Mountain Lake, Boundary Waters Wilderness, MN – July 10, 2012
The roar of water drew me in. It rushed across the lake, crisp and clear, singing like the voice of a siren. The falls were off the route, on the far shore of Rose Lake, but anything that loud would have to be beautiful. I turned the boat and paddled toward the roar.
New Long Portage is 579 rods (just under two miles), five times longer than any portage I’ve done before. It looks short on the map, just an easy inch of dotted line between circles of blue. Underneath the hull of the Looksha, it looks like nothing but mud, feet, and pain.
The falls cut through the rock and down in a sheet of white. I scampered across wet rocks and lost myself in the water as the roar swallowed my joyful screams.
“This is so beautiful,” I thought. “I want to stay here forever.”
Just a third of the way in and my back raged under the weight. Pain, sharp and dull, lit my nerves on fire as my spine twisted and compressed. I tightened every muscle along my core to keep myself steady, to keep my bones from collapsing. I screamed and willed the boat to stay above my head even as every tree and branch reached to rip it off my shoulders.
The moose and her calf looked too perfect, as if an artist painted them into the watery meadow. I only believed they existed beyond my imagination when she turned to watch her baby splash across the water and into the forest. Sometimes paintings come to life out here.
I shoved the boat into the wedge of a tree and crawled out from under it. My shoulders throbbed and I swung my arms in circles to drive blood back into them. When feeling returned to my fingers, I coated myself deet to keep the mosquitoes off and crawled under the boat to lift again.
The water turned pink, mirroring a sky lit on fire by the setting sun. I paddled quietly, watching the clouds’ reflection in the lake. I could paddle forever like that, slipping forward with nothing but the ripple of my paddle to break the illusion of floating through the sky.
I had nothing left at the end. A quarter-mile to water and I knew if I put the boat down I might never get it up again. I fought and cursed and gritted my teeth until my feet splashed and the boat dropped from my shoulders. The thump of plastic on water echoed across the lake. I fell into the deck and lay there, never wanting to move again.
A wolf’s howl shattered the calm and all went silent behind it. Even I stopped moving, holding myself still and waiting for an answer that never came. I breathed and thought about how lucky I am to be in the wild.
I love and hate this place.