Parts One and Two
The first full week in June.
As my flight alternately parked and crept across the tarmac in Houston, part of a nation-wide gridlock radiating from a gulf coast rain belt and still-forming tropical depression someplace to the south; all I could feel was a total sense of gratitude. I was grateful, and satisfied, and humbled, and simply: happy. My plane was sure to miss the connecting flights. My cell phone went dead just as it announced, "no service" on its little fading screen. I couldn't even let anybody know I would be late for the next stop on this composite airplane, car, boat, and sentimental journey. And, all I could think, was "I'm one lucky guy!"
Everything about this trip had been unusual, outsized, unpredictable, and occasionally bordering on the absurd. And, of course, I was never going to do such a thing again. Anyhow.
The eighth running of the Texas 200 is now in the book. For me, it was pretty much without serious hardship, only minor shipwrecks, and nary a white knuckle to show for all the preparation, anxiety, anticipation, and expense. Nevertheless, the Texas 200 is still the Big Deal for small boat sailors. And, it's-now-a daunting mountain that I've finally managed to climb. And, I guess, that's the biggest reason why I finally made it back to the hot sun, turbid water, mud, and divers fauna of the Texas Gulf Coast. That, and a particularly compelling dare that I simply couldn't ignore.
I think of it as two little boys egging each other on, to pee on the electric fence.
Certainly, no boy ever expects to follow through with such bravado. Certainly, the "other guy" will chicken out at the last minute. And, so it was with me and a guy who insists the world call him "Mean Gene."
We first met nearly a year ago. In the rain, before the sun came up, the morning after Sail Oklahoma 2014 was officially over. For some reason, our brief encounter led to talk of the event I have characterized as a "cavalry charge" and the "running of the bulls" to describe my enduring angst and pique over driving interminable miles from San Diego with the "wrong boat" to a forgettable little fishing village called Port Mansfield, years and years ago, only to withdraw short of the finish. That was seven years ago. I would have thought I'd be completely over it by now. Apparently, not.
Gene had just attended his first TX200, and really had nothing good to say about the experience, either. Neither one of us was "ever gonna' do THAT again." And, so it began.
After eight months of brain storms, misgivings, daily emails, small achievements and significantly changed plans; I showed up a couple hours late at the Kansas City, MO airport. That put paid to only the first leg of this adventure, and I was already behind schedule. Seems the airline simply changed my schedule, without me noticing. The drive from my home in the woods north of Spokane, WA to the airport had begun quite early that day. Now, it was midnight. And, we had quite a few things still on the list before we could finally launch Gene's boat, "Norm" about 1,400 miles from there in the lower left corner of Texas.
Somehow, I bought enough food, equipment, and sun screen to survive six days on the water, and five nights in Norm's cockpit. And, other than a blown muffler, a shredded trailer tire,
and an inop air conditioner, we showed up rigged and ready with the rest of the fleet in Port Isabel.
There's another guy that I talked to briefly in Oklahoma last October. We actually had dinner together. And, while the dinner was totally forgettable, he probably saved my scrawny neck for me, in the process. Somehow, I had managed to tow a boat 2,000 miles from the upper left corner to the middle of the map, only to spend the entire weekend sicker 'n a dog. In fact, I had been subsisting on Top Ramen and flu nostrums while in self-quarantine in my van parked on Mike & Jackie Monies' lawn. Chuck Leinweber came around to find me, and hauled me off to one of the local greasy spoons in Eufaula. When he realized how bad off I was, he found me a motel room, with some of the civilized comforts we come to take for granted. At any rate, I was really quite happy to accept an invitation to visit with Chuck and Sandra at their home in the Texas Hill County as a stop on the overland dash with Gene and his Jeep.
I call Chuck, "Our Father Who Art in Harper" in recognition of his diplomatic way of getting you to see his point of view. Sometimes, I think it's more a matter of hypnosis. In fact, this guy simply has one of the most incredible schemes in place. Small matter that I had been lured not once, but twice, to the Land of "Embrace the Suck." And, ya' know what? He not only had a lot to do with that, I stand in a long, long line of other well-wishers, acolytes, and dupes of all stripes. This scheme of his is not only fool proof, it's just out and out brilliant.
Chuck the Duck hatched this outlandish idea that otherwise normal, even well-adjusted, people would abandon their La-Z-Boy recliners and show up during the first week of hurricane season in a hot, windy, and basically featureless corner of the country that is home to manta rays, mosquitoes, mud, humidity, sand bars and oyster reefs. Not, just show up, but bring along a home built plywood boat-often simply an oversized cement mixing trough with a pole and bed sheet. Sometimes, an exquisite piece of floating furniture. Often, from plans that Chuck sold 'em. Scheme?
This latter day Pied Piper of Hamelin got himself elected as the Permanent Grand Poobah of the fledgling Texas 200 way back at its inception. He's a semi-retired former potentate, now. But, still, the Faithful mill about under his balcony.
Wanna' build a boat? Chuck's got a whole stable of designers who will sell you the plans and books and advice. Wanna' buy sails and rigging and epoxy and even sun hats? Chuck's got those too. Need to repair your boat after hitting one of those reefs? Chuck's got the fiberglass cloth and goop to make the patches.
We all, totally forget that without Mr. Leinweber, almost none of us would even be thinking about going to this particular forgotten corner. Instead, we drive thousands of miles, spend wads of cash, bust our boats and get sun burned. And, somehow, we all say, "Thank you, Chuck! That was great. Can we do it again?" And, then, mysteriously, everybody will rush off to build a completely different kind of boat for the next year. With different sails, and rigging, and hull shape. Like I was saying. Totally brilliant, this guy.