DAY FIVE BAXTER BRIDGE TO HODENPYL LAKE 27 miles
Our craft is as sturdy and nimble as ever, though she bucked a bit today in the wind. Fighting the blow across Hodenpyl was like fighting time -- it was a bitter and fruitless battle. But somehow or another we were blown over to another lovely campsite in a copse of red pine. Their branches crackle and creak all around us. So tired was I after "wind war" that I collapsed under one in a pile of soft needles and stayed there. For a long time.
We had a good day today. It was a wet first four hours or so, but nature cut us a break after we sent Susan and Molly off. They kindly unloaded all their extra goodies on us -Molly gave up her neck warmer and Susan lent me some much needed gloves and a bottle of wine from Jack's famous collection -all invaluable items if it gets any colder. But a poor substitute for the warmth of their company. But I was still feeling kind of fuzzy and sentimental from last night's campfire and it was hard to say goodbye to those two. Susan may reappear soon, though. She said that she would try to catch up with us Friday if we're still on the river.
The river continues to get wider, slower and shallower. Still the fall colors surround us. It's like God created this wonderful ornate tapestry of reds, golds, greens and browns. I feel as if I've been wrapped up in it like royalty during the while trip.
Saw a couple of cool markers today; one cool old Indian trail marker and the remnants of an old bridge up by Harvey. Also many spiny sticklebacks - my make believe name for the fallen trees. Some are the color of prehistory and their branches look like a dinosaur's ribcage poking up out of the water.
We're making great time so far and I'm really proud at how far we've come. We still have a couple of big pushes coming up--Hodenpyl and Tippy Lake. Jim and Jo assured us that they would not be easy. Portaging the 85-pound canoe will probably be no picnic either. But we'll persevere, and with any luck, be sitting in River Street Station by Friday
Our two canoes are beginning to engage in some friendly competition. Jim and Jo were in the lead this morning, but we took them this afternoon. We keep changing roles -Jo compared it to a line from â€œButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.' "We keep saying "Who ARE those guys?" as you disappeared around the bend," Jo said. "They don't stop, they don't eat, they don't sleep, they don't pee." Its all in fun, and I know that if they wanted to, they could mop up the river with us. However, they've been extraordinarily encouraging, and are letting me indulge in my fantasy that we're actually getting somewhere.
They are really the backbone of the trip. Frank and I are the newbies, and Jim and Jo are teaching us about what they do so gracefully by just being themselves. They've taught us so much already about floating, paddling and about just getting along. They also share their chocolate with us and that is pretty awesome. After five days on the river, chocolate is more precious than gold, and seems to be more valuable than hygiene, social fakery or any of the other stuff we've so easily shed. Chocolate is a constant.
I've come to realize that this concept of floating is a misnomer in canoespeak. As far as I'm concerned, there's far too much effort involved to do anything resembling a float. I'm no scoop of ice cream and this river is no ginger ale. The only floating I'm about to do is the facedown kind after we reach Lake Michigan.
Someone said today that the river is so crooked it should be a politician. I wonder if the river would find that insulting.
DAY 6 HODENPYL TO SPAGHETTI ISLAND 27 Miles
I forget how quiet our canoe is as we slice through the water. We keep sneaking up on fishermen and birdies and fishes. Our canoe slides through the water like a hot knife through butter, like an arrow through airwaves. This morning we reluctantly awoke and hit Hodenpyl Lake - what a beaut. The wind I dreaded never appeared, and the lake was a perfect mirror. In conditions the Coast Guard could only call FAC, we sped across the open water, surrounded by islands and tall hillsides spotted with the fall spectrum.
Our book warned us not to gape at the hillsides and to pay attention to the water. We the slackjawed ignored it and were almost flipped a few times by the sunken deadheads of docks forgotten and shipwrecks past. They can knock one straight into next week, if one wasn't careful.
We did our first portage today, and somehow turned a 300 yard straight shot into a mile hike. We missed the portage at the first try so we walked a tweensy bit more than expected. It was sorta kinda maybe my fault and perhaps a bit of Jim's too [I keep telling Allison that it was, in its entirety, my fault--Jim] As with the deadheads, I forgot to read the book all the way and went into exploring mode, skipping over the obvious. Jim has since said that he will take no responsibility in future portages, and Jo has since suggested sending the brains instead of the brawn on the search next time.
But we found our route and carried the canoes in a fashion I call "skull dragging." This was a term I learned from some Blue Angels who were charter boat fishing for the first time. Those jokers really wanted the reporter to catch a fish, and when I finally got it in the boat, they insisted that it wasn't a fair fight...that I had 'skull drug' it to death.
We did more laughing than fish catching that day, but I'm sure the lies they told afterwards would have done Paul Bunyan proud.
Anyway, we got to where we should have been...ehem...and had our usual cheese and bread luncheon fare. Harriet joined us. She just sat across the river from us, unperturbed. We even tried to get her to move so we could get an action shot and she was extremely reluctant. I finally told her that I was a member of the media and she took off like rocket.
Then we were off again too, like starved greyhounds at the races.
From Hodenpyl to Red Bridge was a wild and beautiful run. We had been looking forward to that specific segment, as it was the one stretch that Jo and Jim were quite familiar with. They call it their 'beer run,' which translated to Frank and I as 'time to work.' The water was faster and it felt more riverlike. We went through some fast spots, always aiming for the open arms of the 'v,' trying to keep our canoe with the open end up. We got into some lower ground, more cattails marshes, and consequently more birds. We saw a couple fishermen, a backpacker, and a family and by the time we got to Red Bridge, we were happily ready for a stretch. There was water out of a faucet there, which to us, after six days of pumping, seemed like a real fat luxury.
The sun kissed us the whole afternoon. We got down to tee shirts, and the water shone blue under its loving gaze. We made our way into the backwaters of Tippy Dam and found another gorgeous island-peppered lake. We found one suited for camping, took a swim, and then Jim and Jo made us a dinner better than any restaurant I've known.
We drank Jack's wine and stargazed on this first completely clear night, bathed in beauty, warmed by campfire laughter. The moon stands out in a crescent, enjoying our good time with its sly grin, as the stars seem to thicken every time I look.
The body is tired today, but I feel like I'm just starting to harden, to tighten, to get used to the lifestyle. I almost think I could go on indefinitely, into the 'Heart of Darkness,' or 'Love in the Time of Cholera,' just hoping the river runs into another sea, which runs into a river, and on and on like the flow of time, infinite and forever.
DAY 7 TIPPY DAM TO FIRST STREET BOAT LAUNCH 37 miles
This journal is being written from the exhausted comfort of home.
Home. I'm not sure how I feel about being here yet. My warm bed is nice, but I don't think I missed it much. The dinner was nice, but I ate well on the river too. Music, lettuce, gossip, it all seems like a lot to exchange for fresh air and sunshine. I did miss my friends though. They made it good to be back.
When we hit Bear Creek at about 3:30 p.m. today, we decided to make a final push; to try to reach Manistee before darkness. We knew it was going to be a hard run, but we all were up for it.
And it was long, hard push. But luck shined on us the entire way.
The sunrise was supreme. There was this incredible mist over the lake that rose in smoky curls above the water. The fog hung above it, coating it, clouding it but it was moving like a charmed snake. My brain felt about as clear as I muddled through the morning.
We got on the water early and started mushing our way to the dam. We were on Tippy for less than an hour before we reached the dam. Another windless morning, another break.
This portage was far nastier than Hodenpyl. Jim and Joe harnessed up their canoe and swung it down the road, but Frank and I decided to be inventive and took considerably longer to reach the boat launch.
It was a mob scene. There were tons of fishermen and women lined up on both sides of dam, doing their best to land a king salmon. It was interesting to look at, but that sure ain't my kind of fishing.
It was the first time we had been around a lot of people and I guess I got a little freaked. Folks seemed decidedly unfriendly as we struggled down the unending line of fishermen. Maybe I was just oversensitive, but I felt slapped in the face with civilization. And my first response was to get in the canoe as fast as we could and paddle the heck out of that madhouse. Those fish were amazing though. Their dark shapes in the water looked like sleek shadows beneath us. And wherever we saw fish, we saw fishermen. All the way down to Rainbow Bend.
After our decision to push, we moved with renewed steam. We moved towards M55 full board, hoping that we'd see the bridge in an hour or so. Three hours later, we hadn't seen the bridge and my arms were turning into jelly. We saw the eagle just when we needed to most.
It was sitting on a bench about 200 yards downriver. Majestic, perfect - like it had flown off a bill. It let us get a little closer before it vaulted into the air and soared away.
Our worries about making the bridge went with it. Frank showed me how to thank the Great Spirit by putting tobacco from my medicine pouch in the water and saying a prayer. He said it was to show appreciation to the eagle for letting us see it.
We pressed on with smiles, and after an hour or so, we saw M55. It looked different from the water. I've driven over it a million times, but it somehow seemed different from the water. In fact, as we pulled into Manistee Lake, all of the familiar was altered, touched by the sunset and our experience. And as we saw my coworkers shouting and waving at Memorial Bridge, I knew I was home. Our quest was over, 7 p.m. Thursday night. Waving back at my missed friends, I knew but that its affect would remain and that I, in my own small way, had become a part of the river and the river had become a part of me. What is around the next bend is anyone's guess.