Thursday, February 17, 2011

January 29, 2011
Broken Bow Lake, Broken Bow Oklahoma

All week long I was so excited about this upcoming paddle trip however was so busy with my business that I didn't have time to organize and pack paddle gear.  My paddling buddy Bill was up for the trip too,  but by Friday he was still so covered up with his work that he had to cancel.  I usually make these 4 day paddle trips as Broken Bow is about a 3 hour drive north of East Texas to southeast Oklahoma.  Since I hadn't had time to pack until Friday night, I drove up early Saturday morning under clear skies for a solo canoe trip.  Loading and un-loading my new solo Old Town Pack canoe was such a joy with the weight of only 33 pounds compared to the 100 pounds of my tandem canoe.  Arriving at the put-in at Panther Creek, I quickly un-loaded the boat and paddled south on the Mt. Fork River looking for a wilderness camp spot of unknown destination.  This was the same put-in that my sister Susie and I paddled/camped back in November when she was visiting.  This weekend was special for me; a solo paddle with God and nature.

One of the new pieces of gear I brought on this trip was a Pelican waterproof case for my new Fuji camera I brought, a gift from Santa this year.  If I had any doubts about spending the money on this expensive case, they were quickly dispeled when I treked gobs of mud and water into the boat.  For easy access I loaded the waterproof camera case on the floor below my seat which sat in mud and water.  Due to a drought this year in the southwest, lake levels at Broken Bow are about 10' low as all put-ins and take outs would only find mud rather than gravel that is so common here.  Fortunately, I invested in some NRS Boundary boots for my last trip with Bill, as they gave me protection to my knee as I only sunk into mud up to mid calf.  These conditions make for a muddy boat.  So here I am again, paddling past the frigid wilderness camp spot I had previously with sister Susie, completely in my element....perfect water, skies and wind. Would I see a bald eagle this weekend? I prayed.

The best wilderness camp spots on the lake are where small coves are cut into the banks creating small peninsula's with  flat areas to pitch a tent here in the Quashita National Forest.  Broken Bow Lake is an Army Corps of Engineer Lake built back in the 1930's as a reservoir for Broken Bow.  The take-out was terrible however no gravel beaches were to be be found as mud was all there was. Stepping out of the boat and sinking into the mud, I wondered how these boots would do as the suction was so great in trying to pull out your feet to walk that I wondered if it would pull the boots off my feet?  Fortunately it did not as I wasted no time pulling gear from the boat and dragging the empty canoe across the muddy beach to higher ground.  Now the real work began as it was quite a trek from the beach to the top of the knoll that I picked for my camp site. Toting gear bags up the hill was a good work-out but it was worth it because I could see the lake all around me in this pristine beauty.  If you're a  paddler, you know that once you arrive at camp that the chores begin as tent and a separate rain fly had to go up along with preparations for the evening meal and building of the camp fire.  Finally, I got all these things done and I sat down in my camp chair and reflected upon this glorious day. Here's what I wrote.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of this weekend to be out here with You in nature. There is little to distract me Father as I focus all my desire upon You at this time. Please open my heart Sweet Lord and come inside of me. 

Usually, I take a cast iron dutch oven on these paddle trips however due to a rather rushed packing for this trip I grabbed a can of minestrone soup and some crackers and let me tell you; that made for a wonderful meal that night. Sitting at the camp fire in mild conditions was so relaxing that I found myself nodding off and turned in for the night about 8:30pm.

January 30, 2011

A balmy overcast morning as wood peckers hammered and black birds cawed to break the silence here on the lake. It has been anything but stillness for me however as I noticed when getting up a misty rain in the air as I quickly took down the tent and organized gear under the rain fly.  As I packed gear, I started cooking Bob's 10 grain cereal with raisens on my stove along with some good gourmet Costa Rican java from Brady's Coffee. Having packed up most of the gear into dry bags and mesh duffels, I could now sit down and relax and reflect, especially since the weather appeared to break and the skies were clearing. From my vantage point I am some 20 feet above the lake looking out across this cove in the river channel of the Mountain Fork River.  The water is calm and I take a little time to photograph some nice black and white compositions of the water and old tree stumps that protrude above its surface.  Its a great morning and it gives me time to further reflect upon God.  As I sat there in quiet reflection and prayer I had the urge to stand as I stretched my arms upward to the sky longing for God's Divine Love to flow into my soul. The passion was so deep, the tears flowed and I was in heaven here on Broken Bow Lake. I felt at-one with God.

For the next several hours I sat in my camp chair on the banks of the Mountain Fork River in deep contemplation and prayer as I wrote about a question I had about something Jesus spoke about many years ago on earth. Jesus said; seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all else will be added unto you.  I have always been curious about this all inclusive promise he made that if we seek first the Kingdom, which we understand to be His Love, that lots of good things will follow. What kinds of things will follow if I do this one thing? In other words,  if I put all my eggs in one basket what can I expect in return?  This was a good question and  captivated me all the way to lunch time and  filled 7 pages of a yellow note pad.

12:00 pm

Another trek through the mud to load the boat but conditions were fantastic as the skies had cleared and the water was like a glassy mirror.  I hoped to find a bald eagle today as my radar was on looking for any white spots perched in dead trees as I paddled north on the Mt. Fork River back to my truck.  As the river turned to the north I noticed early on a large white object in the trees but didn't have my binoculars with me and looked through the zoom of my camera. I took nearly 15 shots of this white object in full zoom however was unable to make out what it was. Finally, as I got closer my alleged bald eagle was nothing more than 2 plastic water bottles hanging up in a tree above 20 feet above the water. I got a chuckle out of that as the mind can be easily deceived in it's perceptions.  As I paddled further another large white spot appeared ahead in the trees. Could this be my bald eagle?  After numerous photos of this white spot I eventually could tell that it was the broken area of a dead tree that reflected a shiny white area.  Finally, there it was, a bald eagle perched about 1/4 mile ahead on the lake up in a dead tree. I was in my element as I shot this magnificent bird in color, and black and white. As I got closer the bald eagle took flight and lighted on a tree up river and did this leap frog thing several times as I paddled 4 hours north back to the put-in.  As the river turned again to the west I looked over my left shoulder and saw a beaver swimming along side me some 20 yards away and as soon as I looked it slapped its tail on the water and dove below. I noticed I was paddling parallel with a rocky face of cliffs and figured I'd see this beaver again as we both appeared to be moving in the same direction. I forgot about the beaver as I shot lots of pictures enjoying the shading affects of the partly cloudy skies and the shadows of light on water and trees. A little later I looked again over my left shoulder and there the beaver was, swimming along side me. And, true to form as I saw the beaver it broke the silence with its thunderous slap of its tail and dove into the icy mountain waters. It was perfect paddling weather as temps were in the sixties and I wore a t-shirt in complete comfort.  My, what a perfect weekend it was.

Keep the paddle wet,

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Tempest

January 16, 2011

Several weeks ago my paddling buddy Bill and I headed up to Broken Bow Lake, Broken Bow, Oklahoma for a 3 day paddle trip. Weather reports indicated a major cold front was due over the weekend as we prepared for cold weather as usual for a winter trip. We drove up late on Thursday and car camped at Carson Creek State Park. The night was mild but by morning, lake conditions were choppy and we were at the southern end near the dam at the widest part and the windiest. We were paddling my Old Town Discovery 169, a 17' plastic canoe.

We broke camp and drove north to a more sheltered put-in where the lake narrowed back down to the Mt. Fork River.  By late morning we had departed with food and gear for the weekend in a grey mist that hung like a shroud over the mountains.  Bill and I paddled in mild conditions at this northern end of the lake as there is less exposure to wind and wave. We only paddled about an hour and decided that just in case conditions got a little crazy for our return trip on Sunday that we'd have a short paddle back. Looking back now I can see that it was a smart move and one that I feel came from a Divine Source, such as my guardian angel that was looking over us.

Bill found a wonderful wilderness campsite as we got busy pitching the tent, collecting wood for the evening fire, building a fire ring and general camp duties. As usual, I brought my cast iron dutch oven and made my mama's chili.  One of my favorite parts of the day is the evening meal as Bill and I sat around the fire sharing and the conversation with us usually comes around to talking about God.  Bill is Catholic and I was baptized Catholic and was confirmed in the Catholic church but don't attend the Catholic Church any more.  Bill understands my conflict with the Vicarious Atonement and other church doctrine so we avoid these issues and talk about God's Love and of the need to pray for it's infusion into our souls and of our gratitude for His blessings in our life. As we were sharing on this higher level I kept noticing how windy it was getting.

On Saturday morning the cold front hadn't arrived yet as it was due that night however it was too windy to do a day paddle as we had planned to paddle further south as I wanted to show Bill another area of the lake that I've frequently camped and paddled in. So we beach combed looking for rocks and driftwood and I  enjoyed shooting some landscape photos and a few macros of plants and rocks. All day the wind was building as it was too windy for a campfire for risk of a forest fire.  We hunkered down and retreated to the tent and listened to the mounting winds all night long.

Sunday morning it was howling outside the tent as the temperature was most likely in the high twenties but the wind was the real issue. We looked out at the water and white caps crested two foot waves and we had to paddle thru this to get back to the truck. I was a little concerned because Bill has only paddled with me  twice and that's his total paddling experience. I knew it would be a hard paddle but little did I know just how hard it would get. The pace picked up as we packed the boat as we both had to get back home  for work on Monday and we had no choice but to paddle thru this tempest. I've paddled this lake for over 15 years and this was the highest wind I'd ever seen. I later learned it was a sustained wind of 25mph and gusting to 35mph and there was no other boats on this huge lake.

Bill and I are men of faith and prayer as we both approached this challenge with determination and confidence that we could do this with God's help.  As we cast off I immediately felt the power of nature as it was difficult to gather momentum as we were paddling into the wind but on the other hand this is the safest position for the boat to avoid broaching (rolling over).  The scariest part though was the many tree stumps that stuck up above the water several feet from the original damming up of this river channel some 50 years ago. The wind was blowing us into this thicket of stumps as we were at great risk for capsizing. I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs for Bill to switch sides, "paddle left....paddle right as he constantly switched sides as he manned the bow as we navigated these treacherous waters. Several times the wind was so strong that it nearly ripped the paddles from our hands as we held a death grip on them. Our main goal though was not getting sideways to the wind as it would have rolled us over into the frigid waters.

We made a turn on the lake following what we thought was the main channel as it was a major effort to work our way into what became a cove with a dead end. Just before we made the turn a thought came to me that we should not turn left but I listened to my paddling partner who thought this was the way. I learned another lesson to go with my gut feelings because often this is guidance from one of our guardian angels.

We got back on track and made it to the truck without mishap. Of all my paddling experiences this had to be one of the hardest. Looking back I see where I misjudged the weather by not researching wind predictions as I was thinking about rain and extreme cold. Actually neither of those are as important as wind on a lake. Another lesson learned about the power of nature and the power of the will and faith to overcome odds and challenges. Neither of us was intimidated by the experience though as just the other day Bill and I were talking about our next trip in February.

Keep the paddle wet.