This is the fourth of a little series recounting my river trip. Read the start of it all here: River Scrawl: Beginning
I wake at eight and walk to town. Somehow I haven’t shit this entire journey. I almost puked and crapped my pants in the kayak but neither came out. Normally by now I’d have dug a hole or two. Bagged some shit rags to trash or burn. But so far that hasn’t been the case. My innards have turned to glue.
Today is special. I can use a toilet. That’s rare on the kayak. A much missed luxury. Even in my million nights of living in a car I have access to one. Sure I share the shitter with bums who blast their ass butter all over, who never flush, who sit in stalls for hours, but a toilet is a toilet. Much better than squatting in weeds while mosquitoes eat your ass. So I suck down caffeine and a quarter shot of vodka in anticipation of dynamiting the porcelain throne I’ll soon lord over.
This town is small. It’s like so many little Midwest spots I’ve been in. The ones where I pull ashore and walk a mile to a gas station for Rockstar and pizza. The little town whose historic site I slept at on one of my first river trips. I think of how the caretaker found me come morning. How rather than scolding she offered coffee. I think of how fun it is to have food and civilization after being on the river for days and not seeing a soul.
In ten minutes I’m at the park with its campground and shower. I empty my guts then get in. You depress the knob and water blasts for thirty seconds. I cycle it ’til the water’s warm then wash mud off me. I stink of sweat. Body slathered in mud. Hair stiff as a morning dick.
I find no ticks on my naked body. No saddle sores from splashing my seat. The shower is nice but not life changing. I could’ve gone without it. My years of transience have taught me I can go more than a month without a wash and be fine.
I dry in the park grass and charge my phone. Shit a few more times and talk to my sister for over an hour. I haven’t seen her in close to a year but soon will be back in my second home of Oregon. We’ll head to the ocean and hike up mountains. For now I’m content to hear stories of the old lady she cares for shitting the bed five times in a row. It seems that woman is my competition.
At the grocery store I buy a feast along with a case of water. I eat lunch on shore then break down camp. I step to the marsh and once more am paddling. It’s already three but I enjoyed town so much I don’t care about such a late start.
It’s four miles to a dam but I don’t know what it’ll be like. Normally I portage but the water is high and I wonder if there’ll be a path to do that. If there’ll be any dam to see. On my right side I spot the biggest eagle’s nest I’ve ever seen. It sits in the upper splitting branches of a dead tree. Even from the opposite side of the river it cuts a striking figure. One eagle sits on a branch while another circles then enters the nest. In there I catch a little head poking out.
I near the rock dam. There’s no sign of cascading water but I fear subsurface churn. I paddle to a marshy side stream and land in mud. There resides geese with goslings. One runs the babies into grass as the others honk to distract me.
I only need to pull my kayak a few hundred feet but the surface is sludge. The craft won’t glide. Seems to gain weight as muck sticks to its belly. I place it in the marsh and though it barely floats this works well enough. Twenty minutes later, covered in mud, I make it to cracked dirt. Dry land.
I search the area for a safe spot to enter. Men cast reels to current. This is the only place I’ve seen people on this trip. Not a soul on the water. Just these fishermen. I enjoy that aspect of all this. The solitude. How I can paddle four hundred miles and see no one. Spend days alone without talking aloud. Sight no life beyond satellites in space.
I consult with a fisherman about where the dam ends and he assures me we’re past it. I set in and the water is still. No swirls. I paddle on and though it’s early evening I hope to make miles. Instead I encounter fresh blasts of wind, these stronger than before.
For the next four hours I battle wind, paddling in the weeds just feet from bank. As bad as the water was yesterday today is worse. Killing waves. Ones I wouldn’t test even if in a boat. Somehow the side stays sane and somewhat calm. I once more take the attitude of “eh, what can I do” and sputter to Canada one stroke at a time.
When I turn east there’s relief but west and north are fucked. Despite the snaking nature of this river that presents a problem. This water flows north. There’s more hard stretches than easy. Few chances to put down the paddle and let this current tow me. I keep my mind busy with audiobooks and sights of nature. Little ducks who flush in groups of two then struggle with violent air.
As dusk nears the sky is rich with purple, red, and orange. These colors cast onto water. I look at the blade of my wet paddle and sight clouds reflected on its surface. When I have time to look up all is gorgeous. So much of the reason I’m out here. Not just the solitude but the sights and sounds of nature.
I think of the teeming wildlife of which I only catch glimpses. Deer, eagles, beavers. Pelicans and geese. I’m an outsider in their ecosystem. I think of the changing sky. How in morning the colors are rich but come afternoon turn muted. How at night the contrast grows rich and vibrant. How birds at dusk cut a stark and dark figure against a purpling sky. How I race with sunset to find a camp, pitch my tent, and erase darkness by turning dead wood to deep fire.
On a westward stretch the wind is calm and I scan for spaces. I spot a gentle landing to stop the kayak. To lug uphill even though the sloping bank doesn’t level for twenty feet. I choose to trudge this length then camp in grass. So I jump in water and yank the craft up this little hill.
Up here it’s glorious. Dead trees are piled with solo stragglers off on their own. This is as close to a meadow as a place like this provides. Nothing but grass between the windbreak row of shore trees and those hundreds of feet back where woods begin. There’s stubs of dead timber spaced in the spots between but they look like nothing more than telephone poles chopped and dyed black.
I place my tent beside a beat down animal path in which I note deer and raccoon tracks. I know nothing will bother or cause concern. I don night attire before gathering wood as once again the wind chilled me. As I lug rotted logs I grow so hot I drink La Croix and peel insulation.
The fire is big and burns hot. I suck my last drop of vodka then blast bottle to fire. It pops loud. A scream of anger for inducing its death. I lie for hours and enjoy this simple and primal pleasure. Still little to see in the sky which is a surprise. The heavens can be unrivaled here but not on this trip. No stars. That’s fine. For all the challenges from wind to self induced stupidity I’m still loving it. Loving the sense of purpose stripped down to basic forms. Paddle. Sleep. Repeat.
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Paddling my nasty ass to the Canadian border.😶 🔪Day 4 👀96/135 miles complete. 👍Saw the biggest eagle's nest of my life, a very long view of a beaver under a tree (they always dive in the river the second you see them), and more battling fierce headwinds. 😶Tomorrow, Canada?? We shall see. #river #outdoors #nature #kayak
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This is the fourth of a little series recounting my river trip. The other pieces will follow soon.
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