Tomorrow I'm flying to Baltimore to help provision a sailboat on whose crew I will serve as the weakest link as we shush, bob and rock down the Chesapeake Bay, out into the Atlantic, across the Gulf Stream, down through the heart of the Saragasso Sea, all the way, if the keel and the mast stay put, to the British Virgin Island of Tortola.
Of a husband and father doing a thing like that—or a thing like, riding a motorcycle from Chicago to Nova Scotia and back, as I did last summer, or rambling around China as I did a few years ago, or riding a bicycle across Iowa as I plan to do next summer—there are only two things to assume: He's running from something, 0r he's one lucky bastard to have a work and family life that allows for such adventures.
Well, of course I'm running from something. Death, is its name.
I'm less comfortable with being lucky. (It scares me.)
So whenever I'm about to embark on my latest trip of a lifetime, I go through two machinations, with equal amounts of energy thust into private meditation and public proclamation.
First, I tell myself and everybody else that the trip is utterly psychologically necessary—nay, spiritually inevitable!—at this precise juncture in my life.
And then, probably because I sense everyone finds my Coming-of-Age-at-Forty-One narrative fairly asinine, I then try to minimize the appearance of irresponsibility by saying the trip is "for a story."
Like I'm friggin' Christiane Amanpour or something.
Usually, any story that involves a sailing or motorcycling or wind-unicycling magazine you've never heard of pays two hundred and fifty exciting dollars for five pages of copy with photographs, and A web video would be fantastic, man. You rock!
(Not that working for these kinds of publications doesn't have its other compensations. An editor at Sailing Magazine once told me to "put as much of yourself in the piece as possible, and write as long as you need." I said, "Why can't you work for The New York Times?" And the esteemed editor at Road Racing World thanked me for a fine profile of the last-place finisher in a vintage-motorcycle race in Alabama, but advised me, for future consideration: "Usually, we write about winners, not douchebags." That's what I call editorial guidance.)
On this trip—I'm one of a crew of four transporting my brother-in-law's 54-foot Hylas sailboat now that Hurricane Season's over; we'll be gone two weeks—sure, I'm open to personal transformation. But then, I'm open that every time I glimpse a full moon walking home from the tavern. After this trip, I'll be happy if I've read Light in August and finished this Joseph Mitchell book I'm really into.
And yes, I've sold a lengthy feature story to a sailing magazine, at the usual rate of pay. But it'll amount to little more than a reason to pay attention and take notes, and a 3,000-word thank-you note to my brother-in-law.
But on this trip, I'm just going.
I want to see Baltimore, where I've never been. I want to see the Chesapeake, from the Chesapeake. I want to sit by myself at the helm of a sailboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the night. (How many nights in my life have I slept in a dry bed in fear of the middle of the night in middle of the Atlantic Ocean? Every other night in my life except tonight, is the answer.) I want to survive the Saragasso Sea, dreaded since ancient times but more recently marketed as the Bermuda Triangle.
And with any luck, we'll get down to the Islands with a few days to kill before our flights back. I'm going to sit in the sun and read and drink and sleep and swim and read and drink and sleep and swim. (I'll speak only when I'm drinking and I'll eat while I'm reading.) I will not waste a moment wondering how it is I deserve this. I don't. I will also check my e-mail every whenever I'm a harbor, and won't treat the trip as something holy that could be stained by a couple of hours of laptop copywriting one braindead morning. It won't.
After tomorrow's Happy Hour Video … I'll likely not be back at you until Monday, Nov. 15.
Unless something transformative happens that I feel compelled to tell you about sooner.