What’s in Your Go-Bag?????

For those of us in the West who live in the inland drier climates, we have deliberated over and over as to what to take if we had to leave our house in a fire. This past fall there was so much emphasis on being prepared to evacuate and packing a “go box”.

Yes, we’ll need our important legal and insurance papers, some personal necessities and clothes, pictures of our kids, sleeping bags, valuables and few cans of food and on and on. But for me, there is one more crucial item that I would include. In fact, it might be the first thing I put in the truck.  OK, it’s not practical. It’s not even possible or realistic.  But, if one were to consider in an emergency, taking the things that have brought one the most happiness, satisfaction and adventure in life, I’d put my kayak in first.

I’ve had time the past few months of the pandemic to ponder all the memories my kayak has brought my husband, David and I–spending the night on an island in the Yuba River, paddling with the Sierra Club on the American River, reading our books in the middle of a lake on a sweltering summer afternoon. My boat is now 25 years old and still floatin’.

One of my fondest memories is floating down the Nan River in the small, untouristy town of Nan in northeastThailand, probably in 2017.  We rented a kayak from a Chinese tour company that we heard was pretty reliable.

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Mr. Fhu, the owner of the tour company, arrives at our guest house promptly at 8 AM with a sidekick, and we head north out of town. David and I bounce along in the back of the jeep hanging on for dear life. The boat is well tied on a rack above our heads which is a good sign. Mr. Fhu regales us with stories of his childhood in English sprinkled with Chinese—the American cowboy TV shows he loved.  I’m bracing my knees and hanging onto the overhead rail as we descend the rutty dirt trail to the river.

At first sight, the Nan River reminds me of the muddy rivers in the Midwest where I grew up. There are, however, no factories or businesses along the shore.  The jungle tumbles down to the river’s edge which looks suspiciously low. It’s a fifteen mile float. It could be a three or a seven hour paddle depending on current.

Even if I’ve run the same stretch of river ten times, there is one last hurdle to overcome—fear bordering on panic. A fatal error message in my brain computer says, “I can’t do this. What was I thinking? Maybe we should go back now.” But I push those thoughts to the back of my mind and go through the motions; checking gear, sunscreen, water, loading the paddles Unfortunately, I didn’t check thoroughly enough.

“Are there snakes in this river?”

“Only when sun go down,” Fhu comments. He and his sidekick chuckle at what seems to be my naive question.

“Can you swim in it?”

“Children swim in river,” he shouts as if only a child would want to cool off in the water. They skip a few rocks while we gather our gear; then jump back in the jeep.

David yells as they are about to depart, “Hey, where are the seats?”

Fhu shouts a little sheepishly, “OHHH, I think we forget. No problem. You use life preservers.” David and I can only shake our heads and laugh as we watch the jeep struggle back up the dusty road.

I bunch up my life preserver to lean against, and we push off into the slow rolling river. Not a catastrophe but a lot less comfortable   It takes only a few minutes of paddling to know we will work hard to reach the take out before sunset. There is no wind, and that’s a great boon. David and I merge into a paddling rhythm and a comfortable silence. Soon I forget all details that belong to land life.

The music of the jungle accompanies us as we paddle down the sleepy river. I feel like not only am I in another country, it’s another century. The day heats up. “This feels like we’re floating down the Nile. I’m waiting to spot an unwanted child in a papyrus basket,” David laughs.

We pass A-frame bamboo huts built on stilts near the edges of the river. Fishermen sit inside in the shade, their poles in the water. They nod and wave to us. Three women in a small wooden boat are harvesting fluorescent green river moss. One of them is waist deep in water cutting the long strands with a machete. The others slap the moss on the water to wash it.

We stop to watch several little boys in underwear digging into the muddy sides of the river for fresh water crabs. They are surprised to see us and yell, “Where you from?”

“California!”

“Oooh Hollywoood,” they yell giggling amongst themselves.

“Hahmbuhguhrs,” they call out proudly at their great worldly knowledge.  We pull into the bank to watch them digging crabs. Soon they are surrounding me in my little boat so I invite them to sit and check it out. But before their enthusiasm launches us all down stream, we say good-by and head out. It’s time to move along.

Back into the boats, we’re in serious paddle mode. There are places where the river slows and has no current at all; then some riffles and a breeze that carries us along. Waves of sunlight dance on the water and the smells change from moment to moment—from stale fish, to wet mud. Occasionally the scent of a frangipani tree sails its fragrance on the breeze.

The heat of the day soon catches up to me. I call to David as I flop into the cool, clear water, “Mr.Fhu say snakes only swim in river at night. No Problem!”

“No Problem!” David calls back joining me in a rejuvenating swim. No snakes in sight. We eat the brown bag lunch that Mrs. Fhu included in our rental package. A flavorful combination of chicken and rice wrapped in wax paper along with a wooden spoon, but David devours his in a few bites and looks greedily at mine.

The afternoon begins to drag, and the hunger pangs grow. The sun saps my energy. Lounging, I lazily dangle my fingers along in the water. There is something transforming about being on water looking back at land. It changes one’s perspective. Much like traveling, I’m on the outside looking in. The problems and dramas of daily life on earth float downstream with the current.

“Hey, Cleopatra, how about it’s your turn to paddle,” David yells.

“I’m getting tired.” I whine

“Endurance furthers. You get to learn how to stay strong cuz we have a long way to still go.

A little further downstream David calls out, “ I see a trail that leads into the jungle. I can hear cars up on the hill, and I’m starved.”

“Sure, I need to stretch my legs.”

We cautiously walk up into the jungle. The canopy of trees is a welcome relief from the intense sun. A rustle in the brush makes my heart jump, but it’s only a rooster. The trail leads through a small homestead with a cabin in the distance, chickens and a fenced yard with pigs. As I traipse up the steep trail, the crunch of American potato chips echoes in my head.

The trail actually ends up on a small road. The grandmother that runs a little market next to it awakens with a start as we enter. Judging from the dust covered bags of snacks, her customers aren’t many. A scowl on her face says, “who are these crazy farangs  foreigners that came out of nowhere?” She watches us with cautious curiosity and distrust. With hand gestures, pantomiming rowing a boat and a lot of pointing we are soon conversing. A toothless smile flashes across her face when we choose two beers and two bags of chips. She’s thrilled when we order more chips and beaming when we buy ice cream bars.

Waving good-by, we race back down the trail with renewed energy. The river is almost stagnant slow, but our strength has returned. Eventually, I spot the first bridge at the outskirts of town. There are gardens that line one side of the river with several  banana and papaya trees. Corn, beans, cilantro, tomatoes, and little green eggplants grow in orderly rows.

The sun is close to disappearing by the time we spot the next bridge and our agreed upon take out spot. Mr. Fhu and his sidekick are squatting on the side of the river in the distance, worried looks on their faces. With barely a greeting, they haul the boats up to the road and onto the top of their jeep, and they’re gone.

The twilight air is cooling quickly. Still in wet swimsuits, we’re exhausted and grumpy from hunger. Back up on the street, we discover a small restaurant that looks out on the river. There is no restroom, but the young waitress points to a closet where I can put on my dry clothes.

When I return to our table, David is frustrated. He can’t make her understand what he wants. She brings us Coca colas. Finally, Dave walks over to a table where a group of business men sit and points to their beers and then his soda, shaking his head. They look confused and talk amongst themselves. Finally, when David shows them his soda again and points to their beers, they all start laughing. Lively communication ensues but not with language. The men choose some options from the menu and tell the waitress what we want. We bow over and over saying, “kap kun kah” or thank you.

Down on the water four wooden long boats are racing each other. The businessmen  stand and cheer the rowers so David and I stand and cheer with our new friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I return to our table, David is frustrated. He can’t make her understand what he wants. She brings us Coca colas. Finally, Dave walks over to a table where a group of business men sit and points to their beers and then his soda, shaking his head. They look confused and talk amongst themselves. Finally, when David shows them his soda again and points to their beers, they all start laughing. Lively communication ensues but not with language. The men choose some options from the menu and tell the waitress what we want. We bow over and over saying, “kap kun kah” or thank you.

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4 Responses to What’s in Your Go-Bag?????

  1. marirub says:

    Love this Patti! Ahh, the river life, indeed so special! xo

  2. Marji says:

    I think your love began in our childhood on the day we floated on the Namecogin river in Wisconsin on one of our many 10 hour drives to the Sunrise resort we stayed at every summer. That day is one of those memories I thank Dad for. He kept us so busy up there. There was always a chorus of “when are we gonna get there” from the backseat of the Chevy wagon with the alumni craft boat trailing behind it. Your stories are just what I need at this early hour here in Florida as I sit in front of my fireplace on a 39 degree morning. Yep. Florida gets cold!

  3. Kristin Liljequist says:

    That was really fun to read Patti. Thanx!

  4. Linda says:

    Wonderful adventure writing! Thanks so much Patti.

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