Angle Inlet, MN – October 27, 2013
A postcard is just a small rectangle of heavy paper with a picture on one side. It doesn’t mean much fresh off the rack, but scribble a note on it, write a friend’s name and address, add a stamp, and it becomes a piece of you. When someone else holds it, they know that their hands are touching the same paper yours did, their eyes are reading your words. It’s a shared moment together separated only by time.
I bought three dozen postcards in Key West. I wanted to send them to the people who helped me on the trip down. If I had an address, I sent one. If I didn’t, I wished I did. But I only mailed thirty-two.
I never sent four of them. I slid them into a dry box and onto the boat. Phone chargers and batteries piled on top of them. A passport and wallet shoved them down. Pens, a lighter, extra memory cards, everything squeezed in on those four postcards. But when I caught a glimpse of a beat up corner, even on the toughest days, it made me smile and I knew I’d find a way forward.
Now there’s only one postcard left. But the J&M Company store is just a quarter-mile down the road. Then the last postcard will be gone.
I walked in there a year and a half ago. Ron was sitting in his chair behind the counter, leaning back, resting.
“You don’t know where I could maybe store a kayak for a few days, do you?” I asked.
He looked at me for a moment and shrugged his shoulders.
“You could just put her out back,” he said. “No one will touch it.”
The yellow hull looked bright laid up against the rusted propane tanks behind the store. I stuffed equipment in the hatches and flipped her on her side if it rained. I watched the boat in my rear view mirror as I drove away, knowing the trip hung on the word of a man I’d known for five minutes.
The boat was there when I got back.
“I’ll send you a postcard from Key West,” I told him when I left to start the trip.
Now I’m a quarter-mile away from keeping that promise.
So many people helped on the way down. Just as many helped on the way back.
Carol got a whole crowd to cheer me when I landed a block from the Southernmost Point. My college buddy Dan rented a paddleboard just to go the last few hundred yards with me. Kate and Glen let me stay in their guest room so I could wander around that night with Davia and Laura who took one of my favorite pictures of the trip, but sadly refused to meet me at the Angle in their bikinis for another shot. Too cold I suppose.
A few keys up, Monica and Frank met me at their kayak shop in Key Largo and put me up for the night. A day later, George saw me on a dock and invited me into his one room house for a drink.
“Last name is Morton, like the salt,” he said and I haven’t forgotten it since.
He loved Canadian Mist and coke, we fried green tomatoes and watched westerns until 2 am.
My cousin Chris and Tio Cesar came the next morning. They brought a bottle of Canadian Mist for George. Chris paddled with me to Miami and speared fish for dinner just off Key Biscayne.
My aunt Kathy let me crash in her house for a week in Miami while I organized the return trip’s logistics. Then came a night with nowhere to sleep followed by a night in Delray with the aforementioned Davia and Laura and a night when a park ranger looked the other way as a thunderstorm rolled over the coast and I camped in a park pavilion. I guess trying to save that sea turtle gave me good luck.
My friend Sid set me up with so many contacts along the coast that I now call him the Godfather of Jacksonville. His buddy Charlie helped me resupply near St. Augustine and made me wish I could have stayed longer to hear stories about sailing into Havana Harbor. His friends at Fernandina marina and the couple docked there let me take a shower and wash away a few hundred miles of encrusted salt. His buddy Jim and Barbara told me to order anything I wanted in their restaurant (Barbara Jeans in St. Simons if you’re looking for unreal crab cakes!). Jim also got me a hotel room for the night. I’d refused to stay in hotels the whole trip and tried to refuse to stay in that one, but you can’t argue with a marine giving orders.
“Just tell them your name at the desk,” Jim said.
Jim’s friend Chick took care of my boat at Morningstar Marina in St. Simons and Chick put in a good word in for me with his buddy Charlie at the marina in the Isle of Hope. Charlie let me load and unload on his dock so I could pull the boat over to Nancy’s house.
She showed me around Savannah and even loaned me her car so I could go dance a few salsa steps one night. Gotta get my dancing fix sometimes.
My long-time friend Eric, who almost killed me once in the Grand Canyon, set me up with his grandmother Fran in Charleston. She set me up with so many helpful people like Wally and his wife and Chuck and her neighbor who showed me around Charleston.
JLo and Giulia put up with me for a few days while I prepared a presentation about the trip down to Key West. Giselle put up with me too. And, of course, the Ceronskys put me up in Minneapolis so I could speak at the amazing Midwest Mountaineering Expo.
Then it was back to the Intercoastal where Halsey floated by me on the Stiletto and said hello. We drifted down a canal talking and he gave me a book about his grandfather who designed boats.
When I wanted to climb the Cape Lookout lighthouse and stare off the edge of the world, Pam and Bill refused to let me buy my own ticket.
“We got this one,” they said.
The Oregon Inlet Fishing Center let me recharge batteries so I could keep posting my journal. Elizabeth City lived up to its reputation as the Harbor of Hospitality and gave me a rose to prove it. Fester and Holly brought me donuts and reminded me that I will always be a thru-hiker at heart.
Bob lives in Chesapeake, Virginia, but he’s from International Falls, even went to school with the Pavlecks. He’d read about the trip in his local paper and he and his wife Pam brought “Minnesota Nice” down south when I met them at the end of the Dismal Swamp.
Keith tried to bring me to the family BBQ and let me crash at his place in Norfolk, but his wife said no. It’s the thought that counts though and Keith’s was a good one.
“Let me at least get you a hamburger,” he said slipping me $10.
I never spent it, I just kept it next to those postcards to remind me of all the good people out there.
Megan brought her amazing smile and two tons of homemade cookies to meet me at Assateague. I consider it a fact of life that the Ceronskys will find and help you wherever you may be! I will have seen at least one of them six times on this trip.
When my kayak cart’s tire sprung a leak, a camper loaned me a bike pump. Ten minutes later, a woman named Margaret gave me a bag of oranges at the boat ramp.
Two guys running a party boat in Delaware saw me before I crossed Delaware Bay. They called me a few times as the trip went on to make sure everything was still going well and it always cheered me up.
“I got friends who live near Lake Erie,” they said one time. “You going that way?”
“No,” I said. “But thank you so much for asking.”
When I got to New York, NYPD escorted me the last two hundred yards to Manhattan. It was really kind of them because playing Frogger with the Staten Island Ferry was not going to turn out well. I was less thrilled when they interrogated me for an hour after that but at least I got to thank them for the escort. Beats arriving at JFK.
Martin, Tim, and the Downtown Boathouse folks inspired me with their program to bring free paddling to New York. Emma, Ian, and Marisol made the city come alive like only old friends can. They were even kind enough to only moderately tease me about talking to pink flamingos. Hang on Frank!
WB and Brenda picked me up, helped tighten up the boat, and gave me a chance to rest for a few days like hiker trash. Dave and Bowman drove out to say hi from Pennsylvania and brought half-a-cow of steaks with them. Spirit and Steady just missed me in Florida, but we finally crossed paths in New York. I paddled, they walked. Hope the hike to Halifax went well!
Up the river at Lock 1, Jim and Rodney let me camp on the lawn and charge batteries. They even shared half of a sandwich and told me stories about Snakehead fish climbing walls.
Doug first saw me battling up the shore of Manhattan and offered me a place to stay in the city.
“I’m all set up,” I said.
“What about Burlington then?” he asked.
“See you there,” I said.
With his help, I finally got that kayak cart replaced and learned what a maple creamie is.
I never would have ridden in a sidecar if Berney and John hadn’t invited me to their place in North Hero. They were the last stop in the U.S. before I headed north to Canada. At the border, a Canadian sailor pointed to his heart and taught me the meaning of wealth and the customs officer took my picture with the border sign.
Portaging into Montreal, Bernard remembered his Appalachian Trail roots and gave me $10 to get a nice meal. Then I remembered my Appalachian Trail roots and spent it on a half-gallon of ice cream to celebrate the halfway point on the return trip.
I would never have seen Montreal without Carole and Michel’s letting me crash in their place, Carole’s brother storing the boat, or my friend Norma for putting us all in touch. Davia from Key West told me where to get poutine. Now I love the city even though I don’t speak a word of French (the language of bakeries is universal).
The poutine truck guy outside of Ottawa gave me a free bowl. Jay taught me about Canadian politics on a tour of parliament and made sure I had the right maps for the French and Mattawa rivers. Andrew and his family saw me paddling by and gave me a place to stay for the night.
When John and Jarred met me at a boat ramp, they set me up with a place to crash on the portage to Muskrat Lake. Phil, Brenda, and Tauney were that place and welcomed me to their house even though I arrived near midnight and they had never met me before in their lives.
Sitting on a beach with One-Gallon made me feel like a hiker again. You can’t talk to him for ten minutes and not feel inspired. He’s still paddling around somewhere, probably heading south like a bird.
A nice woman in Mattawa gave me water while her cranky neighbor glared at me. The La Vase Portages are only there because local people cared enough to save them. Doug from Manhattan and his family stopped by North Bay to say hello and cheer me on a month after Burlington.
On a windy, nasty day on Lake Nipissing, I ran across the Atkin Bay Ten and they welcomed me to the gang with open arms and made it eleven. I’d trade six-foot waves for them any day, though I’m not sure my liver would agree to the deal.
The smile from a young woman in the Killarney bakery kept my spirits up. The crew of the Fandango said hello and made them soar. I don’t know why I felt down sometimes, but sometimes it only took a smile or a hello to shake off the gloom.
A man waved at me from the Strawberry Island Lighthouse. I waved back. Ended up having lunch with the family and a beer at the Strawberry Island Men’s Club. Always wave hello. Always.
Tom waved hello while I sat on a bench in Little Current. Then he invited me to dinner with the intrepid crew of the Journey and the rest of the loopers and cruisers in Little Current. Between Roy’s radio show, the Freya, In My Element, Blewgrass, Off Leash, and boats I don’t remember the name of, I felt like I had a huge new family as the wind blew and blew across the North Channel of Huron for three nights. I slept in the Blewgrass cabin, a sailboat crew bought me ice cream, and a very nice woman who I believe was on a red and green trawler handed me $50 to help with the trip even after I tried to refuse. A day out of Little Current, thanks to Roy’s radio show, I ran into the Georgian Mist and two other boats who invited me on board for lunch.
The border patrol guys in Sault Ste. Marie didn’t mind driving out of their way to meet me on the far side of the locks and make my life a whole lot easier. Once checked back into the US, Sue and Jeff opened up their home and made sure I could recharge for Superior.
Amy and Dave Freeman and Lucas Will gave me amazing advice about the route back. I would have never known there were caribou on the Slate Islands and I would have missed the chance to stare at stars from a wood-fired hot tub without their help. Whomever brought that heavy tub out there, I know that wasn’t easy either, so thank you too!
I would have spent a nasty, cold, wet night without the Red Rock Fish and Game Club’s Caribou Cove shelter and sauna. And I would have missed the chance to read a heart-pounding Harlequin romance novel about a half-Russian prince, half man of the desert and the career woman who gives up everything to be with him.
Dan, Sally, Will, Wim, Harriet, and Steve made Thunder Bay special. I would have frozen without all the extra gear they forced on me. With maps, research, meeting with Lin at the MNR, the extra food and equipment, they made sure I had every chance to succeed going up the Kaministiquia and wished me luck when we had to say our sad goodbyes.
Steve from the Twin Cities sent me a letter to Thunder Bay that made me believe in my writing more than I ever had before. It reminded me of all the people who have read this blog and commented and followed the journey and why even in the hard moments, at the end of long days, when all I want to do is sleep, it is important to keep writing.
Rose and Ruth’s trading post in the Kam repaired my shredded spirits. The waterproof socks and razor sharp hand saw they gave me made sure they wouldn’t shred again. Every step on the Dog Portage was possible because Ruth refused to let history fade away. Look out Prairie Portage, she’s coming for you.
In the midst of the Prairie Portage, a couple in a pickup truck pointed me toward the pipeline where I met a hunter who showed me how to get to Lac du Milieu and continue crossing the impassable portages to the Savanne River.
A man in a pickup truck helped get me partway to Atikokan from French Lake. Sally got me the rest of the way. She treated me like one of her boys, feeding me a ton, before sending me into Quetico on trails she grew up on.
Terry and Kathy invited me to help devour leftover cake at their camp. I complied willingly. Devoured goose, turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, and gravy too. Wally was overjoyed and when he is happy, everyone is happy.
Canadian Thanksgiving with the Newman and Avis families was one to remember. Sweet victory on the air hockey table over the Mayor of Fort Francis followed by bitter defeat at the hands of his grandson. I’ll be back for the crown one day!
Ten short miles brought me to International Falls and the Pavlecks where I felt like I had a second home and delivered the first of those four postcards from Key West. It was hard to let it go, but at least I had three more to keep me company.
A day down the Rainy and I hung out with Punky at the boat ramp again, this time with cookies! Shana stopped to see what I was up to. She wanted to take me horseback riding, but she settled for stopping by in the morning with two mason jars of maple syrup that will ruin me forever. One drop and you know Aunt Jemima is a fraud.
Then came Baudette and the second postcard written out to Neal and Janet who once found me in the town library and offered me a place to stay. I watched the first snowfall of the season from behind their windows, in a t-shirt, waiting for the weather to clear for the last leap to the Angle.
The third postcard is on a refrigerator next to me, held on by a magnet, waiting for the day the Hiner’s come back to their lodge at the Angle.
I wish they were here so I could give it to them directly, but Carol sent me a message a few weeks ago.
“Not sure where you are at right now but make sure that when you get to the Angle you stay at the Lodge,” she said. “You’ll have a bed to sleep in and the heat should be on. Stay safe and warm.”
I arrived last night, an hour after dark, the temperature dropping into the low twenties.
I pulled my gear into the lodge this morning to sort through it. Giulia’s pirate bandana. Giulia’s socks (which replaced Gesh’s socks). Giulia’s nalgene. Charlie’s Everglades buff. Dan’s wool gloves. Dan’s shirt. Dan’s vest. Ruth’s socks. Ruth’s saw. Chuck’s tank top. My dad’s hat. Ali’s t-shirt. Sunglasses from my dad’s friend in Florida. Keith’s sleeping bag. A foot rest from Jarry. Sally’s hand warmers. A hammock given to me by an ex’s parents. Sealant from Dan. Pins from the mayor of Fort Francis. Gloves from Memphis. Ali from Greenbush. Shana’s syrup. Renee’s skirt clip. Larry’s phone float. Sue’s phone charger. Buckley’s shirt. Dan’s Everglades coin. Yingxue’s matches.
And one postcard. The last one left, but Ron and Jeanette at the J&M store are only a quarter-mile away.
Wack is going to give me a ride down there in a few minutes. He’s a friend of the Hiners and thinks he can find me and the boat a ride back to Baudette in a few days with some guys from the Sportsman’s Lodge.
Kenny from Two Harbors offered to pick me and the boat up from there. Then I’ll catch a ride with the Ceronskys back to Minneapolis, rent a car and drive south.
Eventually, I’ll get back to Florida.
“I can’t believe you did it all alone,” people will say.
I’ll smile. I’ll think of all the postcards I need to send and all the addresses I wish I had.
“I was never alone,” I’ll say. “Never ever alone.”
You read all of that? Pretty long, huh? Can you imagine that it is only the second half? To read my thanks from the first half of the trip, check out this post from Key West.