Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wet in the Water and Back in the Forest

Bike tires scratching down through the muddy and gravel of a gas station parking, the inevitable involuntary groans of pain escaping the hood of my rain jacket, the click of the kick stand snapping down, and the retching sigh as my legs move me toward the heat of the log building. Sounds.

Then, the grumbling roar of a diesel invading my personal space and that of my rather expensive boat, currently coated in mud. Into the space next to my dilapidated rig a giant black pick-up rips in, jacked up on mud tires with two aftermarket exhaust pipes curving up its sides. In the bed is a muddy ATV casually lashed down with polyethelene, and behind the truck a boat trailer with a small powerboat and a snowmobile cantilevered into and held in place with bailing twine. Needless to say, I was impressed.

The man who rappelled down from the cab was also rather large, bearded and grimacing in front of a disintegrating wad of chew. He stepped around and we both starred at each other, the oppostie standing in front of their rig as if in defence of a maligned stepchild. I broke the silence.

"So. You must be the motor lobby."

He squinted down at me- I'm 6'4" and few men have need to look down at me-, then grinned broadly and let his chew fall to the ground.

"And yer the human-powered bit if ever I saw it."

We stood grinning at each other for another moment, then he said; "I'm gunna buy you a sandwich, I am. Come'on."

So we went inside and ate an absurdly big meal and talked for a while about the woods and northern Minnesota- "Exclusive non-motorized use is bunch of bull-crap," - before I got back on the road to continue my portage, now a few hundred miles old.

I was just out of Roseau, home of the Polaris company- makers of fine snowmobiles, ATVS and other off-road vehicles. The holy land.


Minnesota has been a dream. I have left the plains behind and none too soon. No offense to North Dakota, but I was ready to get out. The flat farmland continued for a few dozen miles, but once out of the Red River valley the biome quickly changed to the mixed forest that at this time of year reminds me so much of home. For months I had been longing for this rendezvous with the far western off-shoots of the Northern Forest- that great biotic community that stretches in a thick, rich band from the Canadian Maritimes through Maine and over the mountains of New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York into Ontario before washing up over the far shores of Superior to engulf northern Minnesota and our own little sliver of rocky Candian Shield country. Now in this band, this stark reminder of home, I will follow it for 1600 miles to the Atlantic Ocean and the conclusion of my expedition- but not this year. The winds of November on Superior are the thing of legend, and I will happily be heading home from Grand Portage.

I've made good time despite bad roads, headwinds and cold rainy weather. Now I am in International Falls and plan to put in on Rainy Lake tomorrow to begin the journey along the old voyageur route to the shores of Lake Superior. Voyageur National Park, the Boundary Waters, it is one of the holy places in paddling and I am excited to experience it, even in this late season. I am 300 miles from Grand Portage, and they are expecting snow every day for the next week. Some old story, it seems.

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