Column: Almost halfway thereI paddled my heart out to get home. Paddling, paddling. Head up, regard pine trees, boulders, black glossy water ... paddle, paddle.
I paddled my heart out to get home. Paddling, paddling. Head up, regard pine trees, boulders, black glossy water ... paddle, paddle.
Same pine trees, same boulder, same water.
Focus on my landing point. Paddle, paddle.
Elbow pain; cruel, plastic seat. Check landing point ahead.
No closer?! Paddle, paddle, paddle.
Last week, I canoed for 12 hours as we left the Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. Now that I’m all clean and dry, I am of two minds about a wilderness vacation. On the one hand I appreciate comfort. When my husband says “camping” I cringe, not caper.
On the other hand, the wilderness clarifies everything to a deep pleasantness. It’s worth the discomfort.
The Quetico Wilderness Area is Canada’s adjoining territory to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Although the two are similar in size, the Quetico has longer lakes, rougher camping conditions and one-tenth the visitors. Thus it is pristine.
A city girl doesn’t enter the Quetico without a lot of preparation and skill, unless that girl is married to someone who is ... skilled and prepared, that is.
My husband thrills to the wilderness. He loves the planning, shopping, packing, paddling, portaging and straightforward living. He and the boys plan a trip annually. This year, when he asked I smothered my inner princess, remembered the energy of family recreation and said, “Yeah, hey, let’s all go this year!”
The boys gave me a small net bag and a list of the meager items I could bring with me. I am no minimalist, so I labored on packing.
Yet later I heard, “Oh my gosh! Look how much stuff Mom brought! It’s like twice what I brought! She needs supervision!”
The shaming continued.
We prevailed over 12 portages, where each time everybody, with the exception of my 9-year-old daughter, could carry heavier stuff than I. Even Annie made herself indispensable by wearing all seven life jackets and attaching all seven water bottles to her vest.
A “portage” (for sheltered souls who think camping means being stuck with just a mini-fridge) is when you carry all your camping belongings AND watercraft on your person as you trudge from one body of water to another.
The portages in the Quetico are not for the weak sister, and I am speaking on her behalf. Our lightest pack weighed 40 pounds. I couldn’t lift even one of the seven packs.
One of my sons would hoist a pack on my back. I would then bend my waist to a 90-degree angle, grab a paddle for a walking stick and begin to walk the portage.
These portages aren’t woodsy little trails. These bad boys are muddy, rocky and steep. One of the portages had ankle-high water running through it. There was no choice but to plunk my feet down and walk in that stream.
All of this with such a weight on my back that I could not look up or walk beyond the pace of a geriatric.
Then like some queer twist from the Hunger Games, packs of mutant mosquitoes began to swarm us. I squirmed and jerked through the quarter-mile or half-mile portages trying to free myself from insect oppression while bent under a 40-pound pack, sloshing, sliding through mud when I wasn’t walking as slowly as Great-grandma.
Always I would meet my husband on the trail. On every portage he carried one canoe and a heavy pack to the end of the portage, doubled back, and then carried a second canoe. (Remember he loves this stuff.)
And every time he would cheerfully shout out, “Almost halfway there!”
I didn’t growl or snap at him. I needed the encouragement. If he was coming back there must be an end to this torture. I would reach it. I just had to persevere.
“Almost halfway there” he bellowed again as we fought wind and wave, paddling a canoe which was making no headway through an endless lake. He said it as we crossed portages of swamps, puzzle grasses and even over a beaver dam. On that one we had to step into the pond, hip-deep and pull that canoe through.
He was right, though. At some point we were almost halfway there. We kept looking ahead, looking down, paddling or walking. There were a few of us, mid-trail, who wanted to secede from family vacation, but we had to just take a deep breath and move on.
When I came over that last hill and glimpsed flat water ahead, what victory! I accomplished a feat which my head and body said couldn’t be done.
There is something restorative and rejuvenating about that ... making my August ... august!
Monthly Budgeteer columnist S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota (and lives in Duluth). E-mail her at email@example.com.