It was a canoe trip down the Vermilion River in beautiful northern Minnesota that unfairly ruined my reputation as a skilled outdoorsman. Mr. Science (Gary) and I had paddled north forty miles from Vermilion Lake to Crane Lake on the Minnesota-Canadian border.
There are long quiet stretches of the river that have little current and very few signs of civilization. In between the quiet water are some wild rapids and portages with names like Vermilion Dam, Shively Falls, Everett Rapids, Table Rock Falls, Belgium Fred's rapids, DaCaigny Rapids, Chipmunk Falls, High Falls, the Chute, and the Gorge. Some of these portages are long, but all are well worn. Timber wolves, moose, black bears, beavers, otters, bald eagles and osprey are occasionally sighted. White-tailed deer are common.
Four days of awesome scenery, wildlife and some great fishing had combined to make for a wonderful late summer outing. During the first three days on the river we had not seen another soul. Then a little incident occured, which when told and retold put my good outdoor reputation at risk. The river was mostly placid on that fatefull day. It flowed gently through pine forest, and acres of wild rice with an occasional Class I or II rapids. Class I rapids are easy paddling for beginners. Class II means some whitewater which is relatively easy as long as you have the basic skills. Class III means the rapids are runnable for experienced and skilled paddlers. There were a few class III rapids on the Vermillion but we had chosen to portage around all of them. Erring on the side of caution because even though all our camping gear was secured by rope in the canoe, we were not willing to risk getting it all wet. Until the last day that was.
As my canoeing partner and I stood on a bluff, overlooking a rock strewn whitewater river section of about a quarter of a mile, we made our decision. The water levels were low. It was late summer. This left the river more "technical" than dangerous looking. Lots of maneuvering would be required to safely navigate this stretch which gently curved out of sight to the right. In high water it looked like it would be too dangerous. Now it didn't appear to have any insurmountable problems . We went for it.
After checking to make sure everything was secured properly I took my usual place in the front of the canoe. In a two man white water canoe their are distinct roles to play for the paddlers. The person in the back is the captain of the ship. Kirk of the starship Enterprise. Columbus crossing the uncharted ocean. Choosing the course. Making the big decisions . Left on the river. Right on the river. Eddy turn here. Ferry right there.
The man in the bow is an ordinary seaman. On his knees leaning forward he takes the short view. With absolute concentration, looking only a few feet ahead he must spot the immediate dangers of rocks, hidden or not, that must be avoided. Seeing that danger, he yells "draw left or draw right," and using a draw stroke turns the front of the canoe away from disaster. It's a lonely job, fraught with tension, but as they say somebody has to do it. That was my job and I was damn good at it. Especially judging the water as it boiled over hidden rocks. I avoided them instantaneously.
As we came around the bend of the river there were about 100 yards of rapids before the river spilled into a nice fishy looking pool. I spotted the pool immediately having taken my eye off the rock bed ahead only long enough to notice there was a canoe in the pool and two fisherman busily going about their business. However, the woman in the front was clearly topless. Back to my job, we had covered about half the distance to the pool, when disaster struck. I had navigated between two large but only slightly exposed rocks when we hit a third rock HIDDEN in the flow with a loud bang. Capsizing is always a possibility but in this case we spun 180 degrees and found ourselves traveling the last measure of the rapids going backwards. We entered the the pool in less than elegant fashion. When we had hit the rock I thought I heard someone shout. I turned my head to see where we were headed. Straight towards the young couple who were looking somewhat dumbfounded at our unprofessional approach. The "au naturale" blonde in the bow of the boat was making a panic stricken effort to cover up.
Laughing at our situation, I was helpless, while my sturdy and somewhat humorless partner had managed to begin turning us away so that at least we would not be colliding with the surprised and innocent bystanders. It was left to me, however, to apologize to these wilderness devotees. The best I could come up with,on the spur of the moment, as we drifted by them was to ask the aforementioned woman, "how's the fishing?" In the years that followed, no matter how my partner told the story, it was always me, who upon seeing the topless canoeist, had lost his concentration. Had failed to attend to his duty. Had almost caused a fatal disaster. All for the sake of a Grecian Goddess of the North Woods. I still deny it all.
Ha! A likely story! You were fortunate indeed not to capsize, but I sure would love to hear your partner tell that story. I sure enjoyed it! :-)ReplyDelete
'how's the fishing?' ha ha.ReplyDelete
This story was quite captivating , loved reading it.ReplyDelete
Since I like to embellish just a wee bit at times I am going to think perhaps you bumped heads in the spin and saw a mermaid that had swum in from the sea ;) Ha ha Just my spin on it!
SO how's the fishing lately .
Wishing you and yours a beautiful 2014 !
Delightful story! My only relatable experience is when my daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter, son and a friend went river rafting on the St Louis river south of Duluth. I was in the front so I got full view of the oncoming rocks and eddies. I also got some waves full in the face. I loved it! Back in the 70's, my teenage kids went on a winter camping trip up by Lake Vermilion. They were thrilled to hear wolves howling during the night. Ain't Minnesota great? (The Twins aside.)ReplyDelete
Brave man on all counts! I'd be curious to hear what Mrs. T had to say about the story! Hahaha!ReplyDelete
Ha! A good story, but perhaps you should change the blonde to a double-breasted fish hawk?? ;)ReplyDelete
Ha, delightful story! :)ReplyDelete
What a fun story. I cracked up at your arriving backwards. Well told and glad you decided to share.ReplyDelete
Ya, that'll do it every time...steal your attention. What was she thinking? I'll see how many canoes I can upset when they come down the rapids. Good story. By the way, how was the fishing?ReplyDelete
Ah Trout-Birder, are you giving us the WHOLE story?ReplyDelete
Ha, good one. Well, at this very moment, it is MINUS 29 degrees at the 2nd closest town to that set of rapids. Brrrr.ReplyDelete
TB Hercules gone fishing and caught by a Siren.ReplyDelete
What did they answer? I wonder what great story was told by the bare chested woman?:)ReplyDelete
I loved this post! It isn't often that a man will tell a fishing story accurately. You did tell it accurately, didn't you? Like Far Side, I would LOVE to hear the story from the mouth of the topless woman.ReplyDelete
Well, what else WOULD a person say when meeting up with another boat on a Minnesota lake? Wonderful story.ReplyDelete
Love this story; I smiled as I realized that a momentary glance and taking one's mind off the task at hand might lead to this awkward scenario. So glad that all came out unscathed. What a great story! the re-telling has probably gotten better and better as time marches on.ReplyDelete
Thank you for your visit to my blog. I enjoyed being here at yours. I look forward to returning.
You live in a beautiful part of our great country.
A fun story, spent a few summers up at Tower and Ely areaReplyDelete
I am so glad I followed you home. Loved it, and am still smiling. And the memories it triggered.ReplyDelete
In very different country, half a world away we followed my father with a frying pan as he fished for trout (brown and rainbow). Our wildlife was largely rabbits and snakes. A very, very occasional platypus.
Once, thinking the water was too shallow to swim, I stepped in plannin to check the other side. And went in over my head. It was so clear it looked to be inches, not feet deep.
Sorry about the loooong comment.
Ha! Great Story!!ReplyDelete
Your yarn had me laughing. I would love to hear "the captain's" version. Well told and you paint memorable images of the area's scenic wonders--all of them, human and otherwise!ReplyDelete
Your accompanying photos are great. Especially the one you shot of your woman friend who did catch some ells in the fishing pool. -- barbaraReplyDelete
Haha! Too funny! Both being men I am assuming and both canoeing but with you the onus of responsibility I am thinking your partner was right. You surely lost your concentration but that is to be expected. How funny a sight it all must've been! Glad no one was hurt too.ReplyDelete
This is an anecdote for the ages. I'm glad you wrote about it. Your descendants could use a hard copy, I think.ReplyDelete
Some paddlers have all the luck, lol... My kayak and I never had such adventure! ;)ReplyDelete
What a riot you continue to be...you wonderful story teller you. Just checking in, feeling to see if the pulse of the teacher continues, yep! I see though you retreat to Florida now...my husband(The Big Fish) threatens this every year, but what would I do without my solitude?! Good to hear all this and more, keep on keeping on- take care, TWReplyDelete
A good story!ReplyDelete
:0 Good story! I enjoyed it! Happy 4th of July to you and Lily:)ReplyDelete
Great story, Ray. Hope you're well.ReplyDelete
I always love reading about your adventures. You tell them well.ReplyDelete
A tale well told! I love your description of the roles of the paddlers bow and stern and of course your trip through the rapids . “How’s the fishing?” — I Laughed so hard!ReplyDelete