Requiem for Rubber Boots
I don’t claim to be the best paddler, especially in whitewater conditions, which was probably my undoing. I suddenly found my self on the top of a peak wave, and found I could reach the water with my paddle. Pucker factor off the scale, heart was competing with my Adams apple for space in my neck. I then slid down the wave being turned sideways with the east waves. Unfortunately , that wave was big and had the height to take the whole canoe over into the water. Bracing I was trying for as hard as I could, there was no denying the inevitable. Over I went, RUBBER BOOTS and all.
Going under water, I noticed how clear it was, damn my “Cuban cigars” were floating away. I reached for them, but they were to far away, well now to take care of other priorities. The rubber boots were like anchors, trying to go up they just drug water, so I kicked them off to a watery grave, may the rest in peace. Gary was very close, I grabbed the upside of his canoe and threw a few small bags in his canoe. The boys at that time decided to disappear and I don’t think they came out for a couple days. It was that pins and needles feeling, not being able to breath, but knowing this was not the time to panic. My canoe was close so I dog paddled over and brought it close to Gary, he had no idea what I was going to do. Turning the canoe upside down, with the gear bags floating happily down the lake, I started a canoe over canoe rescue. Shoving the canoe over the top, Gary was then able to dump the remaining water out and turn it over and slide it back to me. With him holding one side I pulled myself up and over the side and sat in the bottom of the canoe.
Gary said he was going to get my big blue pack it was close and he would meet me farther down the island wherever the wind took him. My spare paddle was still lodged in the front of the canoe. My back was to the island, so I started to back paddle with all my strength to the island, with adrenalin going I had plenty of torque and quickly reached shore. There was one minor problem, The waves were crashing on shore and so big I could hardly get out. Kept losing my balance, being pushed away from shore and banging on rocks. I finally found a spot a little shallower close to shore and just rolled out and pulled the canoe up. The water hadn’t warmed up a bit even with the sun being out.
I turned to look for Gary and there was no canoe visible! Finally I spotted his hat bobbing in the water. They say you should never compound a disastrous situation by endangering yourself, better one dead than two. I thought about that and decided that was BS. Either we were both getting to shore or we would both be floating across Pickerel Lake and not in a canoe. He was to far from shore to swim in that cold of water, I paddled the last stretch in maybe 5 minutes. I don’t think he could make that paddle in less than 30 minutes minimum. I knew that I must get him or die trying, I would not be the one to tell his family I stood on watched him float away. Grabbing the canoe I had a hell of a time getting back in with the waves crashing into me. Finally I got in and sat in the bottom for the most stability and paddled like never before.
Getting to Gary I found he was clutching two bags to keep floatation, staying out as far as he could and one bag was big blue. We worked both bags into the canoe, knowing that having dry clothes were a necessity. I told him to hold on to the back of the canoe and try to provide some stability and I would pull him to shore. I then engaged the turbo, turned on the high octane and back paddle for our lives. Given the amount force needed to tow Gary, I was making good progress. Approximately 80-100 yards from shore another big wave hit just as Gary needed to switch hands from the upwind side to the downwind side. Over I went for the second time.
Then Mother Luck gave us a hand. Big Blue was stuck under the front of the canoe, Gary had the other bag in his grasp. I told him to swim to shore and I would bring the canoe, with no canoe we may have been in a bad situation. There was a point that I was so cold that just letting go and letting the numbness and hypothermia take me was an option. But I decided there was no way in hell someone was going tell my special lady that I died in Pickerel Lake. Suddenly my higher power and I were having a discussion, mostly one side, with me doing all the talking. Then I felt a warmth come over my body, my sense of panic and fear went away and I started to shore. I held onto the canoe with my right arm and power stroked with my left. I really don’t know how long it took, but I finally felt boulders and rocks beneath my feet. They were very slimy and slippery, so I kept going until I was on my knees with the waves picking me up and slamming me down. I finally got to a spot where I could get out of the water. Looking down the shore Gary was still on his knees but out of the water. Pulling the canoe and pack out of the water, I headed to Gary.
He couldn’t get to his feet, I don’t know if it from exhaustion, slippery rocks or hypothermia setting in. I did know that we needed to get out of the wet clothes immediately. Going back to the canoe I quickly dumped the contents of BB out. Helping Gary pull his wet clothes off, I then threw him the heaviest long johns, wool sweater, wool socks and extra rain suit. I then started changing into dry clothes and planning on how to get warm. Were smack dab in front of the wind now coming from the north. With no dry wood for a fire if could get one going. Then I had an ephany(sp), the big Menard tarp I brought. Remembering how they will absorb heat and increase it, I unrolled it and found a spot in the sun, laying down we both out of the wind, dry clothes and had solar heat. Its hard to tell time in those situations, but I eventually felt warm and Gary expressed he was also. Neither of us was mad or upset, things happened and no one died. Heck, everyone should have the opportunity to try new adventures.
Gary decided to walk the shore down to the bay and see if by chance anything had pushed in there. He was going to go in his stocking feet, but I found my Teva’s and he then headed out. Walking to a small point 30-45 minutes later, I viewed a bag that was sitting on shore a long ways away. Then I started wondering where Gary’s brand new purple SR solo was, in the bay or missed the bay and headed to Emerald Island or beyond. 30 minutes or an hour later Gary was back in camp with the food pack.
I had built a shelter with tarp and getting out of the wind we brewed coffee and ate beef jerky and soup. Gary said he found everything but my tackle box. He remembered it floating for awhile but the 3-5 pounds of jigs wanted to go fishing, after all they had the wireless transducer with them. I wonder how long it sat on the bottom and sending out a signal, must have been lonely. He said his canoe was hung up on some rocks off shore and he could see the front end. I wanted to put in at the bay and paddle across while he walked around to get his canoe. He said no its ok and will get it tomorrow, a tragic mistake. Curling up under the tarp with rain starting again with the wind howling we hunkered down for the night. It was a good day, not one that I want to repeat, but hey no one died and I found out that swimming in cold water can happen when you don’t panic.
Day Two- Canoe Repairs for Dummies We woke to clear skies and the wind blowing 35-40 mph out of the east. We then carried the canoe down to the bay, getting out of the big waves. I would paddle across and Gary would walk around collecting the gear he put on shore the day before. We recovered everything but my tackle box, thankfully we had split up the gear beforehand. Paddling over I spotted the rock Gary’s canoe was hung up on, the bow raising and sliding on the rock. Something didn’t look right. Pulling my canoe up and walking down the shore, I found the water between the rock and shoreline was 20’ and about chest deep. Did I mention it was cold, Gary used a thermometer later in the day and found water temps of mid 40s. Getting to the canoe was a moment of regret, I should of went the day before and pulled it out. It was split to within 2” of the bottom, aluminum plate on the front completely gone. The rivets had ground off being on the rock all night. Pulling the canoe up, I found his two one piece rods wedged in the back, one was broken. Floating the canoe to shore, I waited for Gary and my problem solving data banks went into overdrive. Gary came down and we carried the patient to a big sloping rock. I needed Gary’s permission to perform the operation and attempt to save the patient, but no guarantee could be given. He nodded in agreement, and I sent him out to go fishing and relax, he would be called when the patient was in the recovery room.
Surgical instruments and supplies were found and laid out carefully, lets begin. With the bow split the way it was it was impossible to pull the sides together and keep the from flexing. They needed to be flush to pull against each other. Pulling the unsterilized Fiskar surgical saw and unfolding it things began. Cosmetic surgery is so easy, pulled the sides together and took 2” of the front. Using the rivet holes to pull the sides together, the front became rigid and very minimal flexing. The nylon cord used can be found in some stores, the braided type not twisted. This I had purchased off E-bay and holds ~150 lbs, if you pull and break it, expect to hear the sound of a 22. The old saying about Duct Tape will fix anything is true, especially with Kevlar canoes. Cleaning the sides and letting them dry, the final step began. Running several strips of tape top to bottom and overlapping about ½ way. Then start from the bottom, began pulling tape across the front, starting 6” from the bow. Each layer was straight, no bubbles or creases and each overlapped ½ way. This layer was covered on the ends by another layer of tape vertically, then the horizontal was repeated and finally the vertical was applied and carried out to only a single layer.
Gary was called to the recovery room and told to take the patient home. At home on the lake he paddled for ½ hour and found no leaks and no flex. We then faced a major decision, head back to Stanton Bay, stay where we were or keep going. With a majority vote, we decided to go forward the next morning. Then it began to rain and we pitched the tent on a slope and fell to sleep listening to the rain. Bags packed and gear ready to go the next morning.
Day 3 Rising early with a fresh pot of coffee divided between us we headed out. Strong wind from the west, white caps, steady rain and a pucker factor of 7. We both were gunshy and took awhile to get our canoe butts back. We headed to Deux River, paddling into the wind or quartering most the way. Stopping once to rest behind a little point before crossing the last bay. We made it to the portage and paid homage to the canoe spirits. The portage was easy and we shortly were down to the next lake, I can’t remember the name. We then paddled into the wind never getting more than 50’ from shore. It wasn’t long and the next portage to Deux River was found. We unloaded and remembered this was a longer portage with grade. Upon arriving at the other end we meet two gentlemen that were coming back from Sturgeon Lake. We exchanged names, the normal canoe talk of how’s the trip was, what the weather was like, how’s fishing, how long your out, etc etc. Then they inquired to why I was wearing sandals with wool socks in 50 degree weather. We shared our “wash day”, looked at the canoe and talked about what we lost. They then gave us a dozen 3/8 and 1/2oz jigs, walleyes were deep.
Paddling down the Deux we watched for swimming logs they had told us about, but saw none. Coming out on Sturgeon we found the wind allowed us to quarter our way to Blueberry Island, I believe the first island in the north end. Getting to the island we spotted a cow moose and a newborn calf. Starting down the shore line the wind began to blow with more fury and the rain was coming down hard. Getting to the southern point it was apparent we were done for the day. The campsite is large and flat, easy to sit a tarp up, tent underneath and a dry cooking area out of the wind. We made coffee and supper and sat back and talked about the trip, family, friends, other trips and how we were blessed by the canoe spirits. We decided with the wind conditions and being still nervous with SR canoes we would avoid Sturgeon and head back the B-Chain. The next day was going to be a layover and fishing day.
Day 4 Rising the next morning we followed our ritual of making coffee, eating breakfast and gathering our jerky and cheese for lunch. We headed to the northeast to the first set of rapids, Gary looking for bass and I was on the prowl for walleyes. In less than two minutes we were both hooked up with our chosen fish. I was keeping walleyes to eat, he was letting bass go. Shortly the supper was on the stringer and it was catch and release. During this time I hooked several big fish, really big only trouble was I couldn’t get them to the surface to land. Gary was laughing as I was pulled around the pool and around the pool. Eventually the jig would straighten and they were gone. Tried bigger jigs and stronger hooks but same results. Didn’t want to sacrifice a fish to catch a sturgeon I wasn’t ready to land out of a canoe. I headed back to the island and intended to fillet the fish and start supper. Gary followed about 15 minutes later. Don’t know why but paddled into the wind and white caps to camp.
Getting to camp I pulled the canoe up and put it out of the wind. Looking to the eastside of the island, I spotted the cow moose swimming from the mainland and looking north. I figured she had seen me and started back and now was watching Gary. Eventually I lost sight of her. Shortly Gary pulled up and I asked him if had seen the moose. His reaction was classic, he is very animated when talking, looking up to me, I knew the answer was yes. He then explained he paddled to the north side of the island, wanting to avoid the wind and take a rest. Pulling up by shore he looked up and saw the cow and calf standing there. The cow had ears back and her nostrils were flaring out the size of dinner plates, He quickly back paddled and put distance between them. After all his canoe was already damaged once this trip. He was very excited and talked a mile a minute. Filleting the walleyes we were visited by the resident seagulls. Under the circumstances I wasn’t going to paddle to the mainland to fillet fish, and sure as hell wasn’t going to face a mad cow on the north end. Did it out on a rock away from shore that had waves washing over it. One seagull, named Jonathan Livingston came with 4’ and watched. With a supper of fish and snack of popcorn we call it a day.
This part of the trip was delayed to technical difficulties with the broadcast equipment. The culprit was found sitting on the kitchen table, looking out the window. Upon entering the abode, I found the laptop on the floor, monitor only works on top half. The floppy earred child was severly punished! He will go to bed with no snacks for a week, sleep on the floor and eat dog food. No spell check.
DAY 5 If I failed to mention it, rain and wind everyday, almost all day was the norm. Day five was the same, light rain in the morning, but a travel day. We decided to headed to Oliphant Lake. We set the big tarp each night to pitch the tent under and have a wind break. I hate getting into a tent in the rain. One thing I specialize in is setting up tarps and making fires during any conditions. With a quick breakfast and lunch pulled out for the day we headed back to the rapids and fished. I started across the portage before Gary and started through the next stretch of flat water. My memory is failing me now, because I can't remember the exact layout of this stretch. I know we finally came to the narrow area where Oliphant outlet and the deep pool below and short stretch of rapids, catching walley. I was joined by Gary and we fished a little longer but had limited luck.
The next portage was very short and we noticed the wind dying down and decided to bust butt across the lake. Don't really know why, maybe we were just paranoid. Heading along the north shore we stopped at the campsite just north of the island where the lake narrows. High up off the water, nice rock face where the fire ring was and tent site a little higher. Did I mention it was raining. Pitching the tarp and then the tent underneath we decided to make a simple supper, drink some coffee and call it a day. One thing I learned to appreciate on this trip was my habit of keeping a pair of clean, DRY wool socks in my sleeping bag. They never leave that bag except for taking on and off. Having wet feet everyday our feet looked like elephant skin but white! Tomorrow was going to be a day of blessing but the sun spirt.
DAY 6 Gary was up at first light and decided to go fishing back to the little rapids. I noticed something strange, I couldn't figure out why it was so quiet. IT wasn't raining, looking out there was blue sky everywhere with no clouds. I told Gary have fun, I am sleeping. I slept in all the way to 7am. I then started coffee and began looking for firewood, that was an easy task. 20 feet from our fire was a tree that had fallen over and was hanging over the fire area and was dead and dry. Whipping out the dual purpose unsterilized Fiskar operating utensil I had at the tree. With a couple strategic cuts I was able to pull a middle chunk out and the rest fell down. This was right over about a 3' rock face just behind and up hill of the fireplace. The tree measure about 20' long and was about 5" at the base.
The coffee was ready and a plan began to form in my head, a diabolical propartions. The likes of which have been repeated since man first discovered fire. Cutting and splitting firewood, the splitting was accomplished with my old Buck knife and a rock. Let those fancy knives try that!! I began to build a supply of materials for laundry, I was d#@m tired of wet, stinky and dirty socks and clothes. Given that it rained everyday and we were both wet footing, OH did I mention it rained all the time. I dumped out old BIG Blue, looking at what I could of left behind, the shorts, t-shirts and regular socks. I then pulled out Gary's bag and repeated the process. I went to the lake and filled BB with several gallons of water, adding a generous squirt of camp suds and then a big pot of boiling water and wet, stinky, dirty clothes.
I hung BB from a tree branch and began to slosh all the content about. I repeated a cycle that is known to most, slosh to the right, slosh to the left, let sit, repeat let sit and repeat. All the while looking over a calm lake with blue skies and not one rain cloud. Hauling BB back up the hill farther and walking out a ways, the water was dumped and contents taken back to the fire. Where a rinse cycle was prepared and the contents given a shorter version of the process. Most of the clothes were hung on the tarp lines to dry. But a delimea arose, the beloved wool articles were not going to dry in 5 mph winds and 60 degree temps. BUT, I had a plan. Building a fire and getting a good bed of coals next to the rocks, I began laying the socks, pants and sweaters on the rock face. Steam was rolling of them and it was like cooking pancakes for breakfast. Let them get to a certain point of drying on one side and then flip them over, repeat as necessary.
Looking across the lake I saw Gary paddling back, for the first time he was gently paddling and gliding, until now a pleasure we hadn't enjoyed. When he arrived it was time for fresh walleye, pancakes and coffee and sitting and relaxing in the sun. We were in heaven. My afternoon was spent fishing in the inlet of Oliphant and the narrow stretches of the lake. Many walleye and bass that day, lots of fun. Gary stayed and finished the laundry, packed the bags and the day ended with fish supper, popcorn and coffee. While unpacking BB I found 2 boxes of Swisher Sweets that were strategically placed in the first aid kit. We kicked back, watched the fire and stars and talked about the journey and laughed.
Day 7 The sky was blue to the south and west, but we were heading east, making for Fern Lake or B-chain of lakes. Drying the tent out and folding the tarp was accomplished before the coffee was ready, so I started cutting and splitting firewood, leaving a very abundant cache of firewood and kindling. Hope the next groups left wood for the next. Gary went to the lake and found an otter trying to get the top off the leach locker. We were using one that had a screw on lid and a smaller snap-on lid. He chased it off and came back up to the camp. With 32 oz. of coffee, a little jerky and Swisher Sweets, I was ready for the day.
We agreed that we would fish the stretch of water between Oliphant and Fern and meet at the upside of the Fern portage. Getting to the canoes and packing the bags we were ready to head out, but were missing one snap top leach locker. Gary paddled down the shoreline to the NW area and I headed along the NE shoreline and working east. After 20 minutes Gary found no locker, but did find the family of otters. About that time guess what happened? It started to rain, no kidding, big drops, little drops, a few drops and then lots of drops. When we found rain that year, it was accompanied by strong winds for the east. Meaning they must be at least 25-35 mph with gusts, after all it wouldn’t be challenging otherwise.
Fishing the falls/rapids inlet of Oliphant Lake the walleye and bass were hitting hard, we fished hard expecting to have time to make it to Fern by 3pm and then find a campsite. The big pool below the Fern Lake was pushing water hard and made it hard to maneuver the canoes. I finally strung a rock for an anchor and was catching small eyes and bass. Gary stated he lost a huge walleye, but didn’t have a photo or anything. We had a steak dinner on the biggest walleye. Having worked our way to the top of the pool we had two choices; A. We go back to the end of the portage and start from there or B. We pull the packs and canoes up about 70 feet to the portage at the middle and make for the top. We choose B, but why not, hell anyone can do a long portage, but going almost straight up for 70 feet, now that’s fun!!! It’s even more fun when the rocks and slopes are slippery and the wind is trying to twist the canoe out of your hand. I never take a watch on trips for two reasons. I hate to be on a schedule, being willing to take things as they come. I don’t want to know how long it takes to accomplish some tasks.