Welcome to Our Blog!

Thank you for taking an interest in this blog site about our summer service adventure. Feel free to check out the page tabs in the upper right corner of this home page to learn more about us and just how this unusual but exciting idea of a kayak service trip came to be.

We began this journey on June 1st, 2013 on Lake Itasca, Minnisota. Five months later, we finished in Mobile Alabama. Many of our early blogs are about our preparations, learning constantly about how much more there is to learn… such topics as boat-building, getting to know the Mississippi River, food dehydration, equipment, fitness, and technology considerations. Now that our journey has begun we are sharing about the places we go, the people we meet, our paddling experiences, and of course, the many kind people who give their time to help others through service organizations along the river.

We’d be honored if you bookmark this address so you can visit us often. We’ll work hard to keep you informed and entertained, and make you a part of our journey down the mighty Mississippi!

Barb and Gene

Categories: Welcome | 15 Comments

Lessons learned

We’ve had the privilege and joy to watch this blog site bloom to just under 17,800 views from 59 countries, world-wide. WOW! Thank you for your interest in our trip, for stopping by our site to see what was up, and for passing the address on to others so they, too, could see what God was teaching us through this trip. On December 18th, our subscription for the URL address with WordPress will come to a close. This does not mean that our blog site will no longer exist! It only means that our address will be changing slightly. If you wish to share our mission adventure with others or would like to review any or all of what we have written here, we can now be found at http://www.paddleforapurpose.wordpress.com.

This mission trip has taught us a lot about ourselves and the world we live in and we would like to share just a few  lessons with you. 

  • First and foremost – it is God’s creation and we are his children. Evidence of this is all around us. He has a plan for each of us. Listening for that plan and answering with a trusting “Yes Lord!” offers the unbelievable blessings of putting ourselves in the hands of the ultimate planner! We may feel that he is asking something too difficult for which we are not prepared, but God WILL equip us for that which he asks us to do! 
  • Secondly – every person here on earth is God’s family and as such, deserve to be loved and treated with respect. We believe that he created this world to be our temporary home and that it is our responsibility to care for it and each other.  
  • We have also learned that the depressing, monochrome world that we often see depicted in the evening news is not the total picture. There is beautiful, vibrant color all around us. Take the time to be a part of each moment of life. Slow down to smell the flowers, listen to the sounds of life, and really see our fellow man. Everyone has a valuable story to tell and a picture to share. 

We would like to thank and give special recognition to the thirty organizations who had opened their doors and their hearts to us. The service groups we have worked with cover a very large and varied range of categories and each one holds a special place in our hearts. We have seen volunteers build a house, go fishing with new friends, educate and offer hope for the future, help the homeless find shelter, feed the hungry and clothe the needy. We have met caring people who are passionate about all of God’s creation, caring for the ecology as well as every living thing.

We would also like to thank each and every one of you, our friends. Our trip was very demanding, physically as well as emotionally and we know that it was made possible only with God’s help and your prayers. D.L.Moody once said that “If you partner with God, make your plans big!” In our case, we started this mission trip underestimating the magnitude of how many lives he would touch. Looks like his plans were a whole lot bigger than ours. As this chapter in our life comes to a close, we are excited to see what God has planned for us next. We can only trust that what ever it will be, the valuable lessons we have learned from this adventure will be useful.

God bless you and be with you as you show his love to the rest of the world.         —- Barb and Gene Geiger

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Frequently Asked Questions

We have compiled a list of some of the many questions we have been asked along the length of our kayak service trip this summer. Maybe you’ve wondered or even asked some of these. Here are some of the most frequently asked and the most interesting:

Q: Being together 24/7 for 6 months in that small boat, how will/did your marriage survive?

A: The most important thing was that both of us felt that this trip was God’s trip, not ours. We both felt called to give the time (and the rudder) to him, so we started off equally committed. In addition, we made some decisions ahead of time that helped us avoid conflict and operate as a team…

Together in the Crescent City

Together in the Crescent City

  1. We both made a conscious effort not to complain or place blame.
  2. We decided together where each thing would go in the boat, and always tried to put things back where they belonged.
  3. We both learned how to do each of the different roles, and then just chipped in to do whatever needed to be done.
  4. The stern paddler operated the rudder to steer, and the bow paddler watched for stumps, snags, rocks, or riffles that could indicate dangers. We switched positions every two days.
  5. Whenever either one of us was tired, sore, or hungry and needed a break, we stopped.
  6. We prayed together and, if either one of us received an idea, inspiration, or warning thought, we both paid attention.

It wasn’t until the trip was almost over that we read an article about tandem kayaks which labeled them “divorce boats”.  This made us smile, as it wasn’t our experience at all!

Q: How did you find service organizations?

A dream became a reality, helping many adult learners to realize their dreams, too!

A dream became a reality, helping many adult learners to realize their dreams, too!

A. We scheduled the first dozen services before we left, with the aid of internet maps and e-mail. Our detailed itinerary included daily mileage, nightly campsites, contact information for service organizations, and “flex days” in between service obligations in case of bad weather or illness. With the exception of the hull repairs which sidelined us for several days, we arrived at each service on time or even a day early, with some time to check out the towns. South of Dubuque, we felt comfortable arranging the services as we went. At one town, we’d contact the next. Besides checking online, we would ask residents for recommendations. We also often called the Chamber of Commerce or Visitor’s Bureau, explained our mission, gave them our blog site, and asked them if they had suggestions. More often than not, they would know someone who was thrilled with the opportunity and excited to have us visit!

Q: How many miles did you paddle each day? How many hours?

A: Our daily progress was directly affected by both weather and current but our goal was 20 miles, give or take a few, and counting breaks, usually took between 6 and 8 hours. There was a short while that we enjoyed a full and swift current that allowed us to do 67 miles in only two days but then we turned the corner from the Mississippi onto the Ohio and what a difference! It took us the next four full days to cover only 44 miles… ouch!

Q: Did you get sore?

A: Most definitely! In fact, our aches and pains became just part of our daily routine. On paddle days our breakfast consisted of either oatmeal or malt-o-meal…and then as a chaser, our morning Aleve. As the bottle claims,”All Day Strong. All Day Long.” And trust me, we counted on it. Oh, there really was nothing major or life threatening, just the sore muscles and stiff joints kind of thing. There was this one thing that was very interesting and both of us had it. Probably a result of holding a paddle in the same position and pulling on the fingers for six or more hours each day. We would wake up every morning with swollen knuckles…so much so that it was extremely difficult to grasp or clench a fist. As the weeks passed by we found that a couple of aspirin before bedtime seemed to help reduce some of the morning swelling but it was still always there. In fact, it was not until well after we stopped paddling and had been home awhile before we had a pain-free morning.

Q: Did you bring a gun?

A: This is a question that we were asked more and more, the further south we got. During the planning process, we had considered whether we should carry or not. We opted not to take a gun for a couple of reasons. We knew that having a gun with us would complicate service projects because it could not be left with the locked up boat but a charity service was not exactly the place for a gun either. But perhaps the strongest argument against taking a gun was that this trip was an answer to a call. It was God’s mission and we are convinced that he was with us every paddle stroke. I suppose I should come clean here… We did not go completely defenseless. Tucked under our shirts we had a very intimidating knife hanging from a lanyard. The blade was a full 1.5 inches long and though it would not be much help to scare off anyone who had ill intentions, it did help to make a very mean PB & J sandwich!

Q: What products worked well?

A: We put a lot of thought and planning into the things we brought along. In general, we tried to include only necessities, keeping the weight and size as small as possible because of our limited space. Given these parameters, here are some of the products we thought measured up especially well:

Dana was at home, land or sea.

Dana was at home, land or sea.

  1. Kupendana, our Osprey Double Kayak from Pygmy Boats, was awesome! It is a sea kayak and not designed for the narrow, winding streams and rapids of the headwaters, but it responded very well to the demands of the wider, more open waters of the Mississippi south of Bemidji, and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. She was stable, tracked beautifully, and even with over 150 pounds of gear packed inside, was capable of speeds from 3 to 8 miles per hour depending on winds, waves and current.
  2. Our Hammerhead 3 tent by Mountain Hardware was our home away from home. It was easy and quick to set up, and had plenty of room for the two of us as well as our clothes bags and electronics. The fly kept us dry as long as the wings were staked out away from the tent, and that gave us some extra storage under the sides.
  3. We decided to put some extra size and weight into our mattresses to ensure good sleep, and are glad we did! Our REI Camp Bed 3.5 self-inflating sleeping pads  inflated easily, rolled up in a few minutes, and were thick enough to give us a good night’s sleep on any camping surface we encountered.
  4. We used a variety of waterproof bags to keep our belongings dry. The Stearns Outdoor clear model and the Sea to Summit ten liter dry bags were the most efficient of all of the ones we tried. They kept our bedding and clothes dry, and were thick enough to last the whole trip without a tear or puncture.
  5. We used Lifeproof cases for our i-Pad and both of our i-Phones. They were not cheap, but were worth the cost, keeping our oh-so-critical communications equipment safe from rain, waves, dew, mud, and the everyday hard knocks of a camping life!
  6. We had originally planned on not keeping our wheels with us beyond Minneapolis because the locks eliminated our portages around the dams. It happens that the portage wheels worked so well anytime we pulled Dana out of the water that we opted to keep them for the entire journey. It did not matter if it was at a campground or a boat ramp, the wheels turned out to be a very valuable tool. Can’t imagine owning a large kayak without having the wheels.

Q: If you took the trip again, would you do anything differently?

Just barely more than a creek

Just barely more than a creek

A: One thing we would probably do is start the trip below Bemidji, and perhaps even farther south. The headwaters were narrow and winding, with sections of rocky rapids. Our sea kayak’s twenty-foot length and rudder steering made it difficult to make the tight turns required in the wiggle-waggle sections, and the rapid water and jagged rocks and stumps proved treacherous for the wood and fiberglass hull.

We used a small solar charger which worked well for charging our cell phones when we did not have access to electricity. After seeing some of the solar setups that other travelers were using, we probably would have chosen a larger one that also could have charged our camera and our i-pad.

We found that cell phone coverage was sketchier along the river than we had thought. Often we ran through battery life quickly because our phones were constantly searching for coverage. Our phones being our lifelines for communication and emergencies, we probably would have looked into other kinds of more consistent coverage. We did eventually buy a marine radio, which although has limited range, enabled us to talk directly to locks and other boats. We would have bought that earlier, so we would have more options for the entire trip.

Q: Did donations pay for most of the trip?

A:  We did not actively look for sponsorships or ask for donations for this trip. We did decide to add a donate button to the blog site when some of our friends said they would like to have this option. We kept detailed records of the charitable portion of our trip, including donations to the service organizations as well as the cost of food and lodging in the towns where we stayed to do service. We received eight monetary donations through Pay Pal, and three individuals made cash donations directly to us, which offset about 15% of the cost of the charitable portion of our trip. Thank you to all who felt moved to help us through these donations. It is greatly appreciated!

We had many other equally important kinds of donations and support, however. Many kind people offered us lodging, brought us gifts of food, took us out to eat, helped us in our times of need, and encouraged us through text messages, phone calls, and messages to our blog site. We felt welcomed by each of the organizations where we served, and supported by each of our readers. Thank you all!

Q: How much weight did you lose?

A: Our pre-trip preparations had included a weight training regimen called P-90X. It is a very intense, almost military style exercise routine. Couple that with our diet for heathy food and we actually lost some weight before we got on the river. Once we got into the daily routine of paddling for 6 to 8 hours each day, we discovered that we were hungry almost all the time. It was wonderful to be able to eat as much as we wanted, as often as we wanted and still not gain any weight. In fact, including that which we lost prior to the launch date, we each had lost a total of over 30 pounds and are the healthiest we have been in many years. Now the real trick will be our continuing some form of exercise and cutting back on the quantity of food so we do not gain back the pounds that we worked so hard to lose. Any one up for a few laps in the pool?

Q: Did you ever think of quitting?

practicing our "wet exits" in very cold water

practicing our “wet exits” in very cold water

A: Surprisingly, no. Even with the roll-overs on days one and three, when we found ourselves swimming in 40 degree water, stopping was not discussed. We both believed so strongly in the service part of the trip and that we were exactly where we needed to be. So much so that it was a very difficult decision to finally stop the paddle earlier than planned, once the river became too swampy and dangerous to continue. God had earlier introduced us to the Donovans, a Canadian couple doing the Great Loop in their Bayliner, Time and Tide. As we leapfrogged with them down the river, meeting them again and again gave us the chance to become friends. As we paddled the river to Demopolis, we had time to consider the ramifications of stopping the paddle there and taking them up on their offer to accompany them on Time and Tide to Mobile.We ultimately decided that this would be the safest way to finish the service mission of the trip to the Gulf. We remain very thankful for their friendship and their assistance with the end of the trip.

Q: What was the low point of your trip?

A (Gene): I have given this question a lot of thought. My lowest point was during a few day stretch when I thought that the safety issue was going to force us to stop the trip before we could complete the intended service projects. It was looking like Mobile was too far into the marsh and we might have to stop at Demopolis, Alabama. This was weighing very heavy on my mind and I prayed for guidance. That was when God reintroduced Gary and Christelle, turning our friends into a valuable part of our mission. The offer of putting Dana on the deck of Time and Tide allowed us to get to Mobile safely and spend a fantastic afternoon at the Ronald McDonald House.

A (Barb): My lowest point was on the day that we hit a submerged rock in the rapids which punched a hole in Dana’s hull. The boat filled as we paddled quickly to the shore. We pulled the boat up onto the grass, unloaded all of our gear, and inspected the damage. We saw a fist-sized hole with cracked wood and fiberglass extending about a foot further. Before my mind kicked into problem-solving mode, I sat down, exhausted, with our belongings strewn all over the hillside, and felt my eyes well up with tears. As dejected I was, the feeling was short-lived, as we were soon picked up, assisted, and encouraged by our Bemidji angels, Jason and Jeni. Their indomitable spirits raised ours, and we set our sights on the solution rather than the problem. Thank you, friends!

Q: What was the high point of your trip?

Helping pack food bags at Paducah Cooperative Ministries

Helping pack food bags at Paducah Cooperative Ministries

A (Barb): The high point of the trip for me was watching God work in our lives and in the lives of others. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of my busy life, I get caught up in my “to-do list” and life gets so loud with distraction that it is hard to hear God’s gentle whisper and to see his influence. During this journey, we had committed the time and focus to him, and asked him to lead us where he wished, and to guide our words and actions for his glory and service. And boy, did he ever! We constantly witnessed evidence of his glorious creation! He put amazing people in our path to help and encourage us. He gave us a plethora of opportunities to serve others, and the courage to offer our testimonies. We saw prayers answered, sometimes dramatically. We met people who had answered a call in their hearts to go out of their way to meet us or to help us, and heard stories of “God moments” in their lives. God asks us to love him with our whole hearts, and to love others. I know now what I believed before…that when we give him our hearts, his blessings are all-sufficient.

Faith, Hope and Blood; and a whole lot of Love

Faith, Hope and Blood; and a whole lot of Love

A (Gene):  There are actually dozens of “high points” that come to mind when thinking back. We have been saying that, “it was not about the paddle, but more about the people,” and that is certainly true. We had the joy and privilege of making hundreds of new friendships. I really have to say that my summit or pinnacle was the honor of serving God by serving others. My summer of 2013 was spent walking with God! We had been called to serve him and our reply was, “Yes Lord, with your help.” Even at the most trying and difficult times, I never felt abandoned and on our own! God was with us every paddle stroke and because of this experience, my relationship with him has grown far more than I could ever have imagined.

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Day 160: Home at Last!

After our services in Memphis, we still had a little over 650 miles to drive before we would be home in Waukesha. We had originally thought that we’d get a hotel halfway, and get home on Saturday, but the closer we got to home, the more we wanted to get there. So we decided to keep going. It was a long day…a little over twelve hours. But remember – we were used to 20 miles per day, and with service stops, about 100  miles per week. Compared to the six weeks that this mileage would have taken us on the river, the twelve hours that we drove seemed like “warp speed”.

The chaff once six-months of mail is gleaned.

The chaff once six-months of mail is gleaned.

We arrived home just around bedtime. But do you think that’s what we did? Nooo – we sorted through five and a half months of mail to unwind. That done, we stumbled off to a wonderful night’s sleep in our own home!

The one thing that we had been looking forward to most of all was seeing the people who had been waiting at home, praying for our safe travels, and eager to see us again…our family and friends. So Saturday morning, we went out to breakfast with Herb and Delores Geiger, and Andy, the only family that is currentlly here in town. What a nice homecoming!

God blessed our homecoming with a blanket of white.

God blessed our homecoming with a blanket of white.

Saturday, after unpacking, more sorting, and storing, was spent with neighbors. We are blessed to live in a community where oure neighbors are also good friends. A beautiful and sunny (albeit cold) day provided a great chance to join the neighbors outside for some warm greetings and catch-up conversation. A convenient eighteenth birthday party (Thanks, Jeremy!) provided a backdrop of good food (Thanks, Rene!) and drink (Thanks, Jeff!) for a wonderful evening.

Pastor D. Andy Fetters, "God has his fingerprints all over this."

Pastor D. Andy Fetters, “God has his fingerprints all over this.”

We couldn’t wait for Sunday. We hadn’t been to our home church, St. Mark’s, in almost six months. It was here that we had been given the idea for the service trip. It was these brothers and sisters in Christ who had commissioned us as missionaries, who had prayed for us throughout the trip, and who had continued to encourage us the entire time we were away. We walked into the Narthex just in time to get a big hug from Pastor Andy Fetters before the service began. We caught him off guard, as he hadn’t been expecting us yet. Through welling tears, he welcomed us back in front of the congregation. As we pretty nearly floated back to our seats, we knew that we were home!

The most comfortable seats in God's House.

The most comfortable seats in God’s House.

The pews were covered with colorful quilts, all made by the St. Mark’s Quilters. This extraordinary group of quilters meets regularly all year round, designing and sewing gorgeous creations which provide comfort to others. Some of the quilts are packaged and sent to Lutheran World Relief, veterans, college students, and others. Every year the quilters decorate the church with their colorful creations, and the congregation blesses the quilts that will be sent around the world. What a special weekend to return!

The sermon being about our identity as children of God, reminded us of the song, “Hello, My Name Is”, by Matthew West. We had heard this song many times during our trip, and sang along often…”Hello, My name is Child of the One True King.”  The sending hymn in our service was heart-rendering as well, and reminded us of our trip. “We Are Called”, by David Haas, reminds us that each one of us is called to be light for the kingdom wherever we may be. You do not need to do something unusual, or extraordinary, but can serve the Lord right where you are.

“We are called to act with justice, we are called to love tenderly; we are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.”

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Day 159: Church Health Center, Memphis, TN

At the marina in Mobile, AL, we met a woman from Memphis Tennessee. After explaining our kayak service trip to her, we asked (as we always do), “Do you know of any service organizations that you think might like us to visit?” She said the first one that came to her mind was the Church Health Center. So we made a note to give them a call.

Thanks, Yvonne, for helping set up a wonderful visit!

Thanks, Yvonne, for helping set up a wonderful visit!

As we purchased tickets to see the Brooks Art Museum in Memphis a few days later, the woman at the admissions counter, fascinated by our adventure, asked, “Have you heard about the Church Health Center?” We smiled as we told her we were awaiting a call from Yvonne Laird, our contact with the health center, and couldn’t wait to see what this organization offered that made people so eager for us to see it. We weren’t disappointed!

Marvin Stockwell, one of the Church Health Center's biggest fans, doing the job he loves.

Marvin Stockwell, one of the Church Health Center’s biggest fans, doing the job he loves.

We met Marvin Stockwell, the Communications Director of the Church Health Center at the Wellness Center location. Marvin is certainly in the right job…he is knowledgeable and articulate. But moreover, he is a staunch advocate for the church’s biblical commitment to helping care for others…spiritually, financially, and medically. This is exactly what the Church Health Center has found a way to do so well. Marvin eagerly shared some history of the center, and gave us an extensive tour of its many interconnected facets.

Dr. Scott Morris, a family practice physician and ordained United Methodist minister, founded the Church Health Center in 1987 to provide quality, affordable healthcare for uninsured working people and their families. Thanks to a broad base of support from individual donors and the faith community, as well as the volunteer help of doctors, nurses, dentists and others, the Church Health Center has grown to become the largest faith-based healthcare organization of its type in the country. It has provided care for more than 61,000 patients in the last 10 years without relying on government funding. The Clinic logged about 46,000 patient visits last year. Fees are charged on a sliding scale based on income. The average clinic visit costs about $25.

In addition to the clinic which provides medical, dental, vision, counseling, social work, pharmacy, and acute care services, the Church Health Center offers a low-cost healthcare plan called the MEMPHIS Plan. Even with the advent of the Affordable Care Act, Tennessee expects to still have a large number of working uninsured. They continue to grow their programs, and plan to call on people of faith to stand with them. As Dr. Morris states, “No one who is working and caring for a family should be in pain and have to remain untreated for any disease. Not when we have the ability to make a difference in that person’s life. I know that this is what God expects of us, and so we will continue to work every day as best we can in this healing ministry.”

A variety of exercise equipment can be found in the Wellness Center.

A variety of exercise equipment can be found in the Wellness Center.

True healthy living means that all aspects of our lives are in balance. The Church Health Center uses the Model for Healthy Living as a tool to consider the interconnectedness of seven key areas of life, improving the health and wellness of individuals and communities. Every aspect of the model – faith, movement, medical health, work, emotional health, nutrition, and friends and family – contribute together to a joyful and loving life with a stronger connection to God. in keeping with this model, the Church Health Center has designed innovative wellness programs to meet the needs of the community. The 80,000 square -foot wellness facility, certified as a Medical Fitness Center provides a place where even people with a variety of health conditions can exercise safely. Marvin showed us a large, bright exercise equipment area, a walking/jogging track, a group exercise class, a therapeutic pool, racquetball and basketball courts, and a teaching kitchen used for healthy cooking classes.

Throughout scripture, God calls people of faith to healing. Responding to this call, the Church Health Center’s Faith Community Outreach staff cultivates relationships with individuals and congregations to encourage, educate and equip people to build and sustain health ministries. The Church Health Center provides the support, consultation and education to start or strengthen health ministries in congregations. Since 1988, more than 1,100 Congregational Health Promoters have been trained to be health leaders intheir congregations. Faith Community Outreach also develops faith-health curriculum for congregations and collaborates with faith communities in other ways as well. In 2008, the Center launched Church Health Reader, an online magazine focused on health ministry with portals for chaplains, medical professionals, faith community nurses and pastors. A print version of Church Health Reader is also published quarterly. In 2011, the Church Health Center became the new home for the International Parish Nurse Resource Center and is now providing guidance and education to an estimated 15,000 faith community nurses working to improve health in congregations. Perea Preschool, the Center’s preschool in North Memphis, helps children get a healthy start in life.

The future home of the Church Health Center!

The Sears Crosstown Building

Currently, the Church Health Center is spread out between several sites. While this has happened gradually due to growth of programs, and the space is efficiently used at each site, there are exciting plans to consolidate all of the  services at one site in the future. Plans are being made to relocate the Church Health Center to the Sears Crosstown building, a mixed-use urban center development,  just a few blocks away.

The Church Health Center relies on thousands of donors and volunteers: endowments, corporate and individual donor friends, tribute donations in honor, memory, or celebration, specialty medical volunteers, other non-medical volunteers, and in-kind donors.  Their wish list includes zip-top bags, cleaning supplies, office supplies, light bulbs, over-the-counter medications, kitchen and cooking supplies, canes, crutches, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes. They also have a list of more specific needs. For more information, feel free to call (901) 272-7170. If you would like to find out more about signing up to use the Church Health Center or helping by volunteering, please feel free to use the link to their website found in our blogroll. You will be amazed by the compassionate community that you find!

Categories: Service Organizations | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Days 157-159: On to Memphis and the Safe Harbor of Lighthouse Ministries

Fall colors come to Tennessee!

Fall colors come to Tennessee!

Our drive from New Orleans to Memphis was an uneventful 400 mile trip, other than the fact that Dana was on the roof instead of in the water. We noticed the change in scenery, from the swamps of the delta to the forests of Tennessee. We tried to retain in our memories our campground’s lush shades of green, as they were gradually replaced by the reds, browns, and golds of the fall season that we had pretty much missed on our way down the river. The forecast was for rain, with lows in the thirties, so we opted for a stay at Hotel Memphis, complete with both furnace and indoor plumbing!

Brooks Art Museum

Brooks Art Museum

The last time we had been to Memphis was a few years back when we attended the National Championships of the U. S. Academic Decathlon. Eric was a member of the Waukesha West team, and it had been quite a thrill for us to attend the competition, experience the jazz culture of the city, and try the famous Memphis barbeque restaurants. But perhaps the coolest thing we saw was Mud Island. A famous part of this island park is the scale model of the entire Mississippi River, from the headwaters to the delta. Visitors can walk in the flowing water of the replica, learning about the features of the river and the towns along its banks, finally splashing around in the pool at the end.

Blues Hall Juke Joint

Blues Hall Juke Joint

We could hardly wait to visit Mud Island again, to retrace our summer voyage, taking pictures to post here. Alas, it was not to be. The next day was drizzly and cold, and we found out that Mud Island had closed for the season at the end of October, just five days earlier. There was no way we could even get onto the island. While we waited to hear back from service inquiries, we decided to visit the Brooks Art Museum. We viewed some amazing works of art, and enjoyed a special photographic exhibit. Then out to Corky’s, a restaurant known for having the best barbeque in Memphis every year since 1985, and on to Beale Street to hear some Memphis blues.

With all the sightseeing out of the way, the next morning was time for service and fellowship. Memphis is one of the poorest major cities in the country and there is no shortage of mission service organizations for us to work with. There is one however, that stood out to us as we searched through the list. Perhaps it was the name, Safe Harbor of Memphis (formerly known as Light House Ministries) but we like to think that it was the Holy Spirit guiding us to exactly where we needed to be.

Pastor Terry made us very welcome

Pastor Terry made us very welcome

Safe Harbor can be found on the 3600 block of Jackson Avenue, in the older, tired part of town. But life there at the mission is anything but old and tired. During our guided tour of the property, Pastor Terry Milen explained to us that Safe Harbor is a church with a specific calling… one to provide faith-based recovery support services to those who are at their LOWEST through the power of the HIGHEST! There is absolutely nothing old or tired about changing the lives of those in need and watching Jesus work every day.

The vision of Safe Harbor reads like this: “We will gather those in distress or trouble; those who are in debt or poverty, those who are discontented or dissatisfied and those in need of direction. Our purpose for gathering them is to train disciples of Jesus Christ that will work fearlessly to take back the inner cities across America. We will establish missions, Christian businesses, and relationships with local churches to minister to distressed people and spread the good news of salvation, which is through Christ alone.”

The crosses of Calvary stand dominant in the yard.

The crosses of Calvary stand dominant in the yard.

The program is not an easy one for those who take on the challenge. As many as 91 residents all have to be willing to “put their lives on pause” for six months. During that time they attend classes (as many as three each day) that focus on overcoming addiction and homelessness. The classes are taught in a Bibilical context, referring to scripture for guidance. Topics cover many areas that these men just have not been exposed to before such as: Parenting, Fatherhood, Anger Management, Financial Training, Discipleship, Relapse Prevention and a lot of pastoral support.

James and Chef Red offer two meals each day from this modest pantry.

James and Chef Red offer two meals each day from this modest pantry.

Another unique part of the ministry is the employment assistance that is provided.  Brian Fazzari is the Reliable Director and his department is really a temporary job placement service for the residents. Brian networks with local employers to get temp jobs that become permanent employment which is instrumental in the recovery process.

Deon Williams is the transportation and program coordinator. It is his responsibility to manage the nine vans needed to transport the residents to and from jobs, medical appointments and legal/probation meetings. Deon also arranges the activities schedule to work out all the daily classes, worship services and house-keeping chores for all 91 residents. Not an easy job at times. After spending time with Deon, we can easily see that God is working in his life, through his marriage, and through his testimony to help others every day. God is so good!

God's call to compassion. They live Isaiah 58: 10 - 12 every day! God bless this ministry!

God’s call to compassion. They live Isaiah 58: 10 – 12 every day! God bless this ministry!

If you feel led to partner with Safe Harbor Ministries, there are many opportunities for you, your business or you ministry to become involved. Donations are always needed. Financial contributions as well as food and supplies are welcome. Sponsoring various improvement projects is also available. (This can include providing labor, materials and or covering the cost of the project.) There are many opportunities to show God’s love through spending time with the residents. You could facilitate classes and Bible studies, help with music/drama entertainment or offer youth ministry support.

Safe Harbor is currently operating churches in four major cities.

Memphis: Safeharbormemphis.org

Little Rock: Safeharborlittlerock.org

Nashville:  Safeharbornashville.org

Clarksville: Safeharborclarksville.org

Categories: Interesting Places, Service Organizations | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Day 156: Disaster Relief – The Red Cross and the Blood Bank

New Orleans has had a special place in our hearts. Perhaps it is the spicy food, lively music and welcome feeling that speaks to us? But it is more than that too. It is the resilience and fortitude of the people of New Orleans that impresses us. Time and time again the city has been dealt devastating blows and has continually bounced back, never giving up the love they have for their city or their neighbors. It is that zest for life (and the climate) that leads us to think that we could someday make New Orleans our home.

A few years back, we vacationed here in the Crescent City and though it was only a short stay, we both said that we’d like to return. I think you already know the story about when we worshiped at Christian Unity Baptist Church and when we were given a personal tour of the Katrina damage. Well here we are, revisiting our brothers and sisters at Unity. The touristy parts of town have been rebuilt back to their festive glory but much of the real heart and soul of this city still bears the scars of the destruction. Unemployment is very high and many families struggle to provide. But even with all this adversity, the members of Christian Unity Baptist Church have an undying faith that will pull them through. It is for this reason that we are proud to think of them as our “southern church.”

There is another group of people who have impressed us with that resolve to continue, even in the face of repeated adversity. I speak of the thousands of families in towns along the 2000 miles of river that we traveled. Year after year they deal with the threat of seasonal floods and are faced with rebuilding every decade or so. Both Katrina and the river floods have helped direct us to our next service while here in New Orleans. There is an emergency disaster relief group that continually comes to the aid of our new found friends… it is the Red Cross.

James, looking very professional behind his desk

James, looking very professional behind his desk

Actually, this service had crossed our minds way back “up north” when we were in Savannah, Tennessee. The local chapter there is headed by a retired veteran named James. We sat with him in his small office and talked about how we could help. James gave us the history of and lowdown on the many aspects that make up The American Red Cross. It is a humanitarian organization founded by Clara Barton in 1881, which provides emergency assistance, disaster relief and education. It is common knowledge that the Red Cross responds to disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and fires but there is another side to the Red Cross that many may not know about. Much of their attention is also on education. Red Cross classes on CPR, babysitting training and even disaster planning at the national, community or household levels are all available. Another service that the Red Cross offers is the Blood Bank. The three things needed most during a crisis are blood, money and volunteers and it looks like the Red Cross has them all covered.

James also educated us on an interesting problem that most non-profit organizations have. Law dictates that when a donation is made to a specific need within the organization, that money must be used for that need and only for that need. To the generous giver, this may not seem like such a big deal but James went on to explain the problem. A lot of money comes in during a major disaster (such as the terrorist attack of 9/11) and it all goes into special bank accounts designated for aiding with that disaster. Once the crisis is history, the funds must stay in that account because the philanthropist gave for that specific cause. The funds can not be used for anything else unless permission is given by the donor. James said the same is true even on a much smaller scale, say at your local church. He said that it is much better to donate to a charity’s “general fund” rather than a specific need because the money will then be free to go to where ever it is needed the most. This is a lesson we will always remember.

image

Jean welcomes us with a smile

We were primarily interested in being volunteers, so James explained to us the procedure of first applying on-line and then following up with the many training classes that specialize in whichever field of help we chose. It took us only about five minutes apiece to fill out the online Red Cross volunteer application. Once we get home, we’ll follow up with the training at our local Waukesha chapter.

Now for a blood bank…what better time to give blood than while here in New Orleans? With a simple internet search, we located the blood bank nearest to our campgrounds – in the Ochsner Medical Clinic. One of the top hospitals in the country, Ochsner is an international organization with links to the Queensland School of Medicine in Australia.

Gwen and Dierdre are two of the best phlebotomists

Gwen and Dierdre are two of the best phlebotomists

The staff at the blood bank was very welcoming and professional. After a  short registration with Jean, the friendly face behind the reception desk, we met our phlebotomists, Gwen and Dierdre. A few confidential questions later, we were reclining comfortably as they expertly drew our blood donations.

Faith, Hope, Fortitude, Resolve and the Ochsner Blood Bank... all around the Saints Iris.

Faith, Hope, Fortitude, Resolve and the Ochsner Blood Bank… all around the Saints Iris.

As a reward for our time and effort, we each received a T-shirt. Okay,,,so it was a New Orleans Saints design, but who can really blame them? They didn’t have any green and gold ones. In addition, we learned that with each  donation there, the hospital will provide a teddy bear to be given in December to patients in the children’s wing. How cool is that?

Don't be sad... over the past 5 months the mosquitoes took more!

Don’t be sad… over the past 5 months the mosquitoes took more!

Unfortunately, our stay here in New Orleans must come to an end. We have a lot of mixed emotions about leaving as we pack up the camp site and load up our new car. In less than a week we will be back home and thinking about shoveling the snow from our driveway, UGH! It has been a privilege and a joy to give back to the city that has given us so many fond memories, and we look forward to a time when we can return.

If you have always wanted to make a difference in an emergency situation, teach or take a class that will help prepare for emergencies, or give the gift of life, there are local chapters of The Red Cross and blood banks in nearly every community. It only took us a few moments on-line and on the phone to get started. If you are not already, please consider getting involved…you will make a difference!

Categories: Service Organizations | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Day 156: Christian Unity Baptist Church, New Orleans, LA

We first became acquainted with the Christian Unity Baptist Church a few years ago when we took a spring vacation to New Orleans. When on vacation, we like to worship on Sundays with an area church, regardless of denomination. While in New Orleans, we decided to visit a Baptist church near the French Quarter where we were staying. Our concierge warned us not to go to that area of the city, and to visit another church in a “safer” area. Well, if you know us, this just cemented our resolve to attend Christian Unity. In fact, we decided to walk! After an uneventful (albeit long) walk from the hotel, we were warmly and enthusiastically welcomed by Pastor Dwight Webster, and by many members of the congregation. In fact, during the guest introduction part of the service, one young gentleman laughed and announced, “Cheeseheads in the house!” After the service, a kind woman who was, herself, from Milwaukee, drove us back to our hotel. On the way she took us past some of the areas of the city that still remained devastated from hurricane Katrina, even though the easily visible tourist areas had recovered. We left knowing that Christian Unity had a place in our hearts, and would be our church in the New Orleans area.

Fast forward a couple of years. When we planned to paddle the Mississippi, there was no question where we would serve in the New Orleans area. Even as we changed our route to use the Tenn-Tom waterway and go through Mobile, we knew that our trip wouldn’t be complete without a stop here. So with excitement we contacted Pastor Dwight, asking him to give some thought to a service at his church or in town.

Singing, dancing, and celebration during the offering collection

Singing, dancing, and celebration during the offering collection

If you drove by the area, you might not even recognize Christian Unity as a church from the outside. Located just under the Highway 10 overpass, the building looks somewhat like a warehouse, and you would need to look closely to see the small lettered marquis case by the double doors. What would be the first floor of an ordinary building serves as a covered parking area, surrounded with chain-link fence and locked gates. And you might not expect the scene that awaits you when you get upstairs…the enthusiastic and welcoming members who worship with a joyful discipline, studying the Word, praising, praying, and supporting each other with a love that is both audible and visible!

Arriving on Sunday with Dana on the top of the SUV, we couldn’t fit into the parking structure, so a deacon opened the side gate for us to park in the fenced-in side yard. We were immediately greeted by Sonja, the lovely leader of the adult Sunday School class. She has been teaching Sunday School since she was 12, when her teacher didn’t show up and she was asked to fill in. God has truly given her the gift of teaching, as she expertly led our discussion of Moses from Exodus 3. She shared the unique perspective of a woman whose ancestors were themselves freed slaves. She wove in stories from her own life, encouraged participation by others, and reinforced  the point that God will always equip us for his calling. In fact, she pointed out that we don’t need to worry that we won’t be able, but trust that he will enable us! She added with a chuckle, “We may as well answer his call. We KNOW God IS going to get his way, anyway!”

Jazz improvisation and hymns at a New Orleans worship service. Oh, yeah!

Jazz improvisation and hymns at a New Orleans worship service. Oh, yeah!

After Sunday School the church service began. If you have never been to a Baptist service, you may not know that, although there is a definite sequence to the parts of the service, the timing is “fluid”. The Holy Spirit, not the clock, has the last word. So it was that we became oblivious of the time, as we shared hymns with jazz accompaniment that went on for as many verses as people felt led to sing, personal prayer request that lasted until everyone had finished, introductions of guests with comments from each one, time to greet the guests and each other, prayers, readings, a dynamic sermon by a seminary student, and communion. Among many highlights of the service was music provided by a German jazz trumpeter who was a friend of one of the church pianists. Another touching moment came during the announcements when Pastor Dwight was telling about three murders that had occurred recently only a block from the church. A group of Peacekeepers is doing regular walks around the neighborhood, as are some of the other churches. Pastor announced that the men’s study group would be doing neighborhood walks as well, because, “We are not just a church in the neighborhood. We ARE the neighborhood!” Please join us in praying for this church, and for peace and safety in their neighborhood.

During the three-hour service, Pastor had announced that there were kayakers in their midst, and that we were looking for service opportunities the following day. We didn’t need to wait…immediately after the service we were approached by a woman named Lucia, who was struggling with keeping clothing organized for her house full of children. she felt fortunate to have received many donation for her children, but  wondered if we could help her sort and organize the sizes. We readily agreed, and made plans to see her the next day. Rather than an appointment with a service organization, this time we would be helping a family from  a church organization close to our hearts!

Lucia feeds lunch to two of her many beloved children.

Lucia feeds lunch to two of her many beloved children.

The following day we pulled up at the home of Lucia and Dexter Parker. Dexter, a custodian at Christian Unity, chatted for a few minutes and then left to go to work. Lucia was busy cleaning. The other family members at home included two infants (one with Down’s Syndrome), and Lucia’s twenty-six year old autistic son who lives at home. While a therapist came to work with one of the children, we helped to organize the piles of clothing that had been washed but were mixed sizes and needed to be sorted. We sorted the clothing into six piles of children’s sizes, creating a donation pile for sizes that aren’t needed by any of the children as well as a pile for the adults in the home. During the day we learned that Lucia is a real grandmother angel! Not only did she raise her own two children, but she continues to care for one of them. In addition, she has taken on the full responsibility of raising six other children: her daughter’s five young ones as well as her niece’s one child. She gave up her job in order to stay home with these children, and raise them with love. Lucia is a certified aromatherapist, and dreams of someday starting her own business. For now, these children are her priority. Lucia and Dexter – you have our respect and admiration for taking on such a caring role in your family. We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers!

Categories: Service Organizations | Tags: | 1 Comment

Days 153-155: On the Road Again…

Kupendana waits by all the big boys at the marina while we look for her ride home.

Kupendana waits by all the big boys at the marina while we look for her ride home.

Besides our service in Mobile, our job was to answer the question, “How will we get home?”. We couldn’t count the times that people had asked us variations of that inquiry. The only thing we knew for SURE was that we were not paddling all the way back! While we stayed in Mobile to check out our options, the nice folks at Turner Marina allowed us to lock Dana to a fence in their boatyard where she’d be safe and out of their way. They even refused to take any storage fee. Thank you, Turner Marina!

Over 2000 miles, and our first fill-up. Not bad mileage!

Over 2000 miles, and our first fill-up. Not bad mileage!

Dana's ride home

Dana’s ride home

We first looked into rental vehicles. We needed between one and two weeks in order to stop in New Orleans and Memphis for service on our way home. Most quotes for  one-way rental vehicles large enough to carry a 20-foot kayak are over $2000 for a two-week time frame. Since Gene had postponed replacing his aging vehicle before leaving for this trip, we decided to look at used vehicles before spending the money for a rental. Walking down the frontage road to one dealership after another, we narrowed down the search. Then Gene saw it…a 2004 Buick Rainier. It was a little old, and a little tired. (Oops! My mom used to say that those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.) But it had all of the things Gene wanted, for less than he expected to spend. On top of that, we didn’t need to spend the money for a rental, so it was even a better deal!

Friends eager to embark on their around-the-world music ministry

Friends eager to embark on their around-the-world music ministry

While stopping at the marina to put Dana on top of the SUV, we met yet another fascinating couple. Anne and Jeff Posner were interested in our service trip, as they are planning their own much longer version. They are both musicians, and plan to take their music ministry on an around-the-world journey in their beautiful sailboat named Joyful.

Anne by the French-built yacht, Joyful

Anne by the French-built yacht, Joyful

We climbed aboard their yacht for a tour, and ended up sharing stories about God’s work in their lives and ours. We are thankful to have met them, and will pray for travel mercies as they leave on their trip next November.

On the way along the Gulf shore, we drove by miles and miles of white sand beaches in Alabama and Mississippi. We were struck by the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico, and the number of homes and lots for sale along the coastline. We stopped for the night at Buccaneer State Park, and put up the tent right across the street from the beach. The next day we took Dana for her first paddle in salt water, and ours, too! Without all of our gear weighing her down, it was fun to see how easily she flew through the water with little effort on our part. With the Northeasterly wind behind us, it was tempting to head for Mexico. But we are eager to get home, and even Mexico doesn’t have the lure of family and friends at Thanksgiving!

As we arrived in Louisiana, we noticed that the sand beaches turned to the swamps and bayous for which New Orleans is famous. We checked into another State Park, this time Bayou Signette State Park, across the Mississippi River from the Crescent City. From there we used the Rainier to drive into the city to worship on Sunday at the Christian Unity Baptist Church. It was here we connected with our New Orleans service, making plans for Monday. Then off for a little sightseeing in New Orleans! We stopped at the park by the enormous Lake Pontchartrain, attended an African Harvest Music program at Louis Armstrong Park, and ambled around the French Quarter. We ended out day at our journey’s final destination, with a long-awaited reward for all of our paddling efforts…cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde!

Categories: River Adventures | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Day 152: We’re Lovin’ It

Mobile is one of the biggest cities we have been to in many weeks. Because of this fact, the opportunities for service are plentiful and with a quick internet search we had a list of hundreds to choose from. But there in and amongst the food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and half-way houses, one service stood out for us. Let’s call the Ronald McDonald House here in Mobile!

This is a charity that every person has heard about but few probably know what happens there. At least for me, I know that was true. I must have driven past the local RMH in my home town a hundred times and have even stopped at the Blood Bank just across the street without so much as noticing it was there. Well, no more! Simply put, the Mobile chapter “blew me away” and let me tell you why…

The joy of children at play captured in bronze

The joy of children at play captured in bronze

We stepped off the city bus, after riding for almost one hour and negotiating a downtown transfer, into a very well kept, park-like neighborhood. The signs directing the traffic flow indicated several hospitals ahead and the RMH was off to our right, just past the beautiful rose and sculpture gardens.

Where angels reside

Where angels reside

Barb and I enjoyed a slow meander down the perfectly manicured walk-way, past the bronze art work and flower beds. We stepped up to the doors of the restored mansion and rang the buzzer.

Garden tranquility

Garden tranquility

To those who are not familiar with just what the RMH is, let me explain. The Ronald McDonald House is, in its simplest terms, a hotel. It is a hotel for family and loved ones of seriously ill, out of town children who are staying at the local hospitals. But it is also so much more. Great effort have been made to turn this “hotel” into a “home-away-from-home” for the guests who stay there. The moment we entered into the reception foyer, this fact was very evident.

Artwork that speaks to your heart abounds

Artwork that speaks to your heart abounds

The home has original hardwood floors and mouldings with quilts and art artwork hanging on every wall. The group congregational area is a vast room with several dining tables and many leather chairs and sofas arranged around the fireplace and pianos. Around the corner is a kitchen that has multiple countertop areas with stoves, ovens and refrigerators scattered about, all available for guest use, but local volunteer groups help by offering prepared meals every day.  Each private guest room has two queen-size beds, dressers, night stands and their own bath, all decorated with that home feel. It is the intent of the RMH to provide 38 families a refuge from the sterile, hospital environment found down the street with a private guest room, kitchen use, laundry facilities and most importantly, emotional support that can only come from being around other families facing similar circumstances.

housekeeping

housekeeping

typical room

typical room

The RMH property is an impressive place and surely one that the board of directors should be proud of, but what really made the place stand out to us (and I am sure the 3,750 families who have stayed there) is the love and compassion of the staff! Everyone here; the administration positions, the custodial support and the volunteers who clean rooms and man the reception desk are sensitive and caring toward the families that live there. Love, smiles and laughter abound.

The heart of the RMH on Halloween

The heart of the RMH on Halloween

While enjoying a lunch prepared by members of The Exchange Club of Mobile, we had the opportunity to chat with a guest whose granddaughter is down the street for an extended stay at the hospital. This grandfather was very thankful and appreciative of the RMH, referring to it as a blessing.

Curtis on duty and Mary's costume is "Curtis on vacation"  What FUN!

Curtis on duty and Mary’s costume is “Curtis on vacation” What FUN!

Earlier in the morning, Curtis was explaining to us just what needed to be done in the suite we were cleaning and he shared his history with the Ronald McDonald House. The first time Curtis came to the RMH was as a guest, many years ago. His family stayed here while his granddaughter needed treatment. He knows just what the guests are going through because he has been where they are now.Curtis is now working at the house as their custodian, traveling over an hour from his home in Mississippi to get there. “I am here because it is where I am supposed to be,” Curtis said, adding, “I think of it as my calling.” His wife even works here on weekends as a relief manager.

imageThe Ronald McDonald House Charities of Mobile is an independent non-profit organization funded primarily from local support of fundraising events, service clubs, churches, corporations, foundations, individuals and the local McDonald’s owner-operators. Families are asked to contribute $12 per night to help offset operating costs but no family is ever turned away for the inability to pay. A large percentage of funding for each RMH actually comes from those donation boxes found on the check-out counter of your local McDonald’s and 100% of the monies from those boxes is directed back to the RMH in that store’s area. After spending a day at the Mobile Ronald McDonald House doing housekeeping in the guest rooms and learning more about what they do here, we will never again leave a McDonald’s without dropping a few coins in the charity box!

Categories: Service Organizations | Tags: | 3 Comments

Days 144-151: Livin’ La Vida Looper, Demopolis to Mobile, AL

After our service in Demopolis, we needed to wait around at the Kingfisher Bay Marina for our Canadian friends to arrive. We had met Gary and Christelle Donovan upriver, and played Leapfrog with them as we and they stayed in different campgrounds, marinas, and anchorages. Most recently they had been living aboard their 38-foot Bayliner at Columbus Marina, waiting for parts to arrive so Gary could repair the engine. Christelle explained, “Do you know what the definition of ‘looping’ is? It is working on your boat in exotic locations!” With all of the worries about the increasing lack of support for us along the southern stretch of the Tombigbee, Gary and Christelle had offered to let us ride with them from Demopolis to Mobile, if all worked out with the timing between our journey and theirs. They are mid way through a second lap of the Great Loop with stories and pictures recorded on their blog site, http://timeandtidetravels.blogspot.com. Fortunately, their repairs went according to plan, and our trip and service was finished in time to meet up with them the following day!

Boat slips at the Kingfisher Bay Marina

Boat slips at the Kingfisher Bay Marina

Kingfisher Bay Marina is an immaculate facility for mariners, offering many amenities that aren’t found at all other marinas. It is located just north of the Demopolis Yacht Harbor. The two marinas exist side-by-side, and are both managed by General Manager, Fred, who zips around on his motor scooter, overseeing everything at both locations. The story is that the Demopolis Yacht Harbor, a county-owned facility, has a unique location with natural eddies that are causing an accumulation of silt buildup. With Fred’s help, Arthur and Estelle Taylor, area philanthropists, are slowly and meticulously building the new Kingfisher Bay Marina next to it. Eventually, when the Yacht Harbor needs to be dredged and updated, Kingfisher Bay will be available for boater during the transition. The Taylors went to many existing marinas in order to research the needs and preferences of boat owners. Consequently, they have created a comfortable home base for transients and seasonal boaters alike.

Shrub roses and vegetable gardens surround the sparkling clean (albeit cold) pool.

Shrub roses and vegetable gardens surround the sparkling clean (albeit cold) pool.

The bathrooms and showers are roomy and light, with the use of beautiful oval mirrors, granite countertops, thick shower rugs, finished wooden benches, and wicker baskets for belongings. There are plenty of washers and dryers, folding counters, a big-screen TV, a lending library, and a spacious sittting area in the boater’s lounge. A golf cart is available for check-out on the grounds, and a courtesy car makes it possible to get to nearby Demopolis for supplies. A fenced-in pool area provides a recreational space for hot days. Outdoor grills are available poolside and at the boater’s lounge to prepare delicious meals. Primarily designed for boaters, not campers like us, we did need to move our tent location a couple of times due to lawn sprinklers and ants. But  we were very comfortable staying there while wating for our friends to arrive!

Time and Tide arrives to pick us up!

Time and Tide arrives to pick us up!

Gary and Christelle arrived on Wednesday afternoon, filled up Time and Tide with gas at the fuel dock, and stopping to pick us up. Lifting Kupendana onto the port side bow, we used styrofoam noodles for padding and strapped her down tightly for the ride to Mobile. We loaded her with the camping supplies we wouldn’t need, and stored our dry bags in the already-prepared guest bedroom. Christelle and Gary had even aired out the sheets on the rigging to make us feel at home! We looked forward to spending the next five days traveling down the Tombigbee River, living the Looper Life with these two friends and their adorable cats, Josie and Jacob.

View from the bridge of Time and Tide

View from the bridge of Time and Tide

It took a while to get used to traveling on Time and Tide. We primarily stayed up on the bridge, which was about 10 feet above the water level. The view from that high was amazing, and totally different from the perspective to which we had become accustomed. From aloft we could scan across the width of the river, noticing things that might have been out of our line of sight. We could look ahead much further than before as well. While this opened up a whole new world, it also separated us from the river itself. We had been a part of the river, paddling along with it. Now we were traveling high above the river, a spectator rather than a participant. Sometimes the beauty of the river or an inviting sand bank made us long for our paddles, to be a part of it again. But other times (more often than not) when we noticed that lack of ramps, docks, and accessible shoreline, or when we spotted huge alligators sunning on the shore, we were thankful to be high out of reach! (The deer picture and some of the gator pics are courtesy of Gary and Christelle. Thanks for sharing!)

A team like no other!

A team like no other!

Watching Gary and Christelle working together on Time and Tide was a very enjoyable part of our voyage. Somewhere in the middle of their second trip around the Great North American Loop, and having traveled over 8,000 miles together, they have cooperation down to a science! Just like in Kupendana, everything has its place, and routines are completed without deviation. Christelle had planned an anchorage for each night…a calm place down a side channel or tributary stream, safe from the river’s current and the wake of other boats. When anchoring at night or de-achoring in the morning, each one had his/her own responsibility. Whether navigating a kayak, sailboat, or motor yacht, clarity of communication is critical. Gary and Christelle worked together well. But more than that, it was easy to tell that they loved being on this adventure together. As Gene and I have developed this summer a collection of common experiences, shared memories, good friends, and inside jokes, so it is with Gary and Christelle. Spying a blue heron, they will both say, “cranky pants!” in reference to the raucous call that the herons often make as they take flight. Or something will trigger a memory, and both of them will smile, enjoying fully the shared experience as they recount the story. Several times Gary stretched, leaned back and proclaimed, “I love my life, and I love my wife!”

After our travel was finished each day, and the engines were silenced, the two cats would wake up and come out for their dinner. If there was a place to do so, we would try to get off the boat and go for a walk for a little exercise. Motoring all day, while draining due to the necessity for mental alertness, doesn’t require a lot of physical energy. Unlike paddling for six to eight hours a day, one of the challenges of this life style is the lack of physical exercise. Gary and Christelle have bicycles on board that they try to use when possible,, but on this trip we had to content ourselves with one walk, two evening trips around the anchorages in Jimmy, the dingy named after Jimmy Johnson of the Nascar circuit, and rousing games of Eucher and Hearts.

In the swamp now

In the swamp now

As we got farther down the river and closer to the mouth of Mobile Bay, the river widened and, as we expected, became even more swamp-like. We realized that, had we been paddling, there would have been absolutely no place on either side of the channel for us to have pulled Dana to the side to stretch or to camp. There was no solid ground. We watched as the boat traffic increased, and the river turned into the wide-open salt water of Mobile Bay, We saw flocks of water birds following shrimp boats, and dolphins enjoying the wakes. Before we knew it, we were turning into Dog River, where Turner Marina awaited Time and Tide. As we pulled up to the dock and unloaded Dana, the end of our paddle down more than 2000 miles of river had come to an end, at the Gulf of Mexico. Gary and Christelle would stay here for a few days, pulling Time and Tide out of the water to clean and repaint the hull before traveling on to Florida and the Bahamas for the winter. We would stay for a few days to do service, locate a vehicle, drive to find service in New Orleans and Memphis, and then to continue home to the cold and snow of Waukesha, and to the warmth of our friends and family.

It was a fabulous end to a wonderful journey. Thank you, Gary and Christelle, for sharing your skills, your home, and your looper life with us. We will never forget!

Categories: River Adventures | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.