"Ya know, I've been thinking about doing this trip for a long time. I'm on leave for 12 days, so I finally decided to just do it. Do you think I have enough time to make it?"
Luigi tracked me down last weekend looking for recommendations on paddling 128 miles of the Allegheny River from Kinzua Dam to East Brady, Pennsylvania. He caught me at a pretty hectic time of day, right in the middle of loading 45 people plus canoes, kayaks and gear into vans and onto trailers for a trip down the river.
He was so kind in his approach I immediately stopped what I was doing to answer his questions as best I could. We talked shop about water levels, paddling hours and camping spots, and I told him to give himself a week, depending on downriver conditions. When I realized he was going solo, I asked him what made him want to do it. He was very low key, saying he'd spent some time overseas and had been dreaming of doing this trip for quite a while. Said he follows the Allegheny Outfitters page and all the pictures made him think, "man, I need to go do that." So here he was on leave with 12 days to do it.
The ten minutes I spent with him was one of the best, albeit very emotional, talks I've had in a while. I was teary-eyed more than once, but I'm not even sure I could tell you why. You could see he wasn't sure what he was in store for - maybe not even sure he should be doing it - but ready to get started, all at the same time.
As more people started walking down for the next round of trips, he said he didn't want to take up any more of my time. I thanked him for his service and he thanked me right back for mine. We said our goodbyes, and him and his friend (who was shuttling him to his starting point) left as quickly as they'd come in.
I went home that night and sat along the river, hoping he might paddle by, but he didn't. A couple days later I tried to find him on our AO page, but came up empty handed. I've been wondering how he's doing out there, at least once a day, for seven days straight.
Then today, out of the blue, his friend came in. Luigi paddled 128 miles in three days. THREE days. And he didn't just spend some time overseas... he served three tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.