The last Tuesday in August finds me somewhat reflective, although not more so than normal in terms of visible light. It's 90° again. This has been a hot summer in Chicago, coming on the heels of no spring at all.
Soon the weather will break, the chill will set in, and we can all get back to complaining about how cold it is. In the meantime, I'm mainly tired of sweating so much.
I recently took a nice mini-vacation with a friend, canoeing 40 miles of the Wisconsin River with nothing but our wits, far too much food, miscellaneous gadgets and as much comfort as could be fitted into our watercraft.
Though we slept in a tent on a sandbar, it would be hard to say we were roughing it. This was fine, as neither of us are noted for our hardy ruggedness.
The second day of our intended three was punctuated in the late afternoon by a rumble of thunder. We had recently talked ourselves out of correctly reading our map, so it was easy to carry our wrongness momentum into a belief that it was not actually going to rain. Though cloudy, nothing we could see had the dark look of rainclouds. Even long after it became clear to us both that rain was imminent, my friend shushed me during the thunder in the hopes that he could trace its origins to the nearby highway, some anomaly in the pavement or a vehicle that would put us in the clear.
Still, we searched for a place to put ashore. Thunder, after all, means lightning, and being in a metal boat on water didn't seem like the most wondrous place to be if giant bolts of electricity were milling about.
It had begun to rain by the time we found a spot to put ashore, on a little clearing which seemed to be the origin of all the mud in Wisconsin. We peered bleakly around at the mud and the giant mosquitos and hoped the rain would subside before we would have to make camp. It grew cold, and we found our jackets, put them on. The rainproof fabric was just another interesting sensation on my skin, in addition to the sunburn, sand, sunscreen and bug repellant. I fastened the hood and pulled its drawstring.
Before long, the rain began to subside, and we glared one last time at the muddy sinkhole before shoving the canoe back into the water in search of a better place to camp. We had seemingly no sooner pushed off than my friend spotted the bridge over the river ahead. This meant we had gone far in excess of our intended distance for the day, and now were less than a mile from our extraction point, with something like 21 hours to spare.
This was when the rain truly began.
It was possibly the hardest rain I have ever been outside for, or it felt that way. The tiny drops pelted the surface of the river so that it resembled stucco. Within moments I was blind, the sunscreen and insect spray rushing into my eyes from my forehead. My glasses were no help, as they beaded and obscured as much or more than the chemicals. We began shouting to one another over the roar of water. We would make it to the landing and figure it out from there, we agreed, the sooner the better.
We paddled hard. Harder, probably, than any previous point on the trip. I was in the rear of the craft, responsible for the steering. I shouted again that I was nearly blind, and that my friend should call out if we needed to alter direction. A pool of water was forming at my feet inside the canoe, and I began to wonder if I would need to stop paddling and start bailing it out. So in my blindness, I kept one eye on the rapidly rising water in the canoe and one on the bridge ahead that signaled safety and potential dryness.
In a strange way, this sudden storm was the most fun part of the trip, truly exhilarating. Though I was worried about our various calamities, I also felt kind of wonderful.
My cell phone was working, and we arranged for a ride back to the place our trip originated. In a flash, our trip was over, and we were left with only the mundanities of slogging back to Illinois. I have to say that even now, nearly two weeks later, I still feel a small amount of the sadness I felt when I realized we were headed home a day early.
My friend and I have made plans to repeat the trip. We have discussed the things we should do differently next time to enhance the experience. We have talked also about camping sans canoe in the fall when the weather turns crisp and a campfire becomes a lifeline. Perhaps most importantly, we seem to have rekindled a friendship that seemed as though it had lain fallow for too long.
Forgive, please, the length and rambliness. I'm rusty.