River Scrawl: Middle II

This is the third of a little series recounting my river trip. Read the start of it all here: River Scrawl: Beginning


I continue paddling my nasty ass to the Canadian border. I set in at ten, refreshed as I slept well. I have 36 miles to a small town along the river. There I can score water, a shower, and purchase fresh food. Something more than the jerky mixed in peanut butter that I’ve forked to my mouth the past two days.

I want to make those 36 miles. I need to as my water is dwindling. The low mileage hangover day means my rationing is wrong. I lost five hours and can’t retrieve them. Now I’m thirsty but rather than guzzle take sips.

I set out and battle north winds. Gusts of twenty-five blast the kayak. I stick to the river’s edge as its middle is dangerous. All rolls and roils. I cut kitty corner to shorten the distance to a bend, only to be caught in strong wind halfway. The kayak rocks and for a moment my heart shits its shorts, beating fast.

I know to keep things as stable as can be as the kayak rides each wave. Rocks in all directions. Little water splashes but it’s a real see-saw. My gut flips with worry but I keep my mind calm, knowing I have to play this smart. I take my shots when I can and soon paddle my nasty ass to the other side, feeling relief when I’m once more aside the safety of shore.

From here on I put my head down and do the work. The waves don’t fan to water’s edge so there I stay. Since the water’s so high the river’s in weeds and trees. Spots that should be sloping bank. Outer reaches of woods. I liken it more to paddling through some backwater swamp than a flowing open river.

With one gust the wind steals my sunglasses. Gives them to the water gods. Damn. Today is cloudy but in time I’ll need them. I pull my cap down, one bearing the town of my Canadian ancestors, and take on more wind. It howls and sprays water. Nature’s bastard defense force. There’s nothing to do but go forward. Any stoppage and I speed in reverse. Who knows where the strength comes from but I find it.

I think of the year I did 275 miles on the river. How one day I paddled eleven hours but only made twenty miles. How the wind ripped at me from all directions. This river winds like a maze and yet at every bend Satan’s breath found me. At the end of that day I felt burnt out and sore. Not defeated but beat down.

Now it’s years later and I have the experience to win out. I’m older and hold less power but now possess more knowledge. More fortitude. Have seen all this river can throw at me. From soaking waves to scorching bolts of lightning. From storms collapsing my tent to some strange animal circling it at night and grunting. A little wind is fine. I have no worries.

I paddle on the sides all day and know I’m nearing town. I’ve distracted myself with sights of eagles and wary beavers who watch from shore. I listen to one of my favorite podcasts, burning through two months of saved episodes. Episodes I saved for a day like this one. I pull ashore to check the map and know it’s just a few more bends. Despite the wind I’m not tired.

The day started hot so I donned shorts and shirt. Now hours of wind and splashes of water have cooled me. I dream of a big fire. Taking piles of flood wood then combusting them to heat. Making an untamed flame. One that’ll rip devil licks to night sky.

A half hour before my usual stop time I come to the riverside town. I know where the grocery store is in relation to shore so find a stretch of woods in proximity. Unless someone was looking they’d never know I’m here, yet main street is no more than a football field away.

I paddle through marsh to look at different spots, then backtrack to the nice stretch of grass. It’s cloaked by weeds and surrounded by wood. Enough there to build a pyre and roast the bodies of everyone in town. Or heat for me a month. Either or. I’ll pass on sacrifice but focus on unwrenching the chill that’s entered my bones.

I pitch my tent and gather wood. Get scraps of paper then shred and scrunch them. Starters to take this fire from lit match to sky sparks. I dig through my pack for the matchbox and it isn’t there. Wooden matches are scattered all over but no box. No striker.

I think back to the night before, how after lighting my fire I set aside the matches. I check my campsite each morning, drown and stir its fire, and yet somehow I missed the box on the ground. Maybe it flew in water. Maybe it blended with shore. Maybe morning brain just meant I didn’t find it. Damn.

I swig my jug of bug juice then lay in the tent listening to Rufus Du Sol. With all my layers, with cheap booze diluting my blood, I feel warm. The day is over and no fire be damned. Tomorrow is town. A shower and food. A chance to get a lighter and burn more fires. Make more camps. There’s 78 miles down. 57 to go. The forecast shows wind but these miles still sit on the chalkboard. No way to erase them but put paddle to water and go.


-click thru to see all photos!-

This is the third of a little series recounting my river trip. The other pieces will follow soon.

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