Tuesday, June 28, 2016

First week alone out here.

First night…

So, my first night out alone.  I was kind of excited to spend the night on the actual boat.  I had always imagined that a hammock strung between the masts would be a perfect place to sleep and this was my first real chance.  (It wouldn’t really work with two people.) The other great advantage of being alone is that if I do sleep on the boat, I don’t have to drag all my stuff up a muddy river bank and through picker grass… etc.  Just clear away the sailing stuff, cook, then sleep!

I pick a spot on the river that seems to have no biting flies… no roads nearby… Should be perfect.  I drop anchor and enjoy the evening. I even made pasta! Just before sunset, I see on the horizon a building thunderstorm.  Well, shit, that wrecks my romantical star gazing from a hammock plan. I should be good if I just string a line between the two masts and hang a tarp over it.  Sort of make a tent out of the space between the masts with my hammock under it.  Should keep most of the rain out, I’ll sleep in the hammock.  Perfect!

Just as I settle in, it is kind of hot and actually a little humid so I am just laying in the hammock in my underpants… when…
holy christ fuck… the mosquitos!  

I have known mosquitos… but holy hell on earth…

Being attacked by mosquitos in the dark has to be the most perfect torture ever devised.  The buzzing, the bits, the sound of the buzzing, then the sudden stop of them them landing somewhere on your head, the smacking your own head to try and get them to leave before they suck your blood! Little flying things with needles for faces that make the most annoying sound ever heard by man, that literally spread disease and suck your blood.  Not even to mention leave itchy bumps.  WTF!!!! Who invented these little bastards!

After a bit of this torture, I remember I have a mosquito net!  Though in the dark under a tarp-tent over a hammock, I couldn’t get the thing straitened out enough to put up, so I elect to just hide down into the hammock with it laid over the top. I only had to hold it in place with my hands and feet.  No problem!  Ha ha!  Get me now you…!!!

WHAT!!!! Inconceivable! 

They were biting me through the net in the hands and feet that I was holding it in place with! I can feel dozens of them with their little needle faces sticking them into my hands and toes!
Then with sudden horror, I realize that this whole time they have been biting me through the bottom of the of the hammock into my back and butt!  (This is a nylon hammock, don’t think about those rope mesh ones in peoples backyards in summer.) I feel down my back, and there are already hundreds of little bumps rising from their sneak attack!
So now, hot and sweaty after all this squirming around to fight the mosquitos off, I do the last thing I can think of… I crawl into the sleeping bag to endure the sweltering sleeping-bag-heat-on-a-hot-summer-night-heat.  God it was hot…  Only my lips exposed through the smallest little opening, and that protected by the whole of the net.

About this time, I started hoping for the storm to arrive and blow them away.  Unfortunately the storm didn’t hurry and it took about two more hours of that before you could finally feel it getting close.

The whole river was still.  It was like all the birds and insects could sense what was about to happen.  Well, except for the mosquitos.  They were still flying around like assholes. 

Slowly the wind came up.  As it got stronger, the tent I had made between the masts started acting like a sail.  The boat was now playing a sort of slow motion doggy tug of war with it’s anchor.  Sort of fish nosing one way, than the other! Back and forth… pulling one way, then swimming and pulling the other!

Well, this is an exact recipe for the anchor getting pulled out and me getting blown into the reeds or onto shore. As sort of a low grade emergency action, still in my underpants in the seriously whipping and not at all warm wind, I pull down the tarp so it is tight over the hammock instead of raised above it. Should still work, but a bit more claustrophobic. 

That calmed things down for a while… of course then the lightening got close. And the wind got even more insane.  The boat was back to thrashing back and forth now even with the lowered tent.  Nothing I could do in the dark.  I couldn’t even see to just get underway, besides driving a boat around on a dark river in a thunderstorm probably ins’t safer than staying at anchor even a doggy tug of war anchor.  Now, my imagination really began kicking in and I started thinking of more and more terrible things I was not well prepared for…  “A boat with a wet mast is probably the tallest conductor out here.  What if the boat gets hit by lighting!?! No problem, I feel like I am the kind of guy that could get struck by lightening and survive… wait, what if the boat catches fire… hmm… I have a bucket, I could probably put it out… unless the boat gets blasted apart or a hole burns through it… wait!  I have a propane cylinder on here!  What if lightening hits the boat then blows up the propane cylinder!  Shit, I’ll probably be blown apart…or I’lll have to swim for shore with out a leg or an arm or something… what If just the boat sinks or the wind capsizes it… then I am out here in my underpants swimming for safety… shit nick, you will be lucky if you are swimming… you would still have to get out of a sleeping bag, a mosquito net, a tarp all tangled around you in a sinking boat just to make it to swimming in your underpants…. maybe let’s dich the mosquito net… they seem to be mostly gone… etc…

Eventually, i found myself slowly awakening and realizing where I was.  AHHhhh!  :-) Well, I learned that lesson!  Tent tomorrow for sure!

This is how morning looked. Under that pile of stuff is a great place to sleep!

Second night.
Well, with lessons learned from the night before… I decided my second night would not be a repeat.  Also, as I was sailing across the beginnings of Fort Peck Lake, a lone fisherman rode up to me and asked me where I was going.  He asked a few more questions, them mentioned that tonight the weather was supposed to get “weird.”

That is a serious adjective for weather even used by a non-meteorologist, so I planned to heed it and be off the lake by then.  About when the fisherman said it would, I started seeing a thunderstorm building behind me so I sailed into a little cove off the lake.  It looked so idilic!  Rolling hills, gently sloped bank, some near by shrubs to block the wind!  Perfect!

Just as I was on my high speed beaching run I realized that there was a gathering swarm of those fucking biting flies gathering on around the sail!

IT’S A TRAP!!!! 

Just as the bow ground into the beach and the boat came to a halt… they were all over me!  God damn it! They were like miniature horse flies!  I looked back out to the lake.  Could I get back out and find a different spot?  I looked up at the storm… well, maybe… but it might also have these flies too.  Best bet put up the tent and hunker down.   

As I got out, I noted that the mud at the water’s edge was kind of sticky… whatever…

Anyways, I put up the tent, brought in valuables that I didn’t want to get wet, and settled in.
Now this!… this boys and girls was how to do a thunderstorm!  The first gust flattened the tent down upon me.  Like literally the tent is pinned to the ground and I am pinned under it.  I could still move around and stuff, but it was a lot like being vacuum packed to the ground!

To bad dome tent flattened isn’t on the Fujita scale because it is starting to become a standard reference for me.

Then it started to rain.  But… the rain was coming at whatever that wind speed that flattens tents! The rain was hitting the tent, and thus my back at whatever ungodly speed.  Every drop stung! At first I could feel each drop, then as it became a torrent, It just became general pain on any part of my body that was up against the tent fabric.  

I took my foam sleeping pad and put it up over my back.  That made everything pretty tolerable actually. I could endure that for an hour or so.  No problem!

I felt a cold wet wash across my whole stomach!  Shit!  Did I spill my water bottle?

No… I wish.

The Rain fly on the tent had pulled out its stakes and had been flipped up.  Now instead of protecting the inside of the tent from water, it was acting like a rain catch and directing every drop of water that fell on it into the inside of the tent! The bottom of the tent is still sort of water proof, so now all that water was filling the inside of the tent like some sort of demented kiddy pool!

(remember I have all my valuable don't get wet stuff in there with me!)

  I found a mesh side, forced it down to let most of the water out, then just sort of zoned out and let it happen.  There was nothing to do but wait it out. So laying in a cold puddle in a tent on a hillside in Montana, I tried to take a nap.

(Not even once did I wish I was in the 830 morning meeting!)

Eventually, the rain abated and I went outside to clean things up.  

The firsts thing I noticed was that what had formerly been a solid hillside had now become a mushy paste.  Basically it was an entire world of half baked cake batter.  Every step added two pounds of mud to the bottom of your shoe!

Of course! this entire area had been lake or river bottom… and now having gotten that soaked again it had turned back into the nasty mung that it had been when it was all rotted vegetable particulate at the bottom of a lake!

I can’t really think of a messier place to be in the middle of… except that I was about twenty feet up a hill so going back to the boat was going to be a mung slip and slide… with all my stuff.  But that was for later!  

I swished most of the water out of the tent then restaked the rain fly… (like putting tooth picks in a cake layer then hoping it will hold against a monster truck pull.) I then put some giant chunks of drift wood on top of the stakes.  Just then the storm was building again.

I squirmed out of all my sticky mud drenched cloths, laid down in the somewhat reduced puddle in my tent. Then, naked in my cold puddle, I went to sleep as the storm got weird with itself again.
At least I am learning.  Day one… sleep in a tent if there is a place to do it. Day two… if there is going to be rain, sleep on rocks! 
Day three!
After a somewhat messy morning…. the sailing this morning was great!  The wind was from the perfect direction!  I was blasting along and making great time!  The wind picked up so I went to bare poles again.  Again the boat handled beautifully!  Still rocketing up the lake with no sails up.

Obviously before I took down the sail.

The waves were starting to get big so i started thinking maybe I ought to get off the lake and onto something a little bit less swamp the boaty. 

Now, you will hear people claim that “Oh!  that lake is so shallow, that’s why these waves kick up so fast!  It is so shallow!  What they need to do is stop letting all the water out of the dam and make this lake it’s right level”

Um… no… for many reasons.  I won’t get into dam philosophy… but think about the physics of what is being claimed.  The lake is so shallow that the waves build quickly?  The depth of the effects of a wave are only half the wavelength of that wave.  So if the wave crests are 20 feet apart. (Which is probably generous, then those waves are unaffected by the bottom of the lake as long as it is ten feet deep.)
Stolen from RSMAS

The reason that the waves build so fast is because there is suddenly a dang 40 knot wind blowing across it!  

Speaking of that, as I was sailing along under no sails.  I started noticing that the waves were getting bigger and bigger.  I am not saying I was looking up at the waves… I sure did have the distinct feeling of being “between” the waves even though I was sitting in the back of the boat.  
Trying to be a reasonable person for once… I decided to put into a cove I saw on the map just past a boat ramp about a half mile up.  I saw the boat ramp, basically just a concrete ramp getting pounded by the waves.  No good.  I kept going, looking for the cove.

Well, here was a sort of cove… hard to see it… A lot of grass and plants seem to be in this cove… Still, it looks like…

I passed one of these water plants… and it was actually a cedar bush!  DAMN IT!  This is not a cove!  The wind blew the water into this field!  As soon as the wind goes down, the boat will be hundreds of feet from the water stuck in the mud!  SHIT!

I come about, but I can’t sail out against the wind and waves.  I jump out, grab the anchor line and start pulling.  Slogging!  Dragging the boat back out into the lake through this flooded field against the wind and waves up to my asshole in mud.  (Same mud as before, just now with two feet of water on top of it. I know I have to do it now… or there will be no getting it out!
The mud sucked off my shoes the first two steps!  I dove under, got them back, then tossed them into the boat.  They were to valuable to lose!  Now I drag it barefoot!

About this time, the fishermen from the ramp are all standing on dry shore watching me… nothing worse than making bad decisions than making bad decisions with an audience! 
Eventually I got the boat back out to where I guessed there would be water still in the morning.
Totally beat, I dragged the boat out of the mud and against the wave crashing shore.  The fishermen did help me pull it up so that it wasn’t getting pounded all night.  Due to the waves pounding it before it was up, the whole thing got filled with water.

Not my finest bit of seamanship, but better than some of the other options. 

I think this can all be best simulated at home by filling your bath tub 3/4 with water.  Now take every object that you plan to use for the next 3 months of your life and throw them into the bath tub.  Now put on your warmest clothes and take a cold shower then drag your car up hill for two blocks.

Yep…  kind of fun in a way though isn’t it? :-)

Next few days.
Sailing along with nothing notable happening

        The next few days have passed without any calamity worth writing about. One day I managed to sail about 60 miles in a totally reasonable way! The first third of the lake is beautiful.  You pass through what look like mountains with small coves everywhere. Slowly that gives way to eroding hills then the last third just kind of blows. Flat eroding dirt and scrub brush banks.  You get the sense that maybe they should let the water go. 

A sweet little cove I put into to hid from a passing thunderstorm.


I feel like you have to really open up the pictures full size to appreciate. 

As you approach the dam from the south… it becomes the horizon for about 120 deg of your world.  HUGE!  Because of the hills on both ends of the dam, you kind of get the sense that it is the edge of the world or that you are on the worlds biggest infinity pool.  That sense was probably also helped that it was so absolutely calm out there that the sky was perfectly reflected in the water for miles in all directions. Because of the perfect reflection, the boat seemed to be traveling through the sky.  A little disorienting but awesome!

With the dam on the horizon and the fact that I would be back among people again I decided to take a bath.  Even though I am pretty sure my body has now become self cleaning after days out here… I didn’t really want to open up the opportunity for a second opinion on that.  After the bath, I put on my Hawaiian shirt and headed into the marina at the end of the dam to figure out how to get to the other side!

I’ll let you know how that turns out when I know myself!


David Forbes said...

Lake Peck treated me more kindly than she did you, but the ability to laugh at misfortune is the hallmark of the successful traveller. Good luck getting around the remaining Dam(s) and fair winds down river.

Matthew Gidley said...

Well man it was a fun filled day in the life you left behind but reading this post had me laughing out load just imagining it. Keep it up buddy!

paulbrannan said...

Beginning to sound like the Mars trip was a better option! Maintain a stiff upper lip and break out the grog.

Notorious said...

Forbes: Thank you!

Ridley: I look forward to being buzzed by you guys when I get closer!

Paulbrannan: Well, the idea of any trip without mosquitos and thunderstorms is very appealing! (Meanwhile mosquitos starting space program in secret.)

Mike Quinn said...

Did the attachment for the Coleman stove work? Soon we will be doing the week long sail on Sakakawea. May run into some errant travelers.

Notorious said...


It didn't work actually. Apparently twice a century they change things enough. I was going to drop yours in the mail the next time I see a post office.

Good luck finding them! I am sure they are out there... We are like little bobbing easter eggs sneaking through the lake.