I want to tell you a couple of sailing stories that are really not about sailing at all.
The first is about two guys, Captains Ray and Phil, with whom I taught sailing in the late-90s. We all taught at OCSC Sailing in San Francisco Bay. The “OC” stood for Olympic Circle, which was the actual name of a section of water right off the Berkeley Marina, where the school was based. Unfortunately, the International Olympic Committee didn’t approve of a non-sanctioned use of the word Olympic, hence the abbreviation (for Olympic Circle Sailing Club).
Captains Ray and Phil were sort of the senior instructors. We were all technically captains, as it required a US Coast Guard captain’s license to teach there, but more than most, they identified with the designation. And they held sway as the sages, the elder statesmen of the school, if you will. They shared a lot of beliefs between them, which they imparted students like pearls of wisdom. One of their maxims on blue-water passages—that is, off the coast as opposed to day-sailing in the Bay—was that the perfect sea story went like this: We departed, had a good sail, and arrived safely. In other words, no drama. Nothing to see here. No emergencies to cope with, no storms to weather, no break-downs to jury rig . . . Just a pleasant, well-prepared-for passage.
The second story is about George and Nan Braun. They were a older couple (probably about the age I am now, but I was in my 30s at the time, so they seemed old to me) who bought a ridiculously racy 65’ sailboat. They wanted to take it from Newport Beach, CA to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to sail down there, but also to avoid paying the California sales tax. They needed a third crew (insurance requirement), and hired me to help deliver the boat.
We did not have such an easy sail as the captains Ray and Phil would have preferred. Nothing bad happened, but it was a lot of work. On trips like this—I’ve noticed this on a couple of long sails—there comes a point at which the physical exhaustion of being under way twenty-four hours a day for days at a time causes emotional walls start to drop. George was British, very stoic in most regards. But at one point as we continued down the coast, he was talking about something personal and out of nowhere, broke down and started crying. Nan was freaked out, because in forty or so years of knowing him, she’d never seen him cry. She took him below, herding him as she might a child.
Afterward George recovered and was fine. Not ashamed, though he did apologize because he was afraid his breakdown was awkward for me. But the emotional wall between us was gone. From then on he was more open, more relaxed. I saw him once, years later, and he sat next to me and put his hand on my knee while we talked. He felt that comfortable.
But more to the point, later that same day he sat in the cockpit while I steered the boat and for the next few hours—literally, hours: it was like Heart of Darkness where Marlow spins a tale all evening while he and some others sit in a boat anchored in the Thames, waiting for the tide to turn—George told me the story of his life. He started by saying, “My life has been fortunate, in that it has been filled with misfortune.”
And the difference in those two outlooks, the uneventful journey and the troublous one, strikes me as I write these blog entries every day. No one wants to read about a perfectly smooth trip. How boring is that? At the same time, while I report on the rough times I experience, I do not exaggerate them for literary effect. Frankly, I don’t need to. I have put down every expression of pain and uncertainty and self-doubt as accurately as I am able.
My concern here is that maybe I’ve been too honest. I came to that realization when my mom started sending multiple successive emails, like so:
“R U ok?”
“Glad you are ok; brutal ride. I think it would be easier going the other way like the horses”
“sharon standing by if you need her”
First of all, MJ (short for Mary Jane, Mom’s name) doesn’t write emails: she sends emails with the entire text in the subject line. The body of the message is blank. Somehow that makes the email more of an imperative, a command rather than correspondence. Second, when did my 80-ish year-old mom learn texting shorthand like “R U?” Sharon, by the way, is my sister who lives in Denver, four or five hours’ drive from Casper. I wonder if she knew she was on call . . .
Since then, MJ has offered to fly and drive out to Casper and sit in a hotel room to be on call if I have any trouble over the next week. Failing that, she offered to send food. She has all but flown to Denver to make Sharon and her husband, Gary, drive up and force me to go back home with them.
All of which is very sweet—and MJ is a lot of things, but I think it’s fair to say that “motherly” and “sweet” are not among them. I do not mean that in a negative way. She is a very strong-willed, highly-intelligent, fiercely independent woman who still works and is an active horseback rider (trail and dressage) on a huge, strong brute of a horse named Cisco. So for her to flip out over what I’m doing and how I’m describing it tells me that maybe I have gone just a little too far in the honesty department.
I appreciate that some of you are worried about me. So to allay any concerns, let me lay out my plan for the next two weeks.
To start, I am staying the extra day here in Casper to wait out the thunderstorms forecast for Sunday.
I will then ride about 50 miles to camp near Independence Rock. Part of that ride crosses Pathfinder Ranch, which is private land. I have received permission to cross and camp on the land, which abuts the Independence Rock State Historic Site. The Site itself has a Wyoming Rest stop in one corner (water; rest rooms). In addition to the staff at the Historic Site, I am in touch with the people at Pathfinder Ranch.
I will spend the next night in Jeffrey City, WY. Reportedly, there is a bike hostel there, though I have not been able to reach them by phone. Happily, there is also a small motel, and I have a reservation.
Day three I will reach the Mormon Handcart Visitor’s Center near Sweetwater Station. I am in touch with Elder Cook who is currently overseeing the site—I have actually ridden with him and his wife, Ann, and will camp either at the Center or nearby in a nearby place he’ll show me. I plan to spend two nights there because Keith has graciously offered to show me some Pony Express stations and other areas on private lands, which he has permission to enter.
After that, I will camp either at another Mormon site (Rock Creek Hollow) or on the private land of Burnt Creek. I have the Burnt Creek owner’s permission to cross and camp on his land and am in touch with him, too.
After that, a long-ish passage to the town of Farson. It has a motel (though I still need to reserve that room).
From Farson, another long-ish (55-mile) leg to Granger. In Granger, I am in touch with Jessica (thanks to Jan!) who runs a catering business (Antelope Crossing Pub), and who has agreed to provide dinner and breakfast and goodies for the road. All vegetarian, too. I’ll probably camp in the city park, though Jessica has told me she can show me nice camp spots out by the river.
From there, Ft. Bridger and Lyman, two towns with large campgrounds, convenience stores, etc. By this point, I’m recrossing US 80, so back to traffic, if not civilization.
From Ft. Bridger to Echo Lake, in the Wasatch Mountains, there are are no open camp spots, though Jan is working to find some. My current plan is to divert to Evanston, motel it, then make the run to Echo Lake, where there’s a campground.
From Echo Lake, it’s a hilly day, but only a day’s ride to Salt Lake City and the home of Mike and Connie, Lisa’s cousins.
Can something go wrong in there? Absolutely. But I feel as if I have put in enough planning and have sufficient support along the way to where this is not an unreasonably dangerous adventure. I may not be able to post as much due to connectivity and, I assume, longer riding days. But I should still be able to send out GPS locations every day.
So if you happen to run into MJ, please tell her it will all be okay.