My Birthday. May 26, every year. I have high expectations every year. This time we ended up packing to go up north to the Manistee River in the Tippy Dam Backwaters area of Manistee National Forest. Who am I kidding? That is how I've spent my last... ohhh six? birthdays (I guess that's with the exception of 2008 when Acey would have been almost 2 months old). Whenever there seems to be pressure to just get out already of the house, things start falling apart and not going according to plan. Birthdays are no exceptions. Instead of getting all stressed out and grumpy at each other we decided to keep putting one foot in front of the other until we were out the door (yes, that was a reference to Bass/Rankin Santa Claus is Comin' to Town). I said I didn't care what time we arrived, we just had to wake up in the woods on Thursday morning. Mission accomplished.
Before you get your underwear in a knot about how we took our babies in a canoe in the dark (Oh, I didn't mention it yet? Well, that's because I didn't want you to go into a tizzy just yet), you have to realize; the "river" should actually be called a lake in this area. Its as smooth as glass and unless there is a strong wind, there isn't much of a current. The only scary part is that since its dammed up, it flooded what used to be part of more woods... and therefore there are some leftover stumps that you could get snagged on. Most of them are flagged by kind motor boaters with floating pop bottles tied to the stump. Some of them are not. However, they are easy to avoid if you stay away from the edge. We strapped everything down, put the girls in their life jackets, made a plan for if we went over, put our own life jackets on, and motored across the cove to our previously scouted camp site. It was incredibly uneventful. (My dear mothers, you may exhale now, knowing I didn't hurt your grand-babies). We paddled into camp, tied off, put up our tent, put in our blankets and pillows, put the girls to bed then crawled in ourselves; leaving the rest of camp set up for the morning.
Thursday morning we set up camp and had a leisurely breakfast of blueberry pancakes and sausage over the fire. Since we weren't backpacking we were able to break out the cast iron cookware we have. We eat a whole lot better when we're not carrying everything on our backs (or in our hands so we can drop them darn things on our tender feet and let out a cuss or two in front of our new church friends... whoops. Yep, I'll admit it. It was me. Nice to meet you, Clapps.).
It was all fun and games, then all too quickly Ryan had to leave to go back to his union meeting for work and vote. He's on the union board so he wasn't allowed to vote by proxy... and he has a strong sense of duty that he couldn't stand the thought of not voting. He left at 2. I stayed in the woods with two kids and managed to pass the time until bedtime. Ryan kept me updated with texts telling me how the vote was progressing. I mentioned my phone was dying so the second he knew he was allowed to leave, he HAD to tell me so I would have some sense of when to expect him. He was kind enough to text me that he left and as he passed certain landmarks along the way. I expected him "home" around 9. I had a stew warming on the fire in a dutch oven (and no, we don't normally have to worry about bear in that area--although it isn't impossible--and other animals can't really lift a hot dutch oven lid). Around 8:45 he texted that he had passed a landmark that was still about 45 minutes away. I sighed, but knew I was just being impatient.
Around 9:30 he texted "flat tire." Ugh. We texted back a forth a few times as he figured out what his plan was. We are proud members and "taker-advantage-ers" of AAA. Seriously, using their services pays for itself every year. He called AAA and I waited. Around 10 I texted, "let me know if you want me to come get you." ... and my phone died. I told myself it was fine. I fell asleep. I woke with a start some time later. I had no idea how late it was because my cell phone was my only clock. I was terrified because it felt like it was 4am. I was terrified because what happens if Ryan sent me a reply text saying, "yes, please come get me" and he didn't know I hadn't received it? What happens if he was hurt? What happens if his phone died so he couldn't call for help? I felt like I had no choice. In my heart I knew everything was fine. I had a certain peace that it would all be fine, but I didn't want to be wrong and miss my chance to make sure he was okay. I packed up my babies, put warmer clothes on them, clipped them tightly into their life jackets, put them--still asleep--on a blanket in the bottom of the canoe, couldn't figure out the motor, and paddled my heart out. The whole time I was praying to the Lord and thanking him for my wonderful husband, my wonderful children, the blessing that is a cell phone, the blessing that we'd brought up my sister's canoe as a favor along with ours and therefore had one for me to be using, thankful for a van that had an almost full tank of gas, thankful that I had a couple quarters to use on the first pay phone I saw, thankful for the peace that passes understanding, thankful for a clear head, and thankful for all the times that Ryan talks ahead of time about what to do in an emergency. When I turned the van on I saw that it was about 1:30 in the morning. That is still a long time for him to still be dealing with the flat tire; not impossibly long, but long just the same.
I drove the 12 miles to the nearest gas station, fully intending to just use the pay phone. The gas station, as expected, was closed. I found the pay phone and stopped to read the directions, LIKE I ALWAYS DO. It said to stop! listen for dial tone then insert your money and dial. I listened but there wasn't any sound. I was so anxious that I drove away without trying the money. I only now wonder if I read that wrong and it was supposed to have a dial tone only after you insert your money.
I drove the 24 miles south to Baldwin--slowing down at any building that looked like it might have a pay phone I could use without having to go inside any shady building while my babies continued to sleep in their carseats. I decided that if I didn't find a pay phone or Ryan, I would--worst case scenario--drive the remaining 90 miles home and charge my blasted phone. I was kicking myself for not leaving a note at the tent for him, but then again it wasn't like I had a pen or scrap paper just laying around up there. Mental note: bring paper & pens next time.
Finally, FINALLY I saw a gas station that was open, well lit, and looked safe enough to leave my babies [locked] in the car as I went inside to use the phone. The clerk said they had just yanked the pay phones--as had the rest of the county--but they had a phone for local calls. She must have noticed me weigh whether I could lie for a good cause, because she offered her own personal cell phone. I told her that I understood I didn't know her but I was going to hug her because I loved her. She laughed and took my hug. I don't normally hug strangers.
Ryan was fine. Surprise. He had mistakenly thought he was on M-37 between Baldwin and M-55... but it turns out he hadn't passed Baldwin yet. AAA sent a truck to help him, but they were looking for him where he said he would be. They eventually found him about 30 miles south of where they started looking for him, opted to fix the flat instead of getting a new tire, waited 20 minutes to make sure it worked, and sent him on his way. I called him as he was starting up his truck to get back on the road. The second I heard his voice I lost all the composure I had maintained. I felt like a little girl that is fine until she sees the red blood beading up on her freshly skinned knee. I was going to wait for him so I could watch him drive back, but he talked me into getting on the road and getting back to bed. By now it was close to 2:30 am and I was hoping the girls would sleep late the next morning, but that's never a guarantee.
Onward back we journeyed. Back up the highway. Back into the woods. Back into the canoe. Back across the lake [Ameira screaming the entire way while Aayla kept repeating, "its okay Moo-Moo. Mommy's doing the best she can." Seriously. No prompts. I had to keep choking back tears of love and pride.]. Back into the tent. Back into fitful sleep until Ryan collapsed where he should have been all along.
From this I learned a few things; One, If I'm going to be alone most of the time... its not worth it to go up just to have to come back. Two, I'm going to be one of those mothers that can't sleep until every head that is under my care is sleeping soundly where it belongs. Three, God is a pretty great God that I can trust even when all I want to do is PANIC. Four, WHERE THE HECK ARE ALL THE BLASTED PAY PHONES!?