You never know when you’ll hear the end of a story. I suppose in a book you can feel the weight of pages and know you’re getting close, but in life there’s no such aid. Ends come unexpectedly.
I remember the white flyer on the door of a gas station in New Madrid. This was back on the Mississippi River on the Missouri side across a long bend that retreats all the way from Tennessee into Kentucky.
“Please Help Me!!!” it read. “Please help me find my canoe. My boat was taken from the boat ramp in New Madrid on Friday, November 2nd where it was padlocked to the fence rail with a cable lock. I am canoeing the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.”
It described the canoe as “18 foot, green fiberglass with a half dozen white bondo patches on it,” “one seat in the middle with a green back rest,” and “The Kristi Nicole” painted in large, white letters on the hull.
I read between the lines and saw that it was so much more than a disposable piece of equipment. I saw years spent in the patched holes. I saw the river slipping by from that single seat. I saw the fresh, white paint–still sticky with hopes and dreams–when he spelled out “Kristi Nicole” across the hull.
I never left my kayak for long after that. I didn’t want my dream stolen on the side of a riverbank. I only leave it in grandmother’s garages where it will be safe while I fly up to Minnesota to talk at the Midwest Mountaineering Expo.
“Yea, someone stole my canoe,” the man said.
I was wandering around looking at booths and filling my head with possible adventures when I heard it.
“Wait, where?” I said.
The man had been telling me about the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin, but the conversation had shifted to paddling.
“New Madrid,” he said.
I looked at him like he was a ghost. Then he pulled out a copy of the flyer and a picture of the boat. There it was with “The Kristi Nicole My Little Cricket Bean” painted on the side.
Someone had offered him a canoe to replace her, but he’d turned them down. He wanted to finish in The Kristi Nicole or not at all. He named it after a woman he loves who no longer loves him. They keep in touch though. She told him she hated the name and wanted him to change it, but he kept it anyway. You can’t replace a boat like that off the rack.
“But I found it,” he said. “Three months later this guy called me up and I got it back.”
You never know when you’ll hear the end of a story, maybe never, maybe all we ever get are pieces. I got an email from him when I landed in Charleston.
“Kristi Nicole still hates me,” it said, “but I’m going back to the river in one week.”