Day three of Aaron and my adventure with Canoe the Wild on the Allagash Waterway was the undoubtedly the hardest of the five-day excursion. Aaron, with almost zero experience in a canoe, struggled as he utilized his arms instead of his upper body as we paddled Long Lake in a headwind. Though we pushed and pushed, we only seemed to move a little in relation to the trees.
It was frustrating.
However, we kept good spirits. We made up tunes and sang them in pirate voices as we struggled our way to catch up to the group. The group, waiting for us, and already rested for maybe 15 minutes, was refreshed and ready to tackle another chunk of the lake. Aaron and I were almost completely exhausted.
Luckily, we had a couple snacks in our canoe and munched down on a quick granola bar before hitting the next bit of lake. We needed every last calorie we could put in our mouths. Having run multiple marathons and knowing what exhaustion feels like, I figured we had burned roughly 1,000 calories, or maybe more, so far that morning as the paddling was non-stop from the time we hit the headwind.
Wayne, one of the trip leaders, offered to us the option of switching up paddling partners. It was a tempting offer, but there was a silent determination that bonded Aaron and my mind in unison. We knew we had to complete this task. It was as if we really were pirates and were seeking a treasure. We came. We saw. We conquered.
We all pushed off from our break and Aaron and I hoped to stay closer to the group. However, the unrelenting wind almost immediately pushed us sideways into the shallow banks and weeds of Long Lake and we once again found ourselves discouraged by the already growing distance between us and the rest of the canoes.
Yet, we pushed on. We sang more tunes. We paddled harder. We made up various stories about buried treasure and fresh water sharks (which of course, don’t exist outside the mind of a storyteller). This at least took our minds off of the struggle. Aaron would occasionally ask about more rapids, like we saw on Chase Stream (I am pretty sure that was his favorite part of the trip). Aaron’s arms were longing for easier paddling, at least for a while.
With much determination and exhausted bodies, we pulled into our lunch spot. The remainder of the group had already been waiting for a while, used the privy, and lunch was almost ready. I could not tell you if we had wraps, pita pockets, or something else, I think the only thing I was thinking about was devouring some calories. Whatever we ate, it gave us a boost, both mentally, physically, and maybe even metaphysically. Aaron and I said a little prayer together before we chomped on whatever it was that we ate.
“God, thank you for the strength you provide. You give us what we need when we need it. You gave us enough strength to make it this far, please give us enough to make it the rest of the way. Amen.”
Just before getting back into the canoes, Dave, our guide, reinforced to Aaron the importance of leaning forward, putting his paddle into the water, and utilizing his torso instead of his arms, to thrust the canoe forward. The words might as well have been a magic formula. The exhausted body of Aaron was ready to listen to the wisdom of the one that had traveled this waterway hundreds of times.
Something clicked in Aaron’s mind. It was a drastic change. Every time Aaron put his paddle in the water, I could feel the canoe surging ahead. We remained second to the lead canoe for the rest of the trip.
At this point, I was determined not to give up the spot of being the second canoe. Because canoeing the Allagash is a competition? No. Because Aaron might be able to pick out one of the best spots to put our tent? Yes. After such a long day, I wanted to ensure Aaron felt the accomplishment of arriving 2nd, only to Dave’s lead canoe, when arriving to the campsite. It was a small thing, yet such a big thing after being last for the entire morning.
When everyone else arrived, the compliments to Aaron’s paddling did not stop. “That’s not the same Aaron you had earlier.” “Wow, what happened? Aaron did awesome this afternoon.” “What did you feed him at lunch?”
That night was the best. Aaron got his pick for a tenting location, with maybe a little help from me, at Back Channel campsite on Round Pond. Steak, potatoes, corn, coleslaw, and brownies never tasted better than they did that night.
Just two days later, we headed out of the Allagash Waterway to our take-out location, Michaud Ranger Station. Soon, I would make stark realization.
Once I had access again to my phone, email, internet, etc., I had a sudden feeling like I was paddling in the wind again. My mind became distracted. I did not feel like I was living in the moment like I had for the last five days. The resistance of the world was pressing me to make decisions and I realized that there had been wind in my life for some time.
Yes, it is normal. We press against it all the time. But this time, I realized that it was there. If I relented, it would drive me into the weeds. Do I need to tackle the wind head-on like we had to on the lake? Will it end at some point and will pushing through it bring me tremendous rest in the future? Can I see the next destination or place on the horizon to take a break?
I do not know the answers to these questions. However, what I do know is that the wind is there and that I must continue against it. No one is deemed exceptional if they give into the wind and let themselves rest day after day at the same “campsite.” No marathon runner is given a medal for stopping the race because it is “just too hard to finish.”
After everything was over and Aaron and I had packed up our car to head back to “civilization,” we had a good chat. I asked Aaron what he was thinking when we had that tough day on Long Lake and his words spoke volumes to me. His response? “We just had to get through it.” Get through it, we did.