“I may say that this is the greatest factor: the way in which the expedition is equipped, the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order, luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time, this is called bad luck.”
–Roald Amundsen, Arctic and Antarctic explorer, led the first expedition to reach the South Pole, and was the first person to reach both the South and North Poles.
Ottawa, Ontario – July 20, 2013
“You know what Amundsen said about adventure?” Jay said. “Adventure is just bad planning.”
I laughed. Jay looked a bit terrified. We’d been talking about maps and what lay ahead on the route west. I didn’t have a single map other than what my phone could pull up and knew nothing beyond turning left at the Mattawa River and right at Lake Huron.
“It’s all an adventure,” I’d said.
Jay is the opposite of me. Before he left to paddle across Canada from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arctic, he wrote down a list every possible thing that could end his trip, analyzed them all, and calculated how to minimize the risk of each. He planned out his food, designed and built a beautiful wood boat, and researched every portage, river, and lake on the way.
Before I left, I glanced at a map and looked for blue lines, threw some gear in a bag, hoped the Savanna Portage still existed, and flew up to Minnesota knowing I’d find out in a few months.
Jay pulled open aerial photos of the Ottawa River and we went over every dam I’d have to get around. We sat at his kitchen table looking at maps of the Mattawa and French Rivers, talking about difficult spots and crossing the La Vase Portage into Lake Nipissing.
Then we shared stories from his trip and mine. We talked about the voyageurs, the famous explorers, the First Nation tribes, the Northwest Company, the French, and English and how they all used this route, how your feet touch the same paths, your boat the same water. We talked about the frustration of portaging, the beautiful moments, the interesting people you meet along the way, the near disasters, the difficult decisions, and how it feels to finish the Grand Portage. We talked and talked, laughing and branching off on a thousand different tales, not like opposites, but like two old friends who reached the same spot from different directions.
I found the maps waiting for me when it was time to leave, stacked in a neat pile by the door. I took them, half for me and half for Jay’s sanity. A map will only get you so far, a guide can only tell you so much, what you really need, what Jay and I both have, is the desire to go.