Angle to Key West: Against the Flow (6/19)

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.

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9 thoughts on “Angle to Key West: Against the Flow (6/19)

  1. @ Against the flow.

    A white water rafting guide, my teacher, once told me, “water never gets tired”… So true.

  2. So much for a paddle in the park. Wind and current have tested you so far…may make following the current in the Mississippi seem a lot easier by comparison! It will have it’s own special challenges. I love your description of the battle and acquiescence to the ultimate reality.

  3. You’re doing great, Out of Order. I’m sure, just like with hiking, there is both a learning and conditioning curve to this and things will get easier (or at least more manageable) as you put additional miles under your hull. Really loving your blog and photos, and always looking forward to the next post. Keep it up!

  4. This beautiful piece made me think that is one of the hallmarks of the human experience. Somewhere and always battling some perceived natural odds until we break through or realize another day is called for because we need to be a little stronger, a little smarter or a little humbler. And I wonder what the otters’ blog had to say about all of this.

  5. What would I do without your daily writings. Genius. That’s what you are. No one writes like you. As usual, you delight and amaze me.

    1. Gottago! You are too kind. I’m so glad I got a chance to meet you on the PCT in 2007. I still cherish my bandana! Seeing it never fails to make me smile. 😉

  6. Glad you know your competition! Haha..I learned that lesson in the waters of Colombia :/ Keeps you humble, I guess.

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