Monday, June 7, 2010

Lake Argentina

A low, rocky point extended into Lake Argentina. Pushed by 25 knot wind, Verlen and I paddled our catameraned canoes along the shore scouting for a camp spot. Sharp boulders blocked our attempts at landing.
"We'll go around the point," Verlen yelled. "As we enter the bay we'll find a place for sure."
I paddled steadily, unaware of our danger. We had been wind bound on this glacial fed lake for four days and only this evening had ventured out. Alejandro had shoved my canoe from the beach.
"The wind doesn't get any better than this does it?" I asked.
"No," he replied, sounding as if he was sorry about it. "It all depends on when you are ready to go."
We were learning to stretch our limits. A windy day like this back home in Michigan would mean no paddling. Here in Patagonia, a windy day like this meant as good a day for paddling as we were likely to get.
At eleven p.m., there was still daylight, but the color of the lake had darkened to charcoal. The wind that had been pushing at our backs and scooting our canoes along the edge of the point suddenly increased and became so strong that when we reached the point, we couldn't turn into the wind and head for shore. The wind came down from the mountains, seeming to gain speed as it tunneled toward us. As we reached the end of the point, we were relieved, so sure that the worst was over. We were fighting as to who would hold the camera and then as we rounded the point, we saw that the land had been sheltering us and that the wind was crazy and the waves were tunneling because of their steepness. The worst of the waves were at the point because of the rocks. It was gruesome. The worst water we had encountered on the expedition. We were blown past the point and driven forcefully from shore. Waves climbed over our sterns and ice water spray hit my face until my cheeks were numb. I was warmer than Verlen. I had on the neoprene gloves and survival suit. Verlen was only in a Helly Hansen rain coat.
It was nearly four miles from the point across the bay to the far shore. We had no other choice. In minutes, the lake turned into a froth of white. waves climbed like angry fists toward the sky. The wind picked up water from the lake and flung it into the air, swirling into spouting tornado shapes. All of our efforts were directed toward maneuvering the boats to quarter the waves and avoid being hit broadside as we navigated for shore.
There had been no warning nor time to make weather judgements. Skill, technique, strategy and the seaworthiness of our boats were not enough to save us. I was terrified as the waves engulfed my canoe. We were trapped and mauled in the storm.
I kept paddling, feeling each wave lift my boat and threaten to capsize me. Then another wave would come with greater force and another with no stopping. Verlen was quiet as he always was when the going got rough. There was no point in talking to him and watching the waves only gave me a sure feeling that we would die. There were no fishing boats to save us. No house on shore to signal. If we did capsize, the cold lake water would render us hypodermic within minutes. There was no time to panic. We had to work at staying alive and upright. we had to hang on and keep looking toward the safety of shore and keeping believing that it was getting closer.
I began to sing "How Greet Though Art," as if it were my prayer. At first I could not hear my voice above the roaring wind. Then I sang louder and louder and my prayer became an answer. A calm strength that defied the storm took over inside me. In singing about God's greatness, I realized that God is bigger than a wild sea, bigger than the storm and bigger than our present danger. I felt a strength and assurance that allowed me to continue paddling toward shore. In spite of the turbulence, our canoes did not swamp or flip.
We spent more than an hour blown by the wind. Our canoes took on water and the wind raged even stronger. Still singing, my canoe touched the dry ground of the shore that had seemed to impossible to reach. I clamored ashore near the mouth of the River Centinela. Because we were close to the delta system of the river and on the inside of a bay, the shore was an expanse of mud and shallow water. Verlen got out to wade, towing the canoes toward the beach with waves cresting over our sterns. -- excerpt from draft of More Challenge Than Comfort, a book about my canoe expedition from the Arctic Ocean to Cape Horn.

Pray for the calm strength in treatment.

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