The Challenge of the Portage
by Tony Baroni (1 of 5)

My eyes snapped opened to see only darkness.  They opened yet wider - all the better to hear.  A sound had awakened me.  Something had splashed in the water I was camping near.  Perhaps it was just a fish.  Perhaps it was a bear.  Are there supposed to be wolves in the Boundary Waters? Could it have been wolves? My eyes shifted from side to side as I listened: dead silence - no wind, no birds, no waves.  Just the silence. 

Then I heard another splash, a kerplunk.  It was almost as if someone had thrown a fairly large rock into the water.  But I knew I was well isolated from other people.  One couple in a single canoe had paddled across the lake last evening, but they took the portage toward Sawbill Lake.  No one was around to throw a rock, it must have been a fish.  Then I heard it again "Splash, kerplunk!"   Yes, just a fish, but boy, it must be a big one. 

My eyes closed and I relaxed again.  I cozied down into my sleeping bag and dreamed what it would be like if I had fishing gear and a license.  I stealthily got up and snuck to the water's edge.  I waited for another jump then deftly cast a dry fly into the concentric rings.  He struck and the line tightened to within ounces of its breaking strength.  I eventually landed a large trout.  "Yeah, maybe I should have brought some fishing gear," I thought.  Then, "Should I feel for the flashlight and see what time it is or just go back to sleep?"   It was comfortable in the sleeping bag, but I had told myself last night that I would get up really early so I could be on the water while the sun was rising.  That was the best opportunity for seeing wildlife.  The little creek I would be paddling up looked like a very likely place for wildlife.  I had seen a small bull moose across the creek last night after supper.  He was a foolish looking specimen with his long gangly legs and small undersized antlers.  But he didn't act foolish - he left quickly as soon as he saw me.

Then the splashing commenced in earnest, amid many kerplunks.  It was not fish!  It must be the moose back at the water feeding. 

I looked toward the window of the tent.  There was a little hint of daylight in the east.  I reached for my flashlight - experience had taught me to always keep the flashlight where I'd know where to reach it no matter how disorganized the tent became - and I checked the time: twenty of five, less than an hour to sunrise.  If I got up now and hurried with breakfast and breaking camp, I could be on the water by sunrise.  Cream of Wheat and coffee would make a quick breakfast - get moving!

Sometimes it is not easy to ignore the comfort of the sleeping bag, especially on I chilly morning and I figured I would savor is warmth for a few more moments while I prewarmed my clothes and made plans.  I pulled clothes in the bag with me and planned my moves: get up, get dressed, get out and start the stove and put water on, check on the moose, pack up the things in the tent, eat, pack the cooking utensils, take down the tent, and load the canoe.  It could be accomplished in fifty minutes if I hurried.  Maybe I should light my pipe first, against the mosquitoes - no, not in the tent, too risky lighting matches in the tent, save it for later.