Points of Entry


Every so often I find myself biding time behind the steering wheel of an outfitter shuttle parked at an entry point to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It’s kind of like a police stakeout to nab the perp. The shuttle and I lay back and become part of the scenery. The difference is that I’m there to pick up people returning from paddling trips in the wilderness.
If those groups are behind schedule, waiting can last a while. When I’m alone, I’ll sometimes lower the shuttle windows, let pine fragrances waft inside and read. Other times, the commotion of canoes and kayaks offers entertainment.
A Subaru pulled in front of me and interrupted my solitude. I closed my book and set it aside. The roof carrier on the Subaru was empty, but the car trailered a tri-hull kayak. Both the trailer and kayak were spotless.
A lone young man got out and walked a short way to the shoreline. For several minutes, he studied the water. He returned to his car, stood over the trailer straps holding his kayak and studied them, too. After several more minutes, he disconnected the straps, got back in the car and paged through a manual of some sort. Apparently satisfied, he got out again, lifted the kayak into an embrace and cradled it to the sandy part of the shore beside the dock.
Once back at his car, he opened its rear hatch, perused more gear, then sat on the bumper. After some deliberation, he carried a double-bladed paddle to the kayak. He returned and rested. Afterward, he reached for a collapsible fishing pole that telescoped to the length of a wand. He stood up, walked it to the kayak and bungeed it in securely. One piece at a time, his operation continued.
An onslaught of Boy Scouts stormed in and tumbled out of their caravan like a regiment of Keystone Cops. One Scout in particular was the obvious authoritative figure of all-things aquatic. He was about fourteen. He strutted around the canoe trailer in mid-calf leather boots lecturing endlessly on high-grade fishing line and his capsize-free technique for loading canoes. Three of his deckhands removed an aluminum canoe from a trailer rack, plunked it to the ground, then grunted food packs, coolers and canvas duffles into it.
A group of four young women drove up just after the Scouts. They were teenagers, too, maybe just two or three years older than the boys, but they obviously knew their way around the wilderness. Nylon portage packs. Carbon paddles. Lifejackets. That was it. No extraneous gear. And they weren’t afraid of getting wet. Without hesitation they marched into the water and floated two Kevlar canoes into place. Their name-brand footwear with the “hydrophobic mesh uppers” and “granite grip soles” performed as advertised online. They began loading.
Meanwhile, with two Scouts at each end of their canoe, the pontificator and his crew lifted it and shuffled toward the water. They traveled about ten yards before the canoe crashed back down. Gravel popped and cackled under the hull. It caught the attention of a Scout leader.
“What the hell are we thinking here, men?” he quizzed. Boys’ faces turned to the ground. “Ya load it in the water, not on land!” he barked. He rolled his eyes and spotted the girls. “There!” he pointed, “Watch those girls and do it like they do!”
An old pickup truck bounded into the scene. A dented canoe with chipped camouflage paint stuck out the back of the truck bed. The landing was getting crowded. So I walked onto the dock to look for my group and figure a spot for them to land. But they were still nowhere in sight.
During all this hubbub, I’d lost track of the kayak guy. However, his boat had been moved onto the dock. I’m not much of a paddler, but even I could see that vessel was state-of-the-art stuff. It’s seat alone had more comfort adjustments than a recliner.
I turned to leave, but bumped right into him. This time he held an anchor in one hand and wore full-body neoprene. Electronics were connected all over him. The GPS strapped around one bicep and an apparent depth finder on the other looked like children’s water wings. His Dick Tracy watch was arguably inflatable. On the chance he’d ever fall overboard, he’d either float or sink straight to Davy Jones’ locker.
I admired his anchor. He explained its three-pound stainless construction could hold seventeen-hundred pounds. Plus its E-Z Fold design provided optimum storage. But he was concerned that it wouldn’t bite into the local lake bottoms.
The man and woman from the old pickup slid the canoe off the truck. The man shouldered it and headed to the water. We smiled at each other as we passed. He was thin, sported a long grey beard, denim cutoffs and sandals. From the shuttle, I watched the body language between him and the kayak guy.
The gentleman knelt down and looked under the kayak. He said something and the kayak guy nodded. The gentleman also examined the anchor, seat and GPS. He listened a lot.
Back at his truck, he nudged his wife as she cinched their anchor bag closed. “It’s like our old tri-hull bass boat,” I heard him say. “More gee-gaws than my karma could handle.” They chuckled and gathered the last of their gear. “His anchor cost more than this canoe, but he’s concerned it won’t bite into the local lake bottoms.” He shook his head. “All that tech and he’s afraid to get in.”
They waved to the kayak guy as they pushed off shore. The girls were gone. Even the Boy Scouts managed to leave. The water ripples from everyone’s departure had flattened. But the kayak guy stared at his boat and its upside-down image mirrored on the surface.
I found the spot in my book where I left off. When I turned the page, I caught a glimpse the kayak guy. He had ventured out, barely away from the dock, gingerly dipping the paddle blades into the water.


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