When we woke up in the morning, it was not the 70 degrees and sunny Rosie had hoped for as we fell asleep the night before, but it also wasn’t raining (as it had off-and-on during the night) and we were content just to be able to make and eat our breakfast on a fine natural rock bench the site offered instead of huddled under the tarp like we had for dinner the previous night. Rosie’s homemade granola (with powdered milk) and a cup of coffee was just what I needed to shake off the aches and stiffness of the night. As I finished my coffee, I wandered around the site, enjoying the views from the top of our hill, the absence of precipitation and a beautiful, quiet morning in the midst of vast solitude.
The skies were still gray but our campsite, on the west end of Robbins Island and sheltered from the easterly winds by the length of the island and other immediate geography, also gave us the (mistaken) idea that maybe the wind had died down.
After breakfast and dishes, we broke camp, loaded the canoe and then headed a little out of our way to circumnavigate Isle of Pines, the former home of Dorothy Molter, “The Root Beer Lady.” We mostly just wanted to see this island where she had lived alone in the wilderness for so long, though the woods have reportedly reclaimed almost all signs of her residency there. I also wanted to try to find the large, unique neapolitan-colored rock that was apparently placed on the shores of the island as a birthday gift to her. We didn’t find the rock (I wish I would have done a bit more research about its location before leaving home) but it was fun to paddle along the rocky shoreline and take a close look at everything. It was also then that I noticed the clarity of Knife Lake’s waters: I could see logs and other detritus on the lake bottom some 15-20 feet down.
Slipping out from behind Isle of Pines and into the main part of Knife Lake, which gradually widens to the northeast from where we entered it at its southwestern extremity, we felt the wind again. It was barreling down the lake, directly opposing our travel. We kept close to the south shore of the lake and paddled into it. About a mile-and-a-half down, we stopped at a campsite for a bathroom break and to stretch and drink water. The site was quite nice, especially because it was surrounded by a lot of aspen, the leaves of which were golden.
As soon as we came out from behind the point where we had stopped, we were out in the wind again. There were a few whitecaps visible, but mostly it was just big rollers coming right at us. When I was a kid, my friend Andy and I used to take his dad’s aluminum canoe with the 1 1/2 horsepower trolling motor attached and cruise around the lake, aiming for the big wakes of the powerboats. We would cross their wakes as close behind the boats as we could, diving up and down through the three or four foot swells. Sitting in the bow, not even a paddle in my hands, I would get soaked by the spray and I would love every minute of it.
Now, in the midst of the wilderness, every minute or so a set of three or four big waves would hit us and the bow of the canoe would slap against the water coming down. My view from the stern, where I was wrestling my paddle to keep us going straight into the waves, of Rosie rising and falling with the canoe on the big swells, was probably much like what Andy saw as we tempted fate (and swamping) on Square Lake all those years before. It was another sight that became all too familiar later in the trip.
We were crossing a fairly large bay with a small island in the mouth of it. Whenever a piece of relatively calm water came along between the swells, we would quarter a little to keep as close to the island as we could, and then to aim directly for the other side of the bay. Switching often, finding that our muscles needed just short breaks to offer short bursts of power before fading again, we progressed up the lake and into the wind. When we finally reached the other side of the bay, we hugged the shoreline until we arrived at a campsite. There is nothing quite like the relief of setting foot on canoe country granite after being made to feel so damnably insignificant on its waters.