We were up at 7am this morning, after a rather nippy night, my nose again telling me that the temperatures dropped below freezing sometime in those wee hours. We knew the day would be short- we were planning to find a campsite on Cedar Lake for our last night- so there was no reason to be on the water bright and early. So, we took our time in camp, cooking breakfast over the fire and packing up the gear.
The first portage was just around the corner from camp, and I took the stern for that short river distance, to feel how the canoe paddled with the weight trimmed as it was. Suddenly, we were both surprised by a scarcely submerged gravelly shelf that grounded the bow of the boat, and we were forced out of the canoe to walk it for 10 meters or so.
After the first portage, around a shallow riffle, Don hopped back into the stern. Soon, once again, we found ourselves scraping bottom. This time we had to unload the gear and carry the boat over the rocks of the sometimes-island that separated the river. The water levels have not yet recovered from the summers drought. The scenery was pretty though, and the pauses gave us the chance to look back at where we’d come from.
Too quickly, we were upon the last portage of the trip, and I was filling with sadness that the trip was ending so soon. The takeout for that portage was on yet another rocky shoal and the trail climbed immediately uphill from there, then leveled out to a flat, wide dirt trail through the woods, paralleling the rapids below. The footing on that trail was so good that Don was able to carry the canoe for the entire 945 meters. It was so very satisfying for him to be able to do that after all that he has been through with his ankles and feet. His ability to portage the canoe (you cannot really use a walking stick for balance while carrying a canoe on your shoulders) will make trip planning less worrisome for me, knowing that the routes can be shared in this way.
As it was plentiful and hard to resist, we gathered a bit of firewood again on the portage trail after we’d gotten across with all of the gear. Don cut it to length while I prepared lunch in a grassy clearing at the end of the trail, overlooking the river as it emptied into the marsh. The winds were blowing, and occasionally gusting strongly by then, bending the grasses and blowing the current. Indeed, we’d gotten a forecast that indicated the winds might be 12-13 mph by 11am, and I suspected that they were.
Paddling through the open marsh, after lunch, was exceedingly beautiful to me. Different than the Grassy Bay and McIntosh Marsh, here there were more cattails and reeds, the river meandering through it in wide sweeping curves so that at times we were paddling back in the direction from which we’d come. The far ridges of Cedar Lake in the distance were just beginning to flush, offering a soothing backdrop to those marshlands.
Out onto big Cedar Lake we came, taking a heading immediately across the southern shoreline, where the land offered shelter from the southeasterly winds. Our plan was to land on one the four campsites along that shoreline, to take in a long lake view, after so many nights on small water, for our last evening in camp. We, of course, hoped for a sunset and a full moon.
Finally, we decided upon the last site of the four, after tucking the canoe into a narrow landing in its somewhat protected cove around the side and climbing out to find a spacious campsite snuggled under the cover of trees and behind a deep and wide granite front porch with an expansive view of the lake. From that welcoming perch, it appeared to us that the lake may be quieting. Although we understood that calmness might be a illusion from our protected vantage point in the lee of the land, it also seemed that far across the lake the water was smooth. We could see no whitecaps or waves.
So, we decided to check the weather satellite again. The anticipated high winds of the forecast seemed to have been pushed back several hours, to later in the afternoon, but also persisting into the morning, when we’d hoped for more typical placid dawn waters for our paddle across this big lake. On top of that, since the time we had lunched beneath a blue sky dotted with puffy clouds, a heavy could cover had been pulled across the sky, predicting, along with the forecast, rain.
No sunset. No moon. High winds and rain, after having just dried everything— tarps and ropes and bags– so thoroughly yesterday afternoon in camp with those lines I had strung. The idea of sitting hunkered under the tarp suddenly seemed unappealing to us both, though we were reluctant to admit it and to acquiesce. Still, we made the sad decision, said our dispirited goodbyes and struck out across the lake for the parking lot.
We set a course, quartering the building waves, which took us considerably east of our destination. When we were halfway across the lake, we made our turn, so that the waves would now quarter the stern. Unfortunately, at times we were pushed broadside to them and I had to work hard from the bow, drawing strongly to keep us from being broadsided and dumped into a trough between the waves, some of which were hitting the stern before the previous wave was past the bow. A few of those rollers were 3 or 4 feet tall.
Hearts pounding, we made it across, but in the end were pushed into a quiet sandy bay around the limestone-cliff point west of the access point. Fortunately, we had walked along this sandy beach on that first night 13 days ago, when we were camped in the campground here before beginning our trip, so we knew the parking area was just one more short ‘portage’ away. Unloading the canoe, we proceeded to carry our gear through the woods to the waiting car as the rain began to fall.
We were stunned at the difference in the lake’s conditions between our protected bay and the public landing, where slicker clad persons were hastily hauling from the water their large motorboats, as they were being bounced about like corks and battered into the docks. Some of the folks at work there were surprised that we’d been able to paddle across that lake as it was. (I wasn’t quick to brag about that, however, as I was seriously questioning our decision to cross and feeling fortunate that we hadn’t been met with calamity)
Still, when it was pouring as if from buckets later a few hours later, we were happy with our decision, grateful to be inside a restaurant…..Who knows, though, in the lee of the land as we’d been, tucked beneath the tarp, warmed by the pile of firewood Don had cut, our evening could’ve been quite lovely.
I do know I have great respect for Cedar Lake, with her orientation to the prevailing winds, and will be prepared to wait her out the next time I visit her.
And there will be a next time.