Lijun flew in to New Orleans the night before and was planning to meet me in Venice. I have to finish today. Forty miles.
It was pitch black as I stared out at the river, debating whether to go or not. Why wait? I stayed near the bank looking ahead more than usual since I couldn’t see obstacles in the river more than 100 yards ahead. In the near distance were some street lights and a pier. It was a ferry landing I knew about from checking the maps the night before. It’s 5:30 am. Are they running already? As I got closer more lights came on and I could make out the ferry. I have a small single headlamp on and stop a few hundred yards from the boat. I hear a loudspeaker say “Turn on your lights!”. At least that’s what I thought. I turned mine off and waited along shore. The ferry loaded up with cars and at 6 o’clock ,set off across the river. Wasting no time I scooted past the docks.
The sky was big now. An ocean sky. The storm came from the East. I don’t know why, maybe a Gulf thing, but I saw flashes in the dark, blue gray wall coming at me. I stayed right next to the bank on the east side taking refuge under small trees from the driving rain and the frequent lightning.
The rained slacked and I crossed the river near a bend to try and shave some distance off by taking a more direct line. Not so easy since giant ships, moving very fast, were passing every half hour. Though I only needed 15 minutes to cross safely I could not see up or down the river far enough with the curves to be totally comfortable. I cross the river several times throughout the day anyway.
I talked with Lijun using shaky phone service — it’s always surprising how fast I lose a signal outside of a city– and says she will be at Fort Jackson and try to get pictures. As we finish talking a second storm rolls over me complete with thunder and lighting and high winds. On the river, the thunder seems to be louder and so close I feel it in my chest.
“David!” I hear the familiar voice over the rain and wind that continued sporadically through early afternoon. It was Lijun standing by the edge of the river. I made it over to a small hidden boat ramp where a saw my wife for the first time in a month. She was looking as beautiful as ever in her orange raincoat and I kissed her briefly but did not hug her. I still have about 13 miles left. I am exhausted from the wind and the rain and the waves and I am unsure I can finish today. I’ll save the hug for when I do.
We sat in the rental car and she gave me food and water. We discuss a plan if I can’t finish today. Camp here in the gravel lot? Drive to New Orleans where she booked a room in the French Quarter? I don’t like any option. I want to finish. The rained stopped and I set back out saying I will worry about that later.
Immediately the wind picked up and the waves battered the boat as a third storm rolled in from the east. This was the most fierce one yet. I found a protective cove formed by jetties and I hung on tight to a willow bush and turned my back to the rain.
Patches of blue sky shone through as the storm passed. It was only 3 o’clock and I set out for the last 12 miles. Channel markers counted them down. 10 miles. The wind diminished. Actually it was now from the northeast and was helping me. 8 miles. I text Lijun and tell her meet me in Venice. 5 miles. I row hard, relentlessly, I do not stop. 3 miles. The joints and muscles of my hands are aching. I row hard. I do not stop. I see a couple of boats from the gulf now heading into the channel for Venice. It’s there. I row even harder now. I get there and … That’s it! I stop and breathe and then I hear yelling from the shore. Lijun is jumping up and down on top of the levee. I stand in the boat and face her raising my arms in victory. “Yeah!”
I still have 2 miles down a channel to reach the Venice Marina. I row at an easy pace as 40 foot sport fishing boats go by, some slowing some not. I really didn’t want to get run over but at his point I really didn’t care.
The marina manager gave me a small slip out of the way for free saying we never ask you guys for anything. I’ll leave the boat there for a few days. Lijun finds me on the dock and this time I hug her. Its over.
Lijun drives us in the dark the hour and a half back to New Orleans. I began to feel all the exertions from the day and all the exertions of the past month. I feel it deep inside.
At a nice hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans Lijun asks me to check in while she takes care of the car. When Lijun meets me at the reception desk she tells me to smile. “What?” was all I could muster. “Actually I might pass out.” I tell her quietly and go sit on a sofa.
I showered and climbed into the cool, clean sheets of the King bed then let out a long…deep… breath. Whew.