Bob pulled out an old yearbook and we flipped through the pages. Black and white photos stared back at us. Football players and cheerleaders, hockey stars and pep bands, their smiles frozen in time.
“We just had our thirty-year reunion,” Bob said.
International Falls, class of 1979.
I remember portaging around the paper mill and dragging the boat past a giant Smokey the Bear statue in the town’s park. I remember the library and the Bruno Nagurski museum. I remember the yellow awnings above the drug store windows in downtown and the rapids under the railroad bridge just before Rainy Lake.
But most of all, I remember the Pavlecks. I remember Emma picking me up in her grandfather’s truck and taking me to her parent’s house. I remember my gear spread out in their garage and looking at maps with her brother Logan. I remember her dad Todd’s firm handshake and her mom Patty driving me out to Sha Sha Resort for fried walleye. I remember feeling like I had a chance at this crazy trip because of people like them.
Bob and I flipped through more pages of the yearbook, past 70s haircuts and suit-jackets, past old advertisements and signatures, until we found them, Todd and Patty, Emma’s parents staring up at us in black and white from 1979. Bob’s picture was there too, the three of them were classmates back then, back when Bob’s parents still lived in International Falls, back before he became an engineer and ended up on the East Coast, back before he read about a guy in a kayak in his old hometown paper and thought wouldn’t it be neat if he ever made it to Chesapeake, Virginia.