“More please, sir.”
It was dark outside when the pitter-patter of raindrops on my tent fly woke me. So we were not to be entirely spared some rain. After a short while, the shower stirred Kacey, who climbed out of the hammock and crawled into the tent. Entering or exiting a tent simply cannot be done quietly. There are two parallel zippers on the outer fly to open, then the L-O-N-G oval door zipper. Then you must zip down the two on the fly before closing the L-O-N-G oval door screen. It was quite hot in the tent, as the flaps of the fly remained closed for rain. Door screens, window screens and vents in the rain fly were no match for the air in the 70’s and 100% humidity.
When again I awoke the sun was rising, and I pulled the firewood from under cover and got a smoky fire going. There’s something about a smoky campfire. It’s like a prerequisite for a campsite. It doesn’t seem alive without a plume wafting skyward.
I fired up the gas camp stove to brew fresh coffee in the red enameled steel coffee pot, and to heat water for oatmeal in the blue enamel cookpot. Coffee was done and a good fire burning as the boys rose to greet the day. We had instant oatmeal, mixed and served in the aged aluminum bowls of the mess kits. I had introduced the lads to my pervasive philosophy of “What would Lewis and Clark do?” This is applied to many things afield, at home and at camp. It includes things like passing on the bug repellent and using a head net, tucking socks into pants, and washing dishes in the lake. And so I commenced to make “Lewis and Clark toast”. Bread grilled in butter in the aluminum mess kit’s skillet. Okay, so Lewis and Clark likely had no yeast-risen bread, but I’m sure they had hot biscuits, and butter as fresh as it gets.
I pulled from my pack two “Emergency Poncho” packages, and distributed them to my campmates. I had a good light duty rain jacket, and we were ready for rain. Without further ado, we killed the fire and boarded the AquaMarie for a Saturday full of fishing. Today the rains would visit us off and on, and I started a game of numbering each brief shower. The boys would pull their plastic poncho hoods over their heads, and I mine on my green jacket, and I would declare “Here comes number twenty-two!” Before we knew, the drizzles would stop, and frequently the sun would peek out at us.
“Let’s go down to the lily pads.” Max requested again, “The ones all the way down the left fork.”
We motored west down the lake, and bore left at its namesake fork, down to the inlet from Indian Lake. We didn’t find much action here compared to years past. We re-positioned to a few promising spots, but landed the rare foot-long, barely keepers.
“We might wish later we kept the small ones.” Kacey referred to the minimum-length fish we released back into the water. By evening, we would wish we had heeded those words. Rain and sunshine came and went as we wound our way back to the other lily pads, the inlet from Lewey Lake, hereafter known as “Eagle’s Inlet”. We numbered each shower, and peppered the lovely day with “I should have stayed home” as we enjoyed good fishing action and the calls of the loons. We saw the big birds a lot this trip, accompanying this year’s brood. The tiny copies would swim alongside, or climb on mom or dad’s back for a ride. Occasionally they would be left alone, momentarily bobbing on the surface as parents swam deep to catch lunch.
We hauled in quite a few foot-longs, and Max dropped a keeper in the live well, a 14-incher. As we headed back to camp for lunch, we trolled our way across “the fork”, which is the deepest part of the lake. Here, the land-locked salmon settle into the cold depths. We always hope to hook one again. Of the hundreds of fish caught here over the years, we’ve seen just one. We had a good chuckle when Kacey swung the landing net, fish included, over my seat as I stood beside it (twice). “I like the way you subtly held that dripping net right over my chair.” I said. “Now it’s all wet.” Of course, everything on the boat was already wet after a day of fishing in the rain.
I had checked the gas gauge and was startled to find it below a quarter-tank as we fished the far end of the lake. “I think we have enough to get back to camp.” I shared with my shipmates. My eye went to the gauge frequently on the trip back, and on one occasion as I faced astern, Max called from the bow seat “Pop! The plane!”
I looked up to see the floats of a single-engine water taxi fly past us, 50 feet off the water and not 10 yards off the port. We watched the plane fly down the lake, traveling eastward. It rose above the tree line, made a long banking turn, and disappeared behind the distant hills.
We made it back to site 34, where we beached the boat, without running out of gas. It was shallow, but flat and sandy here, unlike the shore strewn with boulders that hemmed our own sites. Fortunately, no one arrived to claim site 34 for the weekend, so it became the AquaMarie’s mooring home.
“Is Joe here yet?” I ask as we traipse through site 33 on the way to our own camp. No joe. It’s a bit more than a two-hour drive from home to here, so I held out some hope we might still see him later.
Burgers again, cooked in the cast iron over an open fire. We finished off the package. Saturday night is traditionally Fish Fry. We fish for our supper all day, and gather all Camporee attendees at a single site for dinner. Rains came and went as we ate lunch. The mountains across the lake would disappear into the passing vaporous shrouds, and Max would point and exclaim “That mountain is gone!”
With lunch in our bellies and only one fish in the live well,, the fishing beckoned. “Let’s head over to the lily pads.” I said. We shoved off and paddled out of the shallows. The motor started right up, but when I put it in gear, nothing happened. I shifted to neutral, to reverse, back to forward. The motor revved, but the prop barely moved.
“Oh no!” I said in shocked surprise, “I think we broke the shear pin on the prop!” It was that or the transmission had stopped working for some reason. Start with the simplest first. A shear pin in a prop should be readily serviceable, even afield. We paddled back to shore, lucky and thankful that the breakdown took place right at the beach, not in the middle of the lake. Or worse, a mile-and-a-half down the lake as we were earlier in the day.
More or less instantly, my focus shifts. From carefree wilderness camper and fishing guide to two young men, suddenly I am responsible grandfather and broken-down boat owner. We’re dead in the water, so to speak, with no boat for fishing or transporting our camp back to civilization tomorrow. There is a wilderness trail that leads back to the campsite parking lot, and this was our salvation. Many years we’ve camped on the north shore, where there is no trail at all, boat access only! Still, nine miles away was only the hamlet of Long Lake; a convenience store, a hotel, and two camp stores. We might find spark plugs, or even a bilge plug, but parts for a 50-year-old outboard motor seemed like a bit of a long shot.
The boys settled back at camp, probably eating again, as I started to troubleshoot the motor. Using the pliers on my all-in-one fishing tool, I removed the cotter pin from the bell of the propeller. Pulling the prop off its shaft, I saw a small metal piece drop into the foot-deep water. I picked it up out of the sand and found it to be one third of a broken shear pin. I carefully removed the other two pieces so I would have an example with me to determine length and diameter. This find was something of a relief. A shear pin is essentially like a nail pinning together two parts of rotary machinery. Quite common, they’re found in snow blowers, probably lawn mowers, too. This would be easier to find or substitute than transmission parts for a 1976 Evinrude.
I wouldn’t be able to relax with the unresolved situation hanging over me. I checked the sun, and it looked like late afternoon. We had perhaps three hours before sunset, and no idea how long it might take to find a suitable part. It was possible we’d need to drive the twenty-two miles to the next big town, Tupper Lake, to find a hardware store. Not to mention it’s already five o’clock on Saturday. Who knows what stores will be closed, and which might remain so Sunday?
The boys could have stayed at camp, but tagged along as we set out on the half-mile trail back to the Jimmy. I brought my slicker and a flashlight, in the event we were to encounter rain or darkness. Back at the lot, I said “No white Jeep.”, which meant no Joe. By suppertime on Saturday, I guess we should give up hopes of seeing him this weekend. On the hike, and the drive to the village, we reasoned out our situation. With time came calming, and collected thoughts. “Well, we could ask the campground rangers to tow our boat back if we really needed to.” I stated.
We went to Hoss’s, but they had little by way of hardware. I found a variety pack of nails, some similar in size to the shear pin, and bought them. “In a pinch, a nail will substitute for a shear pin.” I shared with Max and Kacey. “It should be enough at least to get us home.” I asked if there was a hardware store in town. No, replied the girl behind the counter, but there’s an Aubuchon hardware in Tupper Lake, open Sunday, too. Yet another relief. At least there’s a safety net. We continued on to Mountain Born, and looked around the array of goods. I turned down one aisle and found all the drawers of hardware I’d find at my hometown True Value store. Nuts and bolts, washers and lags, spring clips…and there was a drawer labeled SHEAR PINS. I pulled my sample from my pocket, and found the closest match. We couldn’t be sure about the diameter, so bought a pair in each of two diameters. Best $1.20 I’ve spent in a long time. Our spirits soared at this easy find, and we headed back to the campsite, darkness approaching.
“No white Jeep.” I said back at the lot. Looking up the lake, westward, I could see a huge black storm stomping its way toward us. It looked like the meanest storm we’d seen all weekend. “Maybe we should wait this out in the truck.” I suggest. It’s a close gamble, as it became darker with each moment. If we waited it out for more than half an hour, we’d be hiking through the woods in a moonless, cloud-covered, pitch black night.
“Let’s go for it!” Max replied.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The rain began before we were across the bridge from the parking lot to the trail.
More next time.