Tuesday, May 10, 2016

I’m not referring to the cologne from the 90s

We often hear stories about Lewis and Clark and how successfully they maneuvered the vast unknown of the US.  However successful they were, there are tales of the incompatibility of their personalities and I am reminded of a time in my past when I traversed this country to visit our neighbor to the north, Canada.

                I graduated college in May, 1993, and was to set out on the course of my new career when I realized I had neglected to actually obtain employment.  Having no idea what to do with myself, I moved home and panicked. I decided I needed to travel and my best friend John Allen’s parents had a lovely resort in Nestor Falls, Ontario and I had been invited to join them for a week or two.  My parents and I looked at our finances and to the bus station we went.

                Have you ridden a bus from McComb, Mississippi, to Duluth, Minnesota?  No?  Well I have.  It took more than 24 hours of non-stop driving and I use the term loosely.  We stopped for about three minutes in every podunk town on the route through Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.  I don’t know if our driver was lost or drunk but we weaved our way northward spending hours-long stops in both Memphis and Chicago. 

                Do you know what people do in the bathrooms of the Chicago bus station?  Well I don’t because I refused to enter due to the overwhelming stench of “stock show” greeting me before I crossed the threshold.  I took refuge with the kindly snack bar manager who let me spend time in the employee breakroom because, in her words, “You don’t look like you belong here, honey”.  I concurred and enjoyed my respite from “the bus people”. 

                I made it to Duluth, the rendezvous point as John’s brother Lee lived there and it is very, very clean and very, very close to the border.  Upon my arrival, we ate, watched a Joan Rivers standup special, slept and headed to Allen’s Crow Lake Lodge on the shores of Kakagi Lake.  Kakagi is the word for crow in a language I failed to establish.  We headed to the land of ketchup-flavored potato chips armed only with a driver’s license as it was all you needed back in the gentle, innocent days of the 1990s, well before anyone wanted a piece of Britney and she was simply a former Mouseketeer whose family lived about 15 miles away from mine, just across the border into Louisiana.

                Upon arrival I was greeted warmly by the family and coolly by the weather.  August in Canada is simply delicious weather; 70 degree days and 50 degree nights which required a lovely fire.  I was not sweating in the summertime and I was loving life even though I was voluntarily swimming which required a level of public nudity I felt inappropriate.  I tried water skiing but was unable to surface on the skis, even when they tried to start me from the end of the pier.  My body is not built for water sports, such as canoeing, which I try to avoid.

                It was decided by those who decide such things that we were to fish and I was to participate, just like in my youth in the Texas and Mississippi.  At least this time there would be no sweating but the setting, ominously, was canoe-related and I’m not referring to the cologne from the 90s.  The day began with John and his father in one canoe.  I and the 12 year-old cabin boy Stephen were in the other.  Yes, the Allen’s are a two-canoe family.  It’s fancy up in Canada, y’all. 

At the time of the event, I was 6’ and approximately 275 pounds give or take a Frito Pie; Stephen was 5’5” at best and 110 pounds at most.  Due to the differences in our masses, the canoe was riding low in the rear and barely skimming the surface of the lake in the front.  I don’t know the nautical term for popping a wheelie but were doing so, I can assure you.

Anyone familiar with canoe etiquette knows you must paddle on opposite sides of the craft in order to keep your forward momentum on a reasonably straight trajectory.  John and his Dad were making great time.  Young Stephen and I, on the other hand, were taking a more meandering route.  For every deep stroke I made, Stephen’s paddle did little to counter so we made continual, lovely loop-the-loops in the water as if we were a graceful, but boring Ice Capader. 

It was bad enough we fell further and further behind, but all the circling had caused me nausea, coupled with an irrational fear of a snake swimming in my back pocket (as the water was mere centimeters from the top edge of the vessel).  The only thing keeping us from being forever lost in the mists of Kakagi Lake was the repeated stops by the Allen men due to their constant laughter at our performance.

Even in adrift on Canadian waterways, I’m funny.

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