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A suicide, a burglary, and boatload of fear

Dear Alex,
You’ve asked about getting my boat out on the river for an overnight. I have wanted to do this with you for a long time. I know I’ve said we will. But let me tell you quite honestly that there are several problems I have to process before we can do anything with that boat. The biggest hill to climb has to do with my own anxiety about the operation. I think it has a lot to do with the fear I feel about any such project.
After my canoe was stolen several years ago, I was heartbroken. I’d lived in that canoe for almost three months when I canoed backfrom Helena, Montana, after walking from Kansas City to Helena now going on 20years ago. I used that canoe for river trips many times after the trip–overnights, weekends, weeks, and one time going to St. Louis with my friend Gary about eight years ago. That canoe meant the world to me, and while I am not attached to material goods, the sentimental value of the canoe made it priceless.

The beauty of the canoe was that I could transport it easily on the top of a car or in my truck. If I went on a trip with someone, we could drop their car off at the end point and we could affix the canoe on their car or in their truck. After we did that, we could then run up to the departure point and pick up the other car.
My friend Ken and I took the kids out on the river the day it was stolen. We put in at English Landing Park in Parkville and came down to KansasCity’s Riverfront Park. Ken didn’t have a car that we could put the canoe on, and this is the only time this happened to me. We couldn’t leave the kids to watch over the canoe for Ken to drive me to get my car at English Landing Park. When we arrived at Riverfront Park, we thought we’d stash the canoe in the woods, go get my care, and come back for the canoe.

I’d stashed my canoe in the woods many times in my river trips to go into town or to the store for supplies and never had a problem. But a few days before we took the kids out, a woman had jumped in the river above Parkville and was last seen clinging to a log as she passed by the casino in Parkville. Earlier the day we took the kids out, a couple of anglers in a boat discovered the body just downstream from the park. By the time we arrived at the park, the cops and Coastguard closed down the boat landing and were using the ramp for their operations. The only conceivable way we could get into the park was from the river, as the officials stopped traffic in and out of the park.
We got out at the boat ramp and stashed the canoe in the woods. Anglers and boaters had lined up at the park entrance waiting for the boat ramp to open. We left to get my car at Parkville and by the time we returned, the boat ramp was open and someone had taken the canoe. We looked through the woods for hours, thinking that we missed the place we put the canoe. Finally, around nightfall we gave it up and I had to accept that my prize possession was gone forever.
A few years later I bought the boat, trailer, and motor for $300. It was a good deal and one that attracted me for a couple of reasons. The boat could carry more stuff. I thought of taking my camp stove, chairs, and other bulky things that I couldn’t in the canoe. Canoe camping is strictly a bare-bones operation. With the boat, I thought, I could pack more and be able to take Jane, who isn’t a camper by heart. I thought it would be easier to make Nick and others comfortable.

I found out right away that one problem with the boat is the transport issue. We have only one trailer and we need it to take the boat out. We would have to leave the boat at the end point, drive a car up to where we left the trailer, and then drive the trailer back to pick the boat out of the river. The problem is that we have to leave the boat alone and risk what happened to the canoe.
There are other problems that plague me. We could put in the river at one point and let someone else take the truck and trailer to pick us up later. But scheduling someone to pick us up is nightmarish. I can pull the thing on my own and feel just fine. Since the motor is neither reliable nor powerful enough to take us upstream—in which case, we could just drift down to the departure point and avoid the transport issue altogether—I have to paddle the boat downstream.
Now I favor drifting over motorized travel. The river feels closer at hand in the oars, similar to the feeling of the paddle in the hand. Without a motor, the travel is quieter and you can hear the river and surroundings better. The oars don’t disturb the solitude that the river gives you.

But again, the trailer has issues. The lights don’t workexcept on my truck, and even then, they don’t work well. I don’t like putting another person in the position of having to deal with traffic tickets because the trailer lights don’t work.
Since I don’t have a spare wheel for the trailer, if a tire fails, there I am, stuck on the side of the road. The trailer also has a faulty axel and I don’t trust that the wheel will even stay on. Again, if any of these catastrophes happen with me at the wheel, I’m confident I can deal with them. But putting someone else in those situations is unconscionable to me.
These are the complaints that keep me awake at night, and don’t get me wrong, they are complaints. In my lethargy lately, I wonder, too, if they aren’t excuses for sitting on my ass. There is not denying, however, that I have a perfectly good boat in the driveway. I think of the thing and am riddled with anxiety.

This anxiety is also not isolated to the boat. I have similar fears for just about anything in life. People think I’m confident and assured. The truth is that I’m the most fearful I know. I may look like confident on the outside, but I suffer the tortures of the damned when approaching anything, from starting a new semester to starting a new piece of writing—or even letters like this. The fear of doing something and also of not doing it builds until the fear of not undertaking something overcomes the fear of doing it. It sounds illogical but I’ve dealt with fear like this my whole life. If you can figure that out, let me know and I will follow you everywhere.
I know now that I am a canoe owner, not a boat owner. I don’t want to feel fear every time I have the boat on my mind. I am now, after writing this note, determined to come up with solutions in the next few weeks or sell the boat for what I bought it for and get a canoe. I understand canoe. It’s small, simple, and free of the kinds of complications that the boat presents me.
So, what to do with our trip? Having someone along to figure things out and share the fear always works better than leaving me on my own. Until I sell the boat, if I do, then the trip is always on the table. I will soon feel the fear of not having time on the river with you very soon, I think. Have faith. I will show you the wonders of the river.


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