The canoe yoke jostles for position on my shoulders, hitting a vertebra every time it slides up my neck. My shoulders ache with the effort to support my canoe pack and steady the canoe, an unwieldy seventeen-foot, forty-five pound Kevlar seesaw on a sixty-four inch base.
Once I gain momentum along the portage trail my movement, the canoe’s movement become more smooth. I extend my arms out in front of my ears. My fingers lightly grip the inside of the gunnels to keep her steady.
I march forward, placing deliberate footsteps around rocks, over roots, through mucky puddles. As I approach a narrow bend in the trail, I slow my pace. I can see the base of two tree trunks on either side of the bend, from my vantage beneath the canoe.
I thread the canoe still attached to my shoulders through the tree trunk slalom. Success! I steady myself and pick up speed again. The forest has started to thin. I catch a glimpse of the next lake sparkling at me, beckoning me to hurry. I pick my way gently down the descent towards the water, watchful for loose stone.
I find a flat spot to stow the canoe. I set the back of the canoe down on the ground to catch my breath and then balance her overhead one last time. With what strength I have left in my arms I push the canoe up over my head and invert it as her keel lands on my thighs. I scooch her gently to the ground and wriggle out of my canoe pack’s harness. My shirt clings to my back, cold and damp. My neck cracks as I move my head from side to side.
I feel weightless and free.
I skip back to the start of the trail, cheerleading on my sister canoe trippers as we pass one another. I pick up a barrel of food and begin again.