The Vegan Militia

... because we are all made out of meat!

The River Not Taken


Every decision produces regret. Sometimes it isn’t a big thing or it is quickly forgotten. But for other decisions the thoughts of what might have been weighs heavily. I find that the older I get, the more I think about these things.

The year 2000 was a momentous year for me, the pivot of my entire life. I spent the previous year working hard fixing y2k bugs and trying to make my failing marriage work. Only one of those worked out, but, regardless, both were over. I am sure everyone has had a situation where you were working on a project frantically for a long time. But once you finish and the weight is suddenly lifted, you are confused. You haven’t had to think about what needs to be done for some time, but suddenly you do. This was where I found myself at the beginning of 2000.

I think my father sensed this and had a suggestion: let’s buy a boat. He had several boats when I was a kid, and we talked about boats ever since, often we would go down to the local marinas to look at boats for sale. I joined a local sailing club a few years earlier, but found that sailing in and out of the marina to “race the buoys” for a few hours was not what I was after and dropped out. I wanted to try longer trips to more remote places. I wasn’t interested in big boats or sailing on the ocean. I spent the first 33 years of my life within a mile or two of the Columbia River. It speaks to me. I wanted to explore.

Given the pending divorce, I had no money to spare, but he offered to pay for it. I didn’t want to spend too much of his money, and I also don’t like big boats. We very quickly settled on buying a West Wight Potter 15. So he called up the factory and within a month we were in Los Angeles picking up our newly built Potter.

When I was young, my father told me that the river was navigtable as far as Lewiston, Idaho. I always thought such a river trip would be amazing. Going upriver was far too arduous in a sailboat; the current in the Columbia river is often nearing the hull speed of a small sailboat. So unless there was a strong, favorable wind, going upriver was not something which could happen quickly. But downriver is a different matter. If you throw a stick in the river at Lewiston, by my calculation it would get to the ocean in less than a week. So if I don’t have the wind at my back, I’ll have the current pushing me forward. My employer had a generous “sabatical” policy, which let me take 4 weeks of vacation after 5 years of work. That should be plenty of time for such a voyage. I started planning the journey for the begining of September.

But being single is not something I was accustomed to. I was married young and promptly tried to find someone to fill that gap in my life. My divorce was proceeding at a snail’s pace, and here I am casting about for a relationship. We all know this will not end well. And it doesn’t. The first woman was truly insane, which I should have noticed after two dates, not after two months. Then I met a woman at a software conference. I immediately imagine I found my soul mate. But she lives in Maine. No problem! I have vacation time scheduled in September! I have some cash I was going to use on boat equipment! I spend a week with her further convincing myself that she is the one. I make plans to change jobs so I can move across the country. Within a year I am living in Boston, and within two years I am, again, alone because I did not have a cool house in northern Vermont. The tricky thing about soul-mates is that it isn’t always symmetrical: just because you find your soul-mate, does not mean the other person found theirs.

By that time my father had sold the boat, and I was stuck where I was. I got on with my life, and while I didn’t end up where I expected, I am happy with it (aside from what happened in the last paragraph).

But I always think about that trip, and wonder what it would have been like. One day I thought: why not imagine it had? Write a account of the journey: an imaginary memoir, a hallucinatory travelogue, a speculation of what might have been. I had many adventures in the final 115 miles of the Columbia. Cast those into the story, sometimes reformed to fit the narrative, others as a verbatim flashback. And make up the rest. I still have the river charts and, with the internet, I can virtually explore many of the places.

In the course of doing this, I was looking at various photos on Google Maps. Curiously, there is an island which is not on my charts: Kelly Bar. Presumably it was made in the last few decades from dredging operations. But someone shared two pictures from that island, both of them showed a West Wight Potter anchored in a sheltered spot. I take this as a sign. My Potter needs to make that journey. Even if it is only in my mind.

Another sign I should do this was in a recent episode of Sideways, where the host said:

“All of us unconciously choose what to remember and what to forget. Sometimes we edit and retouch our stories to make them more vivid or satisfying. And this is why failing to get the facts entirely correct is not unusual. It’s inevitable. And it’s also deeply, inextricably, human.”

I don’t know if I will ever finish this, or if anyone is interested, but I will share anything I deem good enough here.

Tags: river sail regret