Sunday, March 9, 2008

Canoeing ... (part one) ...

This seems to me to be a most peculiar time to be talking about canoeing ... I mean, who in their right mind would want to go canoeing in March?!?

Not I, I assure you! However, these past few days -- while resting and trying to get better -- I've had a lot of time to think about my next post/s, and canoeing has come to the forefront again and again, so here we go.

My first husband was a 'master canoeist', and we took three canoe trips altogether ... two to the Superior/Quetico (National/Provincial) Park region in Minnesota and Ontario, Canada ... and one to Algonquin Provincial Park (again in Ontario, but in the southeast quadrant).

I think (meaning, "I'm not sure") on our first trip, when we 'put in' out of Winton, Minnesota, we rented a canoe. (It was probably a 'tub' -- that would have been his description of the vehicle, I'm pretty sure!)

We were equipped not only with a canoe, but with maps and 'wonderful' dried food, etc., -- you know, all those nutritious supplies without which one could not possibly do on an extended (we always took 10 days) trip.

And so, off we went. I was not afraid of wildlife. I was a little concerned about ticks -- they were prevalent, and were fond of 'latching onto' whatever kind of life might meander along the more predominant trails! (We wore long socks outside of our pants so that we could better see the critters.)

We always went in June. (You name any year you want, we went in June, which poses its own set of problems ... but, more on that later, O.K?)

So, it's our first trip -- and our only trip with just the two of us! (It's interesting only in looking back on it. It's really not significant, except for its 'historical' [? -- as in, "Does anyone really care?"] interest.)

I can remember feeling a tremendous sense of curiosity and wonder. I had never DONE such a thing! I was both excited and scared, all at once, but at the same time had just a ton of confidence that my husband knew what he was doing.

And, of course, he did.

The scenery was spectacular! So clean, the waters so blue, so COLD!! Lord love us, it was cold.

He couldn't wait to get out of the big city traffic ... he couldn't wait until the next big portage to get rid of the 'riffraff' of the short-termers. He wanted to get out into the real wilderness so that both he and I could enjoy the spectacular beauty of this region! (You know what? I don't think, looking back on it now, that he had ever been to that particular part of the world before.)

And it WAS beautiful! Heavens!! I really wish I had pix to show you, but I don't. What pictures I do have are all in my mind. I will try and describe in words some of our initial journey together.

Did you know that there are actually house boats cruising in those parks?!? We didn't, initially, and kept trying and trying to get further and further away from 'civilization'.

FINally, after a particularly long portage, we left the house boat scene behind.

And, it was on this portage that I had my very first live, face-to-face, experience with a bear.

You see, I had to go to the bathroom. (Every once in a while, one has to do that, right?) O.K. Hubby told me to go on up the hill and 'look for a good place'. So, I did.

I was continuing on 'up the hill', looking at the ground all the while for a good place -- when, all of a sudden, I happened to look up and there was this bear ... I kid you not, this bear was less than 10' away from me!!! And there we were, darned near eyeball to eyeball ... ... what would YOU have done?

Well, remembering my husband's oft-uttered remonstrances to me, I "walked and didn't run" away from the bear, expecting at any second to be just torn apart ... I mean, this bear was huMONgous and all scar-faced!!

I reached the bottom of the hill, where my husband was waiting, and he told me later that my eyes were 'as big as saucers', that my 'chin hung down to the ground' -- you know, all those trite sayings that are 'trite' only because they are so TRUE!?! I said, almost in a whisper, "There's a bear up there!"

He accompanied me back up the hill (I still had not gone to the bathroom!), but the bear was no longer to be found. Probably what had actually occurred was that the bear and I -- he while foraging for berries/whatnot and I while looking for a 'good spot' -- had both happened to look up at the same time and surprised each other, then simultaneously turned around and went the other way. No one knows for sure.

(Much later ... after we had successfully completed our trip and were returning all of our gear, etc., to the outfitters in Winton, we told them our story. They said, "Oh, yeah! You must have run across 'old Scarface' ... he's kind of a legend in these parts.

In fact," they said, "He's been known to go down to various campsites along that portage to demand his food!")

Just a couple of more bear stories for this trip. (By the way, please note that anytime I use the word "story" does not mean that I am 'making it up', O.K? If I am manufacturing something, I will tell you either in advance of or after the fact, as perhaps in a dream.)

One just delightful one that stands out in my memory is that of when we were camping at a kind of 'fork' between two streams. The noise was incessant. It was cold, but the scenery was -- really -- quite beautiful! I remember watching a 'hatching' of dragonflies.

That was fascinating! These beetle-like creatures would climb out of the icy river and up onto the rocks. There were thousands of them! Then, they would just stay in the sun, not moving. As they continued to dry out and warm up, their backs would begin to split open. We watched as, little by little, a beautifully-colored dragonfly would slowly unfold itself and then separate from what would shortly become just a shell to be carried away by the slightest breeze.

One day we were just inundated with mosquitoes, and the next, it seemed, their population had been cut in half. (Let's hear it for dragonflies!!)

At this same location, hubby pointed out to me a mother bear and her two cubs who were just the other side of the stream. I thought they were really cute ... and they were! Hubby said, "Just be glad that they are on the other side of the stream!"

Another time (same trip) ... ... We always had three packs (plus the canoe) to carry across any portage. My husband had to carry the canoe. Our main question always was, "What c/would be done with the food pack?"

We decided that whenEVer the food pack had to portaged across, then the other person would have to stay with same.

(Outside of the food pack, the canoe was the heaviest, and my husband had to portage both of those!)

So the main concern, going back to the original question was, "Who was going to stay with the food pack?"

Well, the answer to the above -- obviously, I was!! (Hubby couldn't stay and portage all at the same time. I mean, he was my hero, but he wasn't Superman, for crying out loud!)

O.K. So we came to the end of this one (fairly short, actually) portage ... we had long ago distanced ourselves from the house boat clique. Hubby had the food pack. I had one of the others. We came to the end of the portage, and it all looked pretty good, actually.

There was a fairly long wooden plank dock extending out into a pretty good-sized lake. We could see a couple of fishermen in a small boat in the near distance. They appeared to be relaxed, casting their lines, etc.

At the same time, however, hubby and I were a little unsure about leaving our food pack (along with the pack that I had brought over) at the end of the dock while both of us went back along the trail to retrieve the canoe and the other pack.

We decided that I would stay to watch over everything.

WELL, no sooner than hubby had disappeared back along the portage, a fairly good-sized bear came shuffling out of the trees and began sniffing around. He smelled something, and maybe it was even something good to eat?

Ye Gods! There I was, at the end of this long wooden plank dock -- two fishermen within earshot, -- starting to get a teensy bit nervous about this bear approaching the dock and our food pack in an inquisitive manner.

The next thing I heard was laughter ... laughter, I kid you not -- from the two fishermen!

I was on my own here, obviously.

All right. (What do you mean, "All right!" "Are you insane?!?")

I tried not to move. I scarcely took a breath. I didn't want to call attention to myself. I thought, hopefully, "Maybe the bear won't get a REALLY good whiff of the food. Maybe the wind is blowing towards me. Maybe he won't actually come onto the dock." (I consider any bear a "he" unless there are cubs present. I didn't see any cubs.)

Well, my hopeful thoughts were soon dashed as the bear kept coming closer and closer to the dock, sniffing with his nose in the air all the while.

Then he put one huge paw up on the dock. Then the other. Well, shoot! I didn't have any rocks or big sticks with me to threaten the bear, so I began stamping my feet and shouting, "Go away!" (Or some such nonsense.) Nothing. No reaction at all other than just a little hesitation for half a second.

I took a few steps toward the bear, stomping my feet as hard as I could so that he could (maybe) feel the vibrations in the wood and shouting. Another slight hesitation. I decided if he still kept advancing that I would simply have to jump into the lake. I would be cold, but I could at least get away from the food pack and make my escape while he was distracted.

Thankfully, it didn't come to that. For some reason that only the bear knows, he chose to turn around, get off the dock, and continue on his ambling ways through the woods.

My husband thought the bear wasn't really sure that there was something good to eat out at the end of that dock. It was his opinion that, if the bear had gotten a good enuf whiff of what all was in the food pack, he'd have kept coming no matter how much noise I made or how threatening I might have tried to appear.

I think he was a little miffed at the two fishermen. I know I was!

Keeping your food safe, most particularly from bears, is a problem. NEVER do you keep your food pack inside your tent!!

One time we camped overnite on this absolutely gorgeous little island in the middle of a lake. We arrived late, and barely had time to get the tent set up before it got dark. As always, my husband hung our food pack high up on an over-extending tree branch that was strong enough to support the pack, but not strong enough to support both it and the weight of a hungry full-grown bear.

He attached various tin pots & pans to the pack so that, if some large critter were to come along in the middle of the night while we were sleeping, the clatter would wake us up and we would then ... ... ... (Are you waiting for some magic answer here?? There is none.) ... ... ... peek ever so covertly out from our tent and see what the magnitude of the problem might be.

Well, this night we were awakened -- not by the clatter of pots & pans, but by the almost incessant moans and groans of some sort of animal in obvious discomfort.

(If I had an actual recording of those sounds, I would attach it to this post. However, I do not. Try to imagine yourself making quite distressing sounds, loudly, as your stomach 'roils' in pain from whatever it was you ate that you shouldn't have ... those are the sounds that we heard, over and over again, all night long. Needless to say, we got very little sleep.)

Daylight came. The awful groans and moans had long since ceased, but still we were cautious. What could have happened?? That the food pack had been broken into was almost a certainty, but we had to find out how bad it actually was.

Yes, indeed, the food pack had been disturbed. The animal (probably a bear, and it would have had to be a cub) had 'eaten' a goodly amount of brillo pads, toilet paper and bread ... thank goodness he ate some bread, or he would probably still be retching someplace!

Before we took our leave from the island, we took some minutes to explore. In a nearby ravine, we found the remnants of a large tent -- claw marks all over it. I guess those campers had tried to secure their foodstuffs by placing them in their tent.

Did we ever eat anything other than trail mixes? Yes, indeed. Whenever we were at a campsite for more than just one night (which was just a couple of times), we would take the opportunity to fish, hoping for something just a little more appetizing.

Early on, I managed to snag a pretty good-sized fish, but my husband was unable to land one at the same time. So, he left my fish dangling in the frigid lake waters. (We had our own built-in refrigerator/freezer, don't you know?)

Well, the next day we fished and fished, and fished some more. FINally, after we had decided that we were going to have to go back and just cook up the one that I had caught, he landed one ... about the same size, actually, as mine. Fantabulous! We were going to "dine" tonite!

The smells coming from the pan were scrumpdeliocious!! Our mouths salivated. Then, when we actually started cutting into the fish, we discovered that their meats were a different color. "Oh, no!" we thought. "Was one spoiled??" (Just a horrendous possibility!)

VERY carefully, we each tasted the one that I had caught, thinking that it was probably the one that was tainted, and discovered, much to our wondrous surprise, that it was a lake trout (in my opinion, the steak of fish!). It wasn't tainted, at all. In fact, it was delicious!! (As was the bass my husband had acquired.)


Truly, that was a wonderful trip. My husband never took shaving gear with him on these trips, and we would come out of the 'wilderness' with him looking something like Rip Van Winkle.

In fact, following our very last portage back and heading across the lake to the outfitter's, I distinctly remember a passing canoeist shouting (with a grin on his face), "Eisenhower's still President!"


Tammy said...

What a WONDERFUL post! I was there on your trip with you throughout the entire post. :)

The bears....sheesh....

The dragonflies hatching....oh I'd love to see something like that someday.

The lake trout....nothing better tasting than lake trout in my opinion.

You never cease to amaze me with your posts, Helen! lol

Chuck said...

Thanks for the kind words about my blog. I enjoyed your bear stories, and it makes me think I should post my poem re: a bear encounter my son and I had in Porcupine Wildrness years ago. Thanks for the idea!