Lac des Mille Lacs, near Savanne River – September 30, 2013
The concrete scrapped across my nose. I leaned back, pressing my body against the deck of the boat. My legs stretched along the bow. My chest sunk into the cockpit. My head glued to the stern. All slipped under the bridge’s lip by inches.
A truck rumbled above me, flying down the highway at 70 miles an hour. I felt the tires over my nose, the motor growling into my chest. The world shook for a moment then rattled still. I inched underneath, pulling myself forward with my toes and finger tips as traffic raced above.
The bridge sagged just an inch in the middle and I had to turn my face sideways to fit. The concrete slid against my cheek. I didn’t breathe. I only crept upside down toward the sunlight twenty feet away.
The Savanne River felt so close, so inevitable. I’d fought for days and now I only had to keep going. The monster was running out of space.
I popped out on the far side of the highway into a pool of black water. I dragged the boat across a fallen telephone pole and crashed over the beaver dam that held the water high under the bridge. Branches reached out, pulling at me, snagging the boat, trying to hold me back. Three bends. Another dam. Then I punched into a wide bend of river.
I floated, spinning in a slow circle, drifting downstream, laying back on the deck, sunlight pouring across me, a smile on my face.
I’d thought of this moment from the first rapid on the Kaministiquia. I thought of it slogging into the ditch above Kakabeka Falls, in the eddies of the gorge, along the old trail rising up the Dog portage. I thought of it as my feet froze in Coldwater, when I stumbled across the voyageur’s path, tangled in the nightmare of the northern forest. I thought of it as my feet sunk on islands of mud, as streams disappeared into mazes of trees, as the bog tried to swallow me whole. I thought of it every moment. I longed for it. I dreamed of it.
The Kaministiquia Route was always going to be brutal. It was always going to beat me up, to push me, to block the way like a wall. Climbing uphill. Unused, dead portages. Dams. Rapids and falls. The Kam was this giant monster that stood between me and the end and guarded it, guarded the end, and I always knew I’d have to face it, to throw everything I had left at it, to find a way to beat it, to cross the uncrossable, to reach the Savanne.
I smiled into the sun, my face full of joy, but somewhere behind it, deep in my chest, I felt hollow.
I loved the monster. I loved having it there, having something big and giant and scary standing between me and the end, something impossible, something that swallowed the horizon. As long as the Kaministiquia was there, as long as it loomed in front of me, it was all I could see.
But now it’s gone, fallen behind me, stacked on the bones of so many monsters that once stood in the way of the end. The Atlantic Coast, the Hudson, Superior, they made the end an if, not a when. Now they’re all gone and the only thing left to stare at is scarier than any of them.