International Falls, MN – October 14, 2013
I waved goodbye to Jim and Penny and pushed the kayak off their beach, amazed that a conversation from a year and half ago on a restaurant patio led to being adopted by a family for Thanksgiving dinner. As I passed by Fort Frances, the Mayor and his family came out to wave at me and wish me luck. A mile later, I pulled the boat out of the water and walked past the paper mill’s dam toward the bridge to International Falls.
A message flashed on my phone and I returned a call to Terry, who’d come back to town from his cabin on the Bear River. He drove down to meet me and wish me luck. He told me they had managed to eat all but one piece of the cake and had to throw it away. I told him it was a tragedy, that I’d failed in my duty, and to give Kathy a big hug for me.
“You sure you have a place to stay in the Falls?” he asked.
“Yea,” I said.
“Well, if anything comes up,” he said, shaking my hand.
I pulled him in for a big hug.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I know you’d be there in a minute.”
I walked across the old bridge, pulling the boat behind me, feeling lucky to have so many friends.
A tiny border marker had been set into a rock rising from the middle of the river. I snapped a picture through the chain link fence and remembered following those markers for weeks through the Boundary Waters, tiny obelisks set in concrete, survey points for the border from Lake of the Woods to Superior. I stared at it for a moment then kept walking toward U.S. Customs.
I handed over my passport and the man behind the counter looked at me like I was crazy. Twenty minutes, a partially searched front hatch, and a few stories later, I was through, walking past cars stopped at kiosks and officers checking trunks for contraband.
I rolled the kayak down the street, past the gate, and saw a pickup idling next to the sidewalk. The door opened as soon as I came close and a big man got out. We caught each other’s eyes and both smiled. I dropped the boat and gave him a huge hug.
Todd Pavleck, Emma’s dad, was right there waiting for me.
“I got a little turned around at Key West,” I said.
He laughed. We loaded the boat onto the truck. The end hung eight feet off the back, but we had it strapped in. I thought of that bright summer day when I met Emma and we drove a truck down the street with the boat hanging off the back, no straps tying it to anything, me clinging to the nose like a koala to weigh it down. I remember Emma telling me not to worry.
“I know most of the police anyway,” she said.
When Todd and I got to the house, Patty and Logan were there to meet us. Patty snapped a picture of the kayak strapped into the back of the truck and sent it to Emma who’d moved to the Twin Cities a month earlier.
“It looks like a better transport system than you had,” Patty told her daughter.
“Not fair,” Emma wrote back. “Dad’s truck is bigger.”
We set the boat down in the garage. I took a shower and curled up on a couch. I’m not home yet, but the Pavlecks make it feel so close.