Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Around the Bend

Selma Kayak and I had a hot date this past weekend.  We've been together for quite a while now, and as happens to some couples after half a decade, I'd been somewhat remiss in my relationship duties toward her lately.  It's a good relationship, but we need to set up more regular dates to keep the romance alive.  She'd been nagging me to take her out, so we hit a local stream.  Just the two of us, a little lunch and a couple fishing rods.  River romance rekindled.

I made her a new duck hunting dress last fall, but maintaining relationships, especially with beautiful girls like Selma, requires constant work.

We set out to float a section of a local river that often fishes well for smallmouth bass and channel catfish, with the occasional petulant pike making an appearance, all flash and slashing threat at the side of the boat.  As is our habit on such solo journeys, we paddled upstream for quite a while right from the outset.  We can then take a relaxing lunch break at some point, and float back down to the truck at our leisure.

I know this river well, having fished it in spring for the bass, summer for the kitties, and hunted ducks on it during the fall.  It's a bit of a drive, but I was on my way out of town in that direction anyway.  It was the perfect excuse to sneak in a backwater tryst with my girl.

As we got into the groove with each other, once again, we were able to let go all the stress of weekday life.  Birds sang, sun shone warm and bright, and there was just enough wind to keep things cool.  All was temporarily right with the world.  She travels fairly well against the current, and I don't mind the extra work, so we were having a grand time of it.  The water was a little high and stained, which didn't bode well for the bass fishing, but we didn't care, just content to be out on the water.  She is pretty long and beamy, wide in the hips, if you will (don't tell her I said that!), which isn't the ideal set-up for paddling up a cramped little river in high water, but I'm just barely young and dumb enough to keep on chugging. 

While probably not the best for maneuvering against the current, Selma was designed by Native Watercraft to be exceptionally stable and roomy.  She's the perfect platform from which to stand up and fly cast, almost un-fall-out-able, though I have managed that feat one time through no fault of her's.  A mid-stream boulder and my inattention conspired to dampen my britches on that particular day, as I was attempting to cast, standing up, to rare bronzebacks rising to hatching flies. She really shines with that amazingly comfortable seat on long trips or when it's time to relax and sip a cold beverage on the float back to the truck, using the paddle only as a rudder.

This river gets some boat traffic, but not as much as the more popular ones.  I figured when we first set afloat that we'd encounter a few portages along the way, and I was correct... kinda.  There were more than a few.  In fact, there were a lot.  Kind souls (I can't name the group without giving away the river on the open internet so they will sadly remain nameless here) usually clear the stream of downed trees and other obstacles every spring, but they had apparently not gotten to this section of river yet.  Around seemingly every bend of this twisty, flirty little river, we found blowdowns, wood debris, and the natural detritus that makes a passage somewhat more of a challenge.  It's not much of a hardship to get out of the boat, and drag her over or around a hurdle once or twice, but as the portages begin to pile up in number, the burden begins to grow.

Selma often functions as my taxi as much as anything else.  We paddle or float to a likely looking fishing spot, then, when time and river condition permits, I sometimes exit the boat to wade and fish the riffle or run.  Honey hole fished, I hop back in, and ride down to the next spot, making probing casts as I go.  There's no right or wrong way to fish a river, and this is my habitual mode of covering water.

So I'm used to getting in and out of her, as the fishing and trees barring our way dictate.  It can become a bit of an ordeal when you simply want to get home to dry shoes and a good meal, water and mud splashing into the boat every time you clamber in and out, but that's the way of the river.  If you don't want to get stinky, take up coin collecting, or worse yet, golf.

While she looks great spit-shined and polished, I like her better when she's just a little dirty.
We eventually made our way far enough upstream that I deemed lunch to be in order, knowing full well that I'd have to make all those portages again on the way back down to the parking area.  I noshed on chicken smoked over apple wood at home and grilled asparagus with roasted red pepper coulis.  It had gotten all smushed together in the dry bag, but I didn't care.  Those of us who sometimes take sustenance under a willow with our feet dangling in the river actually look forward to those vaguely colloidal meals, blended together by vest pocket and duffel.

Rested and restored by a fine snack in the shade on an outside bend, a strange thing then happened.  The plan had been to return to the truck, and get on with the responsibilities of the weekend, but of her own volition, and without any input from my paddle, Selma pointed her bow into the current, and once again we made our way upstream.

That's why we're a good match, she and I.  Even when there are things to do and places to be back in the world, we share the same desire to carry on exploring.  It's a draw that I also share with a few good river men in my life.  Any of us that have ever been pulled around the next bend of a river, and the next one after that, know the joy of simply seeking.  We also know the rigors of navigating the last river miles and loading a boat all while shrouded in darkness. 

Truly undiscovered country is no more, at least around here, but it can sometimes feel like you'll be in it if you can just round the next bend.  Visions of Lewis and Clark, of Undaunted Courage, race through your mind, at the same time accompanied by the sobering thought that there's probably a Starbucks within 20 miles, as the mallard flies.

Selma and I continued on for a while, nearly in the paddle strokes of Marquette and Joliet as it happens.  And this is where my many shortcomings as fisherman and duck hunter often rear their ugly, gaping maws on the nearly innumerable babbling gems that braid our state.  I forgot to fish.

Well, not exactly forgot.  More precisely, I was persuaded to choose paddle over rod by the drive to see around the upcoming corner, past the next willow blocking our path.  It happens to me all the time.  I set out on the hunt for that slab smallie lying in wait at the head of the pool or wood ducks careening through the hardwoods, and I simply cannot fight the paddle from my hands.

Soon enough, obligation put an end to our heedless search for the unknown.  People need to eat, after all, and I'm the designated kitchen monkey of the clan, for better or worse.  I gently convinced Selma to pirouette, and carry us back to rubber and tarmac.  We made all the same portages again, water and goop slopping into her resin hull.  I may have cursed once or twice, dragging and grunting her over logs and through the slop, slapping skeeters and wiping sweat, but even the best couples fight occasionally.

We'll continue to explore, Selma and I, sometimes forgoing the gathering of protein for the love of gliding on water.  I have my eye on a another kayak now, one more slight than her stately form and dimensions, more suited to navigating the wee rivulets where I pass a lot of time.  I'll hate to break it to her when we become a triumvirate, but she'll still be my girl when when loads of decoys and camping equipment need to be ferried across open water, or any time the royal ease and comfort of a La-Z-Boy on the water is called for.

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