Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Rollin' with the punches
Our five member kayak crew just returned from DLW II (Damn Long Weekend, Year 2) at Voyageurs National Park. This time of year the weather can do anything it wants to up on the Canadian border and this time it certainly did. We spent one day basking on our own little piece of the Canadian Shield, some of the oldest rocks in the world, in shorts and tank tops. The very next day we were all checking to see if we had just one more layer in a dry bag somewhere. Paddlers need to roll with the punches in regard to changing fall weather. They also need to do the same sometimes when it comes to portages.
As many of you know, portaging a kayak, especially a loaded kayak, is a very bad idea indeed. I won't go into all the things that are so very wrong with the kayak portage concept but suffice to say I only paddle in areas where there is big water and no chance of having to unload, carry, and reload my boat more than once a day. Therefore it was with some amazement that I found myself trudging up a 40 rod portage trail last Sunday with a Valley Aquanaut in my left hand and a Valley Q boat in my right. I'm still trying to figure out how this came about but I'm inclined to blame faulty group dynamics and peer group pressure.
There were five people in our group which, had it been a democratic election, precluded a tie. I'm not dead certain how we moved from paddling to the beast of burden mode but I'm leaning toward placing the blame squarely on BjornDahlieOfMahtomedi. He and the IrishPirate had procured and roasted some cacao nuts and had been eating them all day. It reminded me of the stories of South American natives chewing cocoa leaves to stay awake longer and mask fatigue. Their euphoric, drug assisted attitude persuaded me that lugging the unloaded boats would be a walk in the park and when the VoiceOfReason and BessemerConvivialist paddled up it was kind of a done deal. I guess I figured what the heck, its only 40 rods. A rod, for those who don't know, is 16.5 feet, almost exactly 5 meters. One thought on why this archaic measurement has been maintained to measure canoe portages is because its about the same as a canoe length. Bjorn and I picked up the boats and headed up the trail. The women would start the other three boats up the trail and we would come back to help and report on short length and ease of the trail. When we got to the other end of the portage however, I looked out at the scene and thought, "We are soooo screwed!". Instead of a nice beach that came right up to the trail there was 100 yards of cattail swamp before hitting open water. I knew from duck hunting experiences that this would be a stinking, boot sucking, slow, and torturous slog if it was even possible. A quick scout confirmed beaver trails (you plop down an extra foot deep in the water when you encounter them), muck, and a treacherous floating bog area, densely matted grasses and muck with water underneath. It feels like when you were a kid walking or jumping on your bed, nice and springy, except if a foot goes through a person is crotch deep and getting back out becomes very problematic. There would be no paddling here and, being a coward at heart, I suggested that Bjorn head back to break the 'good news' to the ladies. Apparently they had just crested the highest point of the portage and were not amused. It seems that this 'portage' was really a snowmobile trail and that the swamp is no problem when it's frozen solid.
It was a slow and quiet trudge back. I calculated later that this portage, had it been successful, would have cut off a whopping 2.5 miles of paddling, roughly 40 minutes at a leisurely pace. Since that was about what it took to lug the boats 400 meters it would have been kind of at a push unless you factored in the sore shoulders, hyperextended arms, and surly paddling companions that resulted from this unwelcome hike. The BC was particularly ornery but got over it like the rest of us when we returned to camp and its supply of relaxing adult beverages and ibuprofen. I make it a point to never say never but I'm thinking that my kayak portaging experiences may have ended on Sand Point Lake last Sunday. I am sure my companions would agree.