The night of the sixth day was the eve of our proposed launch date. As we finished framing the cabin and night fell, so did the rain. Nico and I opened up the roll-up door to my dad’s shop and backed our vessel inside to finish work, and as it turned out, a delayed day of intermittent rain was just what we needed to make some final adjustments.
After a delicious homemade and home-grown organic and gluten free dinner at Boone’s house with friends (pompous I know, but I swear that’s what it was), we convinced our gracious hosts to drive up the road and check out the progress. I pulled the giant door to the shop up once more and left the lights off. In their place, I lit one of my mom’s old kerosene lamps we were to bring with us and hung it on a nail I had pounded into the ceiling of the cabin. As our guests fumbled through the darkness of the shop, Nico and I helped them up the ladder onto the deck and we all sat on the bunks in the cabin marveling at the orange glow that danced off of the wood, sipping beer and laughing. It seemed to me as though we could be anywhere in time at that moment. Everything but our clothes was the same as any ship’s cabin must have looked up until the turn of the last century, and I just knew that we were communing with some ancient creative drive that has been with man since he first put his hands to tools. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my friends look more beautiful. I laughed and shook my head in disbelief as we sat and drank and talked about nothing in particular.
It’s been almost a year now since we began this odyssey, so my memory is a little fuzzy on what, in fact, took place on the seventh day. Like I said, it was raining, and I know we were inside tying up a few loose ends but I can’t really remember the particulars. I think we installed the mast which was an old pipe used to string a length of telephone wire from a power pole, and probably installed the fire pit - simply a rectangular frame of 2x4’s at the very front edge of the bow that was nailed in place and filled with gravel to support an old barbecue that we would burn our wood in.
While The seventh day may be a bit unclear, it all snaps back into focus on the eighth. The sun was out, and hot, and the wind was blowing gently. We were set on launching for our three day tour, from the mouth of the Flathead River, across Flathead Lake, and as far south as we could get.
Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater body west of the Mississippi, and I have eagerly divulged a much more detailed version of this information to any poor soul that has ever had the misfortune of asking me where I’m from. Coincidentally, it was also claimed to be one of the cleanest bodies of water in the world by the Flathead Lake Biological Station (http://www.umt.edu/flbs/AboutFLBS/FlatheadLake.aspx). According to local legend, it houses one of the worlds oldest and perhaps largest ancient creatures, the Flathead Lake Monster. Some say it’s a forgotten relic of the Mesozoic Era, while others believe it’s just a large Sturgeon. Either way, many wakeboarding sessions have culminated in wiping out on that great body of water, over 350 feet deep in the middle, and bobbing around in a life preserver wondering how many minutes it would be before my leg was grabbed by something huge and unseen as I anxiously waited for the boat to circle around and pluck me from the abyss…
But I digress. The point is, everything about this lake is huge. The waves are huge, the monsters are huge, and even on the fairest of days, the distance is admirable. This is why we wanted to see how far we could go. Many ships that were actually built to withstand the physics of maritime weather have sunk on this lake, and I sometimes wonder what that boneyard would look like if the lake were drained. But the eighth day was not going to claim the Naysayer. We had already decided it so. We loaded her up with fishing gear, coolers of meat, firewood, and of course, precious Canadian beer. On ice.
Nico and I had initially intended to float the length of the Flathead river, yearning for a true Huck Finn experience, but after a little scouting and talking to a few locals who had tried it in canoes and failed, we opted to put in at deeper waters. We loaded up in Boone’s truck and headed down to the boat launch with many honks and thumbs up on the highway. At one point I screamed at Boone to slow to a crawl, sure that we were about to take out a power line with our mast. I think we were just shy by about four feet.
It was late in the afternoon when we were finally in the water, and the sun was setting by the time we pushed off. We promised some friends that we would head for the local dockside bar to try and catch some cocktails and wild praise before 2am, and we waived our farewells. As the sun went down, and Nico began rowing, everything in the landscape lit up with this brilliant yellow color that is trademark to the end of summer in Montana. The water was as still as glass and we dropped a silent battery powered trolling motor we had brought into the hatch so we could prepare dinner over an open fire as we made our way towards the mouth of the river.
Yellow turned to orange, then to red and finally a deep purple glow and I think I stopped breathing for a little while. The picture was just too perfect - almost manufactured- and I felt dizzy, swelling with pride and love for my friends and for life and the unfathomable truth of the beauty that it sometimes shows us. It just didn’t seem real. But all of this was trumped when the fattest, goldenrod full moon I’d ever seen began to rise from behind the Mission Mountains. I tell you now, we did not plan this, and if it hadn’t been for the delayed day of rain we would surely have seen a large moon, but not a full one. This was the night. Somewhere far away the tides were being pulled hard, and we felt that gravity there on our little raft bobbing in our own ocean. We were the only vessel in sight as far as we could see, and as the mouth of the river gave way to the threshold of the lake, the stars came out and that big yellow moon made it look like we had some kind of weird light turned on, casting blue shadows everywhere around us. It was all too much. I doubled over with laughter and tears on the deck. We all did. It was like we were having a collective nervous fit and we couldn’t breathe from the pangs of hyperventilation that crippled our sides. It was one of the purest moments of my life, and I tried to hold on to it as long as I could, knowing that this was one of those rare moments that would later become a memory that could never be reproduced. The only thing that dwarfed it was the birth of my beautiful boy.
When the laughter finally subsided, and the tears dried, we dropped our wooden keel and raised our plastic tarp of a sail and glided silently through the moonlight twinkling off the water. The wind was blowing steady and after several tries of tacking against it to head to the proposed dockside bar in the distance, it was apparent that it just was not meant to be. We did not feel slighted in the least.
I broke the sound of the waves with a tinny speaker from my phone and played The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen” while Boone poured whiskey and ice into coffee mugs and Nico tended the fire. We tied down the keel, set our course, and raised our mugs in effigy to our friends: that twinkling light far across the water where they were amassed, drinking and laughing themselves, perhaps wondering if that small bobbing light in the distance was the kerosene lamp of some unearthly three-headed vessel they had thought to arrive. We turned our attention to the fire and the moon, and wore huge smiles as that light eventually disappeared behind the horizon; the stars left in its place.