It poured that night, and when the lightening flashed the bay turned into an overexposed black and white. If there were ghosts haunting the waters 199 years after the battle of Cumberland Bay, they were out that night. It was a raucous storm and it kept L and I tossing until I stuffed in some earplugs and shoved her down the sleeping bag. The next morning at 5:30, when the beeping from my watch wormed its way into my dreams, an eerie silence and a thick fog was waiting for us.
We ate quickly, packed up, and moved down to the beach to put in. The fog lay so thick on the water that I couldn’t see more than a few meters in any direction. My plan had been to paddle straight across the bay to the tip of Cumberland Head, which is the name of peninsula that forms the bay, then across the body of Lake Champlain. But the guttural cough of outboard motor coming through the opaque fog was enough to convince me to stay out of the way and in the shallows. That and the thought of haunted sunken war ships from the War of 1812.
I wasn’t in a rush as there was no way I was going to cross the lake proper until the fog lifted. Lake Champlain is a massive body of water but it would’ve been relatively straightforward to paddle across it at the narrow point where I was, even in the fog. But what concerned me was boat traffic. The bay was one thing, but out on the lake there were big fishing boats, ferries and of course sea-monsters.
The paddle along shore was beautiful. Spectral houses would slowly appear and disappear. The Shallow water below me offered glimpses of huge swaths the rock that had scratched Woody so badly, but no wrecks. L curled up in my jacket annoyed with the moist air and I think her lack of sleep.
Rounding the point of Cumberland Head the waves got bigger and the wind picked up. ‘Yes,’ I thought. ‘Things will clear up and I won’t waste any time.’ I was wrong. I paddled along the shore until the ferry terminal. I figured there would be a dock and a place to get a coffee if I was stuck. Wrong again.
I arrived at the terminal to find a nice big spot for the ferry, and no room for me. There was, however, a six-meter cement retaining wall that had a rickety steel staircase bolted to it. I hopped out of Woody at the bottom of the stairs. I figured I could portage Woody up the steep steps, and then set up a temporary camp until the sun burned off the fog. At most an hour, I thought.
I unpacked Woody and carried my gear up the stairs to a small grassy embankment sandwiched between the wall and a surprisingly busy road. Liesl was tied to the top step and, as is her usual habit when presented with cars, barking furiously at every one that passed.
Navigating the stairs with Woody was harder than expected, but worse was that the second I put Woody down the fog lifted. I quickly heaved Woody back into the water again, repacked the boat, and was off…for about thirty meters. The waves had turned into sizeable whitecaps and the wind was howling.
I looked at little Liesl realizing there would be no way she’d survive if we were swamped in the middle of the channel. The water was freezing and at 12lbs she wasn’t exactly a Newfoundlander. We turned back, unpacked again, and set up a tarp to keep the now spitting rain off.
By three p.m. the waves had died and L and I made our way across the channel to South Hero island and Vermont.
We skirted the shore northward and paddled through The Gut, which looks like a lake sitting between the arms of the North and South Hero islands. Our goal that night was North Hero, a strip of houses and stores, and cozy little Inn on the water. It was to be my first bed in a while and I couldn’t wait to shower and have a few beers.
Liesl could wait to shower, but I made her anyway. We passed out warm, and in her case damp, on a lumpy bed listening to the waves break on the beach.
We slept in and I enjoyed the complimentary breakfast. And then we paddled our way up North Hero and across to the fat peninsula that juts out into Lake Champlain and forms the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. It was a short humid day on open water and once again the sky held promise of bad weather.
In the distance thunderheads loomed and the air was soupy with humidity. I found a little campground close to the mouth of the Missisquoi river and ended the day early. I wanted to rest because on the next day I would begin paddling upstream and I had no idea how long it would take to get anywhere.
It rained again that after noon and thwarted my attempts to use my solar charger and get my phone fully charged. I need a full charge because if all went well I’d be in southern Quebec and needing to make a few calls to get a restock of food and some other essentials.
That afternoon of rain, brief though it was, heralded the massive storm that would, over the next few days, end my trip early.