The Art of Planning a Big Trip
Part 4: Staying Found
by Farwell Forrest
Canoe country. What does this much-used phrase mean, exactly? It's
not hard to figure it out. Look at a map of any popular paddling
destination. What do you see? Lakes, lots of lakes. Large lakes, small
lakes, middle-sized lakes. Lakes make canoe country what it is.
Chances are very good, therefore, that your Big Trip will take you to
one or more lakes. (Kayakers who spend their time along the sea coast
are the obvious exception here, but we'll leave that sort of Big Trip to
a later column.) As Tamia pointed out last week, lakes have their own
distinctive character. You don't have to worry about rapids or falls.
You probably don't have to worry about sudden floods. You do have to
stay found, however, and that's not always as easy as it sounds.
Lakes, of course, can be big or small, from tiny, spring-fed seeps
the size of farm ponds to the huge, freshwater seas we in North America
call the Great Lakes. You'll have to work hard to get lost on a farm
pond, I admit, but as lakes get bigger, the problem of staying found
gets harder and harder. Notice that I've written "staying found." I
could have chosen something a little more up-scale"inland
navigation," saybut I think "staying found" is simpler. It serves
as a reminder of the first principle of navigation. If you don't know
where you are all the time, then you can't tell which way to head to get
where you're going, can you? And getting where you want to go is the
ultimate purpose of navigation.
It all looks so easy. Topographic maps let you look down on the
surface of the earth in a way once possible only for birds and gods. In
fact, this Olympian perspective gives you a pretty good idea why so many
of our gods have either been attended by birds, or taken the shape of
birds themselves. The ancient Egyptians worshipped Horus, the sacred
falcon. The Norse god Odin was accompanied everywhere by the ravens
Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory). Eagle, Raven and Owl play their
parts in many of the sacred stories of America's First Nations. The dove
figures prominently in the imagery of both Old and New Testaments. It's
not hard to see why, really. As they soar high above the ground on which
we mortals are condemned to make our way, the world can keep no secrets
from these privileged, airborne figures. From their lofty vantage points
the see all and know everything.
And with a good map in your hands, the world holds no secrets from
you. Or so it seems at first. The location of the hidden stream which
marks the outlet of the lake is obvious at a glance. The route through a
seemingly impossible tangle of swamps and small ponds is crystal-clear.
A maze of channels around a cluster of islands is resolved in a moment.
How could anyone get lost here? you ask yourself, looking down at the
maps spread out on your dining room table. This is a piece of cake!
Well, maybe. None of us are birds, and it's a pretty safe bet that
there aren't any gods among us, either. Our perspective is necessarily
earth-bound. What we see from the surface of a lake won't be anything
like the marvelous landscape shown on our maps. Away from the
dining-room table, things look much, much different. When seen by a
bow-paddler, trying to match what he can see around him with what his
maps show, that hidden outlet I mentioned earlier is just
thathidden. The route through the swamps and ponds, obvious on the
map, now appears as an unbroken sea of rushes and sedges. And what about
the islands? The bow-paddler can't see even one. Island overlaps with
island, and all of them are indistinguishable from the forested shore
What to do? The stern-paddler is getting impatient. She sees
thunderheads building up to windward. She wants to get off the lake
before the wind hits. "Which way do we point this thing?" she asks,
slapping the side of the big canoe for emphasis. She doesn't sound
happy. She wants an answer. Now.
But the bow-paddler (and navigator by default) doesn't have any
answers. He's been relaxing, following a general compass bearing across
this first lake of the trip and not paying close attention to the route.
How can you get lost on a lake that's only twelve miles long, after all?
The route's as clear as can beon the map. Now, three hours into
the Big Trip, the navigator's just realized what happens when you don't
stay found all the time. This isn't going to be the piece of cake
Just then, he hears a rumble of thunder. The stern-paddler hears it
too, and she must have read his thoughts. "Piece of cake?" she snorts.
"Humble pie, more like!"
© Verloren Hoop Productions 1999
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