I know that this isn’t a particularly attention-grabbing title, but for those of us that were on this adventure, Wednesday will live in infamy. Not to be dramatic, but Wednesday was brutal.
The day started out fine enough. We got a pretty early start and had breakfast (apple sauce pouch and hot chocolate for me) before we headed out on the water. Wednesday was mapped out to be the longest day of the trip, but we were confident we would have plenty of time to make camp before sunset. It was also the day where we would have the most portages, and we would swap a portion of our group with the other group on our adventure. We lost four young men, and gained four young men. They were all phenomenal.
We started out on East Loon Bay and paddled through Little Loon Lake. It was at the top of Little Loon Lake that we encountered our first portage of the day. Last year the adventurers we took out on the water “affectionately” called this portage “Portage from hell.” This year, one of our more punny participants renamed it “stroll through Sheol.” I’m not kidding when I say this portage was terrible. It was long, muddy, rocky, hilly, and filled with mosquitoes. I’m also convinced I heard a bear or wild boar in the woods behind me. At the end of this portage there was a decent amount of mud which led to my first encounter with a leech on this trip, and actually in my whole life. It was disgusting. I didn’t find the thing until it fell off my leg full of my blood. Lewis saw it swim away when I threw it in the water. It was huge. And it makes me a little queasy just thinking about it.
Anyway, we left “sheol” and paddled part way through Slim Lake, half way up we had to abandon the lake to portage again because the water was low and rocks and reeds were high. It was short, but muddy and gross. And we were off again to finish paddling Slim Lake, which emptied into Section 8 Pond. At the top of Section 8 Pond we had our next portage. Thankfully it wasn’t as long as our stroll through Sheol, but the mosquitoes were terrible and the end of the trail was a mud flat.
You might not know this, but you can’t load a canoe with gear and people while on land, you have to go part way into the water. The same is true for mud, you can’t push off on mud, you have to be in the water. In this particular part the mud was deep and the area was wide, there was no way to avoid it. I almost lost my shoe. Lewis had to grab my shoe from two feet of mud. This is where I got my second leech. Again, gross. This is where we switched out groups.
This portage landed us into South Lake, which we took to North Lake, between the two we had to exit our canoes to traverse a beaver dam. After the beaver dam we still had pretty calm waters, but the wind started to pick up and it started to rain, so when we exited North Lake into Snow Bay we stopped at a little beach to eat some lunch. The waves weren’t terrible, but they were definitely picking up at this point. The thunder and lightening storm passed us by and we headed out. It wasn’t until we went around the peninsula from Snow Bay into Lac La Croix that things got intense. The wind was beating into our faces, and the waves were a couple of feet high. I was in the front of the canoe, so I felt every wave as we crashed up and down. up and down.
One of the challenges of canoeing in waves is making sure that you stay at a 45-90 degree angle to the waves. If you get parallel to them they will capsize you. So you have to paddle to keep moving, but you also have to paddle to keep from capsizing.
Before we went on this trip we read a book, “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life and Maybe the World.” One of the chapters is “Never, Ever Quit!” With a subtitle, “Don’t Ever, Ever Ring the Bell!” The backstory is that in Navy Seal training they have a bell you can ring if you want to quit. The author admonishes you to never quit. Something we didn’t consider when we read this book in mental preparation for our trip, is that there is no bell. Meaning, when you’re out on the water you have no choice, you can’t quit, you just have to keep going.
And it was hard, and it was scary, and there were some serious moments where I didn’t think we would make it off that lake. And I wasn’t alone in that fear. As we made progress away from the peninsula we kept looking back for one of our canoes, and we couldn’t see them. We thought for sure they had capsized, so we signaled the other canoes and made our way to the only “beach” area we could find: it was mostly rocks, but there were a couple of places where we could get out of the canoes without crashing into the rocks. We got out and were getting ready to pray before sending a canoe out with two of the strong guys to search for the canoe when they rounded the corner. We thought they might make their way to us, but they had momentum, and they didn’t want to lose it, so we jumped into our canoes and headed back into the wind and the waves. We didn’t find relief until we paddled to a cove protected by a small island. It was such a relief to have some still waters.
While we were paddling I was reminded that God can command the wind and the waves with just a word. And, much like life, He could have calmed those waters for us, but sometimes He allows us to go through the waves. He’s still there, He’s walking with us, and we’re getting stronger with each stroke of that paddle.
At the south end of Lac La Croix the wind and the waves finally calmed and we were able to stop for some cliff jumping before we had our last portage of the day. This one wasn’t terribly long, but muddy and rocky.
This dropped us into Loon Lake. The waters were calm and we were just cruising after our ordeal in Lac La Croix. That is, until I glanced back and noticed that we were being stalked by a tower of thunder clouds. We hollered at the other three canoes and started paddling with renewed vigor. We were tired, but sometimes you don’t have an option. It started raining while we were still on the water, and it was raining hard. We found a campsite where we could take cover until the rain passed and we could set up camp.
I know this has been a ridiculously long post, but, like I said, Wednesday was brutal.