"We are in
trouble," said Terry, who is a pragmatist and had begun to learn that
Franklin was inclined to treat portages casually, very likely because he did so
little work on them. "We are the men he is talking about," Terry said,
getting to the heart of the matter.
Nearly all the
components of a difficult portage are to be found in the Nine Lakes portage.
The trail is indeed bad. The small lakes are separated by sharp, steep ridges
of rock that must be climbed. Between the ridges are swales of muskeg, full of
hidden potholes of icy water and permafrost. Finally the term Nine Lakes is a
figurative one. Franklin happened to use Nine Lakes but, in fact, there are
some 20 bodies of water jammed together in a bewildering maze. We spent six
hours cutting a mile-long trail through the Arctic jungle to what we thought
was the first portage lake. When we had made the carry to it and sat down to
puzzle out the next move we found that we had miscalculated our compass
declension and had to cut another half-mile of trail to get back to where we
belonged. On the third day a howling wind and rainstorm came out of the north,
pinning us to the shore of a lake, across which it would have been suicidal to
paddle. By and by the wind abated but remained a head wind of the sort against
which a mile in an hour is very good, if hard, progress.
The carry back to
the river was torturous, beginning in the muskeg, dropping down over the wall
of the gorge across ledges and loose scree. Coming back for their second trip,
Sam and Bil sat to brood for a time before picking up their respective
"I have been
thinking about something today."
"I have been
wondering if I am having any fun."
think so. I think we are hung up with an idea like a segregationist or
religious fanatic. We are killing ourselves trying to act out this movie—After
"To me the
fun is that we are seeing some country and doing some things that few people
have ever seen or done. The work is how we are paying. If you want to see
Yellowstone or Tahiti you pay to go there with money but so can anyone who has
money. The only way you can pay to get here is by half killing yourself. That
is why we haven't seen anybody in a month. The price is too high. Makes you
what I mean. We're paying but we're not collecting. I've been thinking about
this trip for two years, ever since we spread out those maps on your kitchen
floor. But we really aren't seeing anything or getting to know anything. At
night when we stop I think I should go off and look at the scenery, or find an
animal, or think about the meaning of it all, but I'm too tired and hungry to
do anything but eat and sleep. We get up in the morning and do it again. Mostly
what I see is the underside of this canoe. You probably think I am a baby, but
that is how it is for all of us, even you."