The leathery-skinned man with a southern Missouri accent had dropped us off at the gravel boat ramp. His rusty pickup truck had barely survived the fifteen miles from our campground to the river. But there we stood: paddles in hand, hats on our heads and a tangled blue stretch of river before us.

I was ready for this adventure.

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Charlie pulled our canoe out into the current where the bottom wouldn’t scrape on the rocks.

“You getting’ in?” he asked.

“Nah. I’ll swim a few miles.”

“Mmkay.”

Our float trips usually end up like this: Charlie maneuvering the canoe between rocks and logs while I float peacefully on my ugly orange life vest. I don’t care if I become pruny or my legs get bruised on hidden crops of boulders. Swimming down the Missouri River makes me feel happy, invincible: one with my natural surroundings.

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“Look!” Charlie pointed excitedly towards the shoreline. “It’s a Kingfisher!”

I’m not a biologist like my husband, but I still enjoy wildlife and the outdoors as much as he does. A drab little blue bird darted into some sycamore boughs; his crested head darting back and forth as he enjoyed some tasty minnow. For a moment, I felt envious of the carefree Kingfisher and his easy-going river life; he had a beautiful home and not much to worry about.

By the time we settled into our canoe, it was lunch time – I was grateful that Charlie remembered to bring Gatorade and sandwiches.

As we ate, the wildlife became our entertainment.

Soft shelled turtles dove into the water with clumsy splashes. Charlie spotted some gars drifting beneath us, their toothy, prehistoric snouts pointed upstream. Surrounded by these weird and wonderful creatures, I couldn’t help but meditate on the phenomena of nature.

“Ya know,” I said while biting into my water-logged deli sandwich. “There are probably a lot of travelers who skip out on the beauty of the Midwest. Most folks are attracted to the Pacific Northwest, or Atlantic beaches, but not much is said – said…… about this.”

I stopped, suddenly overwhelmed by the quiet, rushing, brilliance of the river, the solemn, towering bluffs and the lush, wooded hillsides. Charlie looked up to the cloudless sky.

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Half way through our trip, we came across a rope swing. Someone had looped a commercial rope over a gnarled sycamore branch and knotted the ends.

Rule #1 of floating: never pass up a rope swing.

Charlie went first. He climbed as high as he could and flipped off the rope, entering the water with a cannon ball. That’s when my competitive streak kicked in. Biting my lip, I clambered up the tree trunk and braced myself against a limb.

It was a lot higher than I thought – were those boulders lurking underneath the water surface? Good grief. But adrenaline was stronger than common sense.

In one swift, mind-numbing moment, I jumped.

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Guest Contributor

Laurel Dey is a 19-year-old small-town girl with big dreams. Someday, Laurel hopes to operate an Italian Airbnb with her husband Charlie while writing freelance and practicing travel photography. For now, she is English major and tea-addict in the state of Missouri. Things like running barefoot through the mud, using too many exclamation points and shopping at thrift stores are some of her favorite things. Laurel strives to seek beauty in everything and glorify the Lord through her work.