I sit here at my desk now and observe some scattered pines in the backyard which remind me of the first day I was ever out on a canoe trip. I thought life was for the birds, so to speak, and that I was an abandoned child forever. I stared at a spruce tree to collect my thoughts and weather the storm. After all, the spruce tree has a tough time with life. The bottom branches flutter for a breath of sunlight and almost half the year the tree is spent isolated in snowdrifts. Hell, the spruce has a worse time of it than I do. On I went. I get this vivid memory by looking out my window into the scattered pines of the backyard. Wordsworth in nature ?-- he would have been quite proud of me. Memories.
No More Interruptions
Day 1, Friday, July 23, 1976
So there I was, officially beginning another canoe trip somewhere out in the bush of Ontario, in Canada, Canada of North America; in short, God's country. I couldn't remember being so psyched up and thrilled to go on a canoe trip before. There I was.
Occasionally my eyes hurt so bad that I think I am going blind. It happens when I go into a bar and stale smoke irritates my eyes into a state of premature bloodshotness. It happened on July 23 when an alarm rang as loud as a cannon into my unprotected ears. I had just gone to bed, it couldn't be.
"Your cabin up Ecker?" No answer. A clearing of the throat, trademark of BJ. "Cabin 12!" "We're almost done sweeping Johnson," as I affectionately refer to BJ. "Right."
"I've always gotten up earlier than you Johnson." Another clearing of the throat. The kids were up now. "By the way, are we supposed to go on a canoe trip today?" No answer. "Johnson, Holden told me you have the best assistant trip in the whole camp for this trip." No answer again, BJ had gone down the trail to make sure cabin 11 was awake. I suppose it was too early for BJ to take any of my abuses. I finally got out of bed and stepped into my trip clothes which I had carefully laid out the night before. Once dressed, I glanced around the cabin to see the biggest mess in the history of organized camping. The caring, respected counselor that I am know around the world for, I departed for the dining hall with: "Make sure it gets cleaned before you come to breakfast guys..... your day to make my bed Boo-Boo." Boo-Boo charged out the cabin and chased me half way to the dining hall before finally giving up.
I was second to one Bill Nead, the bus driver, in getting to the dining hall. Before Nead had the chance to cut me down I quickly made fun of his attire and lunch box. Bill is around fifty. "Mommy pack your lunch for you Billy?" "Shut up Medusa, before I pull your hair out."
I jammed down two small boxes of Sugar Frosted Flakes and ran to Ease"s cabin to wake Bill up. Bill was going on a bike trip in a couple of hours. I walked across a mine field of clothes to say bye to Sandy then back to Moose to hit him on the leg before leaving.
Our trip of twelve people, along with two other trips of equal size left the island at 6:20 a.m. We loaded our gear on the bus, and, along with the canoes loaded the night before, we were on the road at 7:10 a.m.
Sleep... wondrous, dreaming, restive, it feels so good. Customs. The interruption occurred at seven thirty and I was mad. We remained there for fifteen long minutes: customs giving us a bad time, and vice-versa. No one had mace. No one had fireworks. No one had firewater. We were all U.S. citizens. Half our food was from the United States. They searched diligently for a couple minutes, and not finding any drugs, decided to let us go. We started a long six hour trip on Canadian roads at 7:45.
"Put Led Zeppelin on Buz!" I found tapes Nead had brought along from the "Swing Era." Finally finding "Hawaiian War Chant"--- one of my favorites, I answered, "Coming right up!" "La-a-wa-a-ta-a-wa-a-la-a-lu-i-lat." We arrived at Red Lake, finally, at 12:35 p.m. I don't know why this lake is named thusly. My guess is it has something to do with the Indians in the area.
We started paddling at 1:10 p.m. in a brisk gusty headwind. With Steall and Morse and their consequent light loads, we were a load in any wind. I'm in great shape, it doesn't bother me to paddle my derriere off for five hours. No problem, I contemplated during the ordeal that if I didn't commit suicide, my back would do the job for me. We arrived at the campsite at 5:30, though Johnson's canoe got there twenty minutes earlier.
A scintillating Pigall's-type dinner of hamburgers, onions, green-colored baked beans, and punch. The greater part of the group hit the sack at eight. Now that's something interesting.... where did the phrase, "hit the sack" come from? Dissertation material indeed.
Day 2, Saturday, July 24, 1976
I haven't gotten enough sleep at night since I was a junior in high school. I often go to bed early to allot myself eight hours of sleep only to have the dreadful curse of insomnia play havoc with the Sand Man's approach to me. The dam dog must relieve himself Saturday mornings at 7:30. Time enough for a nap? Too much coffee to even ponder the possibility. An easy way to obtain enough sleep is to go to bed after consuming too much alcohol. The depressant type nature of alcohol will force its will upon one to sleep. However, half the times I have gone to bed after consuming too much I'm awake all night, shall we say, "curing the wrath of my stomach." Sleeping on canoe trips is no different for me.
Before the sun came up on the morning of the twenty-fourth, the alarm clock went off seven clicks. I know how many clicks for I was wide awake. A counselor must be first packed and consequently first out of the tent to insure 1) his dominance over campers in the art of wilderness camping, 2) he's usually the only one capable of cooking breakfast correctly, and 3) his needs of relieving himself are the greatest. With the sun not yet awake, I had trouble finding my boots and a tie for my pack. Cuss words. "Sorry Johnson, not in front of the kids, right?" No answer-- he was visibly irate. "Do we have a T.V. to watch the cartoons today?" Laughter from the kids. Even with the interruptions and not being able to find things, I was first out of the tent (as was to be true for the whole trip). I started a fire with a measly amount of twigs while BJ prepared the necessary amount of water for boiling. "Cream of wheat?," I said in a crying voice. "What's the matter, can't you take it Ecker?" "The kids asked if I would express their opinion." Clearing of throat.
Everything was loaded into the four canoes and we started our first full day on the water at 5:57 a.m. A thick fog covered the area but was soon burnt off by the sun's rays (as I watch the sun clear a dense fog off a forlorn lake). We paddled a couple hours to Bow Narrows where a resort was conveniently located. Jim Bond's trip had an ailing camper, so their trip would be delayed while the resort flew their plane with the camper in it to the hospital in Red Lake, Ontario. We took a sixty chain portage out of Pipestone Bay (88 chains in a mile) at 9:15. I was first over with my canoe and was shortly followed by Chris Hanson. I was dead tired by the end and my shoulders were screaming at me. A lot of trouble was incurred with three double-loaders: Reinsdorf, Peck, and Tribble. Consequently, after having no rest I went back, as Average White Band has made famous, to "pick up the pieces." After taking the portage for the second time to carry what the three double loaders couldn't, my shoulders screams weren't audible over the screams of my aching legs. I didn't show any signs of my pain though I'm quite sure BJ realized my predicament. Paddling to the next portage, visions of an eagle flashed before my eyes. Diving, flapping, gliding, searching. Soaring.
A short paddle through the pothole followed by a shorter portage of thirty chains was next completed. Again, I portaged twice--- this time my arms taking the lead in complaining. Another short paddle through another pothole to a portage of 38 chains was next in line. Also next in line was the feared apprehension of total breakdown of my muscles. "When do we take some longer portages Johnson?"
After the 38 chainer, we stopped for lunch in Lund Lake. Pilot biscuits are imitation food. Pilot biscuits are substituted for bread on canoe trips. Should I think of pilot biscuits at present, I am almost forced to "cure the wrath of my stomach." Simply stated, pilot biscuits are made in Canada, therefore, are to be consumed by Canadians. Lunch consisted of peanut butter and honey on a pilot biscuit, balogna on a pilot biscuit, and lemonade, not on a pilot biscuit. We left our lunch site at 12:45 p.m.
We portaged into a pothole having remarkable resemblance to Ebaugh's Pond. Ebaugh's Pond was conquered in less than a minute. A portage of twenty chains was taken into a long winding pothole. Finally, we arrived at the designated campsite at 2:15, a hefty nine hour day. I should add that I was no longer on speaking terms with the rest of my body, so, in order to have the possibility of negotiating a settlement, I took a nap.
I was rudely awakened a couple hours later to help BJ cook dinner. I asked the rest of my body if it was possible to reach a settlement. "No way!" I hadn't slept enough. Dinner was Kraft in nature, beans, and texturized vegetable protein, which, like pilot biscuits, should be dealt with by Canadians only. Caldwell caught a couple huge Northerns while BJ and I cooked. My first cast resulted in a snag, as usual, so I gave it up. We hit the, no, we went to bed at sundown.
Day 3, Sunday, July 25, 1976
Our family sat in the back row in the left hand section. The Corstons sat in the first row of the center. Johnny and I would do things to amuse each other, such as singing in low voices to imitate the men. Dad would give me such a dirty look when I giggled that I reasoned his forehead would break apart, section by section. Such was Grace Church in the early sixties.
Every Sunday at eight in the morning during my high school days, I was an acolyte for the early service. My duty was to help Ray Baby, our beloved minister, in a most dignified manner. "Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open." I either leave now or get sick on the altar. "Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration." After this prayer nothing can stop me. "And worthily magnify thy holy name." As usual, I couldn't move a muscle, so I suffered for last nights parting "up a storm" the whole service.
It was dark and drizzling soft drops of cold rain when BJ's alarm sounded at 4:30 a.m. Perceiving our predicament of rain outside, I looked at BJ and calmly said, "No way Johnson." The rain subsided in a couple minutes so we started packing for a fun filled day of portaging. Breakfast this morning was oatmeal, a marked improvement over cream of wheat, but nothing to write home about. We broke camp at 5:50. By the way, the time at which we broke camp this morning was the same time I'd get in after a night of carousing before the eight o'clock service.
I assumed we would paddle at least a half hour before we started portaging, in this, our worst day of the same. Only ten minutes, Buz. I, the junior counselor, the strongest, the most in shape (?) on the trip, would carry the food sack along with the canoe today, to help alleviate some of the problems in portaging. The portage was of moderate size, 30 chains, and I made it without a rest. However, I wouldn't have the reader mistaken, I couldn't have gone one more step.
We paddled for a long while, maybe a couple of hours. "Stay in stroke Steall, paddle Steall." The next portage was twenty chains, a brief warm-up for the next one. When I was an Intermediate, before I had whiskers on my face and English papers to write, I christened the pothole we were presently in, "Ecker Pothole." We paddled for fifteen minutes without a word, for we knew the trouble that lay ahead in the 80 chainer. The kids were all worried. (Forget the kids, what about me?) I caravanned with BJ, Upson, Beck, Reinsdorf, and Peck. Caravanning is a portaging process by which the people involved help each other by resting in the same places, usually after 1000 paces. The only drawback to this method is that the last person has no one to help him load up for the next thousand paces. The reader has probably guessed by now that, indeed, I was the unlucky one to be the last person-- every time. Our group took three rests, although I made BJ rest with me about 100 yards from the end due to my painful exhaustion. Fortunately, one of the campers walked back to get the food sack. I was drenched in sweat, my muscles had committed suicide-- only the proud eagle fluttered in my breast. The trip waited a long fifteen minutes for mud-turtle Young to finish. While we were waiting, BJ decided to fish. "I hope you're only practicing Johnson." I got one Ecker, you lose." Seaweed. "Most unfortunate Johnson."
Knox Lake. We paddled to the end of Knox which took about an hour and a half, in a deadening east wind bringing driving rain and gusty winds. The job of sterning became as difficult as Geology 111. We stopped for lunch at the first leg of the Bloodvein by a small falls. Had it been sunny we would have bathed in the safer places-- as it turned out, we only dreamed of it. I started a small fire , which, after some coaxing of the kids, turned into a bonfire. We ate a lunch of peach jam and peanut butter, and balogna, both on pilot biscuits. I cooked scalding soup to burn our helpless tongues. We left here at 11:15 a.m.
We finished this first leg of the Bloodvein after portaging three small rapids and shooting two. We saw a lot of fresh moose tracks in the mud along the banks but saw no actual wildlife. We camped in Murdock Lake at one. I slept long in the afternoon to settle my muscles which have a tendency toward suicide and my brain, which has a tendency to sympathize with my muscles. Dinner: chicken and dumplings, peas, and punch. After dinner, Beck and I played some foolish game that my brother and I have played ever since my memory begins. We each had a piece of beaverwood-- everytime I would hit his before he could take it away I could keep playing. If I missed, we switched roles, I won, of course, since I've trained my whole life. It was hilarious and everyone took pictures.
"Think you can beat me Johnson?" "Are you kidding Ecker(emphasis).... no problem." "C'mon then." "Well, I have to take care of a couple things, maybe later." The kids and I realize he was a chicken at heart. I think I've dwelled on this game a little too much. We went to bed at dusk.
Day 4, Monday, July 26, 1976
Through much thought and many considerations, I have deduced that all people, whether young or old, become homesick from time to time. I was homesick while pondering over the wisdom of the Spruce way back on my first canoe trip. Even the strongest man becomes nimble as he falls under his emotions. Heroes, Ford, Carter, Bench, Rose, God, Mom, and Dad get homesick at times.
And me, I became quite homesick while staring into the flaming embers of the morning fire. Home. I worked twenty solid days on the yard after school-- cutting, burning, raking, moving, throwing away, chopping, sweeping, washing, planting, digging, and edging. By the time I left home, the yard and the house were in perfect condition. I became quite homesick while staring into the flaming embers of the morning fire by thinking of our cabin in Michigan-- an inside fire that warms those playing Scrabble-- all contemplating how to make a word with no vowels, or perhaps, a "Q" with no "U." Hard drinks and beer. The life. Homesick.
Rather than say what breakfast was, I will only say that it was a repeat-- the only breakfast that can be worse than yesterday's. We broke camp at 5:50 a.m. Murdock was a long, winding, and an extremely boring lake with many islands and peninsulas. I taught my canoe those Beta songs I could remember to alleviate the boredom. At times BJ would get out his white handkerchief and wave, to express his Sigma Chi's thoughts about the only true fraternity nationwide. That's what we are supposed to believe according to the lore book. After all, what other fraternity at Denison spends one dollar on beer to every three dollars on food?
We arrived at the thirty chainer at eight forty-five and, the thirty chains was all of thirty chains! There were a lot of deadfalls making walking very difficult at times. When there weren't deadfalls, small pine trees, laughing uproariously upon my approach, would grab my canoe and slap my unprotected face. Also, especially on this particular portage, small nuisances which biologists call mosquitoes feasted on my hands and face. It would have been fine with me if they had said grace, but the sac-religious heathens didn't bother. Another "bugging" aspect about them that fit with their images: they all put their elbows on the table. I caught my usual snag fishing at the rapids near the end of the trail."*$@@$**&@!!!!!"
We paddled to the end of Larus, containing one brisky headwind, where we ate lunch. The usual. At 11:30 we paddled an hour to a pullover portage around a falls into Simeon Lake. BJ caught three fish here. Score: BJ- 3 fish, Buz- 1 snag. Simeon was worse than Murdock insofar as winding around islands and irritating peninsulas go. As one should know by now, the best counselor in the history of organized camping, which happens to be me, always thinks of ways to relieve boredom. Simeon was boring and I held true to form. During one of the three hour stretches that our trip encountered, Young's canoe and mine paddled our derrieres off in the unending headwind and consequently got way ahead. We splashed each other a couple times until I called for a truce (The truth being that my canoe was losing badly, therefore, in order to remain dry, I wielded my power as a counselor to stop it). Our two canoes went on a rock point and faked like we were asleep to comment upon BJ's and Beck's lack of speed. Their canoes passed us in a supposed slumber without saying a word or looking our way thereby commenting upon the foolishness of our prank. "Aren't you going to say anything Johnson?" A typical clearing of the throat was his immediate reply.
We finally arrived at our desired campsite around 2:30 in the afternoon near the end of Simeon. Having done all the necessary work upon arrival at a campsite-- firewood, tents, fireplace, canoes on shore-- the group took its first bath of the trip. Talk about being refreshed. "Who was talking?" Anyway, the bath was much needed for we reaked of spilled food, sweat, mud, fish, and smoke from campfires. And stale insect repellent!"
Before dinner a couple motor boats passed us carrying fisherman and their Indian guides. Upson thought it would be a good to moon them. I was laughing hard at this prank until BJ quickly put an to it. Rather than be embarrassed, I yelled, "You know better than that Steve." We went to....the tents....after a fair dinner of spaghetti, texturized crapola, peaches, and chocolate pudding. I was tired and sore from a rough paddling day. No insomnia tonight.
Day 5, Tuesday, July 27, 1976
"What is life! It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset." What is happening with me? Have I been away from "civilization" too long? I am beginning to lose my mind in these wondrous paths. My mind is with me yet sometimes loses itself in the sunset.
We arose at the usual four thirty and I lost another son of a bitchin' tie for the plastic bag which covers all my personal gear. Consequently, rather than fall behind and not be first out of the tent, I went without. I cussed everything I saw from the tent to the fireplace-- the usual flock of mosquitoes, a dead tree stump, a lone rock, a moss-covered knoll, the sun, the moon, BJ, the kids... everything. We left camp in record time this morning at 5:37. I had little to eat for breakfast because it was the heathen cream of wheat.
Getting into the canoe at 5:37, I had no idea of the boredom that lay ahead in every stroke of eighteen miles. Eighteen long, endless, timeless miles. Beta songs. Word games. Jokes. Trivia quizzes. A splash fight. A period of silence. Discussion. Getting ahead. More Beta songs. Only seventeen more miles to go.
Rather than bore anyone with a "filler" I will give the reader and myself a break-- hence, we stopped for lunch. Of course, being the creative genius that I'm world renown for, I could fill a page with boring material to symbolize a boring eighteen miles.
We stopped for lunch at the base of thirty-foot cliffs where Indian paintings dating five hundred years old are in abundance. The basic theme of the paintings, if there is one, is the Indian in his life's dependence on the buffalo. "It is the breath of a buffalo in winter time." After lunch, almost everyone jumped off the cliffs except the intelligent--BJ and myself. BJ got his camera out and had me paddle him to the prim and proper place to snap a picture of the kids in mid-air. Everytime BJ would be in the perfect place to snap a picture he would yell "Jump now!" The particular kid would turn pale and think the thirty feet over. Meanwhile, the canoe would drift to another place--unproper and not prim for taking a picture. Therefore I paddled against the current to be in the proper place again, only to have the same thing happen all over again. "This sucks Johnson, I do all the work to get you in the right place to take a dam picture. Yet, I don't complain Johnson. When the kids don't jump, and we lose our place, the I complain." When BJ doesn't answer me, he is very mad and thinks it would be fit for me to shut up. BJ didn't answer. I didn't pursue the matter further.
We paddled a long stretch through Artery Lake (Bloodvein River, get it?). We camped at two in the afternoon on the other side of the lake from a small white cabin. This campsite was our first out of Ontario. We were no less than a mile into "Sunny Manitoba"---as licensee plates read. I tried to get a suntan today after all the work was finished. I covered myself in suntan lotion and sat in the scalding sunlight. For some unknown reason, I failed in my attempt though I spent a couple hours at it. Dr. Hanson's trip passed us at three.
Dinner: more TVP. Everyone went to bed shortly after dinner except for Steall, whose love of fishing was becoming endless. He put fishing above all else, consequently lost friends and did little required work. After the echo of Steall's screaming "I got another" woke BJ up, Steall also went to bed.
Day 6, Wednesday, July 28, 1976
Soaring is the king of birds the bald eagle
Soaring o'er the poplar and jackpine
Soaring is the king in the wind of south
On a gloomy day, the king is perched atop the tallest pine. With the southwind at his back, he looks the horizons over in search of the queen. Dauntless and bold, cunning and swift, he awaits his selected moment to fly.
At 4:30 a.m., it was raining a pelting barrage on the roof of the tent. BJ, in a gesture of kindness, let everyone sleep till five. The day was doomed to be bad when Reinsdorf slid safely into home down the smooth side of a small cliff before breakfast. "I'm OK--be thankful my mother isn't here to send me to the hospital." The night's rain brought everyone's frustrations to the surface. "I hate this for breakfast," said one unknown voice. BJ gritted his teeth until they sunk into his gums. "Forget it Johnson, he's only kidding. This is a great breakfast.'' I lied--it was that God forsaken cream of wheat again.
At the first rapids, marked "R" on the map for our convenience, we portaged. While portaging on the left, Hanson's trip was finishing breakfast of sweet rolls, which they had cooked the night before. My stomach growled in anger. Unfortunately, my eyes told my stomach what they had seen. In a fit of anger, one huge growl almost brought up the single cup of cocoa I had forced down minutes before. "That was pretty close, eh?" said some enzymes to some acid. "Yep, we almost got him that time."
The next set of rapids looked a little too rough for my canoe although everyone else shot it. Everyone shot it, yea, but one didn't stay afloat. Young and Upson took a nasty spill in the hydraulics. Upson successfully made a mad dash for the shore leaving Young's fate in the boiling, surging rapids. The canoe, with Young grasping the back lines, turned over a few times and smashed a couple hidden rocks. BJ hammered out the dents with a handaxe as best he could. In the morning fog, which the sun hadn't tended to yet, Upson and Young were very frigid.
We shot the first part of the next "R" and portaged the second part.....tricky but no problems. After paddling half an hour, we came to the next portage which will long remembered in our minds for the momentous happenings. BJ put one foot in the lake twice while loading his canoe. Twice! BJ!
It was very funny, but not a laugh could be heard except on my part. Perceiving what had happened, I laughed loudly. BJ gave me one of the direst looks in the history of mankind. A quick laugh that turned into a supposed cough ironed out the situation. A portage into Bushy Lake followed, so named for the weeds that grab one's paddle at every stroke. After the portage out of Bushy, lunch, consisting of boring material, was consumed.
The following portage was the second momentous one of the day. First, Beck and Tribble were forced to shoot the fastwater after the trail clutching each other on the stern seat--the current forcing them thusly. My men, Steall and Morse, came very close to shooting the fastwater themselves after "Stub Steall" hopped in.
We paddled through Stonehouse, so named for the images of homes built of stone that dot the shoreline. At the following portage, we met with two fathers and two sons from Winnipeg. They seemed like some really great people. We camped at 2:45, twenty minutes after the last falls. Steall's prowess as a fisherman, his only asset, is now improving quickly with the capture of seven fish today. It rained, sometimes with unrelenting force, all afternoon. We were forced to cook under the tarp.
I saw a beautiful, majestic bald eagle on Stonehouse today. I couldn't help but marvel at his coolness. He knew he was the king of Stonehouse. Soaring. Before going to sleep, we had a brutal Charlie horse fight in one of the tents. The kids thought BJ too old to fight, they were correct of course, therefore they unleashed their harnessed strength in an unending pounding of my helpless legs. In the end, although on the bottom and resembling the wounded Indian warrior, I claimed victory; to the astonishment and laughter of the kids and BJ.
"What're you laughing at Johnson!"
"You got killed Ecker."
"Yes, well, I let them win," Throat cleared.
Day 7, Thursday, July 29, 1976
They king and queen saw me
They saw me laugh
They saw me cry
They saw me
Comme d'habitude. Das Gewohnliche. As usual we arose at four thirty. This would be our shortest day of the trip--nicht Gewohnliche. We camped at the almost unheard of 11:25 a.m. We broke camp in fair time--we've done better.
To be honest with myself, the reader, and hopefully the world (should it turn out this log is an international success), there are but a couple things to discuss about this day. BJ's Bloodvein '76 trip took four portages today--the last of which was the famous bald rocker. No one knows who named it the "bald rocker," although most agree it was named thusly for the trail encompasses a bald rock--the faint trail it is. Realizing that every trip taking this portage has lost a couple of its members temporarily, I thought a small wager with BJ would be nice.
"Hey Johnson, do you know who originally cut this trail?" I already knew the answer but BJ proudly replied it was him anyway. "Really?" I hesitated to make the emphasis of my next line. "Isn't this the one that people get lost on every year?" "This might be true." It is true. "No one should get lost." This particular time I cleared my throat. "Wanna bet Johnson?" "Sure Ecker--he hated when I called him by his last name, which is always, as the reader should have taken note by now. "We'll go last on the portage, and by the time you and I get there, half the kids will be missing." To make a long story short, which will improve the quality of this paper markedly, when BJ and I made it across, all the kids were laughing at me for making a foolish wager--all of them.
Before this portage, we were followed nine miles by a king and queen--and they were soaring o'er the poplar and jackpine. Soaring.
We ate lunch at our campsite and were faced with a long afternoon of nothing to do--in the rain. We managed to relieve some boredom by keeping one of the largest contained fires burning, by adding rotten logs from around the campsite. One could stand fifteen feet away and scream in pain from third degree burns received. By ridding the campsite of these unsightly logs and stumps, we got "the place looking half way decent," to quote Chris Hanson. We camped this day with the four Canadians, some really super people.
The last thing possible to discuss about this day is the battle that occurred in the tent between Beck, Upson, and I. Weapons used were not the pounding fists upon open shot of the legs but they were caused by the TVP we had become accustomed to. What were the weapons? To keep things clean and available to children all over the world, I'll let on figure it out for himself. Clue: when BJ came to find out what was going on, he was repulsed enough by the odor to clear his throat, run away, exhale and yell--all at the same time.
Day 8, Friday, July 30, 1976
The great sea
Has sent me adrift
It moves me
As the weed in a great river
Earth and the great weather
Have carried me away
And move my inward parts with joy.
-Uvavmuk, an Eskimo woman shaman
I'm developing my log of Bloodvein '76--this is not my first draft. It would be impossible for me to remember the picky details of the expedition had I not recorded them shortly thereafter. I remember quite well the time, place and manner in which I wrote this day's entry.
The day turned out to be quite hot indeed--a great time for the trip to dry and air out their personal belongings. I searched for a place among a handful of sleeping bags basking under the sun. Finding the perfect spot, I sat down and wrote a couple paragraphs which need no development: "I'm smoking my pipe at present, sitting Indian style on a slightly sloping rock of the Canadian Shield. The current from the rapids 200 yards upstream is slightly by a northeast wind. As I look across the river, I see reed marshes leading up to a grove of poplars with scattered jackpine. While we were eating lunch a few hours ago, we watched a happy and contentful moose feeding upon these same reeds. The only noise I hear is from water cascading in full force down the rapids, and the steady blow of an axe upon the forlorn log. The snap of wood from two fires opposite the same reflector rock can also be heard. (some development here possibly) I wonder if it will be nice to get back and hear the sounds of civilization in four or five days. I wonder. Soaring."
We got up at 5:30 a.m., instead of the usual, due to not getting asleep last night until 9:30 p.m. A dull breakfast--no comment. Because it is cold and buggy out, I waited to go to the bathroom (trees, bushes, etc.) until everyone else did. I could have made good use of another storage tank for urine as I had to go quite bad. In fact, oh hell, it makes little difference, I had to go! We broke camp at seven, our latest time to date, and started out in weather bleak, miserable, and extremely overcast.
A few light strokes and we came upon some fastwater that we shot with no problem. Next, the group decided, with the forceful help of BJ, to shoot a hairy chute with a quick, sizable drop ... LOADED. Everyone made it OK though Young and Upson took in enough water to create their own rapids. While steering in the stern during this particular chute, I smashed a hidden rock with my paddle. Had we gone a few inches more to the right we would have swamped. Take note reader, remember the miserable day we were faced with. A slippery portage around a falls followed--a very long paddle after that.
At the next marked rapids before the Gammon River meets the Bloodvein, everyone shot nicely though they were hairy in places. Just before we approached the Gammon River, we climbed a huge cliff were we viewed the magnificent scenery, I felt like the eagle; cunning and bold, perched high above the river--high above mankind.
How's this for a long sentence?--portage 100 yards, long stretch, shot next marked rapids, fastwater, smoked pot, long stretch, shot next marked falls on the far right, long stretch, and finally, lunch. I have caught the reader by surprise! You have probably skipped over the last sentence thinking it would be the same boring garbage. I have written that we smoked pot between some fastwater and a long stretch. If this didn't phase you there are four things that might possibly b wrong: 1) the material is inadequate to keep one's attention, 2) the reader's attention span is that of an infant, 3) the reader was thinking of something else, or, 4) the reader is a liberal and could care less whether we smoked pot or not. Skip this part: Lunch was a drag.
Day 9, Saturday, July 31, 1976
Plummeting temperatures won't adequately define the weather this morning before the sun came up. The temperature hovered around 45 degrees in the dense fog. It was my turn to cook the bacon this morning--I was lucky that the kids were warmed by the other fire or they would have surely been in my way. The master chef needs all the room he can get or his food is doomed for failure. We broke camp at 5:45 a.m.
After approximately 127 strokes, and having passed Hanson's trip still in sweet slumber, we arrived at the first marked rapids of the day and shot what was possible, pulling over where too shallow. That was a long sentence. The last spot being a falls, we portaged. I suppose the sun had problems with insomnia last night for he sure spent a long time in rising. The sun finally appeared, wiping his eyes and searching for a cup of coffee and the paper...after we finished the portage. "Damn him, I thought I had those people frozen to death," spoke the fog. "Foiled again," was the sun's reply. The trip clapped frozen hands upon the arrival of sunlight.
When I was an Intermediate at camp, the same age as these kids, I took the Bloodvein and had a horrible time. The cherry on the top, so to speak, of this horrible trip was my encounter with Coffee rapids. I was the bowman, Teddy Mondale (son of Vice President) was the middle man, Pearl Guth, the sterman. We were drawn in the current unexpectedly and shot Coffee swamped and backwards. The weather was cold and rainy that day in 1971 and I remember after that happening, it was one of the few times in my life I'd have rather been dead. Coffee rapids was next in line for our particular trip. "We'll shoot these loaded, people." I stared at Johnson in unbelieving eyes. "You're sick, there's no way, we'll swamp," I screamed. "You're first Ecker." I told BJ the story of '71. "Time to redeem yourself, isn't it?" "OK, Johnson, tell Mom that I loved her." We shot them and took in a lot of water, yet didn't swamp. All the canoes shot in much the same manner. Charlie Morse, my superior bowman, was drenched to the bone.
We portaged around the next falls, then paddled the long stretch into Kautunigan, the last lake of the trip. We stopped for a break near the north end of the lake. There are supposed to be Indian paintings near where we were presently resting but no one could find them. I got out of the canoe to relieve myself of certain pressures, and, rather than watch, I let my eyes wander. "There they are, I found them!!!" While relieving myself thusly, I made the discovery. The paintings, upon the face of a rock, were very old and worn. A buffalo and perhaps a hunter could be made out.
Morse and Steall shot the next rapids by themselves, after which we ate lunch on the left shore. Just as we finished, Hanson's trip pulled in for their lunch. We portaged the last marked falls on the Bloodvein and paddled a very long stretch to our campsite next to a rapids. Had there been some green growth, the campsite would have been a beauty, but, fire had destroyed everything in sight on its reckless path, leaving only rock and water. We arrived here at 2:15 in the afternoon. Time in the afternoon was spent swimming down the rapids--an amazing thrill...fishing, and bathing. For dinner we consumed solid pack beef, noodles, peas, and the reader should know by now---TVP.
Time for bed. I got out my worn Playboy (August '76) to read for the Nth time and came across an interesting article. It was titled "The Wrath of God," a true story of revenge and counter-revenge between the Arabs and Israeslis in western Europe. The story, and hence the battle of revenge, starts with the Munich Massacre of 1972. I read the first half to the kids in two of the tents while the other tent had the typical charlie horse fight. I stopped reading (I had to) at dark.
Day 10, Sunday, August 1, 1976
Spinning into the turn, they're in the stretch, it's Machination by a length with Star Gazer coming up. I'm reminded of horse races. Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Hawthorne. I could say that I've broken even in my many and varied bets--but I wouldn't be telling the truth. Anyway, the trip has now spun into the turn. One and a half more days and we hit the Bloodvein Indian Reservation. Spinnind into the turn....
We arose at the usual time for this, our longest day. Breakfast was quite a momentous occasion as we ate the last of the cream of wheat. I did some urging on this morning and we succeeded breaking camp in record time--an hour and five minutes. We immediately hit the "five -bar"--a set of rapids so close together that they are only represented as lines across the river on the map. Time was spent in and out, looking over, portaging, shooting, etc.--it took a lot of time. We stopped for lunch at a small fork in the river. Thoroughly exhausted after lunch, I lay down for a short five minute nap. Not so! Steall stuck a fish he'd caught in my face to wake me up. I was so taken back that the third time I'd ever hit a camper became history. Let the reader know I was upset as the spring thaw of ice on the falls. (What?) I was mad.
After lunch we shot some fun but treacherous chutes--the last of which Young and Upson swamped. Let me review the situations at these rapids:
1) Brad Tribble fell in the water backwards with a Duluth pack on his back. He made desperate attempts to grab the shoreline in order not to go down the rapids--finally succeeding.
2) BJ laughs--sticks a leg in. Things settle down.
3) Reinsdorf gets in BJ's canoe--the canoe hits a rock from the weight of Reinsdorf--Reinsdorf dives head first in the water.
4) Peck needed a bath so he slipped and fell in.
5) I stuck a leg in for the icing on the cake.
Say bye to these rapids.
We camped at 4:20--a very late day. I caught a catfish after dinner--number eight for the trip. In the tents, I finished "The Wrath of God" and found it to b one of the most interesting things I've every read. The kids (BJ too) thought likewise. I fell directly asleep after Steall yelled for someone to come down to the shoreline to witness the big fish he'd caught. Approximately twenty seconds later, I was rudely awakened by everyone yelling at Steall"s fish, which he had now brought up to the tents--a cool fifteen pound Northern Pike--a monster. Thusly excited, I couldn't remember whether I fell asleep that night or not.
Day 11, Monday, August 2, 1976
We love quiet; we suffer the mouse to play; when the woods are rustled by the wind, we fear not.
-Indian chief to governor of Pennsylvania 1796
Spinning into the turn cannot rightly define our situation. We are at the wire. We love quiet--we suffer the mouse to play. BJ gave the group an early Christmas present by letting us sleep in this morning. BJ would look fine in a Santa outfit.
"What time is it Johnson?"
"I gave you guys a break and let you sleep in."
"What time is it Johnson?"
"Let's go people, wake up!"
"What time is it Johnson?"
"Thanks a lot Johnson...for letting us sleep in."
We set another record this morning as we broke camp in sixty-three minutes. The day was fairly boring--only a few rapids although the few were hairy. Morse and I have turned into quite a team down the rapids. He has matured into a young man thus far. Something noteworthy did happen, in fact, very noteworthy. At a certain fork in the river, BJ challenged me to take the lower route while he and the other two canoes took the upper route. "I accept your challenge, you white-haired Sigma Chi." My canoe took the fork in an hour and waited another half hour for BJ and the rest to arrive. BJ thought sure we'd get stuck and have to turn around. The reader should well know that, six months now after that day, I haven't let up in giving unmitigated hell to BJ about this.
The kids cooked diner while BJ and I racked out. Rather than lie to anyone, the kids who cooked dinner were the most experienced canoe: Upson, Young and Peck. They did an excellent job cooking boned turkey, chicken TVP, rice, and spice cake. They made five o'clock cocktails of red punch for BJ and I, but we were already passed out...so they drank them. After dinner, I stole BJ's comb and mirror to use them on my tangled mess. Nead calls me "Medusa." My father calls me a Zulu. Ease calls me "Brillo Pad." Anyway, I got my hair all spiffed up and returned to the tent. Upon arrival at said place, I realized BJ's comb was not on my person. I checked the whole campsite and found it nowhere. I started cussing and crying at the sane time.
"He'll kill me for sure. After I write my will, I'll tell him." I returned to the tent and got into my sleeping bag. I shut my eyes without mumbling a word and pretended to be fast asleep. "Where's my comb Ecker?" No answer. I started a light snore. "Ecker!" He shook me next. I got half way up, rubbed my eyes, and asked him if it was already morning. Everyone laughed ---except BJ and I . "Where's my comb?" "Seriously now Johnson, is it morning?" He must have realized by now that I'd lost his comb. "My mother gave me that comb when I was a kid. That comb means more to me than anything else in the world." He was rubbing it in on purpose. I resolved the immediate problem by saying that I'd return it in the morning. "Did you lose it?" I faked a light snore--the kids laughed for a long time. The last thing I remembered as I dozed off was that a light west wind had begun. When the woods are rustled by the wind, we fear not.
Day 12, Tuesday, August 3, 1976
BJ and I looked at each other at exactly 6:19 a.m. and talked loud enough to wake the kids up. "I didn't get any sleep last night because I was worrying about your comb." I lied. "Well, don't worry about it--I'm sure my mother won't care." After breakfast of cocoa, oatmeal, and raisins, BJ and I had an intellectual discussion on taxes and computers causing us to break camp at 7:45--almost a record in itself.
A long paddle to the last rapids of the trip was made shorter by me being the announcer... naming an offensive and defensive football team composed of guys from the trip. I was the coach of coach, and, to get the kids on my side, I made BJ referee. At the last rapids, I forced BJ into taking a group picture with the water in the background. He put the camera on a wannigan top, raced back and smiled for the timed click of the camera
We paddled an hour or so until the firetower of the reservation was seen, where Morse took over the job of sterning and I the job of bowing. After getting to the firetower, which took another 45 minutes, Steall sterned. Morse was horrible in keeping the canoe straight--Steall was worse. We landed at the main dock of the reservation at 11:30 a.m. BJ gave each of the kids a dollar to buy crap (the only suitable word for what was available) at the only store. Afterwards we ate lunch. At 12:45 we started the tow across Lake Winnipeg to where the camp bus would pick us up. Steall, Upson, Morse, Tribble, Hanson and I were in the first boat. The Indian towing our boat couldn't speak very well--I have no idea why. BJ's boat soon followed.
Upon arriving at Matheson Island, our pick-up point, we made a huge fireplace, collected tons of driftwood, and set up the tents. Hanson and Tribble were sent nine miles down the road to Pine Dock for ice cream. They came back in a car they had flagged down just as everyone else started dinner. Dinner was punch lemonade cocktails, Kraft dinner, TVP, and gobs of french vanilla, chocolate ripple, strawberry, and butterscotch ice cream for desert.
While horsing around and watching the kids swim, the four Canadians came in their tow. I read the first half of "The Wrath of God" again, this time to the whole trip. Interruptions from restless kids were quickly and efficiently stopped by me. The Canadians got everyone's address and I made a slick move by them interested in Kooch-i-ching, being the excellent recruiter that I am. The two Canadian men, BJ, Upson, Beck and I drank coffee around the fire until midnight when we went to our respective tents. BJ, Beck, Upson and I horsed around quite a bit until finally settling down. The coffee I consumed didn't help me fall asleep.
Day 13, Wednesday, August 4, 1976
I was rudely awakened at 7:40 a.m. by Hanson's trip arriving from their tow. Upon hearing a drunken Indian who drove one of the boats across start to give Bob and Hank trouble, I quickly got dressed, and was ready, willing and able to fight. After kissing Brightwell and singing a song about white people to Bob's face, he left in peace with forty dollars--the price of the tow.
Breakfast this morning was pink colored pancakes, raisins, and cocoa. The mad pancake flipper (me) was two out of three in perfect flips. We shared our breakfast with the for they had none. "WE were your brothers--we fed you when you had no food." I tried dozing off after breakfast but couldn't for all the noise the kids made. I eventually got up and played cards with Dr. Hanson, Upson, and George Scheel. I took someone's place in the middle of their game--our team was promptly beaten to a pulp anyway.
I finished the second half of the story to most of both trips and sat around joking with the kids the rest of the afternoon. Waiting.
At 6:30 p.m., the bus came to pick us up--finally. Jolly Bill Nead drove the bus again and Dick Secrist, the camp's maintenance director, drove the van. "It's about time you got here Nead." "What's your problem Medusa?" We began the long eight hour bus trip after a hamburger dinner Nead had brought up for us.
Day 14, Thursday, August 5, 1976
Three trips just completing the Bloodvein River arrived back at Kooch near 3:00 a.m. I took a shower then went to bed at four thirty. At 7:15, BJ came around to cabin 12 to make sure we were up for breakfast. I had locked the door before I went to bed, in anticipation of BJ's arrival.
"Your cabin up Ecker?" No answer. A clearing of the throat, trademark of BJ. "Cabin 12!"
"We're almost done sweeping Johnson."
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