Each of my five friends at various times and in his own way asked me basically the same question: Are you going to write about this?
“This” was the houseboat adventure we were sharing on the massive and breathtaking Lake of the Woods in the provinces of Manitoba and Ontario in Canada, and dipping down into Minnesota in the U.S.
My answer was always the same. Some version of, “No,” or “Probably not,” or “I doubt it.”
I cannot live my life looking for a column in everything I do, I told them.
Still, I must produce about 800 to 900 words every week of my life. So here we are.
Since I am the only one, however, with this “Sword of Damocles,” as I often call my column, hanging over my head, I’ve decided to share some of the experience while leaving out the names of my five companions. They know who they are. And some of you do, as well. I will say, though, we range in age from 27 to 70, and are an eclectic bunch.
If you’ve never heard of Lake of the Woods, don’t feel bad; neither had we. Well, except for one of our party, who found out about it 30 years ago and just fulfilled a promise to himself to get there. That this lake is not well known is a mystery. Its sheer size should make it famous. At 70 miles long and 70 miles wide, with 65,000 miles of shoreline, it is clearly visible in a photo taken from space in 1998. It actually separates a piece of Minnesota from the rest of the U.S. with the only way to get there by boat or through Canada.
After planning our trip for the better part of a year, we left on Sunday, July 8, flying from Newark to Montreal to Winnipeg and then driving, in two rented SUVs, two-and-a-half hours to the little town of Kenora on the lake, where we bought a week’s worth of supplies and boarded the boat, a 58-footer, which would have been impossible to handle had one of our group not been an experienced boatman. He’d wind up having plenty of opportunity to display his prowess. That mobile home on pontoons had to be beached every evening, no mean feat, even for a pro, as our guy is.
Finding a beach, by the way, was no “day at the beach,” if you’ll pardon the poor attempt at a joke. That took us by surprise, given there are 14,552 islands sprinkled throughout the sprawling body of water.
Finding a suitable beach, which might be no wider than a few feet, was up to one of our group adept at reading a navigation map, and another, the “kid,” adept at manipulating an app called Navionics, which not only indicated beaches but even more importantly, submerged rock formations. When all is said and done, the “kid” might be the only reason we all came back alive.
From the pelicans landing to the seaplanes taking off, from the eagles soaring overhead to us bathing in the lake, floating a bar of Ivory soap back and forth, there is no lack of stories I could tell. But I will settle for just two.
One involves fishing. I’ll let the others talk about our catches. Instead, I will simply share my own experience, which starts with my inexperience. I am not a fisherman, period. I fished only once before, from the shore at Cape May, with my 8-year-old son and a friend who knew his stuff. He told me to bait my son’s line by driving the hook right through the eye of the innocent little fish he called a shiner. There was no choice but to man up. Still, I said a prayer each and every time.
That memory came back the morning (morning as in 5:15, with the wind whipping) as I sat in a little motor boat and ventured out on the lake with two of the guys. The bait this time were leeches. You heard me. I was told to stick the hook through the leech’s sucking mechanism and to find that by putting the leech on my arm and noting where it attached itself. This time, I prayed not for the live bait but for myself.
We could have purchased some pretty nice fillets, by the way, for what we paid for the leeches. They came in a quart-sized translucent plastic container, which looked like a lava lamp as the leeches kept swimming to the surface and back down.
My other story is easier to take. As we tried to snap a selfie on top of the boat one afternoon, a young lady, partying with her friends on a motorboat beached next to us, offered to take the photo for us. In her early 20s, I’d say, she was an absolute doll. And when she told us her name was Claire, I was floored. That was my mother’s name.
She deserved a gift, I decided, but we had little to offer. All I could think of was my white cap with a surfboard and the words Santa Monica printed on the front. I bought it five or six years ago while visiting my daughter in LA. Claire was delighted, putting it on immediately and pulling her pony tail through the opening in the back. She still had it on as she waved with gusto from the back of a Ski-doo moments later.
My vacation was a bit of a walk on the wild side for me. Not a thing I would choose on my own. But I am so happy I said yes to my friends’ offer to come along. If nothing else, I returned home with a new sense of self-confidence. Stabbing a fish hook through the business end of a leech will do that.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.