Small Islet south of Case and Rabbit Islands, Lac des Mille Lacs – October 1, 2013
The lake tilted against me. Whitecaps rose up, seething foam, their tops blown off by wind racing from the west. Spray shot into the air, took flight, soared sideways faster than gravity could pull. Lac des Mille Lacs raged like an ocean.
I’d forgotten about the wind. It didn’t matter lining up rapids or stuck in a branch tangled creek. It didn’t matter sinking into a bog or crashing through the north woods. But the wind matters on Lac des Mille Lacs. It matters on water stretched for miles and it didn’t like that I’d forgotten it.
Forget me now, it screamed over the top of five foot waves.
I was eating breakfast when it came knocking, filtering through trees, brushing against my back. I heard the branches rattle. I saw clouds flee across in the sky.
I didn’t turn to look. I didn’t need to. I only put on my spray jacket and skirt like armor, strapping tight into the boat for the first time since Superior. I knew my old enemy had not forgotten me.
“Hang on Franks,” I said.
I hid as best I could, hugging the land, playing the game, but we both knew it would end at the tip of a long point, where the lake turned west and spilled out into a straight runway of water right into the wind.
I flew out from the end. Mad and angry. Yelling into the wind. Trying to match its fury. Telling it I would not fold under it, not now, not on a day that was supposed to be easy.
The bow slid up and smashed down on the first wave. Water shot into the sky and flew into my face, stinging and cold. The lake looked furious, like a giant river rolling past me, churning, moving, filled with rapids.
Bring your worst, I yelled, the words ripped out of my throat. Rage all you want. You can’t stop me. You can’t.
The bell rung and we flew at each other like two fighters in a ring. Waves crashed on the deck. The hull rose and dove, sinking like a dagger, shaking itself free, sinking again. I pressed forward, digging paddle blades into the water, sending spray flying across the surface in a white haze.
Hours and miles passed in a slow, brutal fight. My arms grew tired. The wind grew stronger. I searched for sanctuary over every crest and saw a distant island to hide behind, but the wind saw me look.
No, it said.
Yes, I said.
I felt a surge of power, muscles filling with pride, with defiance, determined to fight for that island. The wind raised up the same, waves foaming under its breath, smashing into me, bigger than I ever imagined the lake capable of.
Both of us leaned in, rushing at each other, feeling the bell’s approach. The boat hung in the water. It didn’t move. It only rose and fell. Waves crashed into the bow. The paddle sunk into the water. Nothing. Not forward, not backwards. Nothing.
My arms screamed. I saw the the shore slip back.
No, I yelled.
I drove the paddle down. I willed the hull forward. It began to move. Inching. Slipping between waves. Clawing. Reaching for the island’s shadow.
The wind raged and I bent into it, it’s anger like fuel. Burning. Burning up and away. Waves punched me in the stomach. My hands flew through the air, tightened like fists. We stood tall, both in the center of the ring, the two of us slugging at each other.
Then I caught the island’s shadow, just the tip of it with the nose of the boat, just enough to feel the water give way. I smiled. The wind screamed. The bell rang.
Gentlemen to your corners, the island said.
Waves dropped to ripples. My hands loosened over the paddle. I sat, breathing, glaring, waiting until the next round.