We're back in the groove--back at work, back with our friends, back into our social life, back into everything...as if we had never left. And since it's been a week or so since we returned, we want to share some thoughts on our trip with everyone who's followed our exploits. These thoughts are in random order, and range from very personal to rather philosophical.
It's very hard to identify specific highlights. Everything was an adventure, and everything was new to us. I guess the pristine nature of the Great Lakes was one very significant highlight. We remember Lake Erie when it was gray and polluted, but now there are no finer examples of inland water than the Great Lakes--all five of them! What a pleasure!
We were also pleased and surprised at how trouble-free our trip was. (1) The Interlude performed better than we would have ever hoped. Someone once told me that a boat is "everything in a car, plus everything in a house, plus you make your own water, generate your own electricity, then you take it out and try to beat it to death in salt water..." We deserved to have some at least semi-serious boat problems and we had almost none at all. Absolutely nothing that could not be considered normal maintenance. In 7,500 miles the engines never failed! (2) The Great Lakes and many of the rivers were at extremely low levels because of a wide-spread drought. This could have caused us serious problems and even damage, but it didn't. We were careful; we didn't go everywhere we might have; but all-in-all, we had no problems with low water. (3) The size of Interlude could have been a problem both from the operational point of view (an amateur crew of two running a 70 ton boat), and from the limitations we might experience in marina selection. We didn't have a problem, and we went almost every where we wanted to go.
We live in a wonderful country filled with fine people--after our trip, we're convinced there is none finer anywhere.
The only thing we can single out as a problem was the very poor wireless service we found "at the edge of America." Cell phone service was marginal at best, and our wireless e-mail (Wynd Net which became GoAmerica during the trip) seldom worked. We had to use work-arounds, which usually consisted of unplugging a credit card machine near closing time in a marina so that we could dial into our ISP. And our ISP (Verio) provided us with an 800 number since many of our locations were without local access phone numbers. Verio changed policies and took the 800 number away toward the end of our trip. All in all, communications is more of a problem than it should be, and it will probably get better as time goes on, but for now it's a problem and it was a disappointment during the trip.
We are a little different as a result of the trip. It's difficult to explain. For one thing, we're little more tolerant of uncertainty--both of us. We lived with unknown charts and waters, unknown marinas and dockages, unknown sources of supplies like groceries and stores, and we did this everyday for more than seven months. We are definitely tired of coping with everything new every day and are looking for a break in that routine.
Secondly, and somewhat related, we're both looking forward to taking some aspects of life for granted again--that is, as routine, as things we do essentially without thinking. In the process of doing that, I believe we'll relish the freedom that brings to use creative juices in other ways.
Third, this trip has brought into much sharper focus the risk, peril and courage of our forefathers who did far more adventuresome exploration with much less sophisticated tools, in a more dangerous environment and at a time when little was known of what the next bend in the river held. At times we felt like pioneers, and some of our friends have indicated they admire our spirit of adventure. But what we did doesn't even hold a flicker of a flame when compared to the feats of the great explorers like Columbus, De Soto, Hudson, Lewis and Clark. My how I'm in awe of their courage.
Fourth, we're a little more self sufficient about lots of things. In a service age there is a temptation to look to other (outside) resources for solutions to all problems. During our trip that was difficult some of the time and impossible at other times. So, we learned to make do, or to reason out solutions or work-arounds. At the same time, we realize better than even how really dependent we are on others--our fuel supply only lasts for only so miles, and when we needed it, there was always a diesel supply relatively nearby. Our water tank holds only so much supply--yet, when we needed it, there was safe and potable water available to us. We found marine supplies, household needs, and groceries when we needed them. Bill was even able to find good inexpensive European wine most of the time. They weren't always exactly what we would have preferred, but they were acceptable. This sense of vulnerability to needs makes one keenly aware of how interdependent we are on the fabric of our society.
Fifth, we have a new appreciation for nature. We've experienced firsthand more dawns, more sunsets, and more passing cold/warm fronts than we probably have in all the former years of our lives. Dawn is beautiful, as is the period just before dawn, as are sunsets. Weather, nature, the water, wildlife, clouds, wind and rain have always been around us, but as a result of the trip we're more acutely aware of them. I sincerely hope we don't forget how they enriched each day of our journey.
Sixth, we're really up on people. This country is filled with ordinary people who fortunately don't look at all like the ones on television. The people we met at marinas, in cities, in small towns, along canals, and in rural areas are friendly, nice people who give a darn. We've talked to more strangers, made more friends, and helped and been helped by more people than we can count. This is a great land full of wonderful people. That's the good news. Never once in our trip of seven months were we anxious for our safety. Never once in seven months did we experience an act of maliciousness, or theft, or harm, nor did we hear of such things perpetrated on other boaters. We did encounter an occasional rude boater (but never among the tow captains or among the marina staff). A couple of nights of network TV would suggest otherwise, but we never experienced anything but goodwill in 7500 miles.
Finally, the two of us have a better marriage as a result of this trip. Some of our friends have said a trip like this would make or more likely break a marriage...indicating that the latter would be a distinct possibility. But, we've grown together and we work as a team better than ever--even better than after the 12 years we've spent side-by-side developing our company together. We share the dirty work, we share the fun stuff, most of all we share. While we each have our areas of expertise, we've leveled up the burden so that the wear-and-tear has been about equal on both of us. At the same time, we've learned to be consultative with each other. Docking and departing with a 70' /70 ton boat is a joint exercise that needs to be talked over and mutually understood before it is undertaken. We didn't do that well at the beginning, but now it is a rule of thumb. Now we're not ready to do it until we both know what's to be done and both agree it is the best way to proceed.
To you, our readers, thanks for following the trip. There have been more than 10,000 "hits" on our web page, so many people have tuned-in. Thanks for your e-mails with friendly hellos, questions and suggestions. We've enjoyed talking to you. Hopefully, we'll have the opportunity to meet more of you in the future--perhaps at a Trawlerfest, perhaps as as some of you as you pass through St. Petersburg on your own Great Circle adventure. (We don't know if Trawlerfest will ask us to share some of our trip at an upcoming meet--but it is a kind suggestion.) Earnestly, we would encourage you to make this trip (or your own trip whatever it is) rather than just talking about it. We heard from people along the way as well as folks we've corresponded with that they waited too long. For us, this trip took energy and physical flexibility and dexterity. Those qualities are seeming to become more precious commodities as we grow older. Don't wait too long.
Now, we're not saying good bye but rather we're simply signing off for a while, who knows what's next! Happy holidays, and good luck in the new millennium.
Bill (and Jan) Haueisen
Aboard the Interlude