Saturday, August 9, 2008

Day 17: The no-good, awful, boring day

I was traveling through the land run by the Canadian Forces Base Suffield. My guidebook had warned me to call ahead, to make sure they are not conducting live-fire exercises when I plan to pass through. These live-fire exercises must be quite the thing. My map shows a target 30 miles wide. But the river goes through this land and so must I.

The number in my guidebook was old, or wrong, and so I was unable to call ahead. But when they are conducting exercises, a "water sentry" is posted to make sure nobody just wanders into the area to get shot. How interesting that would be! Not getting shot -- meeting the sentry! I would be just going by in my canoe when the water-sentry will come arauond in his gunboat. "Whew," he'll sigh, "I almost missed you. You almost got yourself into a lot of trouble, mister!"
And then he would take me back to his sentry shack to pass the time until the end of the exercises. We'd play chess, smoke cigars and make philosophical conversation deep into the night. And when it was time for me to go, he'd salute me, saying "Well, soldier, it's been a pleasure serving with you."

But the pleasure would be mine. Instead, as I passed the sentry shack there were no motorboats on the water, no soldier staring through field glasses at the river. I used mine to look up, down, left and right, and interpreted the three green diamonds beside the shack to mean, "safe to proceed". How boring, how dull, and ordinary.

And proceed I did. I was making rather good time - the current was strong, and I paddled to the next expectead obstacle - the "Rapid Narrows" according to my map. These are by no means high-class rapids, but my guidebook warned of "meter-high" standing waves during high water. Well, if anything were high water this must be.

I couldn't wait - I wondered what meter high waves would be like. I imagined it would be like a taste of the wild, untamed Mississippi -- something to convince myself that my boat and I could truly handle the big challenges ahead. I came around the corner, paddled into the rapids -- but the waves weren't even half a meter. Once again I was disappointed.

It started to seem so boring. Just floating down the water, with no challenges, no other people around, and no wildlife, really, in most of this entire stretch. I'd do better on the "Lazy River" at Six Flags. If this is how hopelessly dull the trip was going to be, I needed to find a way out.
I passed up a perfect stopping point, with a sandy beach, rocks, and even pelicans! But I continued on, thinking it was too early to stop. I needed to make distance. Why? I don't know, maybe to get this boring trip over with sooner. Or maybe because I hadn't gotten anything else interesting out of the day, and distance would make some consolation.

Canada tried to relieve my boredom the only way she knows how. She got out her creature creator kit and sent some presents my way - gnats that continually swarmed about my head, and flies with black-barred wings that bite through my skin to drink my blood. Unlike mosquitoes, these new terrors are not afraid to fly out over the water, and not greatly affected by bug repellent.

But even these gifts of Canada did not help my malaise.

As I wrote in my journal that night, I tried to deny the truth that I simply would not be able to handle that kind of tedium over the long haul. But I did not even realize that the boredom was largely my own fault, born of my expectations and unwillingness to grab the opportunities that did arise. The little bay of pelicans may have been early, but that does not matter. I always have something that needs fixing, something that needs writing, and something that needs cleaning, and I can only do these things in a nice, clean, comfortable location, like that bay. By passing up those opportunities I am not actually gaining any time on the trip, just gaining time putting up with more and more things unfixed, unwritten, and unclean.

Day 17 ended: 50*38.660N, 110*11.195W

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