scary, but not dangerous

well, after all these weeks of departures, the trip has actually begun for real! we got up to a very cold morning, got suited up, and Richard left on the bike for the headwaters, while Mac and I drove to the boat ramp we’ve been using for our practice runs and I put in to Lake Itasca and paddled about a mile over to the headwaters. There was a pair of loons this time: couldn’t get a picture because it was too windy and I was too excited and the combination made me sure I would capsize the boat if I tried to turn it broadside to get a shot. Mac and Richard were waiting at the tourist spot: we did the standard photos, and then carried the boat down a few yards and I put in again. it was so shallow and narrow, and there were a few downed trees, so I had to get out a few times to pull the boat. then there’s a culvert that I’m not skilled enough to paddle through, so we portaged around that, and then I was finally on my way.

oh my god. it’s just amazing. starts as this creek almost, not much bigger than sugar hollow brook, the stream that runs through my land in VT, but it’s totally overrun with reeds to the point that you are completely surrounded by reeds with no visibility and just paddling downstream and hoping for the best. it’s a little scary, but it’s not really dangerous: the perfect combination, in other words. the kayak is really too big for a river this size: it sort of like trying to maneuver an american car through the streets of say, siena or something. but it is very maneuverable, and as I begin to understand how to control it with just shift of weight and stuff, I manage better and better with the turns in the river. and there are amazing amounts of wildlife: birds, turtles, levolulia (dragonflies: there are 30 different species of dragonfly here), and even a river otter or a beaver or a muskrat or some such (a swimming furry mammal: I am too ignorant to know which) and it is much more wilderness than I was expecting: no mile markers, no signage, no sign of human habitation AT ALL until you suddenly come to a bridge and the county road and there’s Mac standing there to make sure I’m good, and I take a bit of a water break and then start again and go maybe another three miles to this absolutely beautiful campsite, Wanagan’s Landing, which has water and a shelter with a picnic table, and the guys have set up the tents and are reading away and I festoon the car with all the wet stuff I can find, eat some lunch, and now have set up a beach chair right at the river’s edge where I am writing this.

The idea is to start with half days at first, until we can get acclimated, and I am very glad to have done an easy day like this: not more than six or seven miles. I would be happy to hang out at this campsite for the next month, to tell you the truth, it’s really just a magical place. The access from the road is over about two miles of rutted two-track, so while it is possible to drive the car in and we don’t have to pack in tents and food and stuff, it’s remote enough that I don’t expect we’ll see anyone else at all until we leave here.

I wish we had thought of staying here rather than at Itasca State Park, which is sort of like tenement life transposed to the outdoors, PLUS they charge you for the opportunity to camp cheek by jowl. if you are going to do this trip, forget about the State Park campsites and stay in these great free sites instead!