|A Sail on Spednic Lake
by Hal the Gullboy
Ooh! I'd been dreaming about this one! Way too long away from my canoe. I had the moon pegged, I had cars positioned at the right spots, I had the route nitpicked right down to the last mile. That's me, Mr. A. This was gonna be a good one.
A day late, we arrived at our modified put-in on Spednic Lake, and Mr. A's plan took its first hit. We had originally planned to start in Grand Lake and paddle down the St. Croix to the sea. As the day waned in concert with our stamina, Scooter, Brother Dick and I found our way to the put-in, located a good place for a bootleg campsite and unloaded.
With nothing better to do, me and Scooter sauntered down to the edge of the lake, for what else? A nightcap. I almost died when I saw it, just as I had pictured it for months: The full moon rising over calm waters, graceful, smooth waves left over form the day's wind. The island, not far out, stood darkly against the glistening moonlit waters. I wanted to cry.
"Patience," I said to myself, "we still have all week." The morning brought blue skies, sunshine, and a passle of fishermen in square back canoes. We, with all our crap spread all over the place, soon found ourselves scurrying to pack and get out of the way. Somehow, me and Scooter ended up with the bulk of Bro Dick's gear, as we were paddling a canoe and he was paddling his brand-spanking new sea kayak, which he had never packed for a camping trip before. We set out. "Yes! Finally!" and paddled south toward the outlet and the real river.
Dick, paddling a kayak and grossly under-loaded, was soon nearly out of sight. The fact that he had just paddled down a false arm did my spirits good, as we waved our paddles and gesticulated madly with our hands. He got the idea and began to backtrack. We paddled east, in our cargo barge, toward the real route. This set the pattern for the day, with my Bro never getting close enough to talk to him, never mind give him all his luggage, and him having no clue where we were headed.
Sorta reminds me of my dog, who always runs ahead, then stands in my way looking at me, waiting for a clue. It was getting on toward lunch, so Brother Dick, having no food, began to cozy right up for the first time. We pulled over on the Canadian side for lunch and discussed our plans. We were about halfway down, making good time, with the wind behind us. I figured we could be on the actual river before we had to camp. So, we passed most of Bro's gear on to him, and off we went. The wind, meanwhile began to pick up some good steam.
In no time, Bro was way out ahead, floating there, staring around like a paying customer. Meanwhile we were quartering downwind, yawing all over the place. Looking at the map, we saw that on our left was actually a big island, maybe 3 miles across. We determined that we could pass around the upwind side of it, then we'd be lined right up with the wind and blow straight down, pretty as you please. Me and Scooter reverted to our mouthing of words and waving our paddles. I swear to this day, Dick watched us as we headed that way and disappeared from his sight.
Revelation upon revelation, Scooter had the grand idea to cut a couple of poles and rig a sail. I pulled out my nylon tarp, we rolled each pole into opposite sides of the tarp, and Scooter held the two poles up, the sail formed in between. Well, let me tell you, I have never in my life gone so fast in a canoe.
The bow wave rejoined the boat about midship in a big swell that I swear was higher than the gunwales. Pitching and yawing was a memory, as we were riding the whitecapped swells, hooting and grinning and having one grand old time. We rounded the end of the island, and began to look for the Bro in his big yellow banana, expecting to blow past him at any moment, and of course, showing him all the respect he deserved as we did.
Empty. Not a soul. Nothing nowhere but whitecaps and shoreline. Dick was not to be seen. We blew down a ways further, to another spit of land and went ashore. Scooter pulled out his old Eureka tent, bright screaming orange, and we hung it up, for visibility. I fetched out the binoculars, and squinted. I could just make out where we had lunch, about five or six miles up. We waited and watched. Once I thought I saw a yellow thing, but after staring for real long time, I could see nothing.
"Now what do we do?" asked Scooter.
"I dunno, I'm not even sure we could paddle back through that, even if we wanted to." And so went the next hour of indecisiveness. With our flight downwind, we were way too far down the lake for Dick to ever guess. After a fret or two, we finally came to the conclusion that the only option left to us was to work our way back into that screaming breath of Old Man Wind.
We picked our way carefully, as there were a number of islands between us and where we last saw Bro and his infernal kayak. We lined up with each island, staying directly downwind until we were in the lee. A brief break in the calm waters, and we rounded one end or another, whichever lined up better with the next island. In this fashion, we bulled our laden boat up through the headwind, with only an occasional wave jumping into Scooter's lap, who paddled at the front. Finally, late afternoon, and we had made it back the big island. Still no sign of the Bro. But then, our island hopping had taken us a little off-course. We rounded the bend into the wind and the main body of the lake once more, and there, not twenty feet away, was my big brother, looking rested.
"Well, I turned around, and I didn't see you guys anywhere." Said Dick. "So I paddled in a big triangle from where I was to where we had lunch and to where I last saw you. I figured that if I didn't find you, I'd paddle back to the truck."
"Whew!" said I. What had taken us a half hour to sail down had taken the whole afternoon to return. I pointed out where we tried to signal from, way down, almost out of sight now. Too late to continue, and me without much energy anyway, we pulled in for the evening and set up camp.
The next day was another insult, when I awoke to a change in the weather, and the accompanying headwind. You wouldn't have wanted to ask me a favor just then. We fought the headwind, the drizzle, and the clouds of blackflies, and finally gained the outlet, at a dam. We pulled over and scoped out the portage. We looked at the river below, with riffles punctuating the current. I had my first temptation to go stark raving mad as I heard Bro say, "Gee, I don't think I can handle that in my kayak."
We walked a little further than necessary and found ourselves in a general store. Besides the much needed case of beer, Scooter and Bro bought me a consolation gift, a butane lighter, that when you warm it in your hands, all the clothing would melt off, revealing a well-endowed and naked body beneath. Too bad it was a picture of a guy.
Thanks, Hal the Gullboy. Sorry I missed that trip.
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