In the final moments before sunrise, little plumes of smoke escaped my coughing fire, billowing into the morning mist. Steam from my cracked coffee mug drifted and swirled above the inky river spilling past the little outcropping of rock serving as a home for one brief evening.
I hadn’t bothered to set up my tent. The poles were broken anyways, and the nights were free of bugs in the crisp, early October air. My gear lay heaped and exhausted beside the overturned canoe, which had warded off a heavy and wet fog overnight. I took a final sip of coffee and scoffed at the cliche that was my campsite.
I recalled romantic dreams of my youth—the overturned canoe for shelter, a blanket of stars, the solo paddler alone in the dawn’s fog.
David Jackson questions what is Cliche
But At This Point, What Was Cliche? More than six months earlier, the Pacific Ocean faded behind me as Mike Ranta and I hauled our canoes toward the towering continental divide. He was on his third coast-to-coast solo canoe expedition and I was on my first. A shadow beside a living legend, I was a conduit and lens to share his journey with the world.
Luck, however, was nowhere to be found on this trip.
Through British Columbia we portaged over 1,000 kilometers and paddled just 200. In the prairies, Lake Winnipeg took 30 days to traverse in pitiless winds. Times were idyllic through the pristine Boundary Waters, but Lake Superior was angry with our late summer arrival, and she let us know it.
After two weeks of delicate and sometimes life threatening maneuvers through gales and squalls, I listened to what I knew each hammering wave echoed. On a year marred by unpredictable weather events and with fall fast approaching, this was no place for two tiny canoes.
My father arrived to Superior’s north shore, plucking me from the fitful lake and dropped me on the shore of a windy Lake Huron.
I Continued Alone From There, 700 Kilometers By Paddle To My Home Just South Of The Ottawa River. As sunrise began to peak from behind tall pines, I looked at my battered canoe and the duct tape on my swollen hands. I kicked a little at the coals before dousing them in river water, cringing as their sizzle screamed for another breath. It was time to go.
As I loaded the canoe, I wondered which rapids I might paddle up today and which falls I might haul my load around. For the most part, I was alone and mapless on the French River. I was reading the currents and each stroke took me a little farther along the ancient story of its banks.
I loaded my last bag and pushed out into the vanishing fog, rubbing my eyes and mustering a half-hearted smile before taking my first stroke. On The Morning Of My 24th Birthday, I Had Become The Cliche Of My Childhood Dreams.