Angle to Key West: One Last Bet (8/19)

Two Harbors, MN – August 19, 2012

“Another hand?” the lake asks.

“Perhaps,” I say, stacking my chips into neat piles.

It would be easy to push my chair back and slide away from the table. A day, maybe two, and I’d be in Duluth fighting up the St. Louis River. I could think back on Isle Royale and the North Shore, remember waterfalls, sirens, and fire-roasted fish. Superior would be a memory and I would have walked away with house money.

But there’s still a few chips left on the table and the lake would deal again if I let it.

“Luck seems to be with you,” the lake says.

I saw the lights of cell phone towers a few nights ago. They blinked across the water, bright red against the black sky. The next day, I stared and paddled until a smudge of shadow appeared on the horizon. The lake is narrowing, its southern and northern shores coming to a point at Duluth, but back at the tip of that smudge are the Apostles, a chain of sandstone islands laced with arches, caves, and crescent beaches.

To go around, past Duluth and back up the south shore would take a week, to cross over, a day.

“Just one more bet,” the lake says. “Why not? Your playing with house money.”

The distance never changes. No matter how many times I measure it, it’s always twenty miles of open water, of dodging freighters, of hoping the wind doesn’t rise. Twenty miles with no escape. Twenty miles of faith in seventeen feet of plastic.

“Go ahead and deal,” I say. “But I may just fold and walk away.”

The lake shuffles out cards while I listen to the weather report on my radio.

“Monday…waves two feet or less,” a robotic woman’s voice says. “Tuesday…waves two feet or less.”

“But it’s just a voice on the radio,” I think. “How many times has it been wrong?”

The lake glances at its cards and slides the Apostles to the middle of the table. I stare at mine as the lake smiles at me, waiting for me to fold and walk away.

“What’s it to call?” I ask, but I know the answer.

You can’t bet the minimum on a twenty-mile crossing. You can’t race from one beach to the next. You have to push all your chips to the middle of the table and wait for the next card.

“Same as always,” the lake says. “Everything.”

“The following is the marine forecast for waters on western Lake Superior beyond five nautical miles…” the woman’s voice says. “…waves two feet or less.”

I slide my chips to the middle of the table.

“Give me a day,” I say. “Then I’m in.”

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