Lake Itasca, MN
Miles Today: 120
Total Miles: 8234.4
Days on the Road: 144
Waiver: You May Die Here
A Source To Be Reckoned With
Heeding our call to visit all the National Parks in the lower 48 (and perhaps the additional eight parks in Alaska), we continued through Minnesota's northern reaches toward the mass of inland islands and waterways that comprise Voyageurs National Park. Just coming off a four-day campout at Isle Royale and with plans to be in Colorado by the 4th, we did what most national park visitors do: browsed the gift shop, watched a video and signed on for one of the scheduled tours. (National Park Service stats claim the average length stay in a park is three hours - can you believe it?)
Perhaps it was the allure of learning a French song, or the chance to paddle a replica of a circa 1820s birch bark canoe, or the fact that our male guides would be costumed in shirts made from women's flowery dress fabric - perhaps it was for one of those reasons that we signed up for the 1 1/2 hour canoe tour, but it wasn't. In keeping with our traditional lack of planning (which we'll hereafter refer to as habitual spontaneity), it was one of the only tour options available that fit with our schedule and budget.
With one of our guides billowing 80 years worth of growth out of his ears and the other obviously experimenting with his teenage facial fuzz, it soon became apparent that this tour was in the midst of a guard-changing moment where the younger student was about to take the reigns from the memory-challenged elder. During the pre-paddle talk, the younger guide stood back, looking somewhat apologetic, while the old salt pointed to his road atlas and laid out some Voyageur history to the tune of twenty shuffling feet. As the tour continued away from shore, the two guys volleyed back and forth as the young guy haltingly recited some Voyageurs anecdotes and the older one meekly pointed out missing details or errors in his recounting. Near the end of the tour our guides confessed to the Park's false advertising -- they knew not a singe, authentic French Yoyageur song. A landing salute was all they could offer. The younger guide at the bow launched into a barely audible story about the salute and was soon drowned out by the 3-2-1 countdown from the helm, followed by a woefully unsynchronized paddle salute. In the end, we'd learned nothing we didn't already know from the park videos, pamphlets and our previous visit to Grand Portage National Monument, but we did realize that if the whole writing-for-a-living gig doesn't work out, we could give those guides a run for their money.
From there we drove to Itasca State Park where we spent a good part of the night cowering (Anthony downstairs on the back seat and Liz groggily still in bed) from the pounding rain, surround sound thunder and apocalyptic flashes of lightning. Sleeping in the upper bunk of our 6'8 pop-top, one really gets the feeling of what it's like to be a lightning rod.
When the downpour lightened to a sprinkle around 10 a.m., we trudged the muddy path to the Mississippi headwaters and, again, did what most visitors do: spit in the source and marveled at how that very same saliva will empty into the Gulf of Mexico in three months, rock-hopped across the spot where the water jumps the lake and forms a stream and, of course, raced sticks from the source to as far as we could follow them. (Liz's stick won, but both took on water and got trapped in the cattails at the first small bend.) And, like the kids who excitedly hopped the rocks before the idea even occurred to us, we squealed, "This is so fun." We just couldn't help it.
100 miles later
© 2002, 2003 Anthony Hecht and Liz Jones. All rights reserved.