I could have waded across a couple shallow rivers and streams, walked a few miles, and come out across the river from a boat launch that’s very busy for hunting season, but I wanted to get my boat out of the water before things freeze up. Also, even though it’s been raining and raining the water is going lower and lower (glacial rivers: the cooler it gets, the less glacier melts, the lower the water gets). My mom’s husband has a hitch on his truck, and he was down this way, so he agreed to come get me on his way back to my mom’s house.
I woke up at three in the morning and went out and bailed the boat out with this very pretty old pitcher that I found half buried in the dirt here so that it wouldn’t sink. A few days ago, when it started raining, I made sure that all the little hoses and stuff on the gas assembly were up out of the water, and a couple days ago I started the motor just to make sure I could. So when I got up super early at eight in the morning I was pretty sure I was going to be able to just throw things in the boat and go. After bailing it out, of course.
I got up. I bailed out. I loaded up and locked up. I tied Bro up so that he couldn’t drop things over the side of the boat and then jump out to retrieve them. I turned the switch on, I pulled the choke out, I set the throttle at just slightly open, I pumped the primer three times, and I pulled the string. Nothing. After fifteen minutes of string pulling and every possible combination of choke and throttle adjustments, it started and ran for about two seconds before stalling out.
The phone rang. My mom’s husband wanted to know if I was on my way. I’m trying, I told him, it won’t start. Yeah, he said, this is the worst possible weather for it. All the rain makes it hard for it to get enough air.
We hang up, and I keep pulling the string and imagining the boat being stuck out here for the winter, freezing, and cracking in half. Finally I call Possum, who is my mechanical and magical savior. He advises that there is probably water in the gas, and I should pour it into an open container in a dry place for the water to settle to the bottom and then siphon the gas off the top.
“Could you just try some magic before I do that?” I asked, picturing my mom’s husband waiting impatiently at the boat dock. It’s not that he’s an impatient person, it’s just that, being very mechanically talented himself, he has very little tolerance for other people’s lack of mechanical talent.
“Well… okay,” Possum says. “But magic isn’t going to help water in your fuel.”
Okay. I count to three in my head to give his magic a chance to work and pull the string… and she starts right up! I have to open the throttle all the way to keep her going, but she keeps going. Yay! I go up the river with the throttle wide open to stay running, very sorry for all the noise, until I run into the muddy bottom near the mouth. What if I turn the motor off and pull it up to get through the mud bars, and then it won’t start? I sit there for a long time and let it warm up until I can run the throttle almost all the way down to neutral without stalling, and then I take the leap of faith and flip the switch to off and pull the motor up (which is hard – it’s heavy and there’s no trim assist!).
Can I pole through this? I move to the front of the boat and stick a paddle down. The water’s like two inches deep, I’ll have to get out and pull. When I step over the side the water is almost up to my knees. Bro, of course, is very upset that he’s tied up at the back of the boat and I’m in the water at the front of the boat. After a lot of tugging and sinking in the mud and pulling and tugging the boat is almost through the mud and into the big river. I climb back in and lower the motor, but it’s still too shallow and the bottom of the motor gets stuck in the mud. I pull it up and push the boat out into the fast river in front of me. Can I turn it around and get the motor started with the front nosed into the muddy little river I live on? No, just having the back out a little bit pulls the rest of it out. I take a big breath, jump in, and push out into the big river clear of the sweepers (big trees that hang over the side of the river and will sweep you out of your boat as your boat goes under them). I run back and lower the motor, flip the switch on, pull the string. Nothing. I’m a quarter of a mile down the river by the time it starts, but I’m so glad it starts!
I’m going upriver, and with the throttle wide open the boat only moves a little faster than the current. But I’m glad to be moving at all! Further up towards the dock the river gets narrower and faster and we’re barely moving at all. Sometimes the boat goes backwards for a second when the motor coughs. The motor and I, we’re in the zone together pushing the boat up river, and we’re going to make it. She’s got even more character than Helga, and I like her.
When I finally nose into the cut bank (hard, because turning sideways makes the boat go backwards with the current) and jump out, Bro starts barking and a family that’s loading into a big fancy boat to go moose hunting cheers. “You made it!” yells the grandfather.
I laugh, embarassed, and then join in cheering for myself. Bro loves it. The grandfather mosey’s over while his grandkids argue about the viability of cowboy hats on the boat.
“You out there on the river all alone with that boat?”
“Yeah.” It’s cool to challenge misogynistic assumptions, but I don’t want all the drunk entitled men of this village to know that there’s a woman all by herself living up the river.
“For how long?”
“Oh, just a couple weeks.”
He looks at me, determines me crazy, and explains that there is a trail where I could go moose hunting instead. A really good area, you always get a moose or two if you go out there. “You put a moose in that boat and you aren’t gonna make it up this river,” he finishes.
I thank him for the advice, and he gestures at Bro, who is still barking his head off in the boat. “Good bear dog, eh?”
I agree, and repeat something a guy told me a few weeks ago, when he was warning me about drunk entitled village men. “Yup. A good dog and a good gun and I’m king of the river.” I don’t tell him Bro’s half deaf.
Then my mom’s husband shows up, kayak and life vest thrown in the back of his truck in case he had to come rescue me. How cool that there’s someone who would put a kayak in that river to come rescue me, and how awesome that the boat started without him having to.
The grandfather goes back and explains to his family that I’ve been out on the river all by myself with no man in that boat that hardly runs and it’s a miracle I made it back here. When we load the boat on the trailer I wade in extra deep to show the grandfather and his grandsons how tough I am.
“Look,” he tells them, “she isn’t cold in the water. How come you whining about your feet wet and that woman just walk in?”
(Tomorrow: part two of the adventure.)