People who spend time on the water know the day will come when they will need to call someone for help. Whether you are in a Krogan or a kayak stuff happens. I’m excited to share a story with you today told by our son in law, Wes. Without Wes in our business we wouldn’t be on this adventure, we’d have to be seeing to our own operations, (and he is far better suited to run things). A published writer and the chief operations officer of Intracoastal Outfitters he tells the tale of a call for help he received this week from two guys doing the Perdido River paddle. Hope you enjoy his tale.
Answering the Call
I run an outfitter. And I’ve run it long enough to know how to handle some pretty busy situations. Have learned to enjoy the chaos, really. But yesterday afternoon was something new. Already in the midst of multiple interactions, I get a phone call. I glance. Out of state number. That’s normal. We get so many telemarketing calls these days that I’ve almost come to expect an awkward pause followed by a digitized message. Instead of Steve or Sally telling me my Google listing is in danger of being obsolete, I get Frank. And wherever Frank’s calling from, it’s very windy.
“Yes, hello, my friend and I are at Camp Dixie in Elbert’s and need a shuttle pick up tomorrow morning.”
I get caught off guard by phone calls every once in a while. “How’s your cowboy hat selection?” was one of the earliest ones I remember. “Ummm . . . we don’t sell cowboy hats,” was the least sarcastic reply I could come up with. “Well, online it says you do.” I designed the website. I know for a fact that it doesn’t advertise cowboy hats.
We do, however, sell outdoor footwear, clothing, and gear, which I’m guessing is how Frank found me, but we don’t have a shuttle service of any kind—certainly not one as far as away as Elberta. I don’t even know where Elberta is, but it sounds pretty far away, especially when my shop closes in 15 minutes. And in the same way I know my site doesn’t advertise cowboy hats, I know it doesn’t say anything about a shuttle service. But while it’s easy for me to routinely dismiss oddball requests that I can’t possibly fulfill, there’s something about Frank’s tone that won’t allow me to dismiss him. Not yet anyway.
“Sir, we don’t offer any kind of shuttle service. I’m really not equipped to even help you,” I manage.
“Well you’re the only place I can find. And we need help. The winds have picked up so much. We can’t paddle anymore. I can’t find anyone to help us.”
I look at my watch. I look at the customers around the room. Then I turn to my right and remember that while I don’t have a commercial vehicle purposed for a shuttle service, I do still have my wife’s minivan, which I was forced to drive today because my Jeep’s in the shop getting brake work done. My mind shifts to the next morning’s schedule. As fast as I can, I figure out where the hell Elberta is. Then I find out where they need to go from there. After some fuzzy math, I tell Frank I’ll call him back.
A few minutes later I have checked out the remaining customers, but sometimes even the quickest conversation can turn thoughtful, and meaningful, and by the time I prepare the shop for closing, I realize I had almost forgotten about Frank. And Chuck. Apparently Frank called from Chuck’s phone, and apparently these two have been paddling enough together where they know whose job is what. When shit hits the fan, apparently you give the phone to Frank.
There’s a part of me that think it’s absurd, but the better part of me spent many years in a kayak. Sometimes on rivers, but more often on open water where the wind and seas can turn an easy paddle into a grind—that better part of me almost got the Coast Guard called out on me on one trip because the forecast was so bad. I demanded my wife and brother-in-law not do so, and I got myself home. But I was a lot younger then. Frank didn’t sound so young. He sounded tired. And he sounded desperate. The better part of me is also logistical, and having seen just how rural Elberta is, I understood the predicament they were in. You can’t exactly call Uber when you’ve got touring kayaks and hundreds of pounds of gear. It’s a niche need. And when you’re in a jam of this kind, you can rest a lot easier as long as you know you have a plan for the next day. It’s the uncertainty that eats at you, and these guys were up against the clock. I pull up the caller ID.
“Frank? Yea, hey listen, I’ll be there about 9 o’clock.”Frank is very thankful and asks about what it will cost, but the relief I hear in his voice has already been payment enough. Of course, when I get home and tell my wife what I’m doing, that’s not enough for her.
“Who are these guys?”
“I don’t know. Frank and Chuck.”
I won’t write what she said next as I think there might be innocent eyes reading this blog.
What she doesn’t know, though, is that in the meantime I had discovered that Frank and Chuck were part of a larger group paddling from the upper end of the Perdido River down to the Gulf as part of an environmental awareness campaign. Part of those many years I spent kayaking was with groups. Groups who loved doing these kinds of trips for causes. Any excuse to get out on the water. The better part of me had known pretty quickly what these guys were all about. I explained all of that to my wife, which went a long way, just so long as I promised to have Frank and Chuck text me pictures of their photo ID’s she could have ready for the police just in case anything happened. I laughed at her concern, but once her back was turned I made sure my knife was clipped to my belt.
Anyway, next morning, sure enough, the drive to Elbert’s was absolutely beautiful, almost therapeutic. And the scene I found at Camp Dixie was pretty much exactly as I had imagined. The boats, the gear, the people. It was a subculture I had lived in so many years ago—in a different state, but it’s the same community no matter where you go.
We got my wife a new car last summer. Ever since then I keep thinking about selling her old minivan. The problem is, it’s paid for, has well over 200K miles on it, and I know I can’t get anything for it anyway. But the better part of me knows where I bought that van. I bought it from my wife’s grandfather who passed away nearly three years ago. He and my wife’s grandmother are two of the most generous people I’ve ever known, and even though I was in the middle of a totally hectic situation when Frank called, and even though the last thing I could imagine doing between getting kids to school the next morning, running errands, and getting to work—the last thing I needed to be doing was driving to Elberta to rescue some stranded kayakers I’ve never met—despite that, I knew what I should do. I should answer the call. Because those kids I’m shuttling to school are getting older, and soon our adventures will become more daring, and I’m sure at some point I’m going to need some stranger to do the same.