When I realized the car that had turned right at me was not slowing down, I tried to speed up, but the camping gear I carried on my 10-speed weighed it down and I was unable to get out of the way. The car hit me broadside and the impact launched me over the handlebars: I did a somersault in mid-flight, the top of my head just glanced the pavement, and I landed on both feet in a deep crouch. I stood up, stunned that I wasn’t injured aside from a road rash on my left elbow. My bicycle didn’t fare as well. The rear wheel was badly bent, and the left crank arm was pushed to the opposite side of the frame so that both pedals were on its right side. Somehow my left foot had come free of the toe clip and strap and my leg wasn’t broken. I ran after the car, which had stopped a few dozen yards away.
On August 1, 1977, my best friend Jim and I started riding from our hometown, Edmonds, Washington, headed for the Grand Canyon. We rode 800 miles to Salt Lake City and Jim was missing his new girlfriend, Jane. He decided to take a bus home, and I couldn’t blame him. On August 10, I continued south on my own. I’d gone just a few miles and was still within the city limits when the elderly driver with impaired vision ran into me. After my brief suborbital flight over Utah asphalt, I had no idea that the collision would (eventually) lead to my dream job—which I couldn’t even have imagined at that point: working as an editor for WoodenBoat. At the time, I was just happy to be uninjured. The driver paid for a replacement bicycle and, two days later, I was back on the road and pedaled another 1,400 miles before arriving back home. That was my last bicycle tour.
Before that ride in the summer of 1977, I had done a lot of backpacking, but I had hit the limit of what I could carry and how long I could stay out. Eventually, the pressure of a 70-lb load on my pack’s hip belt had caused nerve damage that left my right thigh numb for decades. I shifted to bicycle touring, but after getting hit I was no longer at ease sharing the road with cars and gave that up, too. I still wanted to pursue traveling under my own steam, and small-boat cruising seemed the best way forward. A boat could carry more gear than I could haul on my back, and waterways had room for me to stay well clear of motor-driven traffic.
I studied maps of Puget Sound and British Columbia and was taken by Knight Inlet, which follows a crooked 78 miles from the B.C. coast to some of the 7,000′ summits of the Coast Range. I needed a boat but I couldn’t afford to buy one, so I decided to build one. After reading a handful of boatbuilding books, I settled on the 14′ Marblehead dory skiff. I started building it in the fall of 1978 and launched it on a rainy spring day in 1979.
While my plan had been to row and sail to Knight Inlet that summer, I had grown uneasy about my lack of experience. I had also discovered that building the skiff was a challenging endeavor, and far more satisfying than the means to an end that I’d thought it would be. I put aside my vision of cruising and talked my father into letting me build a boat for him. I spent the next year building a Chamberlain gunning dory.
After launching Dad’s boat in the summer of 1980, I felt obligated to finish what I’d started with the dory skiff before I let another year slip by. I launched from Mukilteo, Washington, and headed north. After a week of rowing, Knight Inlet was coming up just as I’d settled into the rhythm of rowing day after day and enjoying the wilderness as it unfolded around me. The rowing was tiring but didn’t leave me aching at the end of the day as backpacking had, and not a single boat had run over me. I wanted to keep going and opted to follow the Inside Passage northward. I managed to row and sail 700 miles to Prince Rupert, just shy of the Alaskan border, and stopped the day after the mild summer weather had given way to dangerously strong winds.
When I got back home, my parents showed me a copy of Nor’westing, a local boating magazine, which had been published while I was away. In it, presented as the first article of a series, was a letter that I’d written to friends of my parents who had been eager to hear about my trip. They were also the owners of the magazine. I was shocked that my casually written letter had made its way into print and, worse yet, that a few thousand readers were expecting the rest of the story from me. To spare myself further embarrassment, I had to become a writer.
I didn’t do any more writing for publication until 1987 when I sent Sea Kayaker magazine an article about building a paper canoe and paddling it 2,500 miles from Québec to Florida. Still wary after my first experience with publication, I fussed over the writing endlessly until I was sure it was squeaky clean. It was squeaky clean, apparently, and was published verbatim. Two years later, I got a phone call from the founding editor, who was planning to retire. He had remembered my clean copy and invited me to succeed him. I knew nothing about magazine production, but I took the chance. It turned out well and I held that job for 25 years.
In the last few of those years, sea kayaking had passed the peak of its popularity and in 2014 the magazine had to close. Shortly after the last issue went out, I got an email from Matt Murphy, the editor of WoodenBoat, with the offer to edit Small Boats, a new online magazine that WoodenBoat Publications had in the works. The path that began with getting hit by a car in Salt Lake City had finally delivered me to my dream job.
Many of my classmates in high school and college seemed to know from an early age where their life trajectories would take them, but I didn’t have that gift of foresight. Perhaps being raised as a rower by a father who was himself a rower got me used to not seeing where I was headed, and the notion that the path would only make itself clear while I was looking back. As it turned out, I didn’t need to know where I was going to arrive where I wanted to be. Sometimes we have the good fortune to be guided by happy accidents.
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