Due to a complication five days ago, I’m blogging today instead. And that’s not going to do any good for most of my audience, because apparently you all left for Crowduck on Tuesday. But, this’ll be here when you get back.
First, I’m going to kind of write what I’m thinking now that you’re actually all going to Crowduck. I didn’t think too much of it before I decided to come here, but now that you’re all gone, and I’m here, I’m feeling down about it. I knew it was going to be a risk coming here, because I wouldn’t know if I liked it or not. I think I like it, mostly, but there are those things that bother me. One is of course the shoes, for which you’ve all been teasing me. There are maybe a few others in the stuff I’m going to write up ahead about my time so far. But there’s also other stuff: No matter how fun it is, it’s also work, whereas Crowduck is just a complete vacation. And, I don’t really know anyone here that well – I’ve been away from my family so long I’m feeling a bit alienated. Hm. I’m going to run with that second thought a little while. I went off to college, and only came back for a little while during some vacations. Then I finally came back home for the summer, except that then I just left again. Meanwhile, I keep getting thrown into new situations. I wish I had a little more stability, I guess. I’ll have that when I get back home, so that’ll be nice. I keep thinking it’s pretty funny how nomadic my life has become recently: One house to a new house to college to the new house to college to the new house to college to the new house to Camp Manito-wish to all these little campsites every night. I’m going to like being home for a month and a half before college starts.
Anyhow, I’m supposed to be writing about what I’ve been doing. So far, I’ve been on trail 14 days, about to hit the trail again to make it 22. The first 4 were my training trip, which I believe I mentioned already. Then, I did a 5-day trip with a guy named Bill, who’s one of the few Williams of my age going with Bill. I admire that. We took four campers out, consisting of two pairs of previous friends. One pair, Charlie and Ryan, had a really interesting friendship built around Charlie yelling at Ryan, and then Ryan making fun of Charlie. Alex and Tyler had a reglar friendship. Anyhow, we did the Trout Lake Circle, which was just beautiful. Bill’s been coming to Manito-wish for 10 years, the last 4 of them as staff, so he knew is way around and made the trip run really smooth. We had so much fun. I made friends with the kids through card tricks and other stuff. They think I’m pretty cool. So, I really enjoyed that trip.
The second 5-day trip I’m a bit more ambivalent about. The first three days were pretty great. Day five was also fine, because it’s really just a morning – we paddled in at 9 this morning. But yesterday, day 4, I could seriously have done without. I’ll start from the beginning of the trip. The counselor for it, Alex (as distinct from the other Alex I mentioned), is on his first year just like me. We paddled down the Manitowish River the first day, which was awesome; the water is so high this year that we just floated straight down some rapids that we would definitely have to walk in a regular year. The kids were Clay, Oliver, Caleb, Ben, and Will; only Clay and Caleb knew each other before camp, though they’d all been associating for five days in the cabin. They were a pretty solid group. They could all paddle well. The only real drawback was that only Caleb could carry a canoe, and even then only for a hundred yards or so. So, Alex and I had to do all the carrying on the portages. Which was fine, because most of our portages were pretty easy, except for a two-mile one on day 2. And except for yesterday, which I’m getting to. Altogether, though, we made good time on the water, and worked really well as a group.
Yesterday, we had the Dairymen’s Portage, through the Dairymen’s Country Club (I believe is what it’s called). This is the crown jewel of dreaded portages at Manito-wish. It’s four miles long, though it can be broken up into two-mile sections with a paddle in between. So, to start with, we had a sort of warmup one-mile portage from Crab Lake to Round Lake. We just pulled the canoes out of Crab, and then followed a gravel road to a dirt path that came off from the left. Here’s the thing: the dirt path didn’t match up with our portage map at all. We wandered around for a good hour or so, sometimes with a canoe or two, sometimes without, trying to find a path to Round Lake, but the path disintegrated into the woods wherever we looked. After a long frustrating time, we decided to split the portage into two smaller portages, an alternate route indicated on our map. So, as we were taking the canoes back to go to Little Crab Lake, I noticed: That road goes off in the same direction, and we passed it, didn’t we? It turned out to be the right road, clearly. We all turned onto it, having wasted an hour. It didn’t get that much better, though, because this dirt road had all sorts of forks, all uncommented-on by the portage map, and Alex had to find his own way. Moreover, Oliver had gone missing, and one of our canoes was still back at the wrong road. I took Clay and Caleb with me, and we finally found Oliver – he had been lagging when we turned onto the road, so he didn’t see us and instead went to Little Crab Lake like we’d planned. Perfectly reasonable. He was a little shaken, but all right. I also went and got the other canoe. I left him and Clay to catch up with the rest of the group (Clay had been down the road before, so that wasn’t rash), and took Caleb with me to get the canoe. When we got the canoe, we went down the road and promptly took a wrong turn down a blocked-off snowmobile road, walking an extra mile. Finally we came back and found some of the other group, and learned that Alex had found the lake and laid down arrows pointing us to it. So we followed those, and finished the portage. One mile: three hours. I like to call it the Comedy of Errors Portage.
We paddled briefly down Round Lake, which is round, and came to Rice Creek, and thence took off on our next portage. “Took off” is too strong a phrase. In fact, this was the delightful section known around here as Vietnam. A quarter mile through woods that are completely lacking in trails; the only thing we get to guide us is sparsely placed red (or, confusingly, blue) blazes. Also, the gound is soft and covered with the corpses of trees that gave up, and we have to carry canoes and heavy packs, and of course neither of us has ever been here before. Have at it. We stumbled and fumbled through the mesh of trees, with a lookout ahead sighting blazes, and walked until we found a place. It was very debatable whether it was actually a place, actually. It was just different terrain, covered with hip-high ferns and shrubs, and on a big hill that we climbed up. Still no trail. We laid down the stuff, and Alex and I went off scouting. We didn’t see it until I had practically walked onto it, but there it was – the gravel road really did exist.
Realizing we’d never find the portage entrance again if we went too far, we picked up our stuff from it and carried it to the gravel road, then followed real paths – what a concept! – for the other 1¾ miles to Little Crooked Lake. Not that that was easy, either. Recall that only we counselors were able to carry canoes. Also, figure in a canoe that’s about fifteen pounds butt-heavy, so it requires a helper to carry it, and makes the portager’s shoulders sink into his sternum. And, we were running pretty low on water. But, we walked. Occasionally we wondered where this fabled turn was, but we always came upon it eventually, usually twice as far away as we had hoped. We were about ready to give up when it appeared that a + intersection on our map had given way to an L intersection in real life, but then I cleverly realized that it was a bend, not an intersection, and we walked the short rest of the way to the creek where we would leave our stuff. And fill up our bottles. Creek water isn’t the best, but Potable Aqua kills anything but the taste.
And then we walked back and did it again with the other half of our stuff. Finally we came to the lake. HA! We’re, uh, halfway done with the Dairymen’s Portage.
We stopped at Evergreen Lodge, and a nice guy there let us fill up our water and use his picnic table. The second two-mile half had no Vietnam, but here’s the thing: we started a little after 7 PM. So, by the time we got our first half to Boulder Lake, it was 8:15, and then we started off with the other half right around 9. The result – we did half the second load in darkness, using flashlights and headlamps. But we did it.
We night-paddled to our campsite, which is against the rules, but it’s not as if we had a choice. In fact, I discovered that I love night paddling, because it gives me the chance to watch out across a lake to see lightning storms hundreds of miles off. I saw lightning flashing through a sunset that had long gone by us. Above, the stars were perfectly clear. Our campsite was unmarked, but we knew where a marked one was, so we stayed there, in the process waking up everyone already camped there. I think we were entitled to something like that. We stayed up swapping stories of disastrous portages with the other counselor and TA, though we let the kids sleep while we made them trail pizza. They ate around 2; we went to bed around 3.
So, there’s a day. That’s pretty much as bad as I expect it to get here. By the way, my grand total for ticks pulled off of me yesterday was 53. Today I pulled in and we cleaned our stuff, and I showered. I was so lethargic. Still am, to an extent. I have blisters on my feet, because I wore my scuba booties for the entire day of portaging. Next time I have a long portage, I’m going to change into my dryshoes first, the other pair that we bring along for in camp. These things are just not for walking a lot. I’m feeling it, and they are too – they wouldn’t survive another Dairymen’s Portage in one piece. I actually admire them for staying together this long.
Meanwhile, I’ve got my next assignment. I have the evening off, and then I’m leaving again tomorrow with friend Alan on a NICE, EASY trip, which will give me time to recuperate, since I’m all congested because of Vietnam and walking so much, or something. After Alan’s trip, I’m doing a turn-and-burn, which is where I take my stuff out of one canoe and put it in another, and go off immediately on my next trip, a five-day with someone I don’t yet know. I really hope it’s not the Crab Lake Circle again. But if it is, I guess I’ll be prepared. That’s optimism for you.
Really, I don’t hate it here. I only hated yesterday, and there were even parts of that that I liked. Like, when I was a mild hero (mostly it gave me a sense of pride) because I found Oliver. And the night paddle. I’m still having fun. Probably I would rather be at Crowduck, because there are no rules at Crowduck nor any schedules or responsibilities (beyond bringing home enough fish for dinner). But, I wouldn’t get paid for going to Crowduck. And, this is good job experience. Every job wants you to list a leadership experience. If I can describe the Dairymen’s Portage like I’ve done here, I’ll be hired.
My feet hurt.