by Erik Dolson
Was the dinghy I’d left tied to the dock slowly deflating? Was it now tipped stern down, bow pointing pathetically to the sky, the precious motor drowning in salt water? Will I even be able to get out to Foxy on her buoy, and if I can, what condition will she be in?
I’d left Foxy a month ago thinking I’d be back in a couple of weeks. A friend sent a photo, but it was grainy from a distance so it might not be a big deal that I could not see the boot stripe at the stern.
On the drive back to Sisters from a car race in Portland on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, a friend called to warn that “historic winds” were due Monday afternoon. Fires in the Cascades threatened to explode. As I ate my sandwich and drank my coffee from Rosie’s Mountain Cafe in Mill City, I said I’d be through the mountains long before then.
Of course, I had no clue to the devastation that would arrive within 48 hours. The loss of trees and wildlife along a highway driven so many times over 35 years that I’ve memorized the number of curves between passing zones, and the horrific destruction of Mill City, Detroit, and other wide places in the road where mill towns still struggled, are mind bending.
So are indefinite closures of highways that link my mountain town of Sisters, with its tourism-based economy, to populations centers of Portland, Salem and Eugene. Hundreds of thousands of killed trees need to be removed. Rock slides litter the highways.
What if Oregon has one of our every-decade-or-so “pineapple express” events, where snow falls right around Thanksgiving with warm rains in December? Will ODOT be able to even find the highways under the mud slides? Will the federal administration blame Oregonians for that catastrophe, too, and be slow to send financial assistance because it would bail out our mistakes in funding the PERS system?
East winds finally abated, giving those fighting the conflagrations if not a break then at least a bit of breathing room. Speaking of which, while prevailing breezes from the Pacific Ocean began to clear air in the Willamette Valley, they carried the smoke to the east side of the Cascade Range (eventually to the east coast of the U.S.) Visibility out windows of my home dropped to 1/4 mile. The bitter stench was on everything.
Then a some rain helped, for a couple of days. I prepared to return to the boat, if for no other reason than my asthma was not liking the available atmosphere.
Then, in what might have been metaphysical intervention, a sty in my left eye delayed departure. My ophthalmologist recommended warm compresses but warned of complications with low likelihood. Within four days I was back in her office, infection spreading around my eye and down my cheek, my eye reddening, the eyelid glued closed when I woke in the morning from a concrete mix of pus and tears.
The doctor thought I should check into the hospital for an overnight intravenous drip of antibiotics. “What?! Oh hell no!” was my shocked response. Doctor was willing to see how I did on oral antibiotics for 24 hours, but I had to come back the next day, my third visit in less than a week. I followed dosage guidelines and applied warm wet compresses every couple of hours, along with an antibiotic ointment with which to fill my lower eyelid twice a day.
There was progress. The next day the doctor cleared the trip back to the boat, after asking how far away I would be from emergency care. Not that far. I went home, threw things in a bag and hit the road, late in the afternoon and two weeks later than the latest I expected to return to Foxy, aware that it would still be almost a full day before I’d be back on board.
I pulled into Anacortes at about 11 p.m., took too long to fall asleep because I was “wired and tired” from the drive up through Yakima on the east side of the Cascades, fell asleep finally just as I remembered I hadn’t set an alarm, but ignored that since I don’t usually sleep past 6:30 and would have plenty of time to catch a ferry scheduled for 8:55.
It was 8:07 when I woke and looked at the clock. Holy sh*t! Showered fast and out the door at 8:30, but so damn proud of myself I stopped for a coffee, then had to rush. The ferry pulled out about two minutes after I sat down. I was a bit smug until I realized I’d forgotten my rain jacket in the car.
By the time the ferry arrived in Friday Harbor, clouds had condensed into a drenching downpour, but the dinghy was still afloat! There was water sloshing about, the gas tank and life jackets were floating, but I’d bought an industrial size hand pump after lessons learned in Alaska a few years back. After the water was cleared, I pumped up the tubes with air.
Would the motor start? It had been showing attitude this year. But it fired on the second pull and purred like the two-stroke it used to be! I waited in the soaking rain for the ferry to disembark, worried my motor might quit in the middle of the channel, then headed over to Foxy. From a distance I saw no signs of problems.
The boat smelled surprisingly fresh when I unlocked the companionway. That’s always the first test. Some boats never lose that damp smell. Water had splashed on the floor from where the hatch covers had blown to one side, and I went above to put them back. I lit the diesel fireplace and put things away.
Eventually, I unlocked floor panels over the keel, certain there would be two hours of unpleasant work ahead. The bilges were dry! The space where I’d built a shower water recovery system was dry! The toilet was full of fresh water too, just as I’d left it. Despite heavy overcast, solar panels were putting electricity back into the batteries which were at 95%. The fridge system I’d installed was keeping the refer cold and freezer frozen!
Relief came in a rush. After what had felt like a never-ending cascade of bad news and stress, Foxy was sound and I was aboard. I moved her over to the marina where she’ll spend a few months this winter. The sun came out. There is something about being on the water that feels like it’s exactly where I belong.