Monday, July 25, 2011

Paddling is easier when you let the hills block the wind

It didn't take long for us to dread every portage.  One time, we noticed that there was a stream that connected the two lakes and the portage trail ran alongside this stream.  Rather than carry our canoes over the portage, we decided to try and pull them through the stream.  So we got out of the canoe, stood in the stream, and one of us pulled the tow rope in the front and the other of us pushed from behind.  As I recall it was tough going.  The water was swift and we were going against the current.  But it felt so good to not have to lift the heavy canoe over another portage.  In reality, we probably worked harder by pulling the canoe through the stream.

The last full day of our trip we had to paddle the length of the longest lake of the trip.  And there was a pretty stiff head wind making it doubly hard to paddle.  I remember being out in the middle of this wide lake with wave after wave coming straight at us.  I was afraid that if our canoe got turned sideways the waves would dump us over and our gear would sink to the bottom.  I worked very hard to keep us headed straight at the wind.  It was very tiring and we were not making much progress.  Then we noticed another group of canoers passing us by on our left.  They knew something we didn't.  They knew that if you get your canoes over by the shore on the leeward side of the lake (the side of the lake where the wind is coming from) the hills along the bank block the wind and the paddling is much easier.  We immediately made a beeline for the shore on our left.  We soon noticed that the wind was much less stiff, the waves much smaller, and the paddling much easier.  We began to make headway and eventually made it to the end of the lake where we camped for the last night of the trip.

In life, when the going is tough, it is ok to rely on others to help you make it through.  You don't have to stay out in the middle of it all and take it on all by yourself.  The going is much easier when you have the support of others.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Portage is a dirty word

One summer when I was Bishop of the Louisville 2nd Ward our Varsity Scouts went on a high adventure in the Boundary Waters area of northern Minnesota.  I went along for the trip because both Ben and Joe were in the group.  Brother David Beers was the scout leader who put most of the trip together.  We had a 50 mile canoe trip planned.  The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is very strict and limits the size of a group that can canoe at any one place.  We had too many in our group to all go together so we divided into 2 groups.  We had a circular route planned.  Half of the group went clockwise and half went counterclockwise.  That meant we would pass each other one time halfway through the trip. 

The trip began with a long car ride from Louisville to the starting point in the far northern part of Minnesota.  As I recall, it took about 18 hours of driving.  We had made arrangements with an outfitter to supply the canoes, so all we had to take was our packs with clothing and food and sleeping bags.  We made it to the outfitters without incident and they took us to the starting point.  One group started out to the left and one started out to the right.  Our planned route involved canoeing the length of many different lakes that were close together in an end to beginningl arrangement, much like the holes on a golf course.  The map made it look like each lake was very close to the next one.  Each lake was connected by an overland trail that was called a portage.  We soon learned to hate the word, "portage."  At the end of the first lake we came to our first portage.  Here we had to traverse the trail twice, once to carry our backpacks and other supplies, and a second time to carry our canoes.  This involved turning the canoe upside down and resting the bottom on top of our heads.  There were two of us to each canoe and it took both of us to carry it across the portage.  It was a little difficult to see with the canoe hanging over our heads.  Sometimes we just held the canoe at our sides and held it off the ground as we walked.  Neither way was all that easy.  The canoes felt pretty heavy once they were out of the water.  To make matters worse, the trail went through thick woods that were infested with hungry mosquitoes.  We would spray ourselves with Deet and that would keep the mosquitoes away, but as we walked and sweated the mosquito repellent would wear off and the attack would begin.  Some of the portages were short and some were way long (I think the longest was about 1 mile).  Canoes were obviously made for moving through the water and not so much for carrying across land.

We were in bear country.  At each campsite we would tie ropes around our packs and haul them high up a tree to keep them away from the bears.  The very first night we had a bear attack.  We were awakened in the middle of the night by the sounds of something pulling and ripping at somebody's backpack.  I remember feeling pretty scared, but also thinking about needing to protect the scouts.  I had a flashlight that also had an emergency siren included and thought that I could maybe scare the bear away by turning on the siren.  So I opened my tent and turned on the siren.  As I did this, the thought occurred to me, "Well, you just let the bear know where you are."  I can't remember how, but we finally got the bear to leave our camp.  In the morning, we found out that Brian Haynes had his backpack taken and destroyed by the bear.  Apparently, Brian didn't pull it high enough off the ground.  The bear was able to stretch up and get the pack.  It was all ripped up.  Brian had a squeeze bottle filled with honey that was totally trashed.  I remember we could see holes in the bottle from the bear's claws.  That morning while we were eating breakfast we saw a bear (we think it was the same one) up the hill a little way from camp.  It was a black bear.  Luckily, it stayed away and left us alone.  That was the only bear sighting we had the whole week, but it sure was memorable.  More to come...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Joe's Going Off the Road!"

One summer when we lived in Louisville, we had a road trip planned to visit Utah for summer vacation.  Our friends, Mike and Roxanne Jarvis, had recently moved to Utah and had left their little Datsun pickup truck behind, and asked us if we could drive it out with us.  We had four drivers in the family, Kathy and I, and  Ben and Joe.  We decided to rotate drivers through our van and the pickup and make the trip straight through without stopping at a motel. 

Things got started as planned.  We strapped our car-top carrier into the bed of the pickup truck and had two riding in the cab and the rest in the family van.  It was a hot summer day and the windows of the truck needed to be rolled down because there was no air conditioning.  Things went as planned until we were almost to Kansas City.  Joe was driving the truck and Betsy was in the passenger seat.  I was driving the van and was in front of the group.  I remember periodically looking in my rearview mirror to make sure all was right with Joe and the truck.  One time as I glanced back I saw the truck move off the road onto the right shoulder.  I remember saying something like, "Joe is going off the road."  As I watched I saw the truck come back onto the road and thought all would be ok, but then the truck continued across both westbound lanes and pitched into the median on the left.  Apparently a bee had flown into the cab and Joe was trying to brush it away from Betsy when he went off the road to the right.  When he came back onto the road and moved to the left side, we think a tire blew and caused them to pitch into the median.   I will never forget the scene as I viewed it in the mirror.  The car began to roll head over tail down the median, over and over.  It finally came to a rest in the median, on its left side, pointing back toward the east. 

It took me a few seconds to get the van safely stopped and then we all piled out and started to sprint back down the median toward the truck.  Poor Kathy was about 8 months pregnant with Caleb.  I remember wondering what we would find when we finally got to the truck.  It seemed like it took forever to run that few hundred yards.  I remember that other people were already there to offer aid.  I remember that the engine was on fire and the the first person on the scene had a fire extinguisher with them and put out the fire.  I remember seeing Betsy's head pop up out of the right side of the car, through the window that had been broken out.  I remember seeing Joe roll out of the driver's seat through the back window of the cab that was also broken out.  His window was down against the ground so he couldn't go that way.  Both had their seat belts on and were not ejected from the truck.  The roof of the cab was smashed in in the middle, but both sides where their heads were were not smashed.  There was a troop of boy scouts who stopped and several with emergency response training who stopped.  They helped us get Betsy and Joe away from the truck and called 911 for help.

As far as we could tell, they both seemed ok.  They had some cuts and scrapes and Betsy appeared to have a bloody mouth.  On closer inspection, we found that she had red cardboard from the cover of a hardback book stuck in her braces.  Apparently she was reading the book when this happened and it flew up against her face and her braces took a piece of the cover.  The ambulance arrived and Joe and Betsy were both strapped to boards so they could be safely transported to a nearby regional hospital.  We strapped the car-top carrier onto the roof of the van (it had been thrown out of the truck bed, but was pretty much still intact), piled into the van and followed the ambulance to the hospital.  The doctor there examined Joe and Betsy, took a few X-rays, and concluded that there were no broken bones or significant injuries.  About three hours after the accident we were on the road again.  Now all crunched in the van, but all alive.

When I think about that accident, I marvel that neither Joe nor Betsy was hurt (beyond scrapes and bruises).  They had to have been going at least 65 mph as they pitched into the median.  I hear all the time about fatal accidents when the cars were going much slower than that.  Sometimes I look at Joe, now 35 and the father of 5, or Betsy, now 31 and the mother of 4, and thank Heavenly Father for preserving their lives.  I think about that person who had the fire extinguisher and want to thank him, but I don't even remember him being around during the aftermath.  The only thing that died that day, was the Jarvis's yellow Datsun pickup truck.  It was totaled and we left it in the median of Highway 70 waiting for a tow truck to come and haul it away.  It was a hard phone call to make when we had to let Mike Jarvis know that we had totaled his truck.