Rainy River, MN – June 19, 2012
When you fight the current, there is a moment when you realize you will lose. The world stands still for an instant, hangs there balanced, your paddle unable to pull it towards you and unwilling to let it go. Then the world fades, falling backwards and away, slipping from you like a dream in the morning.
Backs bend, muscles tire, and the current flows.
I started fresh this morning. The Looksha’s hull cut through the water, eating up the river in chunks. Then came the first rapid.
I snuck up the right bank as far as I could, dashed toward the middle, and dug my paddle into the water trying not lose ground as I crossed to an eddy on the far side. I arrived worn and exhausted and sat there with three otters who shrieked and yelled, but begrudgingly shared their eddy because none of us wanted to go back into the current.
When I reached the top of the rapid, there were no more eddies to hide behind. I tried to punch through, but got sucked backwards down a chain of waves before spinning into a bank, exhausted and thrilled that I hadn’t flipped. I got out and dragged the boat through the water for the last hundred yards.
Then came long miles of nothing but the gentle tug of current against the bow. It’s a nudge, hard to notice and quiet, but it wears on you, cuts away piece by piece, smiling as if nothing is happening.
Every muscle in my arms ached before I reached the second rapid. I knew I didn’t have the strength to paddle on. I tied a rope to the front of the boat and pulled it around the edge of the swirling water, my knuckles white from their grip, afraid to let go for a moment and see my boat spinning away down the river.
I paddled another half-mile up the river before collapsing on the first open bank I saw. I knew the day was over because I am made of muscle, bone, and blood and the current is made of inevitability.