Champlain Canal Lock 1, NY – June 26, 2013
I thought I’d decided back in Kingston sitting in Bob’s basement as the two of us looked over maps and numbers. The Erie and Trent-Severn Canals are efficient, direct, protected routes through non-moving water. Champlain and the Ottawa are longer, portage-filled, mostly upstream, but the route would go by Montreal and follow the old voyageur’s path West, not locks and canals filled with motor boats.
The choice felt clear. Follow the voyageurs. Follow adventure.
But then I saw a blue sign with white lettering standing on the bank. I didn’t expect it so soon, but there it was, hanging on the water, one arrow pointing left to the Erie, the other pointing right toward Champlain. I hesitated.
Decisions are easier to make in basements. They’re just lines on a map then, about the same, they aren’t real. You don’t have to live with them yet.
I stared at the sign, imagining the Champlain and the Ottawa. Imagining the current flushing me backwards. Feeling that slow drag on my hull. If the water is too strong, if the extra miles take too long, winter will freeze the North. If the portages break my will or my body, what will I have left for the last push through the Boundary Waters.
The Erie Canal has history, I could say. I wanted to touch Lake Ontario, I could say. The Trent-Severn’s locks are interesting, I could say.
I floated there, staring at the sign, feeling like I stood in a yellow wood like that old Robert Frost poem. But those two paths, those two in the wood, they were the same until he looked back and claimed one was less traveled, claimed it made the difference. I don’t get to look back, to change my memories. I know the truth now. I’m not manufacturing it years later.
The two paths aren’t the same. One path is less traveled. One path is the adventurous one. And years from now, looking back, I would know.
Fail. Yes, I may fail. But I’d rather fail on a river or a frozen winter lake than staring at a blue sign with two arrows on it. I sat still for a moment, took a breath, and turned toward Champlain.
It makes all the difference.