It's a bright morning of my 39th birthday. I'm bikini clad with tight yoga pants over and my denim Bill Hicks jacket. It's just a ride. There's an energy in the air I can feel already. This day is bustling. There's a foot race for some cause blocking half the city with little busy running runners and clapping cheerers and police officers and road blocks. Just the kind of thing I want nothing to do with. I want less. I want the minimum, just what's necessary.
I eat my breakfast sandwich with habanero sauce and drink my drip coffee. I talk to two traveling retirees who are in love with KC and keep coming back. This is my city. I gather my life jacket, my bananas and granola bars, real food for the trip I'm about to take which is so much dream food.
Porter is calling me on the drive out to the Kansas River, roads are closed to construction and to motorcycle tours. Getting where I'm going won't be trivial. It seldom is. I navigate the concrete connections, sneak in to slow spots between masses of bikers and make it to the drop off point where we'll leave my car.
I pull up to see Porter, one can hear two roars: the immensity of motorcycles, I mean thousands of them riding for a cause; and the slower, deeper roar of the river. I can't see it yet, we're too far up the embankment. This is the moment, I'm close to this moving, snaking powerhouse that I've been longing for. I walk over to the long concrete boat drop that meets the creek which feeds the river. It's bursting with energy, too. It's like the entire world has decided this is a day for frenetic and intense dedication to something: endurance, bravery, a cause.
I don't touch the river yet. It's noon.
Porter has gifts for me on this my first trip down the river. First, a knife.
He drawls: the man who taught me how to live on the river made me promise that I would always have a knife whenever I was on the river. Now you have to promise me, too.
It's so if you get trapped in some fallen brush in a heavy current, you can cut yourself free. I know this, and many other potential dangers, without Porter having to tell me because many people I've told of this journey have painted so many negative pictures. I've been told not to do it, that it's not safe, that I'm crazy, that it's unreasonable and even stupid. I've been told of countless stories of near death and traumatic almosts, and told how I should learn from this and not do that: how I should not go on the river.
I'm amazed how much everyone lives in fear. Porter's first question to me when he offered to take me out was: Are you afraid?
I paused on the moment. Maybe he wants to hear me say yes, to show that I'm respectful and aware of the potential dangers. Maybe I should say no, but I understand the potential dangers. I decided just to actually trust him and tell him the truth.
I'm not afraid.
Porter just says good. And we start talking about plans. Porter doesn't live in fear. He's raised a family, loved and been scared, he's built homes and fixed homes. He's traveled across half the country on his bicycle with nothing but his wits. He's known loneliness and alienation, like me, like all of us.
Both of us know the secret: you can never be fully prepared for anything, your best hope is developing a sense of pause during crisis. So when the adrenaline dumps from the imminent danger, you can have a space to choose your course of action, rather than flail in fear blindness. The only thing that has actual value in a critical situation are facts and training together with calm awareness.
So anyways, he gives me this knife. He gives me this dry bag for my phone and keys. We drag my kayak and his 12 foot aluminum long boat with oars down to the bank of the Kaw river at the Gardner Road drop in point. Porter tells me to be sure everything you bring is tied down, at least, he says, everything you want to keep. He puts the weight in the back of his boat, he carries all my things for me.
This is my moment, I'm about to drop in. Then I stare into the sun to take my Strong as fuck. selfie for social media.
Funny thing, I think. Some eyes now roll, it's trendy to hate selfies. But suddenly I'm totally aware that I have no hat to shade my face, which is essential. By taking pause, I gave myself room to remember what all I need. Making a record of what you have accomplished is a good thing. I'm always saying to keep have-done lists along with your to-do lists.
Porter has a hat for me in the truck, so I run up, retrieve and off we go.
This is the part of the story I don't know how to write. There was surface of water, there was push/pull of current and wind, there was sunlight. Boundary, action, a way you could be moved without self-direction, a way you could move yourself. A point of no return.
Porter is speaking to me about how to boat the river, about needs and goals. I'm listening. Always bring enough water. There is nothing worse than being trapped without water. Eat before you realize you are hungry. Flip the boat into the still of the eddy like this. When you are exhausted, or when you need to wait for other travelers to catch up, you will need this space to rest. The boat rests in the head of the eddy. The river keeps rushing, but you pause.
I'm listening, but I'm also utterly absent. I'm the paddle in the river, I'm the moving edge which exerts pressure and changes course. I'm the current of the river, pressing on with every bit of available energy in use. All potential is kinetic. I am the ears of the heron and the passive lilt of the leaves in the wind. The wind is reaction of the temperature changes of the water/soil/air boundaries of the world. It all culminated here. I alone block this sunlight's photon and cease it's traveling. I am the coriolis, I am the void, I am the sun.
onto The River: part 3