Thursday, May 26, 2005

Buffalo River Canoe Journals - 4: When the Laughter Gets Tough

There was a very heavy frost coating everything when I got up in the morning. The river was moving along as the same pace but I was moving around the speed of molasses along with everyone else. We broke camp and launched the canoes into the river. As long as we paddled, it wasn't a problem staying warm but every time we stopped the cold seemed to relentlessly sink into our bodies to the very bone.

The bluffs are starting to taper down in size and number but the river is still very beautiful. During the course of the day I would see two eagles, thirty or so turkeys and several wild elk. I remember back to my childhood days of playing the computer game Voyager that recreated the Oregon Trail experience. At one point when you had to "shoot" game running across the computer screen for food during the upcoming week. If you did well the computer would print out the response "Game abounds!" and so far during this trip, it has. Lucky for them, the only shooting I am doing is with my camera.

My mid-afternoon, the day had warmed up considerably so that by the time we made camp, it was actually pleasant sitting still for a spell, after camp was set up that is. Making camp is a highly choreographed affair for safety and comfort. First, the boats are unloaded, brought to shore and secured against high winds and floods. They are the easiest way through these mountains to civilization and without them, we are... well up a creek without a canoe, not a great place to be. The next most important thing is to establish shelter and in our case it means setting up the tents. On large gravel bars found on the middle and lower portions of the Buffalo River, this is an easy task as there are literally acres to choose from. I usually try to find a level place away from the campfire/kitchen area for some privacy and try to make sure I am not directly downwind of the campfire so as to avoid the smoke.

Once shelter has been established, I usually work on setting up the rest of the camp, which usually means setting up a kitchen area. If my small gas stove the size of my fist and weighs about eight ounces is being used, there isn't a whole lot to this process but if wood is being used, then I try to find a place that I can easily conceal a fire pit so that the next person through wouldn't even know I had camped here. Once the kitchen is set up, the next job is water and wood. For the water I just take a collapsible plastic jug down to the river and fill it up and the wood is found in the nearby hardwood forest.

After all that is done, camp is ready to go and you can do your own thing. With a group such as our group of six, we usually divide the cooking of meals among us so that the kitchen isn't crowded and in our case we have three groups of two. On a trip like this where we only cook breakfast and supper, your turn doesn't come very often. When it isn't my turn in the kitchen, I often take the chance to explore my surroundings a bit and to write in my journal. It is almost like a meditation experience focusing on the uncivilized portions of our world and realizing what life is like outside of the office and the nine to five job. It recharges my internal batteries and helps me to not take everyday things for granted.

Ideally, it is nice to have supper eaten, dishes washed and everything put away before sunset just for the easy of doing it. But in wintertime camping like this when the sun starts disappearing at four in the afternoon, it just isn't feasible and we make do by just staying organized. Tonight we finished supper in the dark, lit only by a roaring fire we had built and because the river rocks on our gravel bar still retained a lot of heat, we stayed up as late as we could staring at the fire and idly talking. As always when my family gets together, a lot of talk revolves around our stories of events in our lives that never fails to make us laugh until our side hurt. When we can't take the laughter, we go to bed.

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