We’d filled up on drinking water at the last cabin, two days earlier. We needed to find drinking water before Shabbat. Ever since losing our water filter, we’d tried to fill up only at reliable sources.
We paddled down the river, and saw a motorboat. Apparently a fishing outfitter hid up in a lake that fed the river. The fishermen on the boat only had beer, no water. We decided not to head up to the outfitter.
The next fishing boat, a couple of hours later, happily gave us a small 500ml bottle of water. We drank it right away, and gave it back so as not to be stuck with the garbage. They thought we might find another outfitter around the corner, where we could get water.
We went around the corner, but found only wilderness.
We paddled through lakes with lots of islands, some big, many small. Sometimes when all the waters converged to one channel, we felt the current.
We caught a good-sized fish, and then another. When I pulled the second one out of the boat, Erin held it in her cockpit so I could take the hook out.
Taking the hook out of pike’s mouth is tricky business. They snap with rows of sharp teeth that had previously made my fingers feel like hot dogs. I’d learned to hold their mouths open with my fat knife, but they were so slippery that they'd still get bites in, or escape Erin’s grasp and flop around the boat.
When the new catch flopped in her boat, and she reached for it, one of the hooks lodged in her finger. Another one still snared the fish, flopping.
Erin fought the pain. The barb did not come out. I reached into her boat, and separated it from the lure, like a key from a very tiny ring.
I then hooked my contact tow rope to her boat and paddled us both to shore. Scared, I kept telling her she would be fine. “Don’t forget, I’m a medic. We’ll have it out of you in no time.” I had no idea what to do.
We got out, I went for the medical kit not sure what I’d do with it, and then reexamined the hook in her finger.
The hook had three barbs on it. One of them sunk deep. The other two made it impossible to drive the barb through her finger and pull it out the other side. I gently tugged on it, to no avail. It would not come out the way it went in.
Erin braced for more pain, “rip it out,” she said, “I’m ready.”
“No.” I worried I’d take half her finger off with it. “You’re going to be fine. We’ll figure this out.” I tried to be calm for her.
I took out my swiss army knife. I did not have wire cutters to separate the three barbs and drive the lodged one forward and out.
After covering the blade and the site in antibacterial goo, I slid it along the inside of the hook, as I pulled up, until I widened the hole in Erin just enough to match the shape of the barb inside her, and pulled it out.
A little blood flowed from the tiny hole in her finger. I pressed more antibacterial goo into it, and then put on a bandaid.
Erin felt ready to get back on our way, so we did. I wished I’d thought to take a picture of the hook so that we could look back and remember her fortitude.
To the left, on the next lake, we found a tiny stream. We’d have to dig a little to fill up our water bottles from it, but it flowed clean enough. Just beyond we saw some kind of camp. We got out and explored. In a field, we found a pavilion of sorts, fashioned from wood cut there and tied together, teepee structures without skins, and piles of wood, probably cut on site.
Back on the water, three motorboats approached us. We met archaeologists, and we had just perused one of their digs. We were in ancient First Nations’ trading ground. “Did you know that it was once possible to paddle from here to the great lakes, Hudson Bay, and New York City?” None of them spoke English. One of them spoke in Spanish, which Erin understood.
“Yes, we know. We paddled here from New York. We’re going to Hudson Bay, though we won’t make it all the way this summer.”
The archaeologists were impressed. They gave us juice boxes, and candy bars. They didn’t have any water, but told us where to find a stream, and recommended that we make camp on the beautiful beach across the way. They also dug over there.
We found the water, draining out of a swamp but sufficiently wet. Behind the beach we found an ancient log cabin where we sheltered from intermittent rain over Shabbat. On Friday, we’d caught four medium to large fish, our largest catch yet, and feasted like royalty.
The beach looked out over the lake. The archaeologists came back on saturday to tell us about their dig and the people who once lived and traded there. A couple did speak English, but the Spanish speaker seemed to connect with Erin, and gave her two beads that they had recovered on the site.