Canoeing Outside My Comfort Zone

For many reasons that don’t really make sense, I chose to spend my summer working at a summer camp that sends campers out on canoe portaging trips in the Boundary Waters. Despite the fact that it isn’t something I would normally do, I’ve been having a pretty good time so far. I just returned from the staff canoeing trip, and I thought I would share some highlights from my five days of paddling, camping and slapping mosquitos. I have gone on a trip like this before, but it was seven years ago. So it’s been a little while and I’m a very different person now. But it wasn’t too tough on my body because I didn’t really end up doing much. Anyway, here are some thoughts and miscellaneous writings that I came up with while canoeing and portaging through the Boundary Waters.

DAY ONE:
Our trip was going fine until we hit our second portage and I slipped on a rock. I had a large green personal pack on my back and my backpack on my front. I tried to right myself mid-fall, which just made me fall more. So I wound up getting caught in a huge patch of thorns with my backpack strap wrapped around a branch. The guy behind me had to set down his canoe to get me out, and then we treated the scratches and scrapes all over my right calf and left knee. I really wanted the people in my group to see me as someone who knows what they’re doing, but I feel like that ship has sailed.

DAY TWO:
My arms aren’t really sore yet because I haven’t done a lot of paddling. I’ve mostly been duffing in the middle of the canoe, which is not very comfortable at all. Today we reached Thunder Point, which is this really cool cliff area where you can see Canada. I got two bars of service because we were so high up, so I called my dad. The walk up and down the hill was brutal, and it helped me forget that I had left my zip-off pant legs out to dry down by the canoes. So I guess I’m going to spend some time without pants on this trip. Yay. Also I got cornrows tonight. And earlier this morning someone mentioned that there’s an old folk tale about Lake Jenny being haunted, so I spent most of the day having back and forth conversations between myself and a high-pitched woman haunting my body. And you can tell this character is meant to be the ghost of Jenny because she often says “It’s me! The ghost of Jenny!” Nobody in my group finds this funny except for me. But that hasn’t stopped me before. It’s been a fun and eventful trip so far.

DAY THREE:
This morning I really needed to use the bathroom, but I waited until we portaged in between the US and Canada to do it, so I could say that I’d pooped in a different country. Juvenile, I know. But it brought me some sense of joy. When I walked back to the canoe I was so proud. I kept saying “I POOPED IN CANADA!” It was then that they informed me I’d gone the wrong way and missed Canada by about thirty yards. A few hours later we had lunch on a small island in Canada and I swam in Canadian waters, which kind of makes up for the disappointment. Kind of. Duffing in the canoe is still really annoying and uncomfortable, but today my fellow group members Karly, Bekah and I enjoyed a singalong of the songs Firework, Sunflower, and Hooked On A Feeling respectively. We respect the sanctity of nature, but we also love to sing a good tune. Oh, and when we had dinner I sat down on a log to eat my trail spaghetti and promptly slipped and fell on my back, sending the spaghetti flying. My group must be wondering how I haven’t accidentally killed us all yet.

DAY FOUR:
Two Poems About Canoeing
The blade of the paddle slides gracefully into the water
Carving into a well-worn path that has been forged many times over
Within seconds it’ll all be washed away
The evidence we were ever here gone forever
The trees are here to bear witness to our journey
As they have done for hundreds of thousands before us
I lean back and gaze at the sky as we glide through the lake
Wondering not what tomorrow will bring or what the rest of the world is arguing about
For now I focus on the clarity and beauty of the moment
Savoring each gust of wind and drop of water
Every little joke and non sequitur
Committing it all to memory before I blink and it all fades away
Leaving me alone against the chaos once again

The blade of the paddle slaps forcefully against the water
As the sun roasts me alive like a forgotten tuna casserole
My skin has been painted a weird combination of bright pink and blinding white
With a few hundred bug bites and scratches thrown in for good measure
As I write this a couple more mosquitoes are inspecting me from a safe distance
Trying to see if there’s any room left for them to join the party
I’ve been sitting in the middle of this goddamn canoe for twenty minutes now
But it feels like it’s been three hours
My ass is howling at me
“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE STOP PUTTING ME IN THIS ALUMINUM PRISON! I’LL DO ANYTHING! JUST LET ME BE FREE!!!”
The canoe muffles the screams and makes them easier to ignore
My feet fall asleep for the thirteenth time, fully unaware of the water sloshing around them
I try to rest against the uncomfortable and unforgiving bars and picture what we’re paddling towards
A rocky and lumpy campsite full of bugs and thorns, with a hole in the ground that’s overflowing with moldy month-old shit
A slightly liquidy dinner that tastes okay but comes out wrong
And another day to do it all over again
God, I missed this

DAY FIVE:
Around 2:00 in the morning I was woken up by the other guys in my tent and told that a storm was happening and we needed to go into lightning stance. Apparently I wasn’t paying attention to what this was during staff training, but lightning stance is a procedure you need to go into when the lighting and thunder are less than thirty seconds apart. When this happens you need to wake up your campers and sit on lifejackets with your head in your knees. And if you’re me, this whole thing makes you somewhat nervous and you fart loudly into the lifejacket, which then inspires a guy named Owen to say “That’s some funky thunder!” And remember, my quick dry pants are now half of what they used to be, so I’m getting rained on in my pajamas. When it was done another guy named Luke told me to go back to the tent. I was already booking it, and yelled back “OH I’M GOING, BABY!” in reply. I’ve never called someone baby before. I don’t think I’m going to make a habit of it. It is now several hours later and we are back at camp. I was in the sauna for a while and then I got a good shower in, so I’m feeling nice and clean. I definitely missed doing this kind of thing, but I’m also glad my job at the camp doesn’t require me to do this every week.

I took this job to get away from all the noise and unplug a bit, and the staff trip definitely helped. I hope you enjoyed the tales of my misadventures. I’m still on a hiatus in terms of Ruddtrospectives, but next week you can look forward to something different. Or more of the same, disguised as something new. Anyway, thanks for reading.

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