Boundary Waters, Part 2: Lost

by Sara Aranda

[If you haven’t, read Part 1]

07.01.17 – Boundaries

Lazy morning. What time is it? Guess. 2pm? It’s only 930 am. Wow.

It rained last night and the sun is constantly being veiled and unveiled. Sunrise happened at 430 apparently. I tried really hard to sleep in forever.

Now, it rains again, so we wait. Then it stops and we cook up a batch of oatmeal. For the few miles of paddling yesterday my shoulders are stiff, my body itches, but we’ll keep moving today. The plan is to keep the same campsite, day-paddle 5-6 miles north to the edge of the Canadian border and explore some waterfalls, eat lunch, then head back.

There is always a plan. And then there is always reality.


I can’t explain everything, honestly. We got lost. We might have been in Canada for a few hours, who knows. The water levels this year are high, Hatie says, and the islands don’t look the same – nothing really matched the map anymore. So we paddled and paddled. Sonya brought an Oru Kayak and her paddling was even more exhausting I’m sure. We also decided to wear stick-on mustaches today; I have my silver leggings, Hatie has gold, and Sonya is decked out in champagne leggings and a matching tutu. We could most certainly be the lost girls of Peter Pan. A group of young boys in canoes passed us earlier, heading south, and I could hear them giggling as their paddles clanged against the sides of their boats.

We finally give up, driven by hunger, and pull off to a rocky shoreline on some narrow isthmus. I stare at the map, waiting for it to change and point arrows. I even pull out my iPhone to read our GPS coordinates, but honestly, I’ve never translated coordinates to a map before, so a rough idea of the region was all I could give. Why don’t I know this stuff? I criticize myself. We’re either right where we think we are, or we’re in Canada. Perfect.

Despite the growing cloud cover, the cooling breeze, the wandering, our spirits remain high enough. Hatie is hilarious. I love her. She astounds me. She has a bucket full of health issues including endometriosis and yet her attitude is more upbeat than both Sonya and myself combined. How she does it, I don’t know, but she’s a badass. Lady crusher. River rat, currently guiding in Chicago. Her comforts are in and around water, even the leeches she casually pulls from Sonya’s feet.


It pours. And while we followed our memory back, towards that from whence we came, we are still lost. There are a series of lakes that narrowly join each other, no portages, and everything looks, well, the same. Lake water. Green treeline. Bald eagle. All a shade darker  now because of the rain.

Transfiguration. There is no difference between us and water. The sky is water. Our clothes are water. There’s so much water I take off my boots and paddle barefoot. What boundaries are to be found here? Save for the ones inside our heads – and even those melt with each slow stroke into the intrepid mirror.

Sonya sits in the bow of the canoe, I steer, Hatie is in the kayak. The hoods of our coats spill rain onto our laps. Mine isn’t big enough to fit over my life-jacket, so it’s unzipped, and I don’t fucking care anymore. Even my rain pants are starting to soak through. The static of all the water is loud, but after a while the wetness is warmer than my skin and I want more. We fall into cadence as we paddle south, east, then south-west, tracing shorelines for clues. I start to get a headache from dehydration, believe it or not.

Hatie takes a selfie in the Oru Kayak with her disposable camera.

Campfire smoke rises from a small island. Fuck it, let’s ask for directions. Hi there! Sonya shouts to two men. Can you help us out? The older gentleman in sandals nears the saturated edge of the lake and we ask him to point to where he is on our map. He doesn’t like our map and fetches his own. Here, he states – the small island only a dot in a maze of lake and land. It’s still raining and we probably look miserable. The younger man offers us food, but we decline, antsy to for home. The mustaches? Mine got too itchy for my face so I ripped it off a couple hours ago and there it sits, sad, soaked, flaccid on the thwart in front of me.

But the news is good. We are farther down than we thought and our campsite is somewhere close. Hatie leads the way, knowing that eventually we’ll hit a portage we took the day prior and can back track to camp if we have to. The rain makes it hard to keep my orientation, I’m inclined to look down, away from the water pellets, and our paddling is inefficient. Maybe we look like toy boats haphazardly cruising and twirling across these lakes to the eagles, the loons, the tallest pines. There are moments when my brain lets go of the sense of knowing where I am, and the sudden panic of being in the middle of nowhere is fast, but like an ember that has escaped the fire, I snuff it hard with the heel of my foot.

Islands. Is everything a god-damned island? Hatie howls at the absurdity that is us right now and I yeehaw back. Sonya laughs. We’re still kicking ass regardless. Charging through this storm. And I’m willing to do whatever it takes to find camp.


645pm. We pull the canoe out of the water and store it on its side. It finally stopped raining but we’re soaked to the core. We shiver. Strip down. Combat mosquitoes, those little devil vampires, sucking blood from the sides of our necks. You almost lose your mind you’re so frustrated. Everything else is manageable: the cold, the water, the physicality of all that we’re doing and have done. But swarms of mosquitoes? Fucking bastards. Fuck, I throw my head back. I hate them!

We crawl into the tent and stickily don fresh, dry clothes. Unwinding, I am finally calm. It’s all calm. Wind in the distance. Birds. So many birds.

We treat our bodies as fact. The endurance of paddling. The steadfast mind-game to accept the discomfort as type-2 fun. There’s no room for ill-consciousness. We all silently understood how we had to pull through, keep the suffering personal – it’s obvious enough on its own. And the ease of being nude in front of one another to change is a relief, damnit. I trust these women with my life. And it’s poetry written into the shuffling of sleeping bags and laughter, the sighs of exhaustion. We lay down our heads, release the tension in our backs.

Fuck dinner. The sun hasn’t even set yet, but the loons howl like coyotes chasing dusk in the desert. And despite the humming of mosquito, the twang of hunger in our bellies, we sleep.

Continue to Part 3.


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