Saturday, May 24, 2014

Portages

     I've written before about the big one that got away, the Four Mile Portage out of Grass River Provincial park in Manitoba.  Allan and I were up for it, no doubt about that.  Humping our two hundred, fifty pounds of canoe and gear over the length of the length and back had us psyched up as only pure misery can.  Maybe we were lucky big Reed Lake was frozen over.  I doubt the portage would have killed us but Reed sure could have.  On the day we'd've been on the return across the ten mile span the wind was up, way up.  Thirty miles an hour straight out of the north.  Sure it would have been a tail wind but the rollers would have been in the four to six foot range.  White and hissing.  Yup, we'd've had to choose between sitting on the shore and swimming alongside a flooded canoe.
     However, long and miserable that portage would have been, boy were we disappointed when we saw the shore to shore ice and knew it wasn't in the cards for us that day.  Doubly disappointed 'cause we'd have had it waiting for us on our return.  Sitting here thinking about it at age sixty-seven I still get a little adrenalin buzz and question myself if I could still do it, "Oh yeah, no doubt about it."  Guess it's never too late to be stupid.
     Back in '66 my buddy Rod and I did a half dozen portages in what came to be part of the Boundary Waters.  Those were my first.  Actually, what we did was carry our gear and fiberglass canoe over and around places we couldn't boat.  Don't know if Rod knew we were portaging, I sure didn't.  We made a big deal out of how hard the work was when talking to others.  'Course for a couple of late teeners it was no big deal.  We puffed a little when carrying the loads but recovered in a half minute.  Actually, the ordeal part of the trip was having to eat our own cooking.
     Anticipation.  Simple as that.  Four miles down a lake and it's time for a change.  You wouldn't think having to move a couple hundred pounds of stuff for a half mile could be seen as something you'd want to do, even look at as fun, but it is.  Oddly enough, by the time the carry is nearing the end, being back on the water is looking mighty good.  Up and down on the sine wave of enjoyment.  It's all about getting from where you are to where you want to be.  In my case the goal usually involves fish.
     Sweat is directly proportional to good fishing.  Most of the time.  Maybe that explains our trip on the File River in Manitoba.  Over eighty miles we never had to portage.  It'd been a dry winter.  The lake and river levels were way down.  We were always on the lookout for moving water 'cause that's where the pickerel would be in the early spring of the far north.  Over the entire stretch we found but one set of rapids.  All the entering streams shown on the map were either dry or nothing but trickles.  Had the water been up we'd have no doubt had to do a few carries and also had much better fishing.
     Though they weren't the longest, the two carries into and out of Claw Lake were the hardest.  As usual for our two week trips we had a lot of stuff, especially food.  Stove, gas, cooking gear, pack, cooler, ice and food totaled eighty-five or more pounds.  We were pansies who had to have all the amenities even if it meant misery on the portage.  Seems I recall two trips on which we added three twelve packs of pop to the load.  Something wrong with that.
     I really don't know how long the Claw Lake portages were, probably no more than two hundred, eighty rods each.  But they were through bog, over jumbled deadfall and were flooded in places.  Crap like that tends to keep the riffraff out.  Had we known about the abandoned railroad right of way crossing the northern stretch of park we could have driven and camped close by.  Also would have missed the beauty of thirty-five miles of portage, lake and river.
     Now that's a trip I could still do.  Drive to within spittin' distance of a fly-in lake, sleep in the back of a truck and have what passes for true wilderness fishing.  Cut me some slack here.  I'm no longer the middle aged pretend voyageur I once was.  But I can still drive and paddle a canoe.  Anyhow, it's a thought.
     'Spose the truth is my portaging days are in the past.  I wish that wasn't true but it is.  'Course, if for some strange reason should a younger blood relative, or in-law, say "let's go," I might just say yes.

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