Saturday, June 11, 2011

Learning Curve '02 - Outbound

     Time to pack it up and go. Our buddy, the wind, came calling to pass the time of day. Yummy Ramen noodles for breakfast. Better than nothing. But not much. Not a lot of weight left in the food pack. Al brewed and I packed.
     Shooting straight for the portage was not an option. Would have been mostly broadside all the way. We had to tack up lake 'til halfway across.  In a break between gusts we spun it on a dime. Yee haw! For the next mile it was Katy-bar-the-door downwind. The lodge boats were doing their obligatory piking as we shot by with a brief exchange of waves. Shoulda been there last night boys.
     The portage was a simple grind it out affair on another warm, sunny day. Having removed and digested thirty pounds from the food pack helped. But it was still five trips over each portage and we were in the worn down phase of our trip. Two weeks in the boonies does that to me. Fact of life.
Rear View of Incompetent Yoke Builder
     Eventually we reached the last hundred rods with the canoe. My turn. The balance and expertise of throwing a canoe on my shoulders is a small thrill. A flip and we were off. Less than five rods later I heard a sharp crack and was head whacked by the boat. I thought a large branch had fallen on me. Kept asking Allan, "What happened?" He kept saying, "The yoke broke." But I wouldn't believe him. Not my yoke. No way. Then I put the boat down. Crap. No doubt the broken yoke would have added some unexpected fun to the Four Mile Portage. Not to mention the wind we were dealing with and it's effect on Reed Lake. Nothing to do but grab an end and finish the carry.
     By the time we reached Elbow I'd forgotten about the wind. But it hadn't forgotten about us. Still SSW and a quartering, stiff head wind. Still sucked. I'd have spit in it's face but it would have spit right back in mine. The first hundred yards was okay. Then it hit us and it was foot at a time progress for an hour and a half. A small chain of islands led us to the land of screaming ravens once again. Mid afternoon and we were done for the day. We'd burned off our noodles a few hours earlier and were draggin' butt.
     The photo looks like this: In a row, dumped one after the other are the boots he wore on the portage, the socks he wore in the boots, the bottom legs of his zip off pants, Allan laying on a flat rock with life jacket for a pillow and behind him, the whitecaps on Elbow scooting passed. Windbound nap time after six hours of humpin' and pumpin'. Thirty-six miles between us and the access. But there were delusions of making it to the access in one day skipping along out there across the tops of those white horses. Eat. Get a long night's sleep. And all the way home tomorrow. No sweat. A tailwind and ten hours would do it for sure. However, at the moment I couldn't get off my ass.
     Rummaging through the food pack, joy of joys, I rediscovered a treasure. Uncle Ben's rice and a can of chili. Basic Training food at it's finest. Sounded great to me. Turned out I'd forgotten the quality of Army cookin'. Good thing we were hungry. After dishes we checked the TV listings. Nothing worth staying up for so we turned in around 8:30. My mind was still churning over an early start and a long paddle.
     My ears never slept that night. Neither did the wind. Since all winds sound alike, maybe it was shifting. Yeah, shifting. Go with that. Dreams of tailwinds and flying into the access on a unicorn. My dreams, my choice of subject.
     Noodles for breakfast again. Had to eat something. But noodles? They sucked up most of our water supply and the only place to dip more was still running whitecaps. Yup, headwind. Had I a brain in my head any idea of making the access while bucking the wind would have vanished. But I hadn't and it didn't. Don't know if anyone else thinks like me. Continually giving an unrealistic spin on life. Pie in the sky and planning on a miracle. Not a big miracle. No loaves and fishes. Just a little one. Like the functioning of the planet changing it's direction for a day so our paddle would be a smooth cruise. I used to tell people I had this fantasy of waking up one morning to find myself on a yacht on the French Riviera. I'd look around, ring for my man and tell him, "I just had the strangest dream." Maybe I'm exaggerating but I do occasionally have overblown expectations. Like on holidays and odd numbered Thursdays.
     Outside of nearly ramming the only reef rock in a large bay and bucking the wind for a few hours, Elbow was no problem at all. I swear the rock appeared out of nowhere. For all I know it was gone the moment we passed by. Probably hoisted by the ghost fish. The morning mostly shot, we found ourselves at the trestle. Figured Al must have been hungry when he crunched up a pack of noodles and ate them dry. It was there we took our annual one arm photo. Never much of a shot but they always captured the moment. Small piece of who we once were.
Bear or Black Pig?
     Those last three carries were thankfully only triples. Double packed the first time over and then the canoe with loose stuff. The chute. I'd been dreading it for eleven days. Maybe it was the beaver dam on Claw that lowered the river level enough to bring it about. And then the opening of the dam erased the feared chute. But it was gone. Completely gone. Al said it was no different than when we paddled up. Ah, what the heck did he know?
     Once below the last rapids it was sixteen miles of clear sailing to the access. Only thing that could have slowed us down was the dead on headwind. And it was a honker. Crept by a playground of otters, one fisherman and a single swimming bear. The bear seemed to be on its way to our first campsite. Figuring the man in the boat was camping there, we crowded the bear off the river. Passing camp we saw the rickety table spread with food. Lunchtime for Yogi. 'Spose we could have stopped and packed it all up. But the headwind said to forget about it. Besides, the more we packed up, the more the bear would have torn up.
     Another hour brought us to a bend in the river. At last we were somewhat tucked under the storm. A mile later we saw the end of our day. Iskwasum was an angry sea my friend. Totally impossible. Stampede of white horses. We found a shore lunch spot, landed and hunkered down for the night. Allan made dinner while I set up the tent. Fine line between free standing and airborne. Mac and cheese for supper. Maybe better than nothing. Maybe not. We were burnt, fried, kaput, dragged out and were in the bags at 6:30. Been on the water and trail for ten hours and had only done twenty-four miles. Slept like the dead.
     We rose under a black and blue sky at 4:30. Clearing sky approaching from the north. End of the earth overcast to the south. Above us the dividing line. But no wind! Calm and a dozen miles to go. We could already taste the brew of Winnipeg.
     Once we were on the lake the sunrise exploded green against the spruces to our south. Good weather, no hurry. We stopped and watched the show. The cruise down Iskwasum was a pleasure tinged with fear that another blow was right around the corner. Turned out it wasn't. We took our last smoke break surrounded by cattails where the river left the lake. No matter the weather of the last two days, I wasn't ready for this trip to be over. Another longed for journey down the tubes. Memories are fine but making them is so much better. Seems there's never enough time for stuff like this until you're retired and then the body can't do it any more. You betcha it's all ass backwards.
     The access looked like it could have been a walleye tournament. Twenty boats lined up on shore with a few thousands horses waiting for the starting gun so's they go off on a meat hunt. Good luck to each of them. Hope all the 'don't have a clooo boys' fill their stringers. Ah, the arrogance of canoemen. At least this one.
     Load the Jeeped. Headed to Winnipeg. Ate and slept. Crossing the border was ten minutes of interrogation. The young official at the border was much more interested in the canoe than any illegal activities on our part. Wanted to know all the specs and where to get one. That's the kind of questioning I can live with.

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