Monday, November 20, 2000

In My Life

Ohio 'sail' more adventure than couple expected

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        I'm holding polyester blue cheerleading pants draped over a hanger, and my legs straddle a five-gallon gas can. And I think that when I retell the story of our adventure, this may be my favorite part.

        My husband, Jeff, and I decide to motor our sailboat down the Ohio River the same day the weather decides to act like November.

  In My Life is about recent significant moments — big and small, witty or serious — in people's lives. Readers are invited to submit columns and personal snapshots, which become the property of the Enquirer.   E-mail your story to Nancy Berlier, Deputy Features Editor, at
        On the days before the trip, I fantasize about floating Huck Finn-like down the river, sun skipping across the water, cool breeze taking me away from the frenetic pace of life.

        This is a trip nearly three years from the day we sat in a McDonald's with my in-laws and agreed to buy the boat from them. I have never sailed. My husband's eyes dance when he talks about it.

        So we stretch our budget to cover dock fees and insurance. We didn't plan on replacing the carburetor and the engine going bust. Again. And again.

Big day arrives
               Thirty months later, we make our first trip. We bring a grocery bag of bologna, water and our funny-named dog, Beluga, for the trip from Franklin Furnace near Portsmouth to Higginsport, 40 miles east of Cincinnati. By car, it's 2 1/4 hours. By a boat with an engine smaller than most riding lawnmowers, we plan for eight to 10 hours.

        Jeff radios our position to the Greenup Dam, and I am proud because he really sounds like he knows what he's doing. The dam guy even calls him Captain.

        We spend the day swapping turns steering and warming ourselves in the cabin. I wanted to get away from it all, and I am. Not once do I think of deadlines or bills.

        I am more worried about how to keep a terry-cloth towel that smells faintly of our Florida vacation wrapped around my neck. It's biting cold, and I'm focused more on the tingling in my toes than who is winning the race for president.

        I worry about really important things like how long wind-chapped cheeks stay bright pink and if the barges can see us.

        I am pretty sure this is not my favorite part.

Halfway finished
               As gray sky turns to dusk, we're only halfway there. We take stock of the situation: We're cold. We need more gas to get to Higginsport and more importantly, our car. Our cell phone has no service. Most marinas have pulled up their docks for the winter.

        And we don't fancy playing chicken at night with a coal barge.

        We take a chance on a narrow creek. Around the bend is a single dock. There's no electricity, and the marina is closed for the season. But it seems like a safe harbor for the night, and we tie up the boat.

        My chivalrous husband offers to start walking with our two gas cans and a flashlight. I can stay onboard with a candle, a dog and a writer's imagination. That seems too much like the beginning of a scary movie, and so Jeff and I head off together.

        After what seems like hours — but may be only 20 minutes — two pair of headlights crest the hill. They slow, pass us, then stop.

        A beat-up truck slides off the shoulder and onto the wet grass. The wheels spin. The car floods. Finally a teen-age boy named Todd who is driving for the first time since getting his license coaxes the car to the pavement. He rolls down the window and asks how he can help.

        I think this could be my favorite part.

Charity of strangers

               His girlfriend's mom has been following him to make sure his maiden voyage is safe. She offers to take us to the nearest gas station — about 10 miles away. My 6-foot-3 husband scrunches onto the truck's half seat behind Debbie Morrison, the driver, and I hold her daughter's blue cheerleading pants and straddle our gas can.

        We get gas and a Big Red and — for the first time in the history of mankind — delight in using a gas station toilet.

        Back on the boat, we pray by candlelight over bologna sandwiches, Doritos and an apple. We make our bed on a thin foam mattress and sleep in four layers of clothes.

        I dream of crocodiles surrounding our boat. Jeff dreams of a sunny sailing day.

        When we wake, we can still see our breath. But the sunlight is a strobe light, dancing across the water and bouncing off the metal rails of the boat.

        Thirty hours after we began our adventure — and 15 hours of sailing, we finish our journey. We're cold, tired and I know we smell.

        But we finish our journey thankful for the kindness of strangers, watching duck families paddle in the Ohio and pointing to river towns that spring from the hills.

        We leave with renewed faith that God provides and a reinvigorated sense of what we can accomplish.

        We finish our journey together.

        And that's my favorite part of the story.

        Richelle Thompson, 28, covers values and religion for the Enquirer. She looks forward to a winter safely on shore.


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