Rhett gestured toward a truck and raised both eyebrows. Before he said a word, I knew that he’d not only found a ride to the put-in, he’d scored big. This guy was cool with stuffing our boats and wet bodies in his truck for the bargain price of ten bucks.

We’d gambled by driving an hour to the Pigeon River on an anticipated but not scheduled dam release. Water trickled out of the dam, enough to scoot down the stretch, but just barely. No boaters milled about the take-out; no kayakers from whom to bum a ride. So when we climbed in the rusted out truck without backseats, we were a little giddy about the prospect of getting back to the put-in and Rhett’s truck.

MM1

The wind screamed in my ears, blowing my hair into wild tangles as we sped east on Highway 40. Rhett leaned over the middle console and pointed to a book of matches bearing the name of a pawn shop. “You work there?”

“Nah. That’s where I pawned my chainsaw so I could take my lady for our anniversary dinner.” He paused before adding, “twelve years.”

“Where are you taking her?” I asked.

“The restaurant next to the McDonalds. You know the one.”

Rhett nodded before inquiring about where the dude actually worked. Turns out he’s a tattoo artist during the summer when the town’s population swells from a couple dozen to a couple hundred with the influx of raft guides.

Then he pointed out a gravel road winding up a mountain. “The house I built is four miles up that way. Winter’s a bitch.”

Rhett laughed, but I was still marveling at how this guy raised the bar for men. My friends act like a guy has gone to extraordinary lengths when he pays for a few beers, much less springs for dinner. Here was a man who not only remembered his anniversary but voluntarily pawned his prized possession to celebrate with his wife.

Back at the put-in after we’ve unloaded our gear, after we’ve taken photos, after I’ve handed over another ten bucks for a plastic bottle full of moonshine (secretly hoping that their anniversary dinner might now also involve dessert), and after he drove off to pick up his lady for their big night out on the town, Rhett and I stood in the parking lot digesting it.

I turned to Rhett, my hand on my heart. “That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”

He laughed. “Yeah. That guy’s something else. Did you happen to check out the backseat?”

“No, I missed it. Why?”

“I counted thirty-two empty Natural Ice cans.”

As if on cue, water poured from the dam and we headed out for a second lap.