The Last Carry

“…we sometimes need to leave water to get to other waters”.

June 30, 2017    Canoe trippers are a very small subset of humanity. As the paddling descendants of trappers and of voyagers, we self-identify as a stoic, independent, and highly skilled on the water and in the camp. Motorboats, kayaks, and SUP’s are beneath consideration. Not without blindspots, we overlook our fetish for Kevlar boats, 9 ounce stoves, and titanium forks.

As with paddlers through history, we sometimes need to leave water to get to other waters. In this situation, gear and boats are carried along paths, or over obstacles to complete this transfer. The purists prefer a single carry. Gear and boats make the traverse in a single trip. This requires a bit of fortitude, a light boat, careful packing, and a well-balanced load.

In the Adirondack Park, these carry paths are well developed. They are the linchpins connecting the great paddling routes. I faced a carry between Middle Pond and Floodwood Pond. This is a pretty average carry, about a 1/3 of a mile with short, steep embankments, a few roots, and a bit of slick mud. The water was shallow at both ends with solid, sandy footing. Ordinarily, very doable. My heart said “go”. But on the ledger of plausibility I had to note: 1. Generally, I use a cane for walks over 200 yards. 2. I can’t lift anything over my head with my left arm. 3. My boating shoes had slick soles. 4. My left leg provides little lift. 5. There was no one for miles around if things went south. But really, why the hell not? I installed the portage yoke and heaved, cursed, and willed the canoe up onto my shoulders. Loaded beyond capacity, I started up the slick muddy embankment, using exposed roots as steps. A dark realization arose like a cloud of chiggers. I expended all my strength on the up-loading. An unload, a tricky sequence of moves requiring strength and balance, all embedded in a smooth tidy sequence, was out of the question. There was no turning back, no unloading. There was certainly no way I could make the full trip.

I was officially in over my head, the wound self-inflicted. The familiar weapon was baseless optimism, encouraging forward motion in spite of data that might be called common sense. And now a desperate bail-out was needed. Finding a fern-choked widening in the trail I awkwardly flipped the boat off my shoulder. The landing was gratifyingly soft. The carry now became a drag. A sudden downpour was punishment for the mistreatment of this beautiful canoe. Why the hell not, indeed.

It is possible to forget anything while paddling a canoe. With the carry out of mind, I surged across ponds and streams. In a soft rain, miles disappeared in my wake. No one was on the water or in the campsites. No planes droned overhead, no motors sounded in the coves and harbors. When the wind arose, the water got big mid-lake. I switched course to poke-boat the still edges beneath spreading limbs. There was no real destination nor real plan. If this was a final blessing for solo-tripping, no regrets.

After hours in my paddling position, I ran up on a sandy beach. And then I discovered an inability to exit the canoe. The exertion of paddling combined with hours locked in place created soft-edged rigor-mortis. In a state of wistful bewilderment, I just rolled myself into the water.

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