Off we did go to canoe,
The folk in the boat numbered two.
We did tip, we did right,
The mosquitos did bite
And we slapped them to death by the slew.
Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, travelled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I am back having adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record System (EMR) I can get along with. I spent the winter in Nome, Alaska, and I just finished assignments in rural Iowa and suburban Pennsylvania. After my brother-in-law’s funeral, my wife and I are doing a bicycle tour of northern Michigan.
Our tour guide told us we could do anything we wanted on a day off.
I considered fishing, but without the possibility of cooking and eating the catch, decided not to.
On a group basis, the of us dozen cycled from Empire down the bike trail past Sleeping Bear Dune to Glenn Arbor for breakfast and half a day of paddling on the Crystal River.
On the strength of Bethany’s years of experience, we rented a canoe. Everyone else got kayaks.
I kept to myself the memories of the team-bulding trip that started my second year of residency. We tubed down a meandering Wyoming river.
Three planned hours turned into seven. We all got out of the water at least once, vowing never to get back in, but rattlesnakes and cacti broke our resolve. We all finished hypothermic, dehydrated, and sunburned. We all survived.
But the canoe rental concern showed a great deal of experience. Bethany demonstrated how to pick out the right length canoe paddle. The young van driver narrated the three portages en route to the drop off point. If we fell out, he said, just stand up, the water isn’t more than three feet deep.
The water’s clarity struck me first thing, beautiful and transparent. flowing over a white sandy bottom.
The second thing that struck me was a mosquito on the back of my neck, which I promptly swatted. Remembering my late brother-in-law, I put on the life jacket. Bethany sat me in the bow, and, with confidence borne of long experience, shoved us off.
After three days on the front of a tandem, I relaxed out of decision-making mode, and gave control to Bethany. She said I could paddle or coast. I sat back in the canoe seat, and killed another mosquito that landed on my knee.
About ten minutes and three mosquito bites into the trip, as we passed under a tree fallen over the water, her voice gained a dozen decibels, and she yelled, “Duck! Duck! Duck!”
I slouched back, and looked up calmly at the barkless pine as we passed under.
Bethany can’t exactly recall what happened next but we leisurely tipped over to the right, into the water.
Bethany talked me through the process of emptying out the canoe. The mosquitos found us, and we continued to swat. We got back in and started down river.
Bethany can now tell you that lake canoeing, her forte, overlaps with river canoeing, but not by much. Over the next three hours we refined our communication system, my stroke got better and I learned to back paddle.
And I killed hundreds of mosquitos, slapping myself in a macabre Macarena. I never got more than 4 at one blow. While my life vest protected my front and back, they continued to feed on me, sometimes even through my hat. Every time we portaged I would find a small black pile of their corpses on the floor of the canoe.
We hadn’t remembered the bug spray because as cyclists we hadn’t had mosquito problems. We just sort of forgot about the world-class mosquito breeding facilities offered by the backwaters of the Crystal River.
We came up out of the water at the canoe rental. Bethany had acquired 64 bites on her back alone.
But the waterproof compartment of my fanny pack had done its job and kept my cell phone dry.