Angle to Key West: The Next Friend (10/24)

Past Lock 17 – October 24, 2012

The loneliest moments are goodbyes. The last hug, the last wave, the last glimpse of a friend’s truck disappearing down the street. Even standing in a city, in a parking lot filled with cars, I felt alone.

I packed my gear, sliding pieces into place one at a time. Every bit of it has a purpose–shelter, navigation, warmth, food–and every bit reminded me of how alone I am out here, how the moment I said goodbye to Gesh I was on my own.

An older man came by as I packed. He stood above the boat ramp watching for a bit, then said hello.

“Are you going out for a while?” he asked.

I shoved my tent into the rear hatch and nodded.

“All the way to Key West if I can make it fit,” I joked. “It’s kinda like a bad magic trick.”

He smiled and watched me work, just hanging around, talking a bit about Muscatine, a bit about the trip, but never coming too close, like he was afraid to interfere. My sleeping bag, tent poles, pad, stove, and food disappeared into the hatches until all I had left was an empty water bottle that I needed to fill.

“Hey,” I asked the man. “Would you watch the boat for a few minutes while I run and get some water?”

His face lit up.

“Sure,” he said.

I ran over to a bathroom a couple hundred yards away and filled the bottle in a sink. When I got back, Mr. Dickerson was sitting with his back to me. I looked at him for a moment and his head never turned. He watched over the boat like it would disappear if he glanced away, like it was made of gold, like it held all his dreams instead of mine.

“Thanks,” I said.

He nodded and I sat down next to him. Then he told me about driving big rigs across the country, about smelling burnt brakes down mountain passes, about how routes east of the Mississippi felt crowded and the open desert of the Southwest never grew old. We talked about Iowa farmland, about the golden corn and black soil, about Muscatine’s button factories. We talked about the Mississippi, going through locks, and dodging barges.

“Thanks again for watching the boat,” I told him.

He smiled and wished me luck as I waved goodbye.

The truth is, the boat would have been fine without him, but that moment when I came back and saw him watching her like she was his own, that’s what I wanted to thank him for. That moment when I knew that I’m not alone, that I’m never alone, that a friend is just a hello away.

7 responses to “Angle to Key West: The Next Friend (10/24)

  1. Yeah, Super Sweet, Daniel. I bet you made Mr. Dickerson’s day, too.
    I remember many times seeing you off as you walked back onto the long trails. I would watch for a long time. It’s not easy to do. Knowing that you were off to another fantastic adventure and knowing that you made many friends along the way made it bearable. You know, they used to call your grandfather Friendly Freddy. He never met a stranger.

  2. A former Boundary Waters canoer, now an occasional one on the Loire, I’m enjoying the story of your trip and the good writing. Sailors have just left France on a solo round the world race. We send you the same wishes people sent with them: “Good wind!”

  3. Please know, Daniel, that you certainly aren’t alone…. Since a brief meeting on the deck at Sha Sha Resort on Rainy Lake late last June, my wife and I have followed your progress with your daily updates and wonderful tales and insights. Continue to be strong – you are an inspiration to many…. Safe travels, Jim and Penny Newman

  4. You got me all choked up with this story Out Of Order. I don’t miss a day of reading your entries. I am right there with you. Wishing you continued safety’s friend. Xoxo

  5. I have been reading your writings since duluth. I have been so intrigued the people you meet on your joirney. All considered they are great
    . Look how much has changed… The leaves, water, rivers, food, and people. The mean guy yelling about the sidewalk do the guy watching the boat while you get water. Great life your able to share with us readers. I work in a prison and live on base. I watch changes everyday, Weather, moons, people.children going to school, us officers going to work. Everyday before I go to work I read your stories and not one of the people I work with get to meet the same people you do or feel the warmth of your fire on them cold days and nights. Thank you for sharing your trip with us. Good luck watch for deer and the mean people…take care my friend… D. Ratz

  6. Wonderful post, Daniel. Clearly, you are never alone. I have been enjoying following your journey since 4th of July in Ely, MN. You share terrific stories of the people you meet. Look at the great comments here from follower-friends, and I bet there are many readers who don’t comment, but are thinking of you often. It sounds like you have an “ansestoral friendly.” Very cool. Your next “not alone” moment is just around the bend. Thank you for sharing with us, so we are “not alone”, too!

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