I hope you dear readers don’t mind me sharing these memories. It’s the middle of winter and I’m stuck waiting for warmer weather and the fishing to kick off. So as I sit here sipping my coffee, I’m throwing some filler material into my blog.
As I’ve stated elsewhere, I’m not “Guide Material” but on this particular trip that’s what they called me. Turns out I was more of a “Navigator/Sheep Herder.”
Day One started out normal. I was co-leading a youth group from a Lutheran Church on their first “epic adventure.” (Red Flag #1.)
As usual it took forever to get everyone off the portage and onto the water heading in the right direction. (I will speed this week up as fast as possible to keep from boring you to death.) End of Day One was uneventful and we made the 13.5 mile paddle to our first campsite.
Day Two started off in question. The kid in charge of navigation (Red Flag #2) informed us that he had forgotten the maps back in the van. Yeehaw! I must interject here that this was a co-ed crew and as such it had a Female Leader. You want to see a city person go off the deep end? Tell them we don’t have maps and we’re deep in the Wilderness. They absolutely lose it. My buddy, being the stoic he was…looked at her and said, “you wanted an adventure!”
Fortunately, I have a good memory and had a decent idea where we needed to go. So off we went.
I was doing “my thing” and we were heading where we needed to go. With all the muttering and second-guessing going on from the back of the group, I knew it was going to be a long day. And boy was it! After 8 hours of solid paddling we slipped through a shortcut that I remembered and tried to enter out onto the main body of water. Nothing doing. The wind was absolutely howling! The waves were huge. I paddled over to the co-leaders and said we need to find a campsite and sit this out. Nothing doing. They were hell bent on getting to the campsite that was on their itinerary. I cajoled them, I consoled them to no avail. (Red Flag #3)
I gathered up my flock and ordered everyone to cinch up their PFD’s and get off of their seats and onto their knees. I told them to buddy up, paddle hard and keep the bow pointed into the wind. Also, if they tipped, they needed to hang onto the canoe and let the wind push them to a shore and that I wouldn’t be able to get to them before the wind blew them out of reach. It was white-knuckle time!
The waves were so big that when I looked over to my buddy canoe they would drop out of sight after they crested a wave. What should have taken 25 minutes to cross ended up taking 3 hours. But we made it! I fixed dinner that night and made sure everyone was taken care of. I huddled with the co-leaders and voiced my displeasure at their decision. I ordered a rest day as these kids were done for and needed time. Not one single argument was presented. We had covered 26 miles of water from 0600-2115. Helluva day in anyone’s book.
The rest of the trip passed uneventfully until the last day. The weather changed big time. The temps were dropping and the rain was coming down. We were miserable. The only obstacle confronting us was the last portage. A half-miler uphill and it always turned into a muck-fest when it rained.
The kids shouldered their packs and paddles and headed up to the parking lot and the waiting van. I ended up making that round trip 3 times. Once with my gear and twice carrying canoes. My friend and I were whooped.
The rain intensified and I was struggling to get the canoes onto the van and strapped down. It’s really frustrating being cold and soaking wet trying to stow gear and lash everything down while 12 sets of eyes are staring at you from inside the warm, dry van. But it had to be done and we completed the task.
Then, from the distance I hear a voice shouting at me (Red Flag #4-or so I thought!) Standing 50 yards away was an older gentleman who was getting ready to begin his trip into the Wilderness. He and his crew had been watching us struggle to button everything up and finish our trip. He took one look at me and the van, which said “something something Lutheran Church” and asked my friend and I “are you boys Christians?” (SideNote: my teeth are chattering and I’m drenched to the bone. Picture the proverbial Drowned Rat!) I’m not going to lie…I was mad as a hornet at the lack of help from our own crew. I looked that man dead in the eye and said “not today!” He smiled at me and from behind his back pulled a big bottle of Hudson’s Bay Whiskey out and handed it to me. You betcha I took a long pull on it! I thanked the gentleman profusely and wished him well on his adventure. Finally glad to feel warm again, I headed back to the van to begin the long ride home. My friend and I agreed to down-grade it to a Pink Flag!
For the rest of you…be careful what you wish for and safe paddles!