The storm raged, the wind howled, lighting flashed, and thunder rolled. Yet, there I sat, drenched, valiantly securing the tent flap.
“Great start to our trek,” I mumbled.
“What?” Derrell asked, flipping his lighter. “Dang rain.” He clicked his lighter a few more times then gave up, leaving the unlit cigarette in his mouth. “I could use some coffee.”
It was only our first day. Derrell had promised great fishing, but then he always promised great fishing.
“Boundary Waters will be the best fishing you’ve ever seen,” he boasted to six eager scouts. For weeks we carefully planned our trip. Five days, canoeing through the Minnesota wilderness. Granted, none of us was an experienced canoeist, but what we lacked in experience, we made up in enthusiasm.
Our first day went smoothly. We had some confusion at the first portage, but by the third, everyone knew their job, and everyone was exhausted. With darkening skies, we set up camp and cooked dinner. We hit the hay for much-needed sleep, and then the storm hit. Our rented tents were old, and we couldn’t secure the flaps against the gusting wind, so to keep our gear dry, Derrell and I sat outside, holding the flaps closed.
The tempest settled, and we finally got some sleep. Our equipment survived, as did the canoes. Luckily, we had pulled them far above the water line, by morning the lake was lapping at them.
“Look, is that a canoe?” Derrell pointed across the lake.
“Sure looks like one, but nobody’s in it,” I answered. By the time I dug out my binoculars, a second canoe had appeared. In it, two men paddled frantically. Fascinated, we watched them chase their runaway.
“Some storm,” laughed Derrell, puffing on his morning cigarette. “Let’s get started.”
We woke the boys, made breakfast, broke camp, and headed to our second campsite, a short trip away. By noon, we had set up camp and were eating lunch when a ranger paddled up. He paused a few yards off shore and waved to get our attention.
“Are you alright?” he yelled.
“A little wet, but we’re okay,” Derrell yelled back. The ranger waved and paddled away.
“Nice of him to check on us,” I laughed, “but he was sure in a hurry to get somewhere else.”
After lunch, we decided to scout the next lake. Derrell took the lead canoe, with a scout named Fred. My son Nick and I were in the second, and two scouts, Alex and Joel were in the third. We left camp with the wind to our backs, sheltered by the trees on shore. The water was smooth as glass. Emerging from our small finger, we passed into a broad expanse of water. Ahead, near the right bank, lay two small islands. To our left, the lake widened. At first, we kept close to the right shore, although the far side beckoned intriguingly. When I glanced back, Joel and Alex lagged behind.
“Derrell, we ought to head back,” I yelled.
“We have to go back against the wind, and Joel and Alex are already struggling.”
“Okay, but we’ll head across the lake first – look for a good fishing spot.” Derrell turned left and headed across the lake. We followed, waving to Alex and Joel as we turned. Along the right shore, sheltered by the trees, we were in a wind shadow. When we turned left, we hit open water, running across the wind. The building waves broke roughly on our left side. The canoe rocked menacingly.
“This isn’t good,” I thought – then the unthinkable happened.
“Derrell’s over,” Nick yelled. Maneuvering to the leeward side, we found Fred clinging to the capsized boat. Although wet, his lifejacket kept him afloat. Nearby Derrell was treading water; his Boonie hat hung limply around his head. With a sheepish grin, he clenched the strap of his lifejacket in his teeth. Swimming with one hand he held the other aloft, keeping a box high and dry.
“Save my cigarettes,” he laughed.
“Derrell put your lifejacket on.”
Everyone has priorities in life, and wearing a lifejacket was not high on Derrell’s list. We secured the free gear and urged Derrell to climb in his boat. Although the water was cold, he couldn’t, so we drifted with the wind. When we reached an island, we righted the canoe, emptied the water, resecured the gear and exchanged our dry coats for their wet ones. Chastened, we hugged the shore as we returned to camp. We never made it across that lake.
Days later we learned that the ‘storm of the century’ had leveled a swath of forest 30 miles long and 4 miles wide. Floatplanes circled the sky for days looking for the stranded. As for us, we finished our trek oblivious to the disaster.
We never did catch a fish.
“Probably the Storm,” Derrell said.
David L. Dahl
Hello, I’m David Dahl. When I’m not being Bugga (grandpa), I do some woodworking and write children’s books. My latest is Olivia’s Story: Protector of the Realm.
On my website: buggasbooks.com I am running a Holiday Sale, all books are 30 to 40% off.