Angle to Key West: How to Stop Time (6/30)

Iron Lake, Boundary Waters Wilderness – June 30, 2012

I know how to stop time. It’s tricky and only lasts for an instant, but in that moment, you can have a thousand different thoughts.

One of them will be “this is how I die.”

I could barely hold the Looksha with my left arm as I fumbled in her front hatch for my rope. Rushing water roared past, surging toward a violent, churning rapid below me. I tossed gear into the seat and dug my hand into a maze of dry bags.

Lying balanced on a rock, holding a 17 foot boat in a ten foot eddy, makes the world feel unstable. I glanced downstream at the water disappearing behind a giant slab of granite. I couldn’t see the rapid, but I didn’t need to. I’d already stared at it long enough to scare myself, long enough to think about where I’d try to swim, long enough to know I wouldn’t have a chance.

I wanted to leave. I wanted to let go and walk away. I wanted to be anywhere but there. But no amount of wishing would get me off that rock.

I needed the rope.

The current pulled on the boat’s tail. It wanted to take her, to send her spinning away and down behind the granite slab. It wanted to take me too, if I gave it the chance.

My left arm ached and I thought about the rope. I didn’t even know if it was in the front hatch. I only knew the tail was out of reach so it was the front or nothing. I dug and dug. I hated myself for not getting it sooner, before trapping myself against a granite wall, before I held my world with one hand, before I felt weak.

I’d fought the water for hours, stumbling against churning rapids, sliding over rocks, sinking neck-deep in dark pools, always pulling the boat behind me, up the swirling water towards Bottle Lake.

My fingers brushed against soft coils of nylon and I felt a glimmer of a chance. The rope. I ran it through the bow line and tied the boat to a tree. It didn’t give me a way out, but it gave me time to think, time to recover a bit of strength.

I sat and stared, looking at the effort of the day across my body. Rocks had gashed open both shins and scraped away part of my right knuckle. A slippery bank left my hip feeling twisted. Bruises swelled on my ankles.

Now I needed thirty more feet.

A wall of granite stood between the lake and me. Water rushed into it, hitting the rock and pushing down to form a deep, fast pool that funneled into the rapid below. I couldn’t walk or swim around the rock, the water was too deep and too fast. I had to pull the boat from the top of the wall.

It would have been easy, but a fallen pine tree had transformed the top into a maze of dead limbs and branches that hung over the water. I tied the rope into two pieces, stretching out from the rock to weave one under the branches while holding the boat with the other. Foot by foot, branch by branch, we moved forward.

Five feet, then ten. The Looksha’s hull ripped through the current, shedding the water and surging forward with each pull. Fifteen feet, then twenty. I worked the ropes through the branches, trying not to rush, not to notice the mosquitoes eating at me, not to think about the rapid and how I wanted to run, how I wanted this to be over. Twenty-five feet. I cleared the last branch and grabbed a tree trunk for one last pull.

The crack of wood snapping in half. My hand pulling against nothing where there should have been a tree. My balance slipping over the edge. Feeling weightless as I fell toward the water.

That is when time stops.

I thought of a thousand things as I fell. I thought about home, of a girl I wanted to kiss, of ice cream and root beer floats. I thought about light filtering through the forest, the warmth of the sun on my skin, the way rocks shimmer underneath the water. I thought about my mom and dad and how I always promise to be careful.

Then I hit the water and thought only two things, hold the rope and fight with everything you have for five more feet.

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10 thoughts on “Angle to Key West: How to Stop Time (6/30)

  1. I loved the writing but the tale left me shaken. Incredible! And as always thankful for your safety. The picture was amazing knowing you took it………….

  2. O.K. So, what happened next?? Did I miss something in your post? Did you take the picture before or after time stopped? Now, I’m worried. I was told you arrived in Ely for the 4th so… “you made it!” But, what was the next thing that happened, what was the next feeling AFTER time stopped? May the gentle breezes and calm waters be around the next bend.

  3. Gerry: That is Daniel’s style of writing. Quite often he makes your imagination fill in the gap and consequently the story has as many different variations as there are readers and imaginations. He will, however, tell you what happened next for some ice cream or beer depending on his want at the moment………………

  4. I swear this is my last post on this –someone just emailed me about the picture so I have to comment. The picture is amazing to me in so many ways and make sure if you are looking at the picture you enlarge it as much as possible. It is the signature shot so far as to what this journey is about. Daniel and his trusty friend Looksha straining to overcome the forces of nature while at the same time becoming part of nature themselves. The bond of it all is so well reflected by the white water bursting through the top of the thigh with the tight fist holding the rope squarely in the middle of the picture. The trees in the background look like spectators enjoying the show. And it seems like you can see Daniel’s totally focused eyes through his sunglasses as they guide you again to the wet fist and rope. I am still amazed by it all. Of all the awe inspiring pictures Daniel has taken in his adventures, this very well may be my favorite………..

  5. Good thing you’re so damned strong, Daniel. It’s the only thing that keeps my heart from flipping right out! Great story! And, yes, great photo, though it isn’t one of the granite wall itself, which would dwarf even this effort! Mucho mucho mucho thanks to the Great Goddess that you are OK!!!

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