Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Mantra: an homage to Discovery's Naked and Afraid

The mark of summer's end, the Monday of Labor Day weekend, and most people were driving out of the woods. I was driving into them. For miles, my road trailed asphalt until the blacktop gave way to gravel, and finally, to water. Someone once said, "Of all the paths you take in life, make sure some of them are dirt." I would suggest making sure some of them are water too, for magic lives along the trail, certainly, but it is in the lakes, the shimmering rivers, the vast oceans that connect us all where magic is born. 

Setting out in my kayak, I hoped for some magic. I was about to spend four days on a lake mostly alone. Before this trip, I'd never loaded a kayak, or any boat, with the intention of having everything I'd need for a multi-day stay in the woods. The next four days would bring magic and more, and prove once again that luck loves the unprepared. Mixed in with the fun and excitement of a new adventure was moment after moment of learning opportunity. Killer winds, big waves, wet clothes, poor packing, black and blues (including one along my ankle that is still there), thoughts of capsizing, capsizing, loud booms just before 3 am one night (Gun shots? Cannons? Pirates planning to plunder my freeze dried raspberries and granola?), and a relentless Steller's Jay who seemed to want my measly stash of food more than I did most days made for an adventure that, at times, exceeded everything I anticipated. However, I would not be beaten. You see, I had a mantra. One I developed while sitting in the setting sun watching the warm shirt in which I planned to sleep hang from the makeshift clothesline dripping droplets of golden water after yet another mishap in the kayak. Predicting a cold night ahead, I told myself, "But, I'm not naked, I'm not afraid, and I don't have maggots coming out of my butt." The rest is negligible when you look at it that way, isn't it?

In the future, when having a bad day yourself, give that mantra a try. I bet you'll find that it really puts things in perspective. 

Satire aside, the trip was incredible. Despite, and because of, my many errors, the four days on Timothy Lake were some of the best of the summer. See why.

My launching point. Shores and more await. 

A novice to boat-in camping, and specifically, kayak camping, I questioned how all those bags of gear would fit into my 13'9" boat. The two hatches that seemed decently sized at home suddenly became much smaller, and I began to consider what I was willing to leave behind.

Nothing, apparently.  With a few items bungeed on deck and more tucked between my legs, I headed to the northern side of the lake. From the water, I spotted what seemed a stellar spot to camp. With only one way to know for sure, I went ashore.

The site, in addition to having space for my boat, an established fire pit, and a lack of neighbors, also had a room with a 180° lakefront view.

Seemed worth parking the luxury liner, for sure.
After setting up camp, I took an evening paddle just before sunset that chilled my feet, but set my spirit ablaze. The day birds were gone with the sun and the nighthawks had not yet woken to the night. The moment was mine. Across the lake, the developed campground began to flicker, but the fires were few. Summer was ending. Still, the flickering light woven with the musty scent of the lake served as a beacon to something wilder, more native. An instinct, primal, ancient, and mostly dormant, awakened, and for a moment, I felt as wild as the night. A great horned owl alerted the darkening world to her presence- with the night comes a changing of the guard- and I found myself smiling one of those deep smiles that you feel in your legs, your stomach, in your soul- the kind of smile that says you are exactly where you ought to be.
The next morning, fog hung heavy and seagulls called from the clouds. Fish jumped and I made tea. From the water's edge, I watched the fog lift. Watching fog is like scaling back a painting stroke by stroke to see what lies beneath, to find that the canvas is never fully blank.

When the fog lifted and the morning's canvas was revealed, Mt. Jefferson peeked from the south and a congregation of Mergansers skimmed the lake in search of an aquatic breakfast of algae and snails. 

Feeling hungry myself, I, too, found breakfast. As I boiled water for the granola, I noticed I had a visitor, and a bold visitor at that. My brave, yet uninvited guest showed no fear in dive bombing my food bag, bowl of cereal, or whatever else caught its eye. I would not eat in peace for the remainder of the trip. At every meal for the next three days, my unwanted company would stalk and continually try to outsmart me in an attempt to steal my food. Persistent and relentless, it forced me to keep my bear bag hung day and night. Not for bears, mind you. No, it wasn't a 600 pound, sharp-toothed wild animal that kept my bear bag in the trees, but this, a little 4 ounce featherball, that would gladly have taken my thumb off if it meant getting a chunk of cheddar cheese too. I mean, look at that face. That is the face of war. 
I was to have more visitors that day, but these were expected, and likely a lot nicer than the Jay. For example, they probably wouldn't steal my food. My visitors, long time family friends from Vermont, were coming by foot and by boat, and I couldn't wait. I hooked a bright blue life jacket to a log in the water in front of my camp to serve as a marker for those coming by water, and hung a towel to a tree for those on foot. Unfortunately, my towel was green.
I have smart and observant friends though. The markers didn't go unnoticed, and we longtime/onetime Vermonters were reunited on Mt. Hood. We hoped to spend the afternoon the way we always used to in Vermont- swimming, boating, and being together by the water, but just before they arrived, a wind kicked up from the west. Whitecaps leapt across the lake, and the wind seemed to blow directly across the water and into my site. Instead of bathing suits, we wore jackets. Instead of paddles, hiking shoes. Still, it was a great afternoon. Too bad I don't have any pictures to prove it.

Later in the day, and after my friends left, two things happened- the wind died down some, and I realized I came out here partly to become familiar with my new kayak. So, in the water the boat and I went- quite literally, as it turned out. Before capsizing, however, I had another wonderful evening paddle. The stretch of shore from Meditation Point on was mine without a neighbor in sight but for an eagle perched high in the trees and mergansers on the rocks. The wind blew warm and the sky turned pink. 

When the wind began to pick up again, I paddled back to camp. Knowing I had a rocky beach landing with more rocks and logs lurking under the water, I didn't want to come in too fast and crash my new boat (some of you may remember the snowmobile incident). I tried to compensate for the wind with balance and precision. I must have over-compensated, though, because the next thing I knew, I was coming up for air, flipping the boat over, and pulling it to shore. My first wet exit.   

With the shirt I planned to sleep in hanging in the last of the day's sun with no hope of drying in time, the wind blowing cold into my campsite, and the Steller's Jay casing my bland and uninspiring dinner, I chided myself for packing so poorly. Then I thought of Naked and Afraid, maggots, starvation and fear, and I came up with my mantra. For I wasn't naked, I wasn't afraid, and I certainly didn't have maggots anywhere near my butt. Life was good! 

The following day was windy, but beautiful. I pushed off from shore and headed out for a good, long paddle. My boat, an Eddyline Samba, lived up to her name. She danced with the waves, and if I timed it right, surfed them. Mt. Hood provided the perfect backdrop.

After playing in the waves and the wind for awhile, I felt confident heading back to camp. I believed I knew my boat and understood her rhythms, and I wasn't the least bit concerned about over-compensating. Perhaps I should have been.

Clothes in the dryer after a second wet exit. These low profile boats are tricky!

On the last day, the wind seemed to be blowing harder than ever, and by the looks of it, I would be taking waves broadside. I loaded my kayak the best I could in terms of weight and balance, but mostly I just hoped for the best. As I set out for the car, the first wave came over the deck. I was sorry I'd forgotten the bilge pump at home. When the second wave came over, I hoped I loaded the boat properly, the way the books said. With the third wave, I promised myself that if I got back to the car with all of my gear intact, next summer I would load the boat on the very first nice day, take it out on the lake and practice rolling. I wasn't scared for my life or anything like that, but I was a little concerned about my brand new boat and all of my beautiful backpacking gear being swamped at the bottom of a very deep lake. But like I said, luck loves the unprepared. Plus, there's magic in these waters.    


  1. So happy you had a good adventure, unharmed and didn't loose any gear...I'm assuming. Hope the black 'n blues are gone by now, too!
    Love you, Mom XOXO

  2. PS... LOVED the gorgeous pictures and your great story/description, too!

  3. Thanks, Mom! All my gear came home unharmed and intact. Me too- for the most part! ;-)

  4. Sounds (and looks) amazing - love the new mantra too! Hope it's always a true statement tho! ;)

  5. Beautiful pictures of a great adventure!! Thanks for sharing

  6. Thanks, Vicky! I appreciate you checking it out. See you in November! :)

  7. What a wonderful story! There's something to be said for alone time - and perseverance. Go forth, unafraid, and confront the wilderness - and jays...

  8. HA! I still have nightmares of that Jay, Constance. :)