I wake the next morning sick and in the sun. Heat beats my hungover body. Passes through the mesh tent I left uncovered. Last night I heard a beaver splash just off shore but now I catch the buzz of a plane. Chug of a tractor. I wish to exterminate all stimuli. Silence the earth. Snuff the sun. Just wrap me in a cocoon. Induce a coma. Lie in dirt and expel hot vodka.
I’m nauseous and dizzy. Neither a ten but enough to keep body glued to ground. I’m in my new sleeping bag and it seems to have done the job overnight. I passed out in seconds. Slept from one ’til ten.
Ten is my normal take off time. Wake at eight or nine. Embark an hour later. Paddle ten hours then call it a day. But now I’m stuck. Last night’s choices hindering those of this morning. I plop out my sleeping bag. Lie as heat cooks me like roadkill on blacktop.
Noon comes and goes. As does the next hour. I find the strength to lurch out of bed for more water. The fire is burnt down to ash. Just stubs of sticks where flame never ate. My feet are muddy but body not sore. Just sick with drink. I grab a bottle and return to the tent.
All over the tarp is dried puke. How cute. It seems I yakked before falling to bed. A vague image of feeling the need to discharge coalesces but it’s half remembered. No need for memory. The smell of evidence has hit my nose.
I curse myself for dumb decisions. Think of the time I paddled 403 miles on this river. How one night I got wasted and the next sat sick in the tent. How by luck it coincided with a day so windy the river turned to capsizing roils. How it would’ve been impossible to paddle anyways. It’s windy today but not like that. I should be out there but instead sit in dirt.
After another hour I break camp. Shake puke from tarp. Spongy bits cling like barnacles. I pack it all in the kayak and step barefoot to river. I get the boat floating then scoot in. Put blue blade to water at three in the afternoon. My worst start ever.
After no more than a hundred strokes I know I’m sick. The sun is a bastard. My gyroscope off kilter. I notice a tractor working a field in Minnesota. In seconds I feel I’m gonna shit my guts then puke the rest. I worry that if I bend over to yak the kayak might flip.
I start muttering to myself. “Oh I feel sick. I’m gonna puke. I’m gonna puke. I’m gonna puke.”
I stop paddling and let the current carry me. Stillness stabilizes my innards but the kayak turns and I face backwards. I get going straight and point to North Dakota. I need to bail but hope to be out of sight of the tractor in case I squat and shit. Past the bend is an easy landing so I ground myself ashore.
I throw my paddle into grass and drag the kayak out of water. My stomach has settled and though I might vomit I feel better. I’m barefoot and step on short, poky weeds that make me jump tenderfoot, wincing in pain. I find a flat spot and take off my life vest to make it a pillow. For two hours I sleep in the shade of a towering oak. When I wake it’s 5:30 and I feel fine.
For three and a half hours I paddle. Strokes pushing me foot by foot to Canada. I only make fifteen miles for the day but that’s fine. As the sun dips down I scan for campsites. On a long straightaway I sight a beautiful spot populated with wood and straw.
I pass it but keep looking back. That’s it. It’s the one. I back paddle and run aground. There grows grass in a large flat opening. It wiggles out the cracks of earth. Dried mud made into squares. Behind this is scattered drift carried in from flood. Stacked against trees is straw. Nature’s gasoline. Another fire is in order.
I make camp, pull wood, and lie beside my fire listening to an audiobook. Still no stars but night is warm. I think of how this is just as nice as the night before. How no vodka isn’t a minus. But of course I have more. Will drink at other camps.
For now I enjoy my spot, stoking embers as dirt from straw drowns the heat every half hour. I throw dry grass to flare the fire up, only to see the same accelerant kill it back down. Mud and straw conversing with flame. It’s a cycle repeated for hours.
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This is the second of a little series recounting my river trip. The other pieces will follow soon.
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