Sunday, April 7, 2013

October 9, 2008: Return of the land canoe

As the hours of daylight dwindle, my conscious thoughts are buffeted by cold, by wind, by physical exertion, while my subconsciousness rages at night.  I begin dreaming in surprisingly cohesive, realistic short stories and novels, ensconsed in the warm dark of my tent.

I lay there thinking I would simply recreate the dubious system I used in that initial short ride, patiently repairing its faults at every bump and corner.  In any case I must once again purge all excess weight; get rid of the canoe covers that have always frustrated due to my inability to attach them well; eliminate the warm weather clothes I rarely used even when it was warm; drop the books I have finished with; throw out my Missouri license plate "985-ESC" brought for purely sentimental reasons.

When I came to Calgary, I came in a white, 1989 Cutlass Sierra that my parents expected to die at any moment on the road.  But it was a survivor.  Racing the sunset to a camp site one night I drove off the side of a road in the South Dakota badlands, where one or two hundred yards further on would have been fatal.  I was pulled out and my tires reinflated by a ragtag team consisting of a crippled war vet, a policeman, an Indian, and a dog.  I had a couple flat tires in Wyoming, and although it dropped its muffler somewhere in Montana, I was napping in a pull-out at the time so I easily recovered it and threw it on the passenger seat, where it spent the rest of its life.

The car was simply left out back of my first place in Calgary, weathering eight months of winter without a single use, but when it came time to move it started without any problems.  My insurance had expired, but that was okay -- I planned to simply once again pack up my possessions, drive the couple of miles to my new home, and leave it again until the next move.

I left it sitting on the curb that night, and the very next morning the winds came up, and the car was totally smashed by a tree, falling from the other side of the road.

I woke up to the sound of workers clearing branches from it, joking, "The show-me state?  Well, we sure showed him!"

It was a total loss.  I rescued the driver and passenger seats from it, as well as the license plates and the car stereo.  At one time I had the car stereo and motorized driver's seat both running off of a heavy-duty computer power supply, but before this latest trip all that stuff was thrown out, the lone license plate surviving as a souvenir.

As I lay in my warm sleeping bag, almost against my will my mind forms the image of the license plate folded up on the front of the canoe, a horizontal groove placed where it should maintain its place on the back of the bicycle rack.  It's a saddle joint, like in the thumb; this groove allows the boat to pivot up and down, while the notch between the carrier wheels on the bicycle rack limit the side to side motion.  The plate even protects the canoe from being scraped by the rack, as it was the first time.

That business settled, I fell into a deep sleep.

In the morning the thing began to take shape.  The notched plate was fitted over the right place in the canoe, screwed there to prevent its motion.  I only had vise grips to turn the screws into the hull, so they couldn't go in all the way, but this was a boon in the end; the extending screws provided additional points to attach bungee cords, in the most critical place near the joint.  Epoxy putty was placed over the tips of the screws inside the boat to strengthen the connection, prevent them from tearing out the hull under the applied loads.

And so I was committed to trying this thing.  I would make a change here and there, and then bike the thing around the park, over grass, up and down the slight slope.  By trial and error the bungee cords assumed a streamlined shape about the pivot point, until the bike could smoothly turn this way and that, accelerate and decelerate without the slightest jarring.  When I got off once without propping up the bike, and it easily fell down in place without anthing coming undone, I knew I had it.  The plate on the boat and the rack were the bony plates of the joint, bungee cords my tendons, and a carved up inner tube was the soft cartilage in the middle.

I did leave many things behind, including all the curmudgeon's tools, writing "free" on his fence post and leaving it over the pile.

I biked towards the bridge on Manitoba highway 23, hauling my 15.5 foot boat behind me.  A big brown sign told me I was crossing the Red River.  The bridges of Manitoba are generally much better kept than those of Saskatchewan, and even now construction work was going on, and a kid was tending the "stop/slow" sign as I approached.

"How's it goin'?" I asked.

"Alright, how about you?" he said.

"Oh, just doing a little bit of canoeing."

Day 110 ended: 49*08.460N, 097*09.081W

1 comment:

David Saff said...

I tried to kill that car, as well. Its fate was to die at the hands of no man.