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The Steamboat Risk and Black Mountain Reward

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” ― William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night


Let's be crystal clear about two things. The story is about me AND I am not, at all, suggesting, implying, inferring, or otherwise declaring greatness of any kind. With humility intact, let's proceed.


Like most anyone who will take time to read this, I was a teenager, for about seven years. Late in teenagerhood, my father voluntold me that I'd be helping a perfect stranger on Saturday. I knew my dad wouldn't put me in a dangerous situation, but it was certainly unique and weird.


I was advised that I would be helping one of my dad's work acquaintances from the plywood mill. The help he needed was winterizing his steamboat. To say my nautical skills weren't honed would imply that I knew what "nautical skills" were. So I asked, "What do I do?" The answer, "Help Charlie however he needs it."


The boat was about 2 hours southwest. In my head I'm calculating. Two hour car trip. One hour of work. Two hour car trip. Five hours. I have no idea what's expected of me in the car or in the boat, but I can do this.


As I recall the events, I know we took Charlie's truck to the boat only because I know 1) he had a truck, 2) we drove, and 3) we ended up near a bunch of boats. Zero recollection of the ride itself. But we got from point A to point B and there were no near-death experiences. We get to the boat and get to work. Charlie wants to start up the boat. Seems reasonable. I don't know why we'd put it away for the season without knowing if it works. So we did whatever we did to get it going. I worked. Then we set sail.


We had to be super cautious and observe the No Wake Zone. We had to wait until we got out into the river a ways before we threw out the skis and started zipping around. This is what I thought we'd have to think about. There were no skis. The boat traveled, well, at a leisurely pace. And, we were bundled up. It was cold. Stocking-cap-and-layers cold. And we sailed. We went down the river then back up. And then, we began the winterization process.


The main points from this are as follows: there was a lot of pumping water with a two-directional hand-pump. There was more oil involved than I expected. Some of that water was right in that sweet spot between stale and rancid. Essentially standing next to Oogey looking Yucky right in the face. Thankfully, both Oogey and Yucky were only acknowledged and not formally introduced.


We got the boat taken care of, covered, docked, and tied down. That's that. Time to go. Took a little longer than I expected by a few hundred percent, but that's how it goes. Charlie was super kind and generous and bought me food. I sure didn't bring any snacks; or any money for that matter. However grateful I was, my teenage brain could only focus on the additional time outside my comfort zone I'd be spending.


By the time we got back home, it was dark. Charlie thanked me for the help and I thanked him for the food. We parted ways.


My dad asked me how it went so I relayed the events of the day to him. He was proud that I went and helped Charlie out. And, it was no problem to me. Helping someone seems like a pretty good use of time.


On Monday, my dad came home from work. He wanted me to go see Charlie. So, again, knowing it might be uncomfortable, but not a problem, I went. I got to Charlie's house and we visited for just a second before he disappeared into his garage. He came out with an old pair of snow skis. I thought maybe he was going to ask me to wax them or something. Instead, he handed them to me, and thanked me for helping him with his boat. Charlie boasted that these were the fastest skis on the local ski hill. I wasn't that great at skiing, and Charlie may not have been right about those skis, but he wasn't wrong!


That was the beginning of many adventures including cycling, doing odd jobs, and a climb up Black Mountain. With his son-in-law, Charlie and I climbed up Black Mountain in July. We hiked to the top, where we navigated the snow cover (and I fell partway through) and sat on top of the mountain watching mountain goats and just being. Then we skied down the mountain on our boots. For as long as I'm able to hold memories, this will be one of them.


There is a host of experiences and people I met that started with being voluntold to help a guy winterize his steamboat.


Thomas Edison said that opportunity is missed because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work. It is not healthy or productive to say "yes" to everything. But once in a while, taking that leap to accept an assignment, a challenge, or simply an unknown activity, might have lasting effects that are impossible to predict.


How do you know which ones will turn out to be great experiences and which ones will be duds? You don't. No one does. The best we can do, is make the most of it. If we agree to do something, we go all in with our insecurities and strengths and do the best we can. It's impossible to predict the outcomes but it is completely within our control to determine our inputs.

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