Tuesday, April 23, 2013

October 23: Portage key

I have been feasting on my can goods to try to make the portages lighter, since I am sure to hit a town at least once a week, and assuming I can resolve my banking situation I can buy a week's worth of food in each.  What I do is grab cans from the bottom of the bag: stuff I don't like as much or has lost its label.  Cook up a couple cans and if by the third I haven't hit my regimen of carbs and protein, make some mac and cheese, adding tuna if necessary.

Today's marked portage was at the end of Cass Lake, a recreational lake, and its Knutson's Dam a recreational dam.  It turned out to be open and safe to shoot, saving me a 300 yard portage!  This inspired a code for my portage page, OOO, for Open, 0 foot drop, and 0 issues.

What's a portage page?  There are a lot of portages and to keep my spirits up I made a list of them in the back of my notebook, writing little codes next to each one; the final key becoming as follows:

  • xT: x number of Trips
  • xE: x number of Eggs
  • xP: x number of People seen
  • SG: Slid canoe on Grass
  • DF: saw a Dead Fish
  • OOO: Open 0 foot drop 0 issues
  • S: Scouted ahead
  • BP: lifted boat with Bungeed Paddles
  • FLH: Felt Like Hell
  • FC: Found Crack
  • GP: Gouged Pavement?
  • RR: Rest Room
  • RN: ReNamed?
  • xH: x # people Helped
Day 124 ended: a little spot of sand half covered in snail shells on the shore of Winnibigoshish, a mile north of the river.

I am betting strongly on no significant rain or wind tonight.  All my stuff is close together very close to the shore, with the intent that I can get going very early in the morning.  I hope this bet pays off.

October 22, Part 2: Staying dry

I don't know how other people do it, so I must invent as I go,  Although it essentially rained all [the previous] day, spirits remained high until my hands and feet began feeling hopelessly cold and wet.  The rest of my body was thankfully covered in Gore-Tex.  It's a mystery that I can walk in the water in the Gore-Tex boots I had and my feet did not get wet, but a day of rain leaves them soaking.

My hands, though, felt warmer at the end of the day than at any time during it -- looking ancient, shriveled, wrinkled.  It will be a while before I have a chance, but I simply must find a pair of gloves that will work decently, and then probably a couple extra pairs of socks.  I currently have 5 pairs of socks, and wore 3 during the rainy day, leave only a couple of pairs for later.

I use a tent for the night, since it appears the rest of the campsites lack the 3-wall shelters.  I hang my flashlight from the top of the tent by a string, and tonight several socks and gloves are tied up in it in hopes that swaying above me all night will help them dry faster.  With every reason to expect continuing rain, if I remain stationary for even a day at this point freezing is the more urgent concern.  I suppose other canoeists suffer the cold and wet much like I do.

The good news?  I discovered my hair had grown long enough to lay flat in my Tilley hat the Kings gave me, which fit well again throughout the long rainy day.

Day 123 ended: Star Island campsite (by the lake inside the island inside the lake)

Monday, April 22, 2013

October 22, Part 1: Wolf Lake

Before me stretched the shoreline.  I searched carefully for the outlet of the river, but I was having difficulty, even when consulting the map.  A forest stretched from the left to straight ahead, finally broken by docks and houses which continued to the right.  A third of the way from the right side of that subdivision was a white house that had caught my eye as I approached.  A road extended to the right of this, even beyond where the houses ended, and I had seen a car driving on this road vanish in the vicinity of the white house.

Somewhere ahead had to be the river.  Here's a one-question quiz to see if you've understood everything I've written so far about navigation.  Where did I need to go?  Where was the river?

a) Left of the houses
b) Near the white house
c) Right of the houses

The answer is after the break.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

October 20, Part 2: I am a spaceship

I am a spaceship hovering over some alien planet.  Below me is a foreign geography composed of black forested continents stretched in light sandy oceans.  The atmosphere of this place is seen to have an intricate web-like pattern of light and dark clouds, illuminated by the constant showers of meteors which falling into the planet's air, join it, leaving only ripples on the surface.  Occasionally some black mass of life rises up off the sea and floats, speeding across below me -- a true flying island.

Black holes and nebulae burst out like living boils thrust upward from undersea currents, and in the deep space of exploding stars, cosmic spiders scour the surface for unlucky prey, as the naked boughs of trees drape over my head.  I am a canoe, and the water is dark, large, and living.

Day 121 ended: ???

Saturday, April 20, 2013

October 21: Stump Lake

Is it any wonder why they called it Stump Lake?  Not really.  A hundred beavers the size of bears had once roamed the place, taking down the biggest trees first and schewing the sides, face-up, flat as a board.  If someone were to come in and rotate these board 180 degrees, they'd chew the other side too, then you could ship these to a hardware store and sell them.

I wandered through the wreckage forever looking for the "Stump Lake" camp site that showed up on the map somewhere around the bend.  I decided I was intelligent, but just not intelligent enough to solve the riddle of the lake -- until a couple bends later I finally found it just before the sun set, and froze my fingers writing about the experience so you could read it.

The thing is, the real beaver story comes later.

Day 122 ended: Stump Lake Campground

Friday, April 19, 2013

October 20, Part 1: The grocery portage

Plastic bags just love to loose my food all over the ground.  I want to carry less food, not more.  More towns, more portages, less need to carry three weeks worth.  I'm not sure I can afford it, anyway.  Pick up a tin, put it in a different bag - bit more than shreds of plastic.  Hold my new fuel can in one hand, a barrel of oats under the arm.  When the first bag ripped, it was easy enough to redistribute to the other three.  When the second one fell apart -- obviously I was having difficulty but no one was going to just pull over and help.  With the last hundred yards to go on my mile trek back from the grocery store, under the unthinking gaze of Paul Bunyan and Babe I dumped it all on the shore and walked to the canoe.

I came back in the boat to pick up my things, when a woman came running out of her car.

"Excuse me, do you need a plastic bag?"

"Oh, thanks!"

"I tried giving it to you earlier, but..."

-- but I knew no one was going to help.

Day 121 continues.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

October 19, Part 3: Drinking and shooting #2

After I'd been there a while a hunter and his girlfriend dropped by the campsite, dressed in camo and day-glo orange -- a combination I have yet to understand.  The boy had a rifle, and he said he was hunting for grouse.

I told him about the litterbug I'd seen when he mentioned that he often stopped by this site to cut wood and clean up trash.  Around when I said "the good people in the world outnumber the bad," he finally put his gun down, laying it against the shelter.  They talked with me for a couple more minutes and then left, the girlfriend smiling at me.

It wasn't until later I realized I may have interrupted something a bit more serious than grouse hunting.

Day 120 ended: Fox Trap campsite.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

October 19, Part 2: Mazes

When I was young and the grass was tall, my dad used to mow mazes in it for us kids to run around in. The grass was never so tall that I couldn't see ahead of me; in fact, the hardest was when it was short already, and the height difference was too subtle to see much further than my feet.

The marshes of this early Mississippi are like a giant grass maze -- except here the consequences for making the wrong decision are greater than in my old back yard.  The river is black and the walls are silver-gold, to high to see far at any fork.

As long as I follow the current I should eventually find my way down the face of America.  But even a weak wind obscures this, and I must rely on other clues.  If I can see plants beneath me, these usually point in the direction of the seepage, being unaffected by the air above me.  Since the water is low, some plants that normally would be submerged stick up just above the surface and testify to their history.

Such strong clues are rare.  Often I try to watch tiny seeds and bubbles on the edge of the channel to see which way they float.  They are stuck to the water and even in an opposing wind stubbornly drift against the waves.  I have to be careful, though, because if these marks lay in some subtle eddy they lend the wrong impression -- and if I get too close, I affect the flow.

The windborn waves have subtle differences depending on whether they flow with or against the water.  When these forces are in sync, the surface flows smooth, but pit them against each other and it grows rougher.  This can best be seen at the corner of a sharp meander where you can look out and see both effects at once.

I even try to observe the tiny V-shaped ripples that form around a blade of grass; the wind stretches these into lazy U's or obscures them altogether.

Despite all the clues in my detective kit, the channels in the marsh are not well-defined and offer many decisions.  I do not always make the right one.  At one point I was sure of having made the wrong one: the same log, the same dead trees -- and yet a little later I found myself bursting out into another marsh where the mallards had hidden, flushing one and two and ten at a time until over a hundred raced away, flying to (and yelling about) places I could not follow.

Day 120 continues.

October 19, Part 1: Drinking and shooting #1

I floated lazily past a site covered in beer cans, deep in remorse over the loss of my wheels.  Around the bend I realized that although I had little choice but to go on, I could atone for the environmental impact by cleaning up garbage on the way.  It was already too late for the beer cans I had seen, but not too much further I saw a can of Mountain Dew in the river, so I scooped it up with my paddle and dumped it in the canoe.

Further on I heard motors, and thought there must be 4-wheelers in the woods nearby.  Nope.  Three camouflaged boats were stopped, pulled up in the grasses as their motors scared the birds away and a man threw beer cans in the grass while two boys, bones lost in flesh, looked on.

"Hey!" I shouted, and the man, face all pinched in under the bill of his cap muttered something in a manly mumble.  He had already undone my good deed for the day, but I didn't have much hope of changing the mind of a man who'd been drinking and hunting and paddled on.

A small flock of Tundra Swan, five, were in the air, and other birds were in the water.  It was strange, it had been awhile since I'd seen any Canada geese, but there was a lonely one sitting there in the water, right by a mallard drake in breeding plumage, and a female as well, and more birds all around me.  There was something very odd about these birds.  They were grouped oddly.  And they weren't moving.  I was surrounded by a flock of 20 waterfowl, placed randomly by someone with an eye for variety but not the natural behavior of birds.  I escaped before I was mistaken for a live one -- an all too likely possibility, given the hunters I'd seen along the river so far.

I picked more cans out of the water until I made up for the drunk hunter's waste, though not yet mine.  When I got to the camp site there was a bird there -- it didn't move, although it was real; it was dead and its retinas were peeling from its bloody face.  I scooped it up with my paddle and dumped it in the water.

Day 120 continues.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

October 18: Amusement and despair

The early Mississippi is an amusement park ride.  I began the day by packing my things and saying goodbye to the people who had gathered at the hostel -- despite shyness that came with the impact of human contact and minor celebrity that came from the bicycle portage.

I rolled the canoe down the hill from the hostel, trying to maintain control by pulling from behind, first from the left, and then from the right as the boat scurried to the lake.  I put it in the water.  The wind was blowing northward, quite dangerously to my land-lubbin' eyes.  The dock was supported by steep pipes of varying heights which whistled as the waves crested.

I made a quick call to my parents to tell them I was going, but the connection was cut short and after a minute of un-answered "hello"s I hung up and got in the canoe, for the first time in ten days.

My canoe reached the artificial line of rocks which marks the official beginning of the Mississippi River.  Immediately, I asked those gathered at the point to help me portage around the ceremonial rocks, as well as the log that had been added later on to allow anyone to easily cross the river here.  About seven men immediately grab the bow and we struggle forward a couple yards before I drop it, saying, "Could we have maybe one or two people back here with me?"

The source of the Mississippi was carved by man to give a more "noble" appearance to the headwaters of the great American river.  So I think of it here as some awesome theme park ride.  First you wind around a bit, and quickly come to a low bridge, its lower edge covered in gum placed for luck by previous adventurers.  You must duck this.  Then come a series of wooden footbridges, filled with admirers and questioners trying to get their words in before you float around the next bend.  Next comes the culvert which runs under the main park drive.  It is a tunnel carved through the road, just tall enough for your head, and just wide enough for your canoe, which chutes through with the water rushing and your heart rushing as well.

This chute ejects you back into the manufactured wilderness for a time before the channel enters into the marsh which is the true face of the upper Mississippi.  Here you can get lost in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike in the autumn grasses as you flush mallards and the beautiful white snow geese.

The marshes are broken briefly by a tiny "dam" built by loggers one hundred years ago.  Now, it does not appear to be anything but a rather bad rapid, heavy in logs and rocks.  It must be portaged, and unlike most Canadian portages I did, my wheels were useless here due to the slope and growth around the path.  I carried over everything except the canoe, which I dragged.

Then there is a series of rapids which would not be so bad except it is continuous for 4 miles, during which there is barely time to think with all the weaving through current and dodging limbs straining the water.  I was wondering how long this would last, and turned around for my pack which held my map. Something was very wrong.  On top of this pack had been my portage wheel; on top of that my expensive new jacket, just purchased in Winnipeg.  I had taken it off when the weather got warm, and just laid it there behind me.  The wheels were gone, nabbed by some grasping tree as I weaved the waters, and with the wheels, my jacket.

I could not see them behind me.

There was a portage trail around a bridge that is probably low in very high water.  Here I docked my canoe and hoped to go back and recover my loss.  But there was simply nowhere to walk on the banks of the early Mississippi.

I returned to the canoe and, heart heavy, continued on through the five miles of marsh that lay before my campsite.  There was a notch in the bank where many canoes had been pulled up before, up to a mowed lawn with a fire pit, a three-walled shelter, and a latrine.  A footbridge crossed the river to another maintained campsite, with a pit and water pump.

I felt sick to my stomach about the loss, the unintentional pollution and the thought of making the 200-300 yard portages further down the Mississippi without any wheels.  I was by no means as carefree as when the hitch broke: but I recognized I could not go back for them.  I couldn't walk the non-existent banks, and couldn't wade or swim up 4 miles of rapids in October.

The sun set by the time I ate my meal, cooked on the pre-gathered firewood.  What should have been a day of exhilaration and triumph felt sad and uncomfortable.

Day 119 ended: Coffee Pot Landing

Monday, April 15, 2013

October 17: Victory lap and roll call

There was so much to do at Lake Itasca that I had to stay for a full day.  Plus it was good to have a kind of "rest" day.  How to do that but still spend it biking and hiking around the lake?

I unhitched the boat from the Brompton, snapping off all the bungee cords and cutting out the duct tape and rubber that had been the cushion between them.  The bike was so fast, so small, and spritelike without a canoe to tow that it was a long time before I left top gear.  It was exciting how nimble the thing was around turns.

Itasca State Park is like a national park in disguise, considering the quality of its trails and boardwalks, its centers for interpretation and commerce surprisingly well staffed and stocked for the late season.  It was a relief to me, the large quantity of field guides and free maps of the upper Mississippi at the gift shops.  And compared to many of the provincial parks I have been to, not many recreational vehicles.  The gift shop is state owned and the activities here more culturally similar to what I am used to, I suppose.

I bounded up and down the hills, taking a complete lap around the lake, as I saw the largest white pine, and what was left of the largest red: real record-holders.  I walked down to a lake slowly silting into a meadow, and hiked the Dr Roberts trail, 2 miles through a bog with a certain Beatles song stuck in my head.

The bicycle portage was the most difficult thing I had done (until the upper Mississippi) and it was as hard on my equipment as it had been on me.  The following parts gave their lives in the effort:

8 spokes, 1 axle and bearing set, 1 tire, 6 patches, 1 paddle, 1 inner tube (rubber for cushioning), 1/2 roll of duct tape, and that license plate got beat up pretty good too.

Day 118 ended: Mississippi Headwaters Hostel

Sunday, April 14, 2013

October 16: Jeremy Davies

Some regions seem to breed people who are into every little thing, who have not just their finger on the pulse of the community, but compose one or two chambers of the heart, seemingly with no realization that's what they're doing.  I mean, more likely the reverse is true, that the people breed regions where things can happen.  Some say that's what Melissa was to the church we went to, and so it gradually dissolved after she left.

I can't know for sure if Jeremy Davies plays the same role for the area around Bagley, but I suspect the answer is "Yes," and if it wasn't for the natural scenic beauty of the place everyone will just move out, shutter their homes and cabins when he goes.  He actually spends most of his time running camps for prisoners, and perhaps children, and also driving around checking on canoeists.

First encounter: he was driving around in a van filled with kids, stopped by just to see what I was up to.  He told me to stay on the Yogi Lee Trail that night and stopped by with his father Keith later.  He actually gave me this ground cloth he dreamed up while he was in Iraq so he didn't have to share a tent with any officers.  This ground cloth was made of some heavy material that wrapped around your sleeping bag, for some warmth but also to replace the floor of a tent.  Your roof would then just be a rain poncho with cinched hood and staked down corners.  Make a tent like that and you wouldn't have to worry about officers taking it from you.

He showed up again the next morning to exchange contact information.  Who knows, maybe he just thought I was up to no good.  But he set up an exchange for the bent-shaft paddle I broke while using it as a lever for my canoe on the road.  Not too bright, that.  So later on I waited at this park until he drove up in a blue Beatle he was driving across the state for a friend, and got me an aluminum paddle.

That was the last I saw of him, but at the end of the day, just a mile or two out from Itasca, I heard a loud "shpuh!  Shhhp," coming from the right-side of my canoe trailer, as the last of my patches gave out.  Knowing that motorists never stop to help cyclists, I was shocked beyond belief when the next car pulled over on the side of the road, and out came... Jeremy's parents, Keith and Judith.

They drove me to their place, they fixed up my wheel with their big air compressor, they gave me strawberry yogurt.  Judith, mute from ALS, wrote on her whiteboard in red marker that I should really stay at the hostel at the state park.  I had hardly any cash, and no working debit or credit cards, but I found out I did have some checks linked to a checking account with a bit over $100 in it.

Day 117 ended: Mississippi Headwaters Hostel

Saturday, April 13, 2013

October 15: Your special place, the mind

I am riding my bike and I am riding it and I am going places.  And going and going and getting places, not getting places, and one place that I have not gotten to yet is a place special to you.  You may be surprised when I say where this special place is, because it may not be special to you yet, but it should be.  That special place is -- wait, let's not get there yet, this is personal.  This blog is all about you so let's take our time.  Your time.

You can probably guess what I'm not going to say -- I mean, not with any high probability or anything, but there is some probability.  I'm not going to go on and on about how beautiful and/or handsome you are, although we all suspect this is a subject that remains of interest to you, and may continue to do so as long as we agree this is a socially acceptable topic and not yet too awkward.  Nor will we discuss your cleverness, stick-to-it-ive-ness, and your popular attitude and demeanor.  

No!  The subject of you is the mind, where we live today.  I am standing in your mind, hand in grotesquely exaggerated hand of your cortical homunculus, staring around in awe at the thoughts that are conveyed from place to place on those imaginary belts as waves of neurotransmitters vibrate strangely on their quest of cats.  You have many interesting thoughts.  I reach out and take one, and your homunculus checks it out on the tip of its distended tongue.  Your first thought: Is this entry going to continue like this?  Because this is really weird.  But... imagine if Kevin really did get the canoe trailer rolling, and managed to bike a long ways, like 50 miles...

Why, I am flattered.  For the next thought in your wonderful imagination, instead of all the things that are normally there like bus schedules and little people and the boiling point of mercury -- you are imagining me there!  "I am shocked," I say, "Shocked.  I put this entire blog together to talk about you in particular, and how wonderful you are and special and so on and yada yada yada."  The homunculus nods its massive head.  "-- but it turns out your special thoughts are just going to be about my canoe trip?  Well, then..."  I sigh and sit down.  I suppose it's time to talk about myself for another 40 pages.  Why don't you sit there and imagine with all those special thoughts of yours...

I am riding and I am riding 50 miles today because everything is hunky dory and the wind is in the right direction and even the bike trailer which I made and was specially cursed ahead of time by the angels at creation is actually working.  I did not want to stop for anything, not fame or glory, or 30 pounds of potatoes for only $10 or a restroom break or spare inner tubes (oops) or even a banana.  I mean, the wind was with me, and I wasn't trying to be rude to the reporter who waved me down but that's kind of a big deal.  So I chewed up the last of the amazing haul of apples the Rothkes gave me while answering him with annoyance as he jotted words down in his notebook: [KEVIN SAFF.  CALGARY.  ST LOUIS.  YOUNG.  HEALTHY.  SINGLE.]  Every tickle of the air as I stood there still was a lost moment of motion --

No, those words of the reporter were not his assessment of me but my assessment of myself, the reasons I gave for the trip.  They were as good as any I could give at the time.  Five years later, writing this, I still don't know what it was about, but I know it was good, and it's over, and I sometimes sorta want it again, but it wouldn't be the same.  Old hat now.  I know exactly where my physical limits are.  It's important, maybe one has to be fully animal before being fully human.  Likely not -- I got no answers here, just a collections of days, stitched together to fill time.  Who am I? is a question that matters more to others than yourself: you're just you.

Day 116 ended: Yogi Lee Trail


Friday, April 12, 2013

October 14: Miles per hour

Twenty-eight.  The earth is a menace.  It comes and keeps coming, tossing its rocks and branches at you in fits until it sits there silently wondering why this creature is to weak to strike back.  For a second, only, it renews its attack.  The wheels are friends that keep rolling, jumping around on the gravel, twisting left and right as they fight to hold on to this raring planet.  When the road and the trees line up there isn't infinity there, just The End being pushed this way through no will of its own.

Twenty-nine.  After each horizon another takes its place, but who can say this goes on?  A horizon of color is left behind and no one can say now what color it was.  A horizon of space beside me, and time, still, in the future.  Some.  Lives slip past.

I'm holding on to the handle, not used to the rumble jumble sliding around on a bucket seat.  Safety belt on but I can't check the drivers.  There's no thought here, just sensation.  Thirty.  Thirty miles per hour riding in Scott's car back to Thief River Falls, the fastest my body had been in months.  It would be too perfect to say my soul had barely left the canoe -- but certainly my thoughts were there.

Slowness and standstill the rest of the day, I fought a more visceral battle with the ground as it chewed up spokes and inner tubes -- legs kept spinning.

Day 115 ended: I did not record the place

Thursday, April 11, 2013

October 13: Kevin's little floating adventure

 My notes during the portage are a bit disjointed, but this newspaper article had it together:
Written by April Scheinoha for the Northern Watch Online
He is biking and canoeing his way to New Orleans
Five hours. Usually, the 17-mile trip from Newfolden to Thief River Falls doesn’t take that long. For Kevin Saff, it did. 
“At one point, I was a mile or two away, and I thought I was not going to make it,” Saff said. He was probably grateful that Hardware Hank and Anderson Power and Equipment are located on the west side of Thief River Falls.
Saff is traveling via bike and canoe from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to New Orleans, a trip of about 2,500 miles when traveling on roads. He rides the bike when he can’t travel by canoe.
Prior to heading out, Saff put his rig together. The rig consists of the bike, a boat trailer and the canoe. The bike folds up for those moments when Saff can actually canoe.
Besides the rig, Saff brought along a tent for those moments when he wants to sleep. He also brought along other necessities like a journal.
The arduous trek is actually meant to be a break for the former Missouri resident. “It’s a fun thing to do,” said Saff, who has lived and studied in Calgary for three years. 
This is the first time that Saff has participated in anything of this magnitude. In Missouri, he participated in a nine-day bike trip. He has also participated in “little bike trips here and there.” 
On June 22, Saff began the largest bike – and canoe – trip of his life thus far.  In his words, he threw his boat into the Bow River in Calgary. It took him three months to travel to Winnipeg, a trip of about 825 miles when traveling on roads. From Manitoba, he made his way into the United States. 
Saff plans to travel down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. He expects that the Mississippi River leg will take about three months. “I’m just hoping I beat the freeze,” said Saff, who has read about similar travels on the Mississippi River. However, in Saff’s case, he may face difficulties that those travelers haven’t faced – darkness and colder weather. 
Saff has already faced some formidable foes that would have forced less hardy folks to abandon the trip. There was the foe known as the Red River. Saff was traveling upstream, when he encountered a set of rapids. Of course, then a wind gust blew him 20 feet backwards. The next day, it rained, and Saff was so sore that he decided to stay in his tent all day. 
Later, Saff continued making his way to New Orleans. On Sunday night, he found himself in a different city with “new” in the title: Newfolden. Saff was staying at the Newfolden City Park, when he was approached by Pastor Phil Rokke. “I thought I had to see this thing,” recalled Rokke, who noticed Saff’s rig. Saff looked like he needed to warm up, so Rokke invited Saff to his house for food and a place to spend the night. 
On Monday, Saff was off again on his trip. That’s when an axle broke on his boat trailer. It was hard for him to pedal, but he made it to Thief River Falls five hours later. At about 4 p.m. Monday, he arrived at the businesses Hardware Hank and Anderson Power and Equipment. 
Employees tried to find Saff the necessary parts to fix his trailer. They were unable to find the parts in Thief River Falls. Then employee Jim Voytilla salvaged some parts from his farm in Viking. Some spare tires were also given to Saff. By the time the parts were found and put into place, it was about 8 p.m. It was too late for Saff to put up a tent. 
Instead, Saff stayed overnight at employee Scott Hemingsen’s home in Viking. In the meantime, Saff’s bike and canoe were safe at Anderson Power and Equipment. 
On Tuesday morning, Saff was off again, leaving an envious employee, Lyle Hanson, in his wake. However, before leaving the city, Saff went to the Thief River Falls Public Library to check his e-mail and write in his blog, “Kevin’s Little Floating Adventure.” The blog is available by logging onto http://kevinfloat.blogspot.com. Then he was off again – on his way to the Mississippi River.
One thing she didn't mention was Jim's side of the story.  He had seen me at a gas station and driven a good ten minutes down the road before thinking "That guy's canoe said Calgary.  I bet he's in a lot of trouble."  He turned back for me and in the end it was the bike wheel in his garden that had what I needed to make it to Itasca.

Day 114 ended: Scott Hemingsen's home in Viking 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

October 12: Iron Man

Jeremy H, the uncle of two of the boys, helped me out in an incredible way: he loaded me up with an extra jacket, donuts, canned food, a pair of tennis shoes for cycling, and all the cash in his wallet: $12.  I decided to leave the gopher trap the boys wanted me to have.  I pedaled out hoping for a 50 mile day; the leaves and grasses glowed in the rain, more golden than the sun.

Every crank of the pedals was harder than the rest.  I blamed the wind, which angrily shook trees at me and shoved bugs in my face.  I'll admit in retrospect the wind was blameless at this time... Anyway, only 32 miles later in Newfolden, I found another Wayside Rest that had a little dry patch of earth.  I still don't really know what these are; most are little more than a rest stop on the side of the road, but this one was pretty nice.  Inside it had lights and a fan that worked, running water, and on the exterior wall there was even an outlet I could use to recharge my camera.

I had hardly been there a jiffy before local pastor Phil Rokke showed up, insisting I spend the night inside.  I did think about it, and my two thoughts ended up being it's raining and I need a shower.  Phil biked with me back to his house and introduced me to his wife Marlene and their friends Jessica and Darin.  I ended up getting not only a shower, but a wonderful pancake dinner, Iron Man on DVD, and a "Minnesota Mom" or two to worry about me on my way.

The next day Jessica and her 3 kids started out on their bikes with me on the way to Thief River Falls.  One of them, Ruby, spent weeks making canoes out of newspaper in my honor.

Day 113 ended: Newfolden, MN


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

October 11, Part 2: Brainstorm

Here's how you catch gophers.  Put some peanut butter in this trap.  You can turn them in for $3, or you can eat them.  This guy around here made a living just killing gophers for awhile.  You can have the trap.  Really?  Yeah, my friend bought it at a surplus sale and I won it off of him.

Hey, why don't you just break into that building over there and spend the night?  Nobody's using it.  My tent will be fine here.  It's going to rain again.  I don't think you're supposed to camp at the Wayside Rest.  What's this?  That's my tent.  It's kind of a small tent.

Don't camp on the side of a hill.  My cousin was in boy scouts and it rained and their tent filled with water because they camped on the side of a hill.

What is that?  That's the trailer I built to pull my canoe.  You don't just drag it on the ground?

Here's how you can catch fish.  Just get a stick, some string, and cut up a can to make a hook.  Then what?  You can just let it hang out behind you.  You can probably get bluegill or crappies.

Here's a scar from fighting dogs.  Here's one from climbing a cherry tree.  Um, here's one from riding my bike into a stop sign.  Really?  Cool!

[If you're ever lost outside with no money, then a bunch of 8-10 year old rural boys -- in this case, Brett, Blair, Bailey, and Bryce -- are probably your best bet for a great brainstorming session about survival.  In return I had to field an earful of questions about my bike, my trailer, my canoe, and everything in it.  Every question was asked four times as each of the B's discovered each item.]

Day 112 ended: Lake Bronson Wayside Rest

October 11, 2008, Part 1: Crossing the medicine line

Supposedly at one time the Indians referred to all white man's magic as "medicine," and no medicine was as potent as the 49th parallel.  Crossing this invisible border was a way to earn salvation, a wall unbreached by American armies.

It can still be a place of changing fortunes.

I had always worried a bit about the border crossing.  Crossing on a road meant I wasn't just sneaking over like I considered doing if I cross via the river, but still I was worried what response I was going to get as I walked down the line, pushing my contraption in the long line of cars.  The worst scenario I could imagine was the border agents deciding my vehicle wasn't road-worthy.  In that case they could turn me around and the Canadian agents might stop me too, until someone came to rescue me from the no-man's land between the borders.

As it turns out, I had no problems at that particular point.  The agents maintained serious faces, but I felt like I amused them.  One only asked what the mysterious powder in one of my unlabelled canisters was, and was satisfied by my insistence it was just brown sugar.  The other questioned me at length about my trip: where I had come from, where I was going, and whether I was being treated well on the road.  He spoke at length about his son's trips: walking across Spain, biking across the U.S., and later north from Tierra del Fuego.  In fact, I think I was the one who cut the conversation short, trying to look out for the long line of cars behind me.

I stopped at the first gas station I saw.  It was my friend Calvin's wedding day and I was determined to get ahold of him.  My calling cards were dead, and I had no American cash or bank cards.  I knew I would eventually have to make it to a Bank of America since I had lost my check card, and I needed to free some of my long-term savings to use it.  I assumed a BoA would be findable relatively early on entry into Minnesota.  In fact, there are no Banks of America anywhere in the state.

So, I decided to withdraw money from my Canadian bank at an ATM.  First, I needed to check how much was available, so I asked for Account Balance, which resulted in the puzzling response "Invalid Operation."  So I blindly attempted to withdraw first $60, then $40, then $20, to be met with, respectively, "Insufficient Funds," "Insufficient Funds," "Insufficient Funds."

Scrounging around in my canoe, I found a few loonies and toonies, and the $20 bill Sarah King had left in the Tilly hat she gave me.  I had been saving it for a special occasion, and this was it.  I bought a phone card and counted my money: $6 US and $13 Canadian plus change.  Money was one less burden on the trip.

Calvin has organized a bicycle flotilla of groomsmen for his wedding; I interrupted their grand ride from a little gas station in Minnesota.

Day 112 continues.

Monday, April 8, 2013

October 10, 2008: I have troubles

I have troubles describing the music that ails me.  That music!  That music!  Won't someone make that music stop!  You all know that music I mean.  That music at night, that's what I'm talking about.  The only problem is I don't know what what what - what what - what what I'm talking about.  It's that music at night that could be trance or rap but is probably just top 40 played all distorted like from a nasty sound-system distorted by the wind as it whips over the tallgrass prairie.  Everyone has had this experience.

So you're biking along in southern Manitoba and you see some kid drive by on an ATV.  He is not the one dragging a sound system, but some other kid musta been -- this is what you figure later.  There's not much to do except set up your tent in the prairie.  This place is called the "Tolstoi Tallgrass Prairie Preserve" and must be named after Leo Tolstoy because there are some decrepit pre-Soviet buildings in the area.  So you're happily pretending your little edition of Hemingway stories is Tolstoy and you're sleeping and you're walking out under the distant stars when the distant booming starts.

It's nasty, pudding on the floor music.  Nobody knows what genre it is so we call it ugly boom-boom mu'sic.

When this happens, you have to put on some pants.  That means you have to find your pants.  And that usually involves several minutes of frantic searching for fresh batteries for your flashlight.  And that usually results in discovering that you're already wearing pants.  Then you put your flashlight in your mouth and crawl through the itchy grasses.  Remember, there's ugly boom-boom mu'sic in the distance and you're itching all over because you didn't put on a shirt and you're crawling through grass, which wasn't very wise, so you're really frustrated and trying to imagine what you would do when you find the kids playing the music.  These are the options usually considered:

#1: Jump up in the middle of their frenzied dance circle, surprising them so that they cry out and the kid who had a joint hanging from his lip loses it in the grass which catches fire.  Everyone starts running from the towering inferno which only amplifies the ugly boom-boom mu'sic in the folds of its flames as it angrily casts evergreens at your naked torso.  Whenever you have struggles in the future you will remember how you nearly overcame them on this day.

#2: You will just stand there off to the side, slowly shaking your head back in forth in disgust.  One by one the kids will see you and shame-facedly walk to their ATVs and drive away silently -- not crying yet, but some day soon they will examine their lives, stop listening to ugly boom-boom mu'sic and apply themselves at school.  They will do well enough to go to university; they will study and become lawyers.  When you meet one of them, years later, you will wonder if this trade-off was worth it, but for now, you slowly fade down the music in the middle of the prairie and pack out their garbage, still slowly shaking your head.

#3: Not ever be able to find them, and realize you are cold, itchy, and don't actually want to be wearing pants anyway.  You'll walk back to your tent and pray for rain.  In only a few minutes the first drop will flick your rain fly, then another until the music fades into the static of the night.  You won't even be able to hear the ATVs drive away, nor pity their drivers.  The rain will put you to sleep, and in your dreams, there is no ugly boom-boom mu'sic.

Every situation calls for its own judgment; in this case, I went for #3.  The rain did its job efficiently; there was just enough to drive away the party but by the morning it had all dried out.

Day 111 ended: Tolstoi Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

[Note: my GPS froze and lost its recorded data sometime later on the Mississippi River.  Since it had been some time since I had copied the data into my notebook, there are no precise GPS waypoints available after day 110.  I may later go back and determine approximate locations, but this would have to wait for a book version of this blog.]


Sunday, April 7, 2013

October 9½, 2008: City without a face

"You're an idiot," the man remarked.  The "you" was me.  "An idiot," he said, "Idiot."

I put my feet down on either side of my bicycle, my canoe firmly attached behind me.  The man was small, standing in the middle of a small road in a small town that considered itself blankly.

"Idiot.  Idiot.  Idiot."

To my left was a warehouse clad in steel siding.  To my right was a naked warehouse.  These were only the first warehouses on a street of warehouses, none of which, seemingly, were actually warehouses.  They were other buildings -- buildings with no names, windows, or colors.  I was looking for a grocery store.  Was one of these plain buildings a grocery store?

"You're an idiot," the small man noted, to anyone who might be listening.  I could only assume some people were; I imagined them sitting on wooden benches in their metal warehouses, putting their ears to the trumpets of a system of pipes that ran all through the town and also opened, no doubt, to a nearby gate or drain.  The children waited behind their parents for a turn to listen at the pipes for anything to happen, and since all the pipes were connected, they would also hear other children, giggling, and then giggle themselves.  At the moment they were listening to a man call me an idiot.

I decided to stop listening to him.  I already knew how ridiculous it was to be caught, canoeing by bike in October in Canada in this city.  I parked and, eventually, found food.

My method was this: I walked to each warehouse in turn.  I examined the tiny sheet of paper scotch-taped to the side of it with the magnifying glass on my multi-tool.  Each paper showed the approximate times that the store was open, which I would compare to the precise time-of-day calculated by measuring the length of my shadow in multi-tool lengths.  If the store was open, good, I opened the door for a second to determine what was inside:

 - Taxidermy
 - Onions
 - Pets; mostly mice
 - Finally foodstuffs in cans and boxes (which was all I knew how to eat at the time; I did not become accustomed to raw mice until later in the trip)

"Idiot," the man said as I came out with a bag full of food.  Then he put his hand to his brow, stared at the sun, put both hands down in his pockets, kicked a heel, and spun himself away from me, walking down the street.  His shift was finally over.

The next man was perhaps more annoying.  As I tried to sleep in the off-season municipal park, in a cul-de-sac off a cul-de-sac off a strange squat structure that resembled something like a warehouse -- as I tried to sleep, I say -- he circled me slowly and continuously in plain gray steel car, his headlights dancing like ghosts on the walls of my tent right there in Dominion City, MB.

Day 110½ ended: 49*08.460½N, 097*09.081½W

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

Saturday, April 6, 2013

October 8, 2008: All too helpful


The first boat ramp after Winnipeg is at Morris, almost two thirds of the way to the border.  After that, there are a couple more, at St Jean Baptiste and Letellier, before the border town of Emerson.  So much my map could tell me.  But it could not indicate the conditions or slopes of these ramps, which was increasingly important to me as I struggled upstream on the Red.  I wanted to get off the river and onto the road, if possible.

Early in the day I encountered the ramp at Morris.  It was clearly built for a higher river than what was present, a nice gradient down to to a point some three feet above the water, and then as an afterthought, an ad hoc thirty degree slab of concrete leaning into the water below.  It was unclear how this lower ramp was supported, since I could see a gap underneath; furthermore the precarious thing was covered with a foot or two of mud.

There were more ramps further on.  As I passed, a fisherman with outstretched arms was telling his girlfriend a story, and then shouted at me, "Whoah! You came out of nowhere!"  Fighting the current I had second thoughts.  This man seemed friendly enough, he may know what the later ramps would be like.

I parked the canoe and walked over to ask him.  He said, "I'm as new to this area as you are!" which was clearly untrue, since he knew something about the ramp at St Jean Baptiste: it extended down at a forty-five degree angle and he was clueless how anyone launched any boats at the thing.  I decided to make the attempt here.

As I struggled to drag my canoe up the muddy slope, having no firm hold on anything but my rope anchored forty feet away, the fisherman turned his rod away from me and locked his Bronco as a precaution against my continuing presence.  A procession of trucks had stopped at the top of the hill as I did this, their occupants staring or sleeping, until finally one old curmudgeon stepped out of his blue truck and demanded to help me.

I felt there was little he could do.  I already had the boat past the mud, the slope from then on was comparably gentle or dry, but he insisted to tow the canoe up, and then haul my baggage.  I was powerless to resist, and besides that thought it would be too proud of me to refuse to allow this man to help me.

He was 85 years old.  "Nice," I said, thinking that he did not look the octogenarian.

"Yeah," he said, " all of my friends are dead!"

"I hate canoes!" he said as I unloaded my things from his truck, which successfully carted them all of forty feet.  "They're just things the Indians used to drown themselves in!"

"I just had to tell you my opinion," he said.

I told him that I planned to haul the canoe about 200 miles to Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi River, or perhaps find someone to drive me there.  He said he'd drive me himself if I could get him the gas money, "about $500".  I thought that was a bit steep, especially since the gas would be a bit cheaper in Minnesota and I figured his truck made more than five miles to the gallon.  But on calculation, it was doubtful if I could pay for the gas given my currently available funds.  I had spent so much money in Winnipeg on bags, clothes, and board, I was down to about $150.  My American funds were all tied up until I could reach a Bank of America.

He left as I tried various configurations for hauling the canoe.  I could put the wheels far back on the boat and bungee the front down to the bike rack, but it was hardly possible to keep this stable enough in turns; the boat wanted to jump out of its cradle.  Balancing the load over centered wheels seemed to be most stable for the canoe.  After all, this is how I got it down from my house to the river in the first place.  But this was alwaysa bit tricky in the joint to the bicycle.  The boat wanted to heave up or down as I started and stopped, or escape to the right or left on turns.  When the bike went down bungees would come undone and need to be reconstructed to continue.

A smooth-faced man came by, his construction vest brightly visible over his four-wheeler.  He seemed quite impressed with my trip thus far, and thought he might be able to find something that would work as a hitch at his workplace.  He would certainly come back and check on my progress in any case.  "See you!" he said before driving off.

"See you later!" I said.

I found a forked branch on the ground and thought I might be able to screw it into the deck of the canoe, and secure bungees or ropes across the fork to secure it to the seatpost.  My screws weren't long enough and the thing tore out of the deck with little applied force.

Some kids came by on mopeds, driving around the park in circles.  I thought this was just their version of staring at strangers, learned from their grandfathers in the trucks on the hill, so I ignored them.

The curmudgeon came back and was not impressed by what I was doing.  He started throwing things out of his truck that he was sure would help me.  A huge rusty C-clamp, a giant vise-grip, heavy metal bolts, a fence post, a 1x6 board.  As he dropped things into and beside the canoe I could just imagine this thing growing massive without bound, until its inertia prevented me from getting started on even the flattest ground.

He noticed the kids, and yelled "Get off the grass!"  He got out his camera to take photo evidence of their transgressions of the park.  They eventually left after an interval timed to indicate that the curmudgeon was not their boss.

He was a blacksmith, but all his tools were 12 miles away, he said, so there was nothing he could do to build a proper hitch for me.  He measured the fence post on the board, and declared it "not long enough", though for no purpose clear to me.  He was partly deaf, and in particular deaf to my hints that he might not actually be helping me much.

Finally it was time for him to go home for the night.  He was leaving for BC in the morning, to celebrate the Thanksgiving weekend.  All day it had been growing overcast and bitterly cold.  "Winter is coming, young man!"

He offered his final judgment on my plans, after playing at help all day.  "If you ask me, it's a s----y outfit.  It's too small!"  And then he drove away.

I set up camp in the cold, dark "Scratching River Campground."  It was a waste of another day.

Day 109 ended: 49*21.138N, 097*21.053W

Friday, April 5, 2013

October 7, 2008: Not at night

Oh, to paddle south by the half-full moon as a front chases the sun down over the horizon.

It was an experiment I had kept in mind for several days.  In the time I spent in Winnipeg the days had already grown quite short, and by the time I started I usually only had six or seven hours before the sun fell in the southwest -- resting until late in the morning had become for me an adaptation to the cold weather.  But, the moon had been a waxing sliver when I first saw it a couple days before, and so I watched day by day as it grew to something perhaps bright enough to paddle by.

This concept had been thwarted by overcast skies and aching muscles, but as I turned around one of the last bends towards the town of Morris it was as though the sky turned clear all at once.  A man in rubber boots cast his line into the glass-like river; meanwhile I sat in my boat consulting my GPS, which knows such things, to locate the moon as it walked out from behind the wood.  Everything had fallen into place: the sky, the moon, the air, the water; all laid bright and still for the night of my paddling experiment.

It is amusing how people have grand over-arching principles that can be applied to every situation, yet contradict each other.  Famously, the cliches "the pen is mightier than the sword" and "actions speak louder than words"; "take risks" but "better safe than sorry."

Once again I had determined to make south as quickly as possible; the further south I could get, the more hours of light and heat in a day, and the closer to St Louis I thought I could be by Thanksgiving.

And, as usual, just as I had determined to paddle through the night, temptation came into sight.  It was a rocky bar, a thin layer of mud seeping through the stones, but only enough to dirty my toes.  There were boulders too, the size of fishermen or canoeists wrapped up tightly, arms around legs.  The usual layer of clam shells and broken glass decorated the place, litter from feathered and flanneled guests gone by.

A planet appeared by the moon, and the only waves on the river were the ridges of the rock-bar.  I remembered an old conclusion of mine that it didn't matter how far I got as long as I had a good time, and this permitted me to indulge my instinct to stay.

That didn't mean time wasn't running out.

I wouldn't paddle at night for weeks later, under far worse circumstances.

Day 108 ended: 49*22.102N, 097*19.987W

Thursday, April 4, 2013

October 6, 2008: An afternoon of purple prose

[editor's note: the storm alluded to in the previous post kept me holed up in my tent most of the next day.  I spent the afternoon describing the immediate area in my notebook; in the absence of more immediate interest, this is reproduced in all its excess below.]

Above, the sky is grey, but as I look down across the river it gradually takes on the texture of dark cotton, and then a thin blue reasserting itself to the horizon.  This blue is broken by the naked crowns of trees which have stripped themselves for the winter, contrary to human fashion.  About them are others,  These nude trees extend above others, clothed in yellow, for the trees do not shed their garments so as to freeze in winter, but so that the thin chemistry of life retreats within its shield of bark, a thin layer of death to separate it from the encroaching atmosphere of death outside.

Many of these trees remain green for the moment; they are upstarts, risking their lifeblood for another inch of growth before winter's reign, and thus to have some slight advantage over their neighbors on catching the light of spring.

The but bulk of this woods is two thumbs' width high, as measured by outstretched arm; the bare boughs extend another pinky above this.

The bank slopes down two pinkies to the water; the first half of this is populated by brush and weeds lit by some otherworldly sun; for the sky has no brightness, but the plants glow green atop and cast red shadows, unlike any earthly light, but outstripp but now that I look carefully with my tired eyes I see bright stripes of yellow in the weeds, and it is perhaps from the glow of these plants that the others take their color.

The remainder of the shore is a staircase of sick chocolate mud -- roughly seven steps of uncertain height.  Here and there it has been colonized by the red-green herbs treading slowly down to the river.

The water is smooth now, trickling lef to my left, where earlier it had been invigorated by shouting winds and whispering rains to such strengths as to make my muscles ache anew.  The waves had so terrified me in the morning and throughout the day that I had not endeavored to pack or embark my canoe lying diagonally on the near shore.

This shore surely mirrors the other. in generalities, but its proximity brings certain particulars to light.  The mud steps here average one foot high by three feet long, and are broken by a cascade of white rock a few feet wide, flowing down to the water.  It was this that attracted my attention to the area last night.

On this rocky way lies a log, rotten on one end and cut on the other, which might have been placed there for viewing or fishing the waters except for its accidental angle.  Instead of fishing tackle box, a cardboard carton of eggs sits on it, six eggs occupying the center, and six cups on either side of these filling & degrading from rainwater.  Beside the log sites a small stove sheathed in a metal windshield, a bottle of fuel & a blue mesh bags of other cooking supplies abandoned after my breakfast this afternoon.

The white rocks lead up to a deer trail, ten feet connecting to a mowed kind of driveway above, consisting of grass mowed some two or three weeks ago.  Despite this proof of the site's importance to the human animal, the only clear tracks between the rocks and this mowed circle were deer.

To the right of the mowed circle is a naked tree 50 foot high, branching like the passages of a lung.  It is alone here but for a yellow offspring cowering out from its left, half as tall, but still clothed.

These trees became unacceptable for toilet when I became aware of the secret building watching from behind their blinds of trees.  The lonely tree mother tree sat too high, exposed around, so I tramped through tall grass on one side to relieve myself at the trunk at the margin of this clearing, and hid my s--t under bark at its base.

Then I returned to my tent where I have waited out the day.  It was pitched on the fourth (or 5th) mud step, wider than the others, and covered with a dead yellow moss that proved insignificant insufficient to shield the floor from the moistness beneath.  The base of the tent is soaked through with opaque waters, cold with thick bubbles, much of which has collected at the lower edge and corner.  A battery swimming in this muck, in uncorroded only for already having been drained.  There is little to do but hope for clear skies in the morning to dry everything off, and still airs in late morning to permit my passage around the bend.
-----
PL*.  Finished Titus Groan today.  Prayer for Owen Meany is feared dead before reading.
-----
PPL.  A rainbow forms across the river.  Behind, the air turns gold, pink, fading to blue above.

The (two) lonely trees are joined at the trunk?

The deer path is populated by poison ivy, just tinged with red, brown cockleburrs and a weed of deep lavender, its seeds arranged in decreasing clusters from its base to its peak.
-----
PPPL.  One an of rainbow on farm with two sheds & 5 silos.

[* - PL is short for "post line" indicating a comment added after the horizontal line which generally marks the end of a notebook entry.]

Day 107 ended: 49*30.677N, 097*13.478W

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

October 5, 2008: Upstream

After the Ste Agathe bridge was a rapid.  It was by no means huge or powerful -- on any other river I would have been through without thinking about it.  But the Red River was different for me, because for the first time on my trip I was working my way upstream.

It wasn't so bad.  The current, in most places, was slow enough I didn't have to put all my strength into every stroke.  But I did have to paddle all day -- gone were the times I could sit in my canoe reading a book and offer a correcting steering stroke from time to time.  This was work.

I had nearly forced my boat through the water when a gust of wind stopped my forward progress in an instant and pushed me straight backwards.  I laughed as I tried again and again until the wind pinned me to a rock, and I had to get out and wade.  This started a pattern.  On most rivers, one side or the other will be so slow that going upstream is little harder than lake paddling.  But in a sharp S-bend, the slow section crosses from one side to the other, and I had to face that strong cross-current, resorting to wading through the narrows pulling my canoe -- it was a rare fast section I could just power through.

In the end that wasn't what did me in for the day.  The river straightened out towards the source of the wind, blowing so furiously that every foot of progress was a major victory.  Clouds were beginning to roll in, and although there were more houses around than I had liked, I had no choice but to find a place to camp for the night, utterly exhausted.

Day 106 ended: 49*30.677N, 097*13.478W

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

October 4, 2008; part 2: Prophecy

I couldn't sleep.  My existence was tight like a thin memory -- the walls of the tent were like a vague gauze.  My hand passed through it as though it wasn't there; I shook off my sleeping bag into a heap of goose down on the spongy floor.  I stood and what was left of my tent flew off like ribbons into the gray night.  The trees were ill streaks blotting the faint spirals that had been stars.  The mud was hard, but there were other strange things.

A 5 liter, red dry bag was solid rubber, one of the few things with a connection to the future.  I dumped its contents to the ground -- a couple of XD cards for my old/new waterproof camera; a couple black moleskine notebooks, a torn-up map of western Canada from an old National Geographic, and the book of prophecy from the (fictional) used book seller in Winnipeg.

In that hissing light which was neither wake nor dream, I picked it up, and saw for the first time my name on the cover, and the date "April 2013" in my unmistakable scrawl.  The present/future was inside:

^1 WEAK, SICK, FROZEN, BROKE WILL YOU REACH THE CITIES ^2 WHERE YOU WILL STAY INDEFINITELY ^3 GETTING AND LOSING JOBS, FRIENDS, CATS ^4 AND BUY A HOUSE ^5 ONLY YEARS LATER RETURNING TO THESE FRAGMENTS OF HISTORY AND ^6 WONDER WHO YOU WERE GOING TO BE ^7 WHERE YOU WERE GOING ^8 AND WHO YOU WILL BE ^9 IN THESE STRANGE MEMORIES ^10 YOU WONT FINISH RECORDING UNTIL YOU DONT KNOW WHAT IT MEANS

There was nothing strange about the Red River of the North; it was just another river, the water flowing through it until it reached some other place.

Day 105 ended: 49*37.512N, 097*07.258W

October 4, 2008; part 1: Static


--.*^. th .-_ first -*00 Red River.  *--==....,,,,, passing the lock, - I =====,.//////?
talked to a man about river conditions on a meander . ((%%....  a day reduced to thin
outline.... //-+++++++ ...... ^CARET bald eagles! --

---.,( Oh, but c
o
n
t
i
n
u
i
n
g

warmth!  8***** waxing moon ----,,,<<< And despite it. ---==== ++
fogotten ----. and as sun set
I decided to camp on a
rocky
patch.

****&%^----------+

All lost, a scrawl in a notebook filled with scrawls, lazily entered the next morning, but
the day is gone.

Day 105 continues.

Monday, April 1, 2013

October 3, 2008: Purchase of consumables

I eat books.

I also eat food.  If you're going on a multi-month canoe trip, you don't want to be short of either.  Since the portion of these consumables headed toward my stomach consisted of cans and EasyMac, I had to pay especial attention to that portion intended to stave off boredom.  To feed the brain.  To exercise the noggin.  To see myself, constantly, not as a lone individual sitting in a little boat in the middle of nowhere, but as a human being, connected to the world.

So even though it was already afternoon and I'd decided I could not burn another day in Winnipeg, I found some used bookstore listed in the phonebook, and asked, as politely as any American could, for directions.  You may imagine here that the books in this store were piled up, one on top of the other from floor to ceiling, in stacks that leaned over so dangerously they seemed to defy gravity; that the shopkeeper, sitting near the entrance was invisible behind a calamity of literature that so covered his desk that the only proof of his existence was a hand that flicked clandestinely through the cracks to fetch customer's cash -- never credit, never counted, and no change given; it was for the appearance of the thing, that customers pick up books and deposit money in a pantomime of the ancient traditions.  In short, that the bookstore was exactly like Derby Square Bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts.

If you can imagine that, please continue to do so.  Will it help if I mention I first bought the Gormenghast trilogy at that place?  I will inject just a parenthetical (the shop was actually not like that at all, but rather tidy in its Winnipegian order) and then complete my tale in accelerating fiction: that that ancient (fictional) store owner extended his grave (fictional) hand after accepting my (all too real) money, and returned to me a cardboard-bound (fictional) pamphlet.  This pamphlet could not exist, it was written in my unmistakable scrawl and dated over four years in the future.

When the mind is fed books it becomes rational enough to ignore things that cannot exist, so I added it to my pile of books.  I left the bookstore; I left Winnipeg.  I had spent $40 on food and $50 on books.

Day 104 ended: 49*46.397N, 097*09.213W