The Four-Day Weekend, Part 2

Saturday and Sunday happened in usual fashion, except that I did go see Angels and Demons on Saturday afternoon. It was a very suspenseful and high action movie that I enjoyed, but I always find the gratuitous killing of many law enforcement officers to be a disturbing thing. I worshipped and rested Sunday, and then…

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That’s right, I finally made it back out in the kayak! And it was such a beautiful day for it. This was Monday, Memorial Day. I’m in the QCC Q700X, and Debra is in the LL Bean Calypso.

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Kayaks are great vehicles for getting up close to whatever’s growing along the shore.

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Being in a small boat on a river with dark edges is a perfect blending of relaxation with adventure. These places make me breathe easier.

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And this trip was our first chance to kayak in the rain together.

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In all my time on this river, I’ve never seen other paddlers unless they were in my group. So it was a pleasure to encounter canoeists and kayakers throughout our trip this time out. The combination of holiday plus the lilies in bloom upstream at Landsford Canal State Park brought the paddlers to the river.

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This channel, sliding through shade between two parallel islands is a favorite part of the Catawba for me.

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Here is a closeup of a very small lily colony, located a mile or two downstream from the state park. The large colony of them at Landsford Canal (see recent posting for photos) is reputedly the largest concentration of Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies in the world. Of course, while the phrase “in the world” is accurate, better perspective is given when one realizes that their entire range is limited to just three states — South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.

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Back at the house, grilling happened, but rain made me relocate the cooking under the garage roof.

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Giving thanks usually comes at the beginning of the meal. But sometimes it comes while cooking, or lighting the fire, or buying the pineapple, or discussing the menu, or riding home wet, or glancing around to see her on the water.

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Published in: on May 29, 2009 at 8:11 am  Leave a Comment  

Monday — The Rest of the Way

August 25, 2008 — Long Island Lake to takeout.

From our campsite on Long Island Lake, we continued to Lower George Lake… Rib Lake… Cross Bay Lake… Ham Lake… plus two unnamed small lakes. There were six portages totalling 243 rods.

Here are some scenes from our final day of paddling.

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Some men are barrel-chested. We were barrel-backed.
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Finishing strong
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A cool shot just as Phil was beaming back up to the mothership:
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The day had been truly beautiful. A morning that was born in the mist matured into an autumn-like freshness of air. There were lily pads and grasses around us much of the day, and we encountered ducks on the water and rocks — Gadwall, Common Goldeneye, Wood Ducks.

We made it to the takeout by our 3:00 appointment, and the Suburban and trailer were waiting for us. At the outfitter we were given cold drinks and clean towels, and everyone eventually found their way to the showers. Hot water is a wonderful thing!

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On the way back to Duluth, we stopped in Grand Marias for supper at The Angry Trout. After that, the two-hour drive back to the hotel gave good time to process our week together.

Thanks, guys! Peace in your journey’s next leg.

Published in: on September 8, 2008 at 9:36 am  Comments (4)  

Pausing Daily

Before I write about the final day of paddling in the Boundary Waters, I wanted to tell about something else that was part of the process. Phil had arranged ahead of time for a different person to provide a spiritual meditation for the group each day. At some designated point, usually before paddling, we would take the sheet of readings and meditation prompts, wander off by ourselves, and spend a few minutes in prayer and thought. This was a fine component of our time in the wilderness… with each other… alone… with God. It was an important time, and I appreciate what each one shared. Here are the thoughts I shared with the group (ironically?) on the morning before the Saturday of big wind:

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Proverbs 8:22-31

22 The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old.
23 I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.
24 When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
when there were no springs abounding with water;
25 before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth,
26 before he made the earth or its fields or any of the dust of the world.
27 I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
29 when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command,and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
30 Then I was the craftsman at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

Wisdom and water are boundaries, yes. We come to the water like it is a wise old caretaker of tomorrow. Do we want to see how far it is we reach? Curiosity and wisdom are cousins, aren’t they? When standing at that line, are we looking out of or into? It could be we go there just to learn that.

Or maybe we edge up to the shore because of that shepherd thing: “He leads me beside still waters.” — Psalm 23:2b.

That can be one of the scariest verses in the Bible, because it is in still water that we may see our own reflection. But it means he wants us to know who we are. …over and over, or until we finally look. Perhaps some never look until forced to by a thirst. Then bending all the necessary joints to bring watery self within reach, a hand dips from the reflection, enough.

Enough. That has something to do with wisdom. And the wet hand, real-izing what was there, feels exactly like somebody just got baptized. …and baptism, after all, is the biggest boundary water there is.

Think about this as your paddle slices movement from the water that sometimes is still.

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Published in: on September 6, 2008 at 11:17 pm  Comments (1)  

Sunday — Good Paddling

August 24, 2008 — Winchell Lake to Long Island Lake

Gentle ripples and quiet air met us Sunday morning. Reprieve had been given in the night, and the atmosphere seemed angry no more. Our group had rested and was eager again to find the rhythm that brought the North Woods to our bow. When humbled by a force like yesterday’s barrage, humility continues within the gift of new permission to move, and gratitude for it is a specifically holy event.

It didn’t seem like Sunday, but I thought the day was mighty worshipful. I wondered about my congregation back home, praying for them before and during their appointed time of gathering. And four canoes steered around a bend and paddled away from the open length of Winchell Lake.

We had done no portages since Thursday, and each one we would face today was remarkable in its own way. The first one would take us from Winchell to Omega Lake. Of 46 rods, its primary feature was that nearly the entire trailbed was made of big rocks and boulders. This made the act of walking while carrying canoe and gear a technical undertaking. It slowed our progress, but I enjoyed the required concentration.

After a little more than a mile of paddling on Omega Lake, we landed again and prepared for the walk to Kiskadinna Lake. This portage of 37 rods went over a steep hill, recalling climbing angles of many of our previous mountain hikes. Not only was it a workout for the legs and lungs, but it was an extra challenge to balance the canoe on shoulders, not banging the bow against the ground during ascent or the stern during descent.

Kiskadinna Lake was a skinny enjoyment of two miles’ length, featuring some breeze, but nothing rude. We spoke to some other paddlers moving in the opposite direction, and they warned us about the portage we had next, being that they had just experienced it. Phil’s map told us it was 185 rods, the longest we would face on our journey. We encouraged each other to rest as often as necessary during the walk — it’s better to be a resting man than a macho cardiac event…or fatigue-induced fracture.

So we landed and prepared to hike across. Along the way the terrain turned uphill, and the climb was higher than expected. Then back down, and up, and down. Except for the final descent, I don’t think these several hills were as steep as the previous portage, but this one did require work. It wasn’t the smoothest trail, either, with big rocks and roots plenty enough to keep us watching the ground. The warning of the other paddlers had become clear. It was time-consuming, someone timing the crossing at 30 minutes under load and 20 minutes on the walk back for more gear. We had lunch once everything and everybody had made it to the shore of Muskeg Lake.

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The paddle across Muskeg was short, about one-half mile, another pleasant cruise. At the other end was a pair of portages that were hard to understand from the maps we had. Phil’s map showed a 20 rod followed immediately by another 20 rod, with a creek or marsh in between. John’s map (which he had me using so more than one canoe would have map support) showed a 4 rod followed by the 20. Either way, marsh was involved and we expected some mud — correctly, it turned out.

John and Phil landed first and walked ahead to see just what it was we were facing. The distance to next water (a navigable creek) was pretty short — I’d say 6 rods — but they determined that putting in there with a load would be impossible due to the deep thick mud. They scouted further up the creek to a place with relatively better footing and chose that as the launch. Since the distance was short (10 rods?), it was thought easier to have four men grab the canoe by the thwarts and carry it to the creek still loaded, instead of hauling everything piecemeal. Somewhere during the first trial of this, John got into the mud and almost lost his sandals trying to come back out. A short time later he noticed blood and found ten or more leeches attached between his toes, inside his Keen sandals.

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We finished carrying and sliding the other three canoes across the tall grass and began the next paddle. Moving down the narrow channel was fun, but it lasted less than two-hundred yards before the 20 rod portage was reached. This was another rocky one, with the beginning being the most inhospitable snaggle of boulders, yet. At the other end was Long Island Lake. (I wish that I had taken pictures of the portage action, especially on this day. My loss.)

Some small wind helped us remember from whence we’d come, and less than two miles later we were landing on the shore of a very lovely campsite, home for the night.

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It was the clearest night of the trip, and Steve and I stayed out to watch. At first two, and later four, of Jupiter’s moons could be seen with my binoculars. A Common Nighthawk hunted insects over the water briefly; when it was gone, some kind of bat did the same. As with Thursday night, when Phil and I were watching, there were meteors, a few satellites, the oddity of a jet, its occupants not guessing any detail of a quiet campsite miles beneath their travel. The red-and-green pulsing star that was visible Thursday was there again, just above the next island.

A loon wailed. Then it wailed again.

Above us our galaxy paled the black, Milky Way’s millions of suns igniting their nuclear portions of universal fury. We know the God who put them there, and we watched, the most absolutely catastrophic brilliance that can be seen by human eyes, softened by distance to the glow of a dream.

Published in: on September 5, 2008 at 12:31 pm  Comments (1)  

Saturday — Wind

August 23, 2008 — Winchell Lake

“6:40 AM The wind continued to blow fiercely the rest of the morning, and still is.”

It does not escape me that the words Winchell and windchill sound very much alike. Appropriate. As Steve prepared breakfast and the rest of us broke camp, we kept hoping the wind would subside and allow progress. We had to move. Too much distance lay before us to allow another layover day, and we didn’t know how long the wind would keep up. The sky was brighter in the west, but that was no promise of calm.

Canoes loaded, we began to push away. The waves made it very difficult for Steve and Mike, even from the first. Somehow they maintained ultimate balance and their labor into the wind caused movement. The next canoe in the water was Phil and John’s, but they wanted Jim and me to head out next, so we loaded our gear and mounted up. When we were clear and facing the wind, Steve and Mike had progressed a few hundred yards, but they were sideways to the wave action and had capsized. Someone yelled to us that they were in the water, so we headed that way to help, if needed. They were in a shallow place and were able to drag their boat and gear to shore for draining and reassembly. Jim and I retrieved a few floating items and met them at the shore.

Reloaded and back under way, the other two canoes joined us in what was the hardest paddling of our trip. That inexplicable wind just kept on coming.

Perhaps I should pause here and explain my regard for wind. I don’t know why, but wind is a major irritant to me. My blood pressure goes up in March. Even if I’m inside my house or a building, the presence of wind outside makes me grumpy and impatient. Wind is shells in my seafood, sand in my eyes, the jock itch of my soul. It distracts and keeps me off-balance. I don’t like it.

So, after being kept awake by it all night and feeling its touch for the past sixteen hours, I was pretty edgy. The futility of our struggle against the blow kept my frustration growing. At times, our strongest paddling was necessary just to hold our position. We moved forward only when the windspeed dipped, and then struggled again to not move backward. My good partner Jim patiently endured my muttering and grunting. The other boats found a lee in which to rest, but we kept moving. Later, when better positioned to move toward shore, we rested too. But the windwhipped waves swamped our boat where we sat, and we had to unload, dump, and reload.

Back out, we worked into the teeth of the wind. After a while, the boats in front began nosing starboard toward a peninsula campsite. This was “Methodist Point” that Phil had told us about. Two canoes landed for a rest, and Jim and I took position to come in third. While we were landing, the fourth boat found itself perpendicular to the wind and flipped. A few of us went into the water to lend aid, and everyone came ashore eventually.

So there we were. Wet, tired, and cooler than was comfortable, even though the sun felt good. We had progressed 2.25 miles in a little over two hours. The campers at that site were glad to have us share their shore, as they were preparing to leave, anyway. We took our time resting and warming, and lunch soon followed. After everyone seemed safely beyond danger of hypothermia, we gathered for a decision: continue, or stay?

Good discussion led to concensus that, even though, from this vantage point, we could see where we would leave this overly windy lake, we might not even be able to make it safely there under the present conditions. We would stay the night and hope for calmness the next morning. It was also agreed that we must paddle with the wind tomorrow, not against it, even if that meant going back the way we had come. We were approximately halfway around our route, but only two of our five days remained. We were still within timely reach of our destination, but contrary winds would never allow it.

Our stay at this site turned out to be a very enjoyable time.

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Minnesota Nighttime Reflection

Nightfall, vision’s last call,
darkness was early tonight.
It’s mostly about sound, now,
wind and loons, brute and elegance,
poles in my love of this lake.

Red squirrel, come back tomorrow,
darkness was early tonight.
It all becomes fine, now.
It doesn’t matter what they’re saying
in the other tent.

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SPj – August 23, 2008

Published in: on September 3, 2008 at 5:40 pm  Comments (4)  

Thursday — Paddling In

August 21, 2008 — Superior National Forest and BWCAW

Our beginning cut a diagonal-section across the width of Poplar Lake. I’m used to kayaks, you know. But canoes have longer been part of my on-water experience, so the stern position of the 17-foot Alumacraft immediately felt natural and familiar. Jim was my partner in the bow. Two other Alumacraft canoes were supplied by the outfitter. The fourth boat was a 16-foot Old Town Penobscot, personal property of Greg and Brad, father and son Minnesota natives and friends of Phil who were great additions to the group.

This loose consist slipped away into the map, verifying its claims. We stayed close at first, our energy high with eagerness accumulated over the months. Neither fast nor agile, our heavy little barges progressed under the fuel of shoulders and abdomens and arms. Eight pairs of arms. Four pairs of men. Two pairs of boats.

One pair of binoculars. Birds were few. Until the final lake of the day, just two species were seen along the way: Bald Eagle and Belted Kingfisher. Finally on Winchell Lake, a pair of Common Loons made their first appearance. Their kind would occupy our awareness the rest of the trip, flying, swimming, diving, calling in the dark.

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The sun was warm in between the clouds that passed, and the air was the best kind of fresh. We left Poplar Lake and portaged to Lizz Lake. Then to Caribou Lake, then Horseshoe Lake, and Gaskin Lake. Halfway down the length of Lizz Lake, we passed a sign indicating that we were entering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Minimal drinking water had been given to us by the outfitter since we would be filtering our own at the campsites. So by the time we reached Gaskin Lake, several paddlers had long since finished their water and were getting dry, hot, and seriously low on energy reserves. Even though the plan had been to have lunch and rest when we reached our campsite, many other paddlers were there, already claiming all our anticipated campsites. Lunch at the next portage then became necessary, some of us having exerted beyond ability to recover had an accident or capsize occurred. (It was 3:30, according to my journal entry, later.) But after food, water, and a lengthy rest, strength and humor returned enough to launch again in search of unpeopled territory. This was Winchell Lake.

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During the next 1.2 miles, we passed two more occupied sites. Then the guys up front signalled to starboard that a spot was available. One by one we made our way around the corner and found the welcome landing. We were in, and the evening was going to feel pretty good. From my journal:

“I’m too much in the moment to write much or well about it. Ants are crawling all over this rock where I sit, and on me, too. The conversation is slow and playful behind me where McCormick is cooking supper. Brad is fishing over to my right from this same huge rock. The sun will set behind a small peninsula directly in front of us. Whie Cedars — small ones — are growing out of the rocks to my left, directly beside the water. Brad just caught his third fish — each one has been smaller than the previous.”

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“I’m hearing stories I’ve heard four or five times before — or more. But it’s good. Some of these guys (the three new ones) haven’t heard them before.” …Bringing them up to date with the lore of this group — stories have their best feel when surrounded by rocks and water and trees.

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Because of the hard day and the fact we went farther than we needed to, Phil suggested we might stay at this site two nights, resting on Friday and spending relaxed time together. That sounded pretty good, so that’s what we did.

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Published in: on September 1, 2008 at 1:59 pm  Comments (1)  

Boundary Waters — a Start

For well more than a year, the guys in the hiking group had tossed around the idea of taking a trip together to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Since Phil had experience there and it was his idea to start with, he organized a plan and started taking names.

On August 19, we began arriving in Duluth. Those of us who were there early got to check out the equipment at Gander Mountain and the books at Barnes & Noble, relax and talk, and do some birding in the parking lot behind the Days Inn. When all eight guys were assembled, we went to supper at Grandma’s Saloon and Grill. Our adventure was underway. Late night conversation with the Olympics on TV finished the evening.

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Early the next morning we loaded into two vehicles and headed out along the north shore of Lake Superior. Our destination for the day would be Seagull Outfitters, near the end of the Gunflint Trail, but along the way we would stop several times to enjoy the territory, Minnesota being a new state for several in the group, myself included. We ate smoked fish from a roadside vendor and had a late lunch at Sven and Olle’s Pizza in Grand Marias.

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We arrived at the outfitter after 4:00 and began the orientation. After getting reasonably settled for the night in the bunkhouse, Don Germain, a long-time friend of Phil’s, came to talk to us about his vast experience of paddling, guiding, and outfitting in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. He shared lots of helpful insight into what we would soon be facing.

After a night of rough and restless sleep (for me, at least), we woke up, finished loading our personal gear into the large packs, had a quickstart breakfast, and gathered at the Chevy Suburban with the trailer of canoes behind it. We were fitted for PFDs and paddles, endured more of the orientation guy, and finally hit the road back down the Gunflint Trail to our put-in.

Beyond the dry facts of these few paragraphs are eight personal and constantly reshaping perspectives about the moments of the week as they rose and fell, like waves beneath the hull of a ready canoe. Next, I’ll attempt to express some that were my own.

[Additional pictures of this trip are posted on my Flickr site. You can see them by clicking here.]

Published in: on August 31, 2008 at 10:04 pm  Leave a Comment