My life had been suddenly turned upside down. My best friend had been taken from me.
It had been over a year ago that my wife had been snatched away. It was the result of stupidity at the hands of a young driver. She had been coming home at dusk. She was on a busy street, only about a mile from home.
According to witnesses, a black SUV pulled out from a side street. When the driver was unable to get traction on the icy road, he pulled to the side of the road. As my wife continued down the street, the driver of the SUV suddenly gunned the engine, causing the vehicle to spin out directly in front of her.
She tried to avoid the collision by heading for the ditch. Unfortunately, there was a telephone pole in her path. Although the air bags went off, she was killed instantly by a piece of metal that pierced her heart.
The driver of the SUV escaped unharmed and was never located. I spent days driving around the neighborhood and hours waiting by the site, but I could never find a vehicle that matched the description. The driver just went on with his life, oblivious to the sadness and despair that he had unleashed.
I continued to live, but the passion and excitement were gone. The house was so quiet and lonely when I returned at the end of the day. I continued to look for her arrival, jumping at the sound of a car in the driveway, hoping at the ringing of the phone, but she never came. I stopped by the cemetery frequently, always bringing a single red rose. Sandy had been my one true love and I was lost without her.
I kept myself busy with work and various projects around the house. Many of the projects were ones that Sandy wanted me to do. I did them for her. I tried to help my neighbors, designing a rocky water garden for my neighbor who was a widow. Several times I caught her looking out the window as I sweated and muscled the stones into place.
She was a nice looking woman and would often come out to bring me something to drink. From the way she acted, I think she was interested in me. Unfortunately for her, my mind was somewhere else. I concentrated on the work at hand. It was much easier for me to fall asleep after a day of hard work.
I also built a lattice fence for one of my disabled neighbors. I worked at restoring my 85 Firebird and completely sanded and repainted my fishing boat.
After about a year and a half, I realized that I was going through life in a daze. I really needed to get away from everything and find a quiet place where I could grieve and think. Several days later, I was cleaning my garage, when I came across some Duluth packs that I had used when I was younger and took frequent trips to the International Canoe Area.
This was a place where I had spent much of my free time before I became serious with Sandy. This was the one place where I felt like I was really alive. I would often take trips into the wilderness with my cousin who was a year younger than me. We became so efficient in our technique that we could out paddle and out portage just about any one we might encounter along the trail.
I have always prided myself on my strength and determination. On group trips to the canoe area, it would be me who would make the return trip down the portage to get the remaining equipment, while the others rested after their arduous trip. Once I started, I could paddle all day without growing weary. I loved the chance to test my body against nature and it felt good to lay my head on the pillow after a day of strenuous activity.
I'm not a weight lifter by any definition of the word. I just work hard and for long periods of time. I am proud of that. Thanks to some good genes, I am in very good shape. I stand six feet tall and weigh in at 200 lbs. My shoulders are broad and my waist comes in at 32 inches.
I knew that I was getting looks from the ladies, but it meant nothing to me. I had no desire to meet or date any of the women that I ran across. There was an emptiness in me that I didn't think would ever be filled.
As I looked at the portage packs, I remembered some of the trips I had taken with Sandy. I remembered how beautiful she had looked sitting at the front of the canoe. Her golden hair would glisten in the sunlight. Her strong, but supple arms would deftly move the paddle through the water.
Her beautiful back and waist could keep me in awe for hours. When she would turn back to look at me, I could feel my heart skip a beat. I always looked forward to those trips, a time when we could be alone and enjoy each others company.
I remembered one chilly day when the sun refused to come out. I made sure that Sandy had the best rain gear and I tried hard to protect her from the cold in any way that I could. At the portage, I would often jump out of the canoe, into the water, to insure that Sandy would be able to stay as dry as possible.
When we finally reached our campsite, I realized that the weather had taken a toll on me. Despite the fact that my body was strong and powerful, the hypothermia had slowly crept up on me and had quietly stolen my strength. I found that I had barely enough energy to put up the tent and lay out my sleeping bag, into which I collapsed.
As lay in the bag, I began to feel chills coursing through my body. Sandy must have sensed that something was terribly wrong, because she took off her outer clothes and crawled into the bag with me. It was the heat of her body that chased the chills away and allowed me to regain my strength. She may have even saved my life that day.
I have since learned that many of the men on the wagon trains would die at night because they would use up their energy to insure that the women and children were safe and warm. I discovered that even the fittest of men can succumb to the power of the damp and cold while someone of a slighter stature may be more able to survive.
The campsite that we had picked, turned out to be a beautiful site with a small sandy beach. On the beach, one could easily cuddle up and watch the sun as it slowly sank into the horizon. It was at this time, about an hour before sunset, when the colors seemed to explode around you. The trees and the water and the sky all seemed to shout out their glory. We would always make it a point to sit and enjoy the wonder of that special part of the day.
I remembered another time, when we decided to go swimming. It is not uncommon to go several days without seeing another person. I would always paddle hard the first day to insure that we would quickly make it off the beaten path. Sandy got into her suit before me. She quickly jumped into the cool, crystal blue water.
I watched as she glided effortlessly through the water and stood up on a ledge, water dripping off her tanned body, her hair wet and clinging to her head. To this day, I can close my eyes and see that vision in my head. It was a most beautiful sight. I watched and noticed every detail, wanting to insure that I never forgot that image. She was indeed a vision of beauty and raw nature.
Later, I would swim under her and look up as she swam past. If ever there was a mermaid, I saw one as we swam that day. Later, on shore, I would watch as she dried her hair and shook it back and forth in the breeze. How does one describe the beauty that one observes at a time like that? It is enough to take your breath away.
In the evening, we would sit by the fire and talk for hours. At other times we would lie out on the beach and watch for falling stars. If we were lucky, we would watch as the Northern Lights would dance their ethereal dance across the night sky.
As I looked at the packs, the thought came to me that maybe this would be a good time for me to go back to the wilderness. Maybe in that quiet and peaceful setting, I could find some peace and make some sense of the tragedy that had come into my life. I thought of the beauty and grandeur, unlike any other place I had experienced. I resolved to set aside a date to take a trip.
I arranged to get time off of work. I put in a request for a permit, listing my wife as the other member in the party. I figured that she would be going with me in spirit. The forestry service does not like people going into the wilderness alone. I spent the next several weeks getting my equipment together and planning my meals.
Just the thought of going back to the place where we had enjoyed so many good times together, was enough to lift my spirits and put a spring in my step. The weeks went by quickly and I got into shape by walking around with a 60 lb. pack on my back. I wanted to be able to make the portages between lakes in one trip. That would mean packing light and carrying everything in one trip.
The International Canoe Area is a special area that stretches between the US and Canada. It is a huge area that is traveled mainly by canoe. No motors are allowed in this area. There are hundreds of lakes and many of them are connected by worn paths on which you carry, (portage) your canoe and supplies.
It is a pristine wilderness in which man has had little affect. This is a place where planes seldom fly over and where one can experience total silence and incredible beauty. The area contains many fish and animals, including, deer, bear, moose, otters, and lynx. I have found moose tracks a few feet from my tent, after waking up from a very restful sleep. It is a great place for solitude and reflection.
Well, the day finally arrived for my big adventure. My excitement level was the highest it had been for many months. I loaded up my car and prepared for the long drive north. As I drove, I took in the many sights in the countryside around me. I spent that night in a campsite along the shores of a beautiful lake. I wanted to get a good nights rest so that I could start out early in the morning.
The next morning, I had a quick bite to eat, and then I was on the road again. The miles went quickly and soon I was pulling into the parking lot for the Ranger Station. I checked in and assured the ranger that I was not packing any cans into the wilderness. I also assured him that I knew how to hang my food pack so that it would be unreachable from the bears that were abundant in that area.
After leaving the ranger station, I headed up the road to my designated entry point. The parking lot was half full, which meant that the nearer camp sites were probably all taken. That was OK with me, because I planned on putting in some miles and quickly traveling pass the day trippers.
It is a common practice, for many, to canoe to a campsite on the first or second lake. Then they will realx and experience the wonder of nature. It is not uncommon to paddle by and find people walking around in swim suits or laying out in the sun, convinced that they are deep in the wilderness.
It is on these lakes, where one can paddle around a bend and frequently come upon other people, out paddling their canoe. Although the sights can be most interesting, I always strive to put miles between myself and these people, opting more for the feeling of being alone with nature.
It felt so refreshing to be doing something that I had enjoyed so much in the past. I found myself whistling as I carried the canoe to the water and began loading my gear. I lashed my fishing pole to the supports of the canoe and placed my pack in the front. As I pushed off from shore, I sensed that something very memorable was going to happen to me on this trip.
The sky was blue and contained only one small fluffy cloud. The hills rose in the distance. I could hear the call of a Loon on the water. I noticed some fish were rising to the surface, just to my left. I dipped my paddle into the clear cold water and prepared for the destiny that was awaiting me.
One look over the expanse of wilderness before me and I was convinced that this was the place where I really needed to be. Something special was going to happen on this trip, I could feel it.