Angle to Key West: Chasing the Blue Sky (9/2)

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Pukaskwa Point, Lake Superior – September 2, 2013

I began to wonder if I would ever see the sun again. I glimpsed a single star last night through a fog, but the same grey clouds swallowed it up by morning. They hung above the treetops, pressing down and suffocating the warmth out of the world.

I packed up with numb fingertips and pushed off from the sheltered cove where I’d spent the last day and half on a hundred-foot beach. The waves had calmed overnight, losing enough to draw me out, but they hadn’t disappeared. They rolled in from the west, sliding underneath me as I turned into them.

Out on the water, away from the trees and cliffs, with all the horizon open to me, I saw hope. A thin line of blue hemmed the sheet of grey to the west. It glowed in the distance, bright against the colorless world. I fixed my eyes on it as I paddled and tried to pull it closer as if I could pry the sky open with my will.

Hours passed. The soft bottom of the grey clouds turned sharp and hard like steel. The streak of blue widened. I could see the clear edge far, far away. I reached out my hand and measured the blue against my fingers, watching it grow from one to two to three.

At the end of the day, tired from fighting the wind and waves. I drifted close to a beach, looking for a place to land. A thin ridge of rock sheltered one end and I went towards it to see if it were big enough for me to fit into. I stopped, paused just outside the braking waves, watching the flow of water, planning how I would get to shore, when suddenly the water dropped out from underneath me. I saw it fall, pulled back by a big wave, and threw my paddle down to escape, but the hull didn’t move, it only scraped across a hidden shelf of rock and hung there.

I heard the wave crash and everything happened fast. Water rushed back in, lifting me, sending me soaring half over an exposed boulder, then disappeared, leaving me dangling off the rock, helpless to move, spun sideways as the next wave came and smashed into my chest.

I moved fast, leaping out onto the boulder. Water spun and swirled over the empty cockpit, filling it in a moment. I grabbed at the bow to hold the boat steady and tumbled into waist deep water, dragging the boat off the boulder with me. I caught my feet on the rocks and pulled as waves broke into us. The boat barely moved, its hull still caught on the boulder. Water sloshed inside and made it feel like a thousand pounds.

I barely noticed the waves crashing. I only saw the boat and the shore twenty feet away. I scrambled forward as fast as I could, my bare feet scraping on rocks, my arms desperate for strength, pulling, yanking the boat off the boulder, willing it up and out of the water a foot at a time until I could collapse next to it and stare out at the waves.

As soon as I could stand, I stacked driftwood into a pile and lit it on fire, adding pieces one after another until they burned bright and hot. Then I stood over them, holding my hands to the flames, soaking in the dry heat like I needed to balance out the elements, to chase the water out of my skin.

I stood over the fire for almost an hour, staring at the rock, laughing at how small it looked, shaking off a mistake the could have cost me everything. It happened so fast and the line is so thin.

I set up camp in on the pebble beach and kept feeding the fire, afraid to let it go out, always coming back to warm my hands and feel the heat on my skin. I didn’t think to look up until sunset.

The streak of blue sky had arrived and grown far beyond the measure of fingers. It stretched overhead from the horizon, chasing the tattered sheet of grey to the south. I watched it from the warmth of my fire and smiled. Last night a single star gave me hope. Tonight I’ll stare at thousands.

3 responses to “Angle to Key West: Chasing the Blue Sky (9/2)

  1. Good thing you are so damned strong and quick!
    Good thing that I know since I am reading this now that you are alright! Heart stopper!

  2. A scarey moment on Superior. I understand that helpless feeling when there is nothing you can do but let the forces of nature run their course. Be safe my friend, you are in the wildest place on Lake Superior.

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