I’ve always wanted to take a long kayak trip. In my mind, I’d head out at dawn while the river was still misty, watch the sun rise, paddle 10, maybe 12 miles, and then turn around and come back to where I started, feeling all refreshed and nature-y.
But, really, I’d take a stab at any long paddle trip if the opportunity arose. Because I’d had that misty-morning dream for years, and hadn’t once managed to pull it off.
And then fortune came my way. My sister and her boyfriend started kayaking. And by “started,” I mean that they took an introductory class, and then, the very next day, went out and bought two kayaks.
I can appreciate that level of enthusiasm. It sounds like something I’d do. Like the time, years ago, I took my boys to an outdoor carnival … and then bought our very own inflatable bouncy castle that night. Because how fun are bouncy castles?
At any rate, the kayak thing seems to be working out for Angie and Chris. They’re so jazzed about their impulse buy that they’ve hit the river nearly every day.
When we visited recently, they asked if we’d like to try their first long trip with them—paddling the Red Lake River from my hometown, Thief River Falls, to the next town, St. Hilaire. It’s roughly six miles by car, but nine miles by river, they figured, once we got through all the twists and turns.
“That sounds awesome!” I answered when they asked, my dreams coming true.
And it was awesome. For a while.
5 p.m.: We gather sunscreen and bug spray and water, and rent extra kayaks. The process takes longer than we’d planned, but we’re still on schedule. Someone told Chris it takes about an hour to kayak three miles … so as long as we’re on the water by 6:30, we should be golden.
5:55 p.m.: We unload the kayaks at our starting point, then leave half our group to watch them while we drop a car off at our end point in St. Hilaire.
6:05 p.m.: Chris and I wait for Angie to show up to take us back to the kayaks.
6:15 p.m.: And wait …
6:25 p.m.: And wait … until we realize she’s been parked across the road the whole time.
6:38 p.m.: We reunite with our group in Thief River. Dig out sunscreen, bug spray, water. Realize bug spray is nearly empty. There’s just enough for three of us to cover our necks and wrists.
6:45 p.m.: Push off. We’re behind schedule, but we’ll make up for it on the water. No worries.
7 p.m.: This is the life. With no one else on river, we’re able to take in the scenery and wildlife undisturbed.
7:30 p.m.: There are plenty of exposed rocks on the route, but we’ve managed to avoid most of them—until now. Angie hits a massive rock hidden just below the surface, and her kayak tips on its side. She’s able to right herself—but not before collecting water. She’ll spend the rest of the trip in what is essentially a floating bathtub.
8 p.m.: Now that we’ve been on the water for over an hour, Chris pulls up his GPS to check our progress. He can’t get a signal, but it doesn’t matter—there’s nowhere to go but forward, anyway.
9 p.m.: “That’s the highway,” Angie says, as we hear cars passing in the distance. “We’re not as far as I thought.”
9:15 p.m.: We spot a man up on the bank. He’s the only other human we’ve seen in three hours. “How far to St. Hilaire?” my nephew asks.
“I don’t think you’re going to make it before dark,” the man answers.
10 p.m.: Chris’ source on the whole three-miles-per-hour thing must’ve been drunk. The night is closing in, the mosquitoes are out—and they’ve found the poor suckers who didn’t get bug spray.
10:15 p.m.: We can’t see where we’re going. We can’t see each other. We certainly can’t see any landing. Christian turns on his phone’s flashlight to scan the bank for an opening. Instead, his beam illuminates a galaxy of flying bugs. He turns it off.
10:20 p.m.: Chris’ GPS is working—and it tells us we’re near the landing. We see nothing.
10:30 p.m.: A fish—which sounds roughly the size of a great white shark—nearly jumps into Christian’s kayak. We’re now in a horror film.
10:35 p.m. “Rocks!” someone yells. “Rocks ahead!” Oh, for Pete’s sake.
10:45 p.m.: “It’s an adventure!” I say to the kids. “And now we’ll have a story to tell when we get home!” What I don’t tell them is that I’m pretty sure that story’s going to include sleeping in our kayaks until dawn.
10:47 p.m.: Chris yells, “WE FOUND THE LANDING!”
10:48 p.m.: If I could get to him, I’d kiss my sister’s boyfriend full on the lips.