Just before we made the leap —
…But our lives were about to undergo a more radical change. Trish was teaching at Galloway, a private school in Atlanta and I was working as an engineer for Western Electric in Norcross, Georgia. Our outdoor excursions would almost always find us camping in the mountains of north Georgia or North Carolina.
“What if we didn’t just go there, but actually lived there?” was a question Trish loved to pose.
Well, what if we did? Gulp! Leaving my engineering work and a reliable income gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. But Trish had no qualms whatsoever about parting with her teaching job.
“You’ve always told me that time is worth so much more than money – now’s our chance to find out!”
But if I worked three more years as an engineer, my age and service would qualify me for an early retirement package. We’d be so much better off financially.”
“Nope. That’s an excuse. Let’s do it now!”
Trish, being a risk taker, and always a catalyst for change, felt strongly drawn away from the city, to an area where our daily lives would be surrounded by beauty. For the first time in my own life, without a clear vision of how we would make it all work, I took her hand and agreed to do it.
We began to search the North Carolina mountains for land or rentals and tally up what we might have if we liquidated our house and land in Georgia. We put the house up for sale. It sold — at our asking price. We gave notice to our employers and jumped into the unknown…
In northern Peru —
…Tonight we are in Hauraz, near enough to the end of our trip that we know we can afford to eat in a restaurant. In fact, even with our family of six, there is food left over. We ask the restaurant folks to wrap it to go.
On the street it is pouring rain and folks quickly scoot from the shelter of one doorway or overhang to another. The night is chilly, but our hi-tech raingear and warm layers keep us snug and warm. Our eyes sweep the street, alive with dancing puddles. There are many possibilities.
We decide on a group of three small children huddled against the wall on the opposite sidewalk. In a matter of seconds we are there.
One of the children, a girl of six or seven, starts to ask if we would like to buy a piece of candy or give a few centimos – we’re not sure which.
For a moment her expression remains blank as we hand her half a pizza and a bowl of fettuccini, still covered with wrapping. Then a light comes to her eyes that we will remember all our lives as she discovers the food and rushes to show her two friends. By the time we’ve re-crossed the street, the rare treat is already being devoured.
But there are tears in our eyes as we know there are hundreds of others on the street whose night will be no different. And that there will be hundreds of other nights for those same children when no one will buy and no one will give and no one will care.
But for one brief moment, light has shown through the rain and we and the children have touched. They have taught us one more lesson in love, and it is for this that we are here…
Nearing the end of a 430-mile Alaskan river journey —
…Backs ache, arms ache, butts ache. We’ve been churning against the wind for eleven hours, the last hour and a half alongside Kinuk Island, the final piece of the Noatak Delta. The temptation to stop and camp is overwhelming.
At 10pm, we slide past the downstream tip of Kinuk with only a huge question mark ahead of us. Ten miles of open ocean. Black night. Exhausted bodies. Are we being smart or stupid to leave all land behind and commit to crossing at this late hour?
A spectacular sunset – like embers of fire stretched across the sky – has been underway to our right for almost an hour. The lights of Kotzebue twinkle on the horizon, barely visible. But the ocean is like a mirror – not a breath of wind stirs. No matter how we feel, we know that this is the time to go.
A mile out, an Inuit family slows their outboard beside us and a young man offers a ride. We decline. Though our aching muscles might disagree, the three of us are now into making the total trip under our own paddle power.
Halfway across the sound, we polish off the last of the jerky and gorp. All around us is silence, except for the muted dip of our paddles in the water. The western sky is now blood red behind the mountains and on the watery horizon. Seals break the surface of the color-drenched sea to pause and look at us, turning their heads from one side to the other. As we twist around and make eye contact, they slide quickly out of sight.
I watch the sweep of black water behind Cricket’s and Dave’s kayaks and know that we must still be moving forward. At last the color fades and the wakes become invisible in the night. Cricket sings to help take our minds off the physical exhaustion – John Denver, Jim Croce, Simon and Garfunkel, Barbra Streisand.
It’s dark now, except for the knife-edge sliver of light at the horizon – impossible to see each other, even a couple of boat lengths away. But Cricket’s singing is the beacon that holds our exhausted trio together – without it we will lose each other in the darkness.
A layer of cloud and mist hugs the water, gradually winking out the stars above and moving ever nearer to us from the open ocean to the west. If it catches us, our bearings will be gone, we will try to find each other, hold on and wait out the night.
The lights of Kotzebue gleam closer and we begin to make out the shapes of low buildings behind the glow. It’s midnight, we’ve been paddling close to 14 hours, but now the end is within our grasp. At 12:15am, we slide quietly out of the darkness and nudge the shore at the foot of Mission Street. No wave laps the beach – the ocean is still a black sheet of obsidian…