a while, then he told me the weather report.


An older man stood off, hesitant to interfere but asked if he could approach. His 4-year-old grandson wanted to see my boat. I was gentle with the boy but he stayed behind his grandpa's leg, hitting the ground with a little stick.


I thought I would not engage with others much on my detaching river trip. But that didn't happen.


3. I thought I would remain strong with muscle stamina. That didn't happen. There are many places where the Mississippi River flows through large bodies of water. On maps, the Mississippi is marked in a direction as it flows its own course through a lake. That's because of its current and, as we know the Mississippi River, it has its own style and goes where it wants to. The trouble is, when paddling through a large body, the river current is not outlined out front. It's lack of definition causes mistakes paddling far one way when the river in the lake goes the other.


Two days ago, I found myself opened into Black Water Lake, a series of lake shapes connected like a stomach, pancreas, and intestines. It was difficult to locate the river in the lake as I went for miles in nine mph headwinds, white caps against me and overcoming the boat. I paddled with might but barely moved an inch at times. I hollered, "Lord, come on, you're the strong one, you can make the wind stop!" It was brutal, dehydrating me and nearly blowing my face off, but I couldn't stop paddling to get a drink of water or I'd be blown back where I'd previously been. Where was he anyway? Didn't he see what was happening to me or even hear me? That's not how it's supposed to go when we cry out. I know he forgives my rudeness, but I was desperate at the time. I felt the test and the Lord, as he looked on.


When I finally got to where the Mississippi River took a left out of the lake system, I missed the turn thinking it was ahead. A real let down when I discovered it. I kept paddling in a turn-around style to inch back to the calmer Mississippi water. It was so much relief when I got there, I stopped paddling, drank, then put my head down in weakness.


I thought a paddle like that would make me stronger. But it didn't happen. I felt the weakness in my body where I used to feel strength when younger. That night, my spiritual reading was, "Your Weakness is Your Strength." I see what I'm learning now.


4. I thought I would mosey along on top of smooth water, whistling a song. But that didn't happen.


It is treacherous out here. Snakes, bears, biting creatures, river hidden in lake, face-ripping wind. Weather is alive here like a human force.


After Rick gave me water and a weather warning, I sat bewildered in my tent. The previous night storm was severe, sucking air out, then back into my tent with earth rattling thunder. But tonight, Rick said, was bigger...75 mph winds...as he glanced up to scan the trees. "I guess these might not fall on your tent."


Another River Angel named Lee texted me, "TAKE COVER NOW! I’LL DRIVE 2 1/2 HOURS TO GET YOU!!"


Two other Angels, Sandy and Ann, messaged for my location, each asking to pick me up.


It was a sunny day so I missed the size of what was coming. No ideas, on a holiday Monday alone in a strange place. "God, what now?," I asked. Suddenly I was speaking with a local taxi man asking if they have a roof rack to haul my kayak. No, they said. I said I need to seek shelter now and I'm loaded with gear and 15-foot boat. Still no, so we hung up. I started breaking down my camp without knowing the next step when my phone rang. It was Carl, the taxi man. He said yes.


The first local hotel I called accepted my boat to store in their yurt, so I booked two nights refuge. Carl and his wife Debi came to my camp in a rusty bronco, loaded all my gear, strapped my boat to the roof, then we went. Just minutes later I was in my room, my stuff and boat, unloaded and delivered by Carl who thought I'd like my boat with me and not away in a yurt.

I thought the river paddle would be more musical with little dancing creatures, me humming along, splish splash. But that didn't happen. Instead I have new friends. Carl and Debi are coming back to take me on errands, then return me to the river when it's ready. I thought my boat would be on the river, but now it's in a hotel room. I never thought this would happen.


My life is fuller with what I didn't know would happen. Biting critters, face-ripping wind, hidden river, singing Mike and bulging-eye Spike in a basket, three old mystified people giving blessing, a gift of cold water and weather news, rescuers all around me, a man and his shy boy, taxi-man Carl and his wife hauling my stuff, willing to come back, a first-call hotel open to my boat wherever Carl puts it, a great night's sleep in a big soft bed, a shower, refuge, and my weakness. When I am my true self, God can show his true self. He has strength, I do not. He has wisdom, I do not. He showed this through what happened. And this was just one day on the river.

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