Monday, May 29, 2006

The Gauntlet

Nick had one good trout. He did not care about getting many trout.
--Hemingway


Every time I head into the north woods alone with the intention of fly fishing I am drawn to Hemingway's Nick Adams Stories, "Big Two-Hearted River" specifically. I don't think I carry any of the pain and fear Nick does (I sure hope not) in that story when I'm wading Pine River in the far North East corner of Wisconsin, but I do constantly recall the spirit of that story and hope that the luck Nick has catching trout rubs off on me.

This trip was a wash, pun somewhat intended -- yet in the end the rewards were substantial, almost priceless. The weather on Saturday was very hot, almost too hot to fish. I dabbled in the stream a bit but had no luck. No complaints though as the scent of pine trees for as far as the eye can see is good company. I had lunch, read a bit, and then hopped on my bike for a 30 mile ride, planning on returning in time for dinner and an hour of working the evening hatch on the river. This did not go as planned in the slightest. I was so close to the Upper peninsula that in tribute to Hemingway I decided to poke my bike into Michigan for a few miles. Crossing the Brule River I peddled north on highway 189 for 5 miles, turning around and starting back to camp (Tipler, WI). It was so hot and clear that day -- not to mention that it was supposed to be hot and clear through Tuesday -- that it came as a great shock when a torrential downpour began, coupled with the raging lightening and thunder. Thankfully I was able to duck into an awning of a bratwurst grilling family to get a dry place to stand. They offered me a brat but I thankfully declined, hoping that the weather would let up so I could cook up the turkey dogs in my cooler. The weather did in fact let up to a slight drizzle, which considering the circumstances was wonderful. Many things are relative and its important to take them in their context. I happily peddled south and made it to Tipler (7 miles from camp) when the downpour started again. I was already soaked, as was my bike, which is a tribute to how strong this downpour actually was -- I had to stop and get out of the rain. Usually you hit a wall and say, "Eh, I'm already wet and wet is wet so I'll keep going." Not this time. It was a new level of wet and I had to run away from it. Tipler has about 50 residents but God bless 'em, they have a county park with a picnic shelter, under which I happily passed the next 30 minutes. As an aside I must note that at this time I was deeply aware of the fact that my gear/backpack(with clothing) was on the picnic table and that my tent had the flaps down. My camera and books were in a bag in the tent and would be fine, but everything else was most likely soaked. I tried to think the best while sitting amidst Tipler. The rain eventually let up and I headed for home. I was thankful to meet the brat grilling people that were weekending from Green Bay, and even more thankful that the good people of Tipler built a picnic shelter. The drizzle still was annoying but I could deal with it. I have a decent sense of adventure and I was happy to have a story to tell. I figure it all builds character and that most things that are difficult have their own rewards. I was right, in spades. A mile away from camp I came upon something I will never forget. I can only guess that the quiet of a bicycle made it all possible. About 25 yards ahead a black bear came out from the woods and stepped up to the road (its really more of a paved logging road so its about as isolated as could be). I stopped quickly and whispered ,"whoa..." Under my breath. I was far enough away to feel safe, but I was close enough to be in real trouble if the bear had designs on me. The bear either heard the slight rub of of my brakes or my quiet exclamation, because he turned his head towards me. He then shuffled across the road and into the spruce with a little spring in his step. I have seen one black bear in person (Minnesota) and literally hundreds on television via endless documentaries. This bear was easily the largest black bear I have ever seen anywhere in my life -- all national geographic specials included -- so close, so massive, so beautiful.Wisconsin certainly has bears, but its not known for them, so seeing one this size is extremely rare. My heart was very much racing -- somewhat out of fear but mostly out of excitement. He was there for a moment, and gone into the woods the next. I stood still and tried to relax. 20 seconds later a car drove by the moment I had just witnessed and thought nothing had happened. He drove in a dry car and I was soaked after getting caught in the rain 15 miles from camp. I was the lucky one.

My camp was soaked and my sleeping bag was also wet. A complete wash. Its Sunday night now and I'm home a day early. The main goal of the trip was to give my camping gear a once over before the canoe trip next month and that goal was accomplished.

Tonight I headed over to the Black Earth Creek near Madison and tried to make up for a little of the fly fishing I missed out on up north due to the Old Testament rain. I have caught many decent sized brook trout in my time, but never a rainbow. I caught a beautiful 12 inch rainbow trout tonight. The colors are so beautiful alongside the fish. It hit the fly at the farthest distance possible, meaning that the fight was long. Feeling the wiggling fish on the end of my line brings Nick Adams quotes to the front of my mind. It was simply wonderful and that large rainbow is now back safely in the creek as I write this.

I paid the price of discomfort but the dividends have easily been worth it. I'll be back to the Pine River soon and I can only hope I get to see that bear again.

4 comments:

wilsonian said...

I arrived here via allbuttonedup, and am so glad I did. This is the most charming story, and you have the coolest positive outlook. She's blessed to have you in her circle.

Hope your big trip is dry, and the fish are biting.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Hey, Chris. This is what I get for going out of town for a funeral. You write three blogs I missed completely.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Hey, Chris. This is what I get for going out of town for a funeral. You write three blogs I missed completely.

melissa said...

this story completely freaks me out, mr. treadwell.