For most people further north, winter is the reading season, the time that our paddling is done through the pages of someone else’s adventure. Here in Oklahoma, I find myself hibernating through the days when the thermometer is bumping 110-degrees. By heading back to the four-page Paddlers’ Reading List I posted here on the blog last February, I selected this armchair companion. Distant Fires , by Scott Anderson (Pfeifer-Hamilton Pub., Duluth,MN, 1990) is a short book of 156 pages. It is a story about a nearly 2,000 mile trip from Duluth, MN, to Hudson Bay by way of Lake Superior, the Grand Portage, Lake of the Woods, the Winnipeg River, Lake Winnipeg, Gods and Hayes Rivers to Hudson Bay. Scott planned the trip for 1987 when he was 22 and a college junior. Within five minutes of setting out on their first day’s run, they had to turn for shore only to be swamped and have all their gear soaked. Such is the adventure of paddling. Miles weren’t coming easily either. It was about day five or six when they reached Tofte. A man asked where they had come from, and Scott answered that they had started in Duluth, to which the man responded that he thought that was a pretty good day’s run. They were crushed.
Accounts of such trips tend to bring out real-life situations, like maintaining harmony with a paddling partner for long periods when they never get more than a few feet away, reaching consensus on who makes camp, prepares meals, cleans up, whether you stop for lunch or press on, whether time is for paddling or if miles gained should be traded for fishing time. You get a chance to share rare experiences, like living with the Cree Indians, watching the Northern Lights over God’s Lake, or traveling a week or two without seeing another human being, but rather moose and caribou. For a $2 transfer fee from another library, the book kept me company for a few days, and kept my interest in paddling alive.