Day 1

We arrived to our hotel around 9:30pm last night. This morning, I got an early start and headed down to the breakfast buffet to calm some of the nerves while the kids were still in deep sleep. I made a new friend as she discreetly watched me botch my waffles. If you know me, you can just watch me do the simplest of things and feel a great sense of compassion. My new friend is Nancy and she's the reason why our Hampton Inn feels like home. Having worked at a hotel, I know full well that front line staff are greatly underappreciated so I did what my Dad would do...I become genuinely interested in her and gave her praise. I haven't really shown much emotion since my Dad passed away. As Nancy disappeared to serve someone else, I got a little chocked up thinking about my Dad. I hate crying, especially in front of other people so I slid my shades down and did a head nod at the guy across the table. My Dad would have loved Nancy. I watched Dad do his thing (loving strangers) no matter the time or place. For many years, I watched my Dad's mastery of winning friends at similar hotel buffet lines as my brother Jon traveled the country playing baseball.  I felt my Dad sitting next to me as I got to know Nancy. Turns out she just lost her husband.  Turns out this "stranger" is hurting just like me.  I didn't tell her what I was doing or why but I told her about losing my Dad.  We both needed to get going so we hugged and I told her, "Hang in there, your best adventure is yet to come. Look for it".

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My family (including my aunt Cindy & uncle John) helped me launch from The Point in Downtown Pittsburgh around 9:45am this morning. 3 rivers collided as I paddled over top. As my family watched me confidently paddle into the next great adventure, deep inside of me was a familiar question, "God are you coming with me because I'm in over my head again?".  

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Wow, this is easy! I'm going to make record time. 30 miles probably isn't going to really push me I thought.

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My first Lock and Dam. I read about them. I watched YouTube videos. So I got this! I called on the radio trying to sound like a truck driver and a Steelers fan. Nobody picked up so I called will my phone. He could barely hear me because my phone must of had a little moisture from the dry bag. Not a great start. He told me the instructions and I almost called back to ask him to repeat. I finally entered the Lock and he helped me tie my rope. I made another friend. His name is Nick. He asked me where I was going. I told him and my WHY. Turns out, Nick lost his Dad to lung cancer. Nick took me under his wing in the short conversation by giving me tips and telling me not to mind the grumpy old men at the next Lock as I paddled away. 

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I made it to the Grumpy Old Men. I called the Lock master and he told me I would have to wait a little over an hour. I asked if I could pull my kayak around. He said that wasn't a problem. I dragged my kayak over the Lock and thought I was a genius because I saved a solid 45 minutes. 

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I started to rethink that on the other side of the Lock. I took my time mostly because I didn't want to sprain an anckle. I was careful with the kayak but the rocks were sharp. I made it to the water and quickly realized that I punctured the back of my kayak. About 10 minutes after entering the water, I felt like I packed a refrigerator in my back hatch. I pulled over to the bank, opened the back hatch, and wittnessed something I never thought could happen. My boat had a large hole and ruined half of my gear. I must have had 75 pounds of water in my boat. Water was to the brim. 

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I went from easy to impossible! Every 10 minutes I would need to pull over to flip my kayak and dump the water out. I went the next 15 miles with black smoke billowing out of my shoulders and the sound of gears grinding in my lower back. This "adventure" turned into survival. The pain ushered me back to some fragile moments with my Dad. My Dad was a fighter his whole life and when his health declined, I saw the core of my father - more than a conqueror. There are moments we had when he was sick but it's too hard to write about. The truth is, he never quit. I'm not going to either on this river or in life. 

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So the theme of the day is puncture wounds. We all have them whether we care to pull over in life to check our rear hatch or not. They slow us down, force us to stop or sink us as we try to power through. I believe God can redeem all things. Me, my family, Nancy, Nick and even the grumpy old me. God said he redeems people. The jury is still out on this kayak. 

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Got back to the hotel. Sarah and kids went to the pool and they more than earned that after picking me up along the river as loveable debris. I went to Home Depot. God Bless America! James and Garry helped me pick out what I needed. A bucket, blowtorch, flex tape, saw and boat cement. These guys were amazing! Garry made a $20 donation to Courage4Cancer. Thank you Garry! 

Tune in tomorrow to see if this works. We Conquer! Love you Dad!  

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