This is the fifth of a little series recounting my river trip. Read the start of it all here: River Scrawl: Beginning
I wake to the sound of songbirds. Those rat bastards are nature’s worst alarm clock. Their incessant shrill a five a.m. call to arms. They’ve cursed me over the years. In all my nights of camping an ever present menace. Sent to wake and annoy my nasty ass. I hate these things. Wish I could pluck them feather by feather. Stick TNT in their beaks then strike a match.
I think of how once I stealth camped along a creek in Austin. How I slept nude and drifted off to flowing water. How come morning the songbirds started their racket. Wouldn’t shut up despite my boiling anger. One perched in a tree above screeched his awful tones. I threw rocks but still the bastard sang. Wouldn’t adhere to the buzzer of Nature’s Got Talent.
I blast ass as loud as I can. “There’s my song, ya fuckers.”
I rise from camp and ready for paddling. I made eighteen miles the day before. Now have thirty nine to go. I’ve done forty+ days but the last three of this trip come against current. Once I reach the Canadian border I turn ’round and head to a landing.
These final miles are the hardest of every trip. Battling current after days of paddling. The same current that carried me so far. For now I set a goal of thirty three miles. That’ll bring me to the landing and leave six for the finish.
In the water I make my miles. No way to fake them. Nothing to do but paddle and go. My feet are muddy and for the first time system sore. All the days of wind now make my body brew chemicals of pain. Still, the miles pass fast and easy. For once the wind isn’t a shotgun.
All day I paddle. Left-back, right-back, ad infinitum. Tens of thousands of strokes before sunset. I sight a fisher, the first I’ve seen since two years back when I walked this river in winter. The water was ice and a black creature ran along shore. When it spotted me it dived in a hole and never emerged.
The one I see now freezes just over the lip of land above water. I stop paddling and drift so I can take it in. Observe its stillness. Admire its beauty. When I stick the blade once more it jumps to murk and disappears.
After such easy paddling I’m almost bored. The wind fight kept my mind focused. Today I take many breaks. I never get out unless to pee but indulge in five minute intervals where the current paddles for me. Time to eat, stretch, and jack off. Spit my dry mouth and wipe cum into water.
I pass the dock that marks three miles to the Canadian border. I still have a half hour so carry on. I search for a campsite near dusk then spot a bald eagle atop a dead tree. Below said tree is the perfect area. The eagle flies off but I thank him for finding my final campsite.
I set up near this towering piece of nature. It’s half dead with a few living branches. At its base a length of trunk splits off to ground like a lean-to. The space between it and the base is more than enough for me to walk. I pass under then circle the main trunk, looking skyward at the dark and dead branches.
I gather wood and burn my last fire. Throw cardboard to feed its hunger. Let it spark to sky. Throw on more wood. Feel its heat burn my gnat bit and mud-fucked legs.
I think of what a good trip this has been. How each year is different. How nature throws in new challenges, changes each experience. How wind and flood shaped this journey. How I never would’ve took it if I hadn’t come home as spring turned this river to a lake. But I’m here and I’m thankful.
The next morning I start at ten. Leave my camp intact as I want to travel light. Two miles north and I’ll bump into Canada. For once the wind is at my rear. Strong and from the south. Of course this comes on the day where I’ll backtrack. Good ol’ nature and its bag of tricks.
In half an hour I’m at the border. See signs of its station through a thicket of trees. American winds whip to a frenzy and ripple the water, illustrating all the strong current. I use gps to snake to the border where I bump into shore.
Other years I’ve passed the line and paddled into Canada. This year there’s so much wind and fast current it’s not worth it. For the fuck of it I brush my teeth then spit foam to water. That part of me will enter Canada. The rest will paddle back.
That half hour to the border takes seventy minutes to retrace. Two grueling miles that test me. When I first turn around the water blasts my boat in reverse. I paddle fast and hard but progress is measured in half feet. I aim to shore to find a new plan.
Once more I’ll stick to sides. There if the current or wind grabs me I can bank into mud to hold place. I set forth, fighting the worst current I’ve ever encountered. With the wind blasts on top of that I tire but there’s no chance to stop. To stop is speed backwards.
The river curves from west to south and with this its wind lessens. I fantasize about the landing. About how there’s less than three miles to go. After seventy minutes I’ve made the two miles to camp. There I pack then shit in the ashes of last night’s fire. I drown it out and stir it all in. Then I set out for the last mile. 134 down. One to go.
It seems fitting to put on Rufus du Sol, my theme music for this trip. The song is ten minutes and I think I’ll make it back in three plays. It takes four. That’s forty minutes to make the last mile.
I count out the final hundred strokes then force five more to guide me straight. When I hit shore I prop muddy feet atop the kayak and sit a half hour. I soak up the sun, mud baking into clay on my skin.
I reflect on all I’ve just done over the course of six days. How this is a seven summer tradition. How although I’m poor and live in a car my life is rich and full of wonder. How as a kid I tolerated the outdoors but didn’t embrace the river in my front yard. How only in the last decade did my attitude shift.
How I feel so lucky to have such easy access to nature. How I have loving parents who see me off from their yard then retrieve me at the border. How what a lucky man I am to hold experiences I’ll recall for a lifetime. How for a week or two I get to live outdoors 24/7. How I experience all the highs and lows, the insights and struggles that brings. It’s a blessing.
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This is the fifth and final piece of a little series recounting my river trip.
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