Northwest Angle, MN – June 10, 2012
The adventure begins tomorrow.
We squeezed two bags of equipment in the trunk of my friend’s car and drove to Atlanta where I sat on the edge of a ballroom and watched my friends dance through the night. When they pulled me to the floor, I spun and twirled to the Cuban drums, but everything felt heavy with goodbyes.
I pressed my face to the plane’s window and stared at Lake Michigan stretching like an ocean behind Chicago’s skyline. “Lake Superior is bigger,” it whispered.
Crouched in the corner of a warehouse with a box cutter in one hand, I peeled away layers of bubble wrap until I saw the sunshine-yellow hull of the Looksha 17. It was the first time I’d ever seen her. She didn’t have a single scratch and looked like perfection.
The 17-foot boat had two feet on the rental car underneath it, but three straps and a pair of foam blocks can do wonders. I turned the key and began the nine-hour drive north from Minneapolis to the Angle.
I sat on a picnic table and explained what I was doing to the Canadian border patrol for the third time. They expected the story to change because it sounded fake, but the story was real and it didn’t change. “Go on,” they said half an hour later.
“Just put her out back,” Ron said. “No one will touch it.” The yellow hull looked bright laid up against the rusted propane tanks behind the J&M Co. Store. My equipment barely fit into the hatches. I watched the boat in my rear view mirror as I drove away knowing all my dreams hung on the word of a man I’d known for five minutes.
The rental agent checked the odometer and smiled at me. I’d driven just under a thousand miles in two days. “Where’d you go again?” she asked. “To the Angle and back,” I said.
At the light rail station, two men argued. “I’m a warrior,” one said. “I’m a warrior and a medicine man,” the other said. “I’m a warrior, a medicine man, and an oracle,” the first answered. I slumped in my seat and tried to be invisible, but it’s hard to be invisible with a paddle in one hand.
The second bus dropped me off a block away from the Amtrak station. The train wasn’t scheduled for another six hours so I sat in an empty corner and waited, afraid of missing the train if I slept. The station filled over the hours and the train left near midnight.
“Thirty minutes to Grand Forks,” the conductor said. “Thirty minutes.” His voice woke me up. Outside, the eastern sky began to glow over North Dakota’s plains as the train rumbled north.
Rain came and I walked, wondering why they built train stations so far from town.
I stood for two hours on the side of the road with my thumb in the air before a woman stopped. “I can take you as far as Greenbush,” she said. “My friend’s having a birthday party.” I got in.
“Do you mind if I tell my friend Mavis about you?” a man asked. He’d found me standing on a street corner and wondered why I had a paddle. Fifteen minutes later, Mavis pulled me into the Greenbush Tribune’s office to interview me. Then she took me on a tour of the town, bought me lunch, and found the high school custodian to open up the gym so I could see the Greenbush Gators’ mascot inside. The custodian’s wife gave me a stuffed gator they were going to sell at a rummage sale. Before Mavis left me to go to her granddaughter’s birthday party, she made me promise I’d be careful.
The first truck on the outskirts of Greenbush skidded to a stop. The man said he was heading to Canada to confront an ex-girlfriend over $5,000 and her sixty-year-old boyfriend, but he could take me as far as Badger.
Charlie and Julie would have taken me all the way to the Northwest Angle if they could have, but they had a funeral to attend in Sprague so we crossed the Canadian border and they wished me luck. A man renovating his cabin on Moose Lake and group of buddies with two boats and a lot of fish to catch got me the rest of the way to the Angle.
“You’re back,” Ron said, when I walked into the J&M Co. Store for the second time in my life. “I told you no one would touch that boat.”
A bit of gossip echoes off the walls in the J&M Co. every time the door opens. I listen and watch the last jug of milk disappear off the shelf. “Can’t ever figure out how much milk to buy,” Ron says. The next closest jug is a half-day’s drive away.
The Hiners watched Ron, me, and the Looksha arrive at the End of the Road Lodge on a golf cart. Twenty feet from the water, they looked at the darkening sky and adopted me like a long-lost son for the next two days as thunder rolled above us.
The walleye spent less than a minute going from the lake to Carol’s frying pan. Splattering oil turned the edges crisp and left the meat to flake away between my teeth.
I stared at the ceiling of the Hiners’ houseboat, packing and unpacking the Looksha in my mind. A hundred pieces of imaginary gear poured in and out of her hatches. I knew it waited on the bank outside. The boat, paddle, everything. “The adventure begins tomorrow,” I whispered to myself and smiled.
It is already here.