NFCT #8

Paddlers tend to fall into two categories when it comes to paddling in thunderstorms: those who heed their well evolved sense of terror when in the shadow crackling cumulonimbus, and those who do not. I am one of the latter.

Despite the pelting rain, I continued paddling upstream, sure we had more time before the storm hit. Thunder rumbled across the river. It’s far, I thought, it’s just amplified by the soupy air. But then lightening forked its way across the low clouds overhead, and the old “count the second between seeing the lightening and hearing the rumble” trick proved futile as they occurred simultaneously. For once, I edged the canoe closer to shore to find what scant shelter I could in the lee of the trees.

I knew it would be a quick and violent storm; so waiting it out wouldn’t eat up too much time and would obviously be…prudent. But the steep muddy banks were taller than me, and offered no easy route off the river.  I eventually spotted a tree with roots peaking out from the mud and secured woody. By this time, not impressed by the weather, Liesl had worked her way back over bags and under thwarts to sit shivering below my legs.

With Liesl in my right hand I stood up, grabbed the highest root I could with my left and, hopping, gently slam-dunked her on top of the bank. Then it was my turn. Both hands on the root, I put a foot on the bank and, summoning my climbing skill from my days at Allez-Up with the Cliff Hangers (a motley crew of swaggering 5.6+ (YSD for those who care) “experts”) and tried to climb the bank. As soon as I put weight on my foot the bank gave way.

I hung, stretched with feet in the water and hands on a root. I have never felt more perfectly poised to conduct massive amounts of electricity. I tried again, missed again, while lightening continued to crack. At this point it dawned on me that little-miss-I-like-to-wander was up there—alone. Thankfully, she, like her father, is missing the gene that says run and hide when there are loud bangs. However, if a squirrel had been foolish enough to be out in the storm I would never have seen her again.

“Leisl,” I said in what I like to think of as the voice of a pack-leader. Nothing. “Liesl” I said louder, forgetting for a moment that I was stretched between river and tree root. Nothing. I listened for the jingle of her collar—a surprisingly loud sound that surely serves as a warning to all rodents within twenty-metres of her. Nothing.

Finally, fueled by rising panic, I scrambled up the stupid riverbank. Standing on a muddy trail sandwiched between trees with fields beyond, I couldn’t see the little dog anywhere. The wetter Liesl got the more she looked like the rats she was bred to kill. I looked for little paw prints in the mud, but couldn’t see any. Calling, I trotted down the trail swiveling my head to try and to see around the trees. It was a fox that worried me most. Still, I knew she wouldn’t get far with her waddling. Liesl’s legs are four inches long, and her chest is so deep in comparison that she only has about an inch of ground clearance. Even when she is sprinting, I can run faster. But it had been about ten minutes, and she would make a tasty morsel for a fox or some other woodland hunter. The sad truth is the wetter she got, the more she looked like the rodents she was bred to kill.

I turned and started back the other way. Running faster I passed woody bobbing in the river, and continued around a bend where the path followed a crook in the river and there she was, a wet skewbald rat smugly trotting away, back down the river—the opposite direction of where we needed to go. It was heartbreaking. I couldn’t scold her. She was miserable and doing what must have seemed logical to her almond-sized brain. If it’s shitty, go back to where it was less shitty. Keep on doing that and you’ll end up at home.  I clipped on her leash and walked her back to the boat, talking with her like I increasingly found myself doing. I softly chided her, but also let her know I understood, and that I would try to go easier on her. In the meantime, at least the storm had blown over.

I munched on the last dried sausage I had, slipping L the last piece, and took a sip of water that I was sure had enough E. coli swimming in it to kill a moose. Then, with Liesl palmed in my right hand and held above my head, slipped down the bank until I was waist deep in the water. Finally, and ungracefully, back in woody, we paddled towards the guidebook’s promise of a brutal portage and more, now certainly flooded, rapids ahead.