Sunday, November 19, 2017

Leaving it all behind...Alaska bound (Day 1)

The mess of it all. For weeks, setting in different piles, occasionally a piece would be moved in order to grab the necessary item for the day's training ride. Fall was giving way, reluctantly to winner and my strong, very strong dislike for being cold warranted a buff around the neck and at least one extra layer than was really necessary. Leaving piles here and there, each nearest the plastic tub that would be there home for the trip to Alaska. Bike gear in this one, camping stuff in that one and the "daddy sized bin would get all the clothing, less the "oh shit" parka I am still deciding on.

Surprisingly, the loading of the truck went easily and without incident. Organization (see above photo) is not my strong suit. To look at it (see below photo) you may have thought differently.

For weeks, the anticipation of the depart to Fairbanks filled me with a "why the heck am I the only one awake, it's Christmas morning" kind of excitement. The moment could not arrive soon enough. I'd been fortunate, month's earlier to be accepted, as a rookie, into the Iditarod Trail Invitational. A 350 Mile race by foot, ski or fat bike (my weapon of choice), once the confirmation email had been received I'd decided to go all in. Fairbanks was advised as the place to train. Located in the "interior" of the state, temperatures get well below zero, an environment I would need to get comfortable with. No better way I figured than to move there. Train there.

With the help of friend's friends...a sort of six degrees from Kevin Bacon sorta thing my digs were set and a couple of what I think will be new friendships have begun. So much to learn. So much to see. The race is February 25th. In nearly the same instant it can seem so far in the distance and close enough to touch.

The cabin that will be home...
To know one's place, to call it home with no sense of "I wish I lived here or perhaps if we had lived there" is such a blessing. I love Des Moines, Iowa and it's people. My writing skills would not do justice, not even close, to how wonderful the place and those who live there are. You either know, cause you've been there or ya don't. I hope someday you get to experience both, fully.

It is said, and I believe it to be true, that no growth happens without challenge, discomfort ... That no goal worthy of it's salt is obtained without stepping outside one's comfort zone. Putting the 515 in the rear view mirror for a land more wild than I have ever known, some 2800 miles away filled me with as many emotions as the northern lights of my dreams have colors.

To your dreams. To all of our dreams.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Chapter 10 - "Upside Down in the Yukon River"

Just one quick question.....BUT....let it sink in nice and slow, down to your roots.

"If you knew without exception that failure was not an option, would the size and scope of your dreams change?"

Chapter 10

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them.”
    Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nobel Peace Prize Winner
I was well over my skis on this one. Seven hundred fifteen kilometers, 444 miles. That was the distance from Whitehorse to Dawson City, Yukon. My longest paddle to date? Perhaps fifty miles. Unknowingly, I had enlisted the assistance of the heavens. Rules of the Universe, of which I was then just vaguely aware, were now being put to the test. Now, some twelve years later as I write this, I can attest to a simple truth: the Universe lines up behind all who dare. It matters not whether you are qualified to take on the test or not. I’d suggest, as the quote from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf exhorts, if we are already qualified, it’s not much of a dream in the first place. I like imagining the secretary to the Universe as he or she looks over the constant stream of dreams passing by, occasionally exclaiming “Yes! Finally something worthy of our powers. Get Luck, Fate, and Coincidence on the line; we got us a real kindred spirit here to help!” The point is that we are capable of so much more than we imagine. We can see looking back that most dreams, once accomplished, were only a small test of what we can achieve. The beauty, however, is that with each accomplishment we gain confidence in the universal laws and begin to trust that we are only limited by our own imagination. The Universe excites in the endless possibility of all things. Armed with the knowledge that impossible exists only within our own minds, the world becomes our playground. If you knew without exception that failure was not an option, would the size and scope of your dreams change?

Hope you all are enjoying the early parts of the soon to release "Upside Down in the Yukon River". 
also, BIG thanks to everyone that is tuning in to our new show every Tuesday night at 7 PM on Facebook live. We are having a great time interviewing and sharing with you some amazing folks.

Until next week, or perhaps sooner,

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Chapter 9 of the soon to release, Upside Down in the Yukon River. It is my hope that somewhere in these pages you find exactly the thing that you most need. In the words of tonight's guest for "A Chapter and a Chat", David Baruthio, "Live YOUR dream".

CHAPTER 9 - Upside Down in the Yukon River

Excitement gave way to fear and questioning. I felt a real joy and sense of anticipation when considering a new challenge. When that challenge involved breaking in one’s passport for the first time, I felt those feelings more strongly. When it involved taking on a race where things going sideways meant I would be on my own, perhaps for twenty-four hours in a land where grizzly bear are as abundant as humans, all feelings were magnified. A lot. Finding this race, or it finding me, created a sense of romance as I sat mesmerized and quite comfy in front of the computer. The thoughts and images of the frigid, potentially deadly Yukon River,  still mostly untouched by man’s advances, captivated me. They touched something primal: a desire to test myself and to disappear into this wild land.
“I want to see the frontier...before it’s gone,” Kevin Costner’s character in Dances with Wolves had said when queried as to why he would volunteer to a post so deep in Indian territory. It was very much the same for me. The pilot light of adventure had been re-lit in me a few years prior, and I planned to supply it with an abundance of fuel, assuring it would never extinguish again.
I wondered if perhaps the gold rushers had felt the same pull? Clearly, there was an aspect of need, financial gain, an ability to provide for one’s family, perhaps even “strike it rich!” that did not exist in my attraction to this wild place. However, even with these outside factors in play, there had to have been a sense of adventure pulling these gold rushers west. The allure of gold must have combined with an opportunity to experience this untamed land. The realities would prove to be far less romantic. The gold I was pursuing was intended to feed the soul, not the bank account. Hopefully, like those miners from so long ago, it would not be a fool’s gold. It was entirely possible I was in over my head and didn’t realize it. Opening up my email, reading the confirmation that they had actually accepted my application into the world’s longest kayak race, I was hit by that very thought with the matter of factness of a cold northern wind. Romance suddenly took a backseat to reality.
Palms getting clammy, stomach souring, and armpits moistening, my mind began to chirp in. The battle was on. Devil on my left shoulder, angel on my right. If you are to date the unknown, to attempt to tame elephants, be prepared for a similar eventuality. If able, embrace it, for it is a sure sign of the undertaking’s credibility. Too often, we retreat. All too commonplace are phrases like “If I had only done this when I had the chance,” “I’m not a runner, I couldn’t do that,” and “Who starts a business at my age?” So quick to encourage the dreamers in our lives, so slow to embrace the dreamer within. Fear, trepidation, a suddenly elevated heart rate, all are signs that we are taking on a worthy challenge. Do not be paused into inaction. It is the mission of the angel on your right shoulder to cheer you on, see you through. The devil on the left seeks to derail, eliminate momentum, knowing that once you are able to gather momentum, much like a snowball headed down the mountain, you eventually will become a force unstoppable. Those that have accomplished much are of no more talent than you or I, they simply have become better at recognizing all of these things and moving through them quicker and more proficiently with each success. No one is immune from fear, doubt and the like; some are just better at dealing with it. I was a rookie, and this race was a big stretch. Staring at the acceptance email in front of me, I was struggling with the devil’s incessant chant of, “Now what the hell ya gonna do, Mr. Big-time wannabe adventurer?!”
There is an old story, which I remember only the gist of. I hope you’ll forgive me as I butcher it, but the message is what’s really important. An invading conqueror, upon reaching shore and unloading all his forces, ordered the ship to sail away, giving strict orders not to return. His troops, dismayed and confused at their only means of safety now gone, inquired of the captain what he had done.
“It is quite simple. We win or we die. There will be no retreat.” The story continues that given no easy way out,  outnumbered, on foreign ground, and unsure of what lay ahead, the troops’ victory was assured because they had no option of retreat nor failure.
While filling out my application weeks prior and reading the race description, feelings of doubt had nagged me, but filling in the credit card info and hitting “send” was my version of the captain sending the boat away. If the race director deemed me worthy and accepted my application, than I was committed. No retreat.
“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.” –Unknown
I am sure that many before me and countless others after have visited the Yukon River Quest website, interested in the information and stories found there. I was not interested, I was committed; devil on my left shoulder be damned. Yukon, here I come.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

CHAPTER 8 of the soon to release "UPSIDE DOWN IN THE YUKON RIVER"




What an amazing journey life can be. Jason Walsmith suggests giving away a chapter a week so people can decide if my writing is worthy of their time and a few bucks once the book releases. GREAT IDEA! This leads to a couple Facebook lives where I share a bit about myself, the book and a few ideas that hopefully inspired someone. And that lead towards a revelation that people maybe (probably) are tired of hearing me blah, blah, blah every Tuesday night so why not let some very cool cats share THEIR stories. AND THAT is leading towards an official Facebook live show launching in the next month or so called "The Elephant Tamers - Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things."

Like all things, this all began with one step, just one, and anyone can take one step. 



There was no reason to believe that the Yukon River Quest was a possibility for me. Reading the qualifications, I was a long shot to even get in. This was not like signing up for a 5K to meet chicks. This was the “longest canoe/kayak race in the world.” Self-proclaimed or not, 715 km, 444 miles, Whitehorse to Dawson City, Yukon was a damn long way.   Sitting in front of the computer perched atop Grandpa’s gifted TV, I was again a boy filled with wonder and a bit of dread. This was no vacation paddle to the Boundary Waters. The distance was nearly beyond comprehension. To be honest, it was entirely beyond comprehension. Were it not for the history of the race and documented finishes from years prior, I might not have believed it possible. But, I thought, if they can do it, then I can do it. Now, if I could just get in.
The race waiver confirmed this adventure should be taken seriously:
“The Yukon River Quest is a long-distance race that takes you through very rugged and isolated territory, where roads and people do not exist, and where dangers, including death or injury from hypothermia, drowning, bear mauling, forest fire or other acts of nature, do exist.”
It continued on to say, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If the shit does hit the fan, you damn well better be able to save yourself, because it may be many, many hours until we can get to you.”
My adventure resumé was on the weak end of the criteria to get in. It would take some crafty wordsmithing and, hopefully, a race director who could sense the desire to take on this monumental challenge in my words. A handful of marathons, a couple of twenty-four-hour-plus adventure races, and a few ultras paled in comparison to most all of the racer bios I read. I may have exaggerated the length of some of my training paddles.
The most recent edition of the Race to the Midnight Sun featured ninety-four teams with 236 paddlers from all around the world. Fourteen countries would be represented, including Australia, Austria, sixteen Canadian provinces/territories, fifteen different states from the USA, and even South Africa.  Reading through the bios was interesting and, in some cases, intimidating stuff, such as the 1972 Munich Olympian and race legend Heinz Rodinger, known simply as “the Austrian,” who competed and completed the Yukon River Quest while in his sixties (and still does today in his seventies). What was as intimidating as anything was how many of those athletes, much more qualified than me, had DNF’d the previous year.
Summer months in the Yukon offered the unique opportunity to play beneath the sun until the wee hours of the morning. Darkness never totally falls over the rugged landscape during the summer solstice. The race description, including its warnings, the incredible accomplishments of so many who had raced in the past, and the picture it painted of the wildness of the venue, was intoxicating. Drunk on the possibilities of what could be, I felt time vanish. Was I worthy of a spot in the race? In resumé, no. In spirit, yes.

If You are enjoying Steve's new book, take a glance to the right where you can download his first book FREE!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

CHAPTER 7 IS HERE!!!! From the soon to release "Upside Down in the Yukon River"

CHAPTER 7 - Upside Down in the Yukon River


Paddling had started for me quite by happenstance, so many years ago crossing that lake in Iowa to explore a seemingly very distant island with my cousin Brian. A few summers later, Brian’s father, my Uncle Bob, perhaps sensing a flicker of adventure in me, invited me to join him and Brian on a canoe trip to the Boundary Waters.
“Can I Mom? Can I?” I pleaded.
To which she responded, “How are the grades gonna be this year? If they’re good, you’re good.”
This presented a bit of a problem. When it came to school, motivation had always been a problem. Since my parents’ divorce a few years earlier, even more so. Motivation in much of anything seemed a struggle. The invite by Uncle Bob, surprisingly, as I was far from adventurous in anything at the time, lit me up a bit. Ah, but what about Mom’s inquiry into the state of my studies? That posed a bit of a dilemma. I was flunking biology—and not by just a little bit—and we were deep into the semester. There was no salvaging it. That would most likely be a deal killer for the Boundary Waters. I was at least above water in my other classes, but a true report of what would most likely be four Cs and an F, would not cut it. I made a decision then that I am now not proud of. I chose “beg for forgiveness later” over “tell the truth and hope for the best.”
Memories of that trip, nearly forty years ago, remain with me still. Crystal clear waters. The kind of clarity that would allow an awestruck twelve-year-old from the city to recover a pair of RayBan sunglasses in four feet of water, lost presumably by a paddler that preceded us in this wild place. Uncle Bob taught me how to handle a fishing pole. Young northern pike, abundant in numbers and as naive as this young caster, were all too eager to take the bait offered. Each strike sent waves of excitement through me, and I could sense Uncle Bob’s delight in it. Later in life, Uncle Bob shared with me that he had thought of me as a “punk kid” who would never amount to much. But on that trip, the punk kid had a look in his eyes that perhaps Uncle Bob recognized from time spent with his son Brian or even as a kid himself. Perhaps it took him back to a time that he saw these same Boundary Waters for the first time. I’m eternally grateful he took a chance on me. You never know what may be sleeping inside a kid’s soul.
Returning home, I was certain payment would be due. While I was gone, Mom surely would have received my grades in the mail. Whatever the punishment, I was at peace with it. No amount of punishment could undo or erase the memories of the trip. Returning to Fort Dodge, the family reunion was in full swing at Aunt Barbara’s family farm. Maybe Mom had enjoyed a drink or two or maybe she saw the glimmer in my eye and was just so happy to see her son genuinely happy.
Whatever the case, she said with a bit of a mischievous smile after a few stories, “So glad you had a wonderful trip... We’ll discuss the report card a bit later.”
Moms are the best. It would be some time until my next big adventure, and many more poor decisions would be made in my young life. However, a seed had been watered that would never go entirely dormant.
Decades later, I’d return to the water, clumsily attempting to keep pace with much more seasoned paddlers during our first adventure race. The goal at that time was simple: become a better paddler so as not to be left in our fellow racers’ wakes. Eventually, doing so allowed me to see the possibility of becoming more than just a proficient paddler. What I could be was being revealed one step, or in this case, one kayak stroke, at a time. I wanted to go further and see what was out there, both physically and adventurously. I began spending more and more of my available training hours alone on the lakes and rivers of Iowa. Each stroke, unknowingly, was leading me north, to a land far, far away. I was in the flow, adrift, being pulled by a river current yet unknown.

Enjoying the new book so far??? Would you like to read Steve's 1st Book "40 DAYS - Life, Love, Loss and a Historic 1037 Mile Run Around One of the World's Largest Lakes?" Where can we send it? Click HERE and it's all yours.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

From Steve's Soon To Release 2nd Book "Upside Down in the Yukon River" - Chapter 6






I was twenty-eight years old and had recently relocated to Colorado Springs from my home in Iowa City. Other than my roommate and longtime friend Jon Madsen (aka “Mad Dog”),  I knew no one. Although comfortable being alone, perhaps too much so, I had decided making a few new friends, ideally female ones, would be a good idea. Every weekend, spring till fall, one could find a five-kilometer (5K) foot race or any distance beyond that to test oneself. Running was the deal in Colorado. Of course there were many other popular outdoor pursuits—biking, climbing, triathlon—but seemingly everyone ran. I had no real interest in killing myself, as I had not run since, well, ever. It was important to keep my eye on the prize: Girls. Preferably, I’d have signed up for the 1K. Sadly, that was not an option.
The St. Patty’s Day 5K nearly killed me. Thirty-three minutes of hell. More than once the thought flashed through my head, I don’t care what she looks like, she won’t be worth this suffer-fest. Running sucks! The thin air of Manitou Springs, a beautiful little town just up the front range from Colorado Springs when not being the location of my 5K torment, was not so slowly sucking the life out of me. I wonder if anyone would notice if I just excused myself and exited stage right...or left. Crossing the finish line, happy to be alive, I vowed never to undertake such a stupid endeavor again. No matter the possible reward that may await. I don’t remember speaking to a single girl, before, during or after. I made straight for the car, wanting nothing more than a shower and a couch, hopeful that I had enough energy to get both.
Driving home, it happened. An odd sense of unfamiliar joy began to manifest. The distance, finish line to apartment door was just a few miles, no more than a ten minute drive. Stepping out of the car, stiff-legged from the day’s effort, I found myself feeling a bit lighter, almost happy as I turned the key in the apartment door. What the hell is happening to me? Moments later, humming a tune in the shower, perhaps something I had heard earlier in the day, it was clear that I was full-on happy. Pulling on a fresh pair of shorts, I grabbed a chocolate milk and made for the couch. Making short work of the drink, I sprawled out horizontal, resting my head on one of the oversized throw pillows. My thoughts betrayed my finish line promise made just an hour earlier. That wasn’t that bad. Could have been worse... 5K’s a pretty long way, man. That’s pretty cool... Maybe I should try another one... I wonder if I could ever go any further than that? I slept.
Fifteen years later, I would become the second person to ever run across my home state of Iowa. Three years after that, I would circle the Great Lake Michigan, the first ever to do so, running 1,037 miles in forty days. Had you shared that vision with me after I had finished the run that day in Manitou Springs, I’d have been certain too much green beer had found its way to your place at the bar.
It is the beauty of this journey we are all on. There are universal truths which apply to all things. Allow yourself to dream, there is almost nothing beyond your grasp. The power of one step, one paddle stroke, one turn of the bike pedal is beyond measure. Ask yourself, “Can I take just one step in the direction of my dream?” It matters not what the dream is. Ask yourself. “Can I?” Of course the answer is yes. The poorest man or woman can take one step towards a life of financial well being. The most out of shape can most likely take just one step towards their first walk around the block. Now, having successfully taken that first step, ask again, “Can I take just one more step in the direction of my dream?” The answer, again, will be yes. Each step reveals the possibility of a next, allowing a vision of what lies ahead that was not possible prior. Eventually, unable to see back to where it all began, you will marvel at where that first step led you. Do not allow self-limiting beliefs to sabotage. Dream BIG. It is not important that you even believe the dream is possible, only that you believe one step in that direction is possible. The next step will be revealed. And so on and so on. That 5K opened the door to a lifetime of adventurous pursuits, marathoning, ultra marathoning, adventure racing, mountain biking. Long-distance kayaking. Each adventure, every accomplishment built on the others, expanded my belief in what I was capable of. All from running a little 5K to meet chicks.

I hope you are enjoying the new book so far. If this is your first visit to the blog, the preceding 5 chapters live here also. As a thank you, feel free to cast your gaze to the right and grab the e-book version of my first book "40 DAYS." See ya next week. Until then,
Steve Cannon

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

CHAPTER 5 From the Soon to Release "Upside Down in the Yukon River"

What a blast this has been! Just 4 short weeks ago while having coffee w/ Jason Walsmith of  "The Nadas", he suggested sharing the early chapters of the upcoming book. One chapter, one week at a time. The result? Every Tuesday at 7 PM we go live on my personal facebook page for "A Chapter and a Chat". As a new author working to build an audience I quickly realized the smarts in this idea. Sharing some of the book allows people to get an idea what my writing is all about. For those of you who read "40 Days Life, Love Loss and an Historic Run Around One of the World's Largest Lakes", you know it is a book about a run that has very little to do with running. The new book is much the same.

The World's longest kayak race serves as a backdrop for a book that is so much more than a book about a boat race.

If you fancy a big adventure, have dreams still dancing in your soul yet unrealized or have decided that today is the perfect time to start living your very best life, it's my hope that this book will speak to all of the above.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. I hope you enjoy Chapter 5 of the soon to release "Upside Down in the Yukon River".


Chapter Five

I sat at the computer. The room was not of much size, doubling as both office and living room. Flat screen televisions had not yet become the norm, and the faux wood paneled TV I’d inherited from my grandfather, which I still have to this day, served as both desk and entertainment.
Adventure racing had allowed me to dip my toe into many different waters, which is the real beauty of the sport. Rappelling and ropes had appealed to my climbing side, which was where all my adventuring had begun in my late twenties. I’d travelled with my good friend Ty Dickerson to Eldorado Canyon years prior to experiencing my first rock climbing trip. In a VW van, of course. With little more than enough money for gas and freeze dried food, we fit to a T the bill of dirtbag climbers and loved every second of it. We’d climb all day and by night read books about the greats like John Long and Lynn Hill. That trip in the summer of 1990 had opened my eyes to the adventurous lifestyle and mindset. It had eventually led me to living in Colorado for a short time, where I had been introduced to all manners of adventure and adventure athletes.
Orienteering had been like learning a whole new language. I loved the idea of guiding a team through unfamiliar terrain in search of a small hand-sized tent hanging from a tree limb in the dark of night. Once found, you would use the small card punch attached to prove that you had indeed been there, and as quickly and quietly as possible, get the hell out of there so as not to alert other teams, possibly less skilled, still in search of the same checkpoint. We went so far as to come up with code, signaling one of us had found the “treasure.” Once certain we were in the vicinity of the checkpoint, we would fan out as nonchalant as possible, again not wanting to draw any attention, and wait to hear the signal. “Wow! Who farted?” someone would say. Genius, right? We figured it was unlikely anyone would be within earshot. But, if someone did hear us—voices do travel a long way in the woods—we gambled that nobody would think about heading our way after such a proclamation of stink!
We’d play it up big too. “Awww dude, that is horrible, what the hell did you eat?” Dana would chime in. “This is the last time I’m racing with you guys. That’s not funny. I’m gonna hurl!” All the while, converging on the one who supposedly had dropped the butt-bomb and the checkpoint, trying not to laugh and blow our cover.
Running and cycling had also proved to be a lot of fun, but it was paddling that I was now in love with. Our first few adventure races we bungled about. Not having practiced much, we were unsure of the best “system.” We always competed in the three-person co-ed division. Steve Giblin and Dana Kennedy rounded out the team of three. Both were fantastic athletes and, more importantly, great friends. Tough as nails, patient, with an ability to laugh when things got tough. The last attribute was the most important.
Robyn Benincasa, a professional adventure racer and world champ, spoke to us prior to an adventure race in Chicago saying, “Look around. It won’t be the super fit looking athletes who will win; it will be those who can work together and problem solve the best... and have the most fun.” Great advice, not just for adventure racing, but for life.
Our first couple races, it became obvious more paddle time was needed. We didn’t lack the horsepower as much as the know how. Steve Giblin had a canoe, and we began incorporating it into our workouts. Not long after, enjoying the paddling, I invested in a sea kayak. a fourteen footer designed to cover longer stretches of water with less resistance. The longer the kayak, the better it tracked through the water. This also made it much more responsive but also easier to tip.
Spending more and more time on the water, it didn’t take long until we dialed in our system. Steve would jump in first, with Dana and me steadying the canoe. Dana got in next, and before she’d be seated, I’d have us pushed off and underway. Steve was a horse at the front of the boat and would paddle as hard as he could on whatever side he wanted, switching whenever he wanted. Dana would match him, and I’d play off them both, keeping the boat on line to the target. Dana doubled as the grocery lady. Eventually we’d be in races where we would paddle for hours at a time. Dana would keep us all fed, breaking out Clif Bars and Gu, keeping the engines stoked. Paddling became our strongest discipline. On the water, we more than held our own. I loved the intensity of it, the pain of it, mixed with the beauty of the lakes, the wooded shorelines, at times navigating by moonlight. Certain paddling sections required beaching the boat, heading inland to find checkpoints, and returning back to the boat. It was exhilarating, real sharp end of the stick kinda stuff. I wanted more. More distance, more remote, more challenge. More, more, more.
Sitting at the makeshift TV desk in my one bedroom apartment on 42nd Street in Des Moines, Iowa, I typed the words “world’s longest kayak race” into the Mac’s search window. One should be careful what one searches for. Almost instantly, the computer answered my query: the Yukon River Quest.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

CHAPTER FOUR - FROM THE SOON TO RELEASE "Upside Down in the Yukon River"




The surroundings were unfamiliar. I vaguely remembered, although unsure if in a dream or reality, being brought to this place. Exhaustion still clutching me tightly, eyes not yet open, I did my best to try and recall the events that brought me here. The attempts to piece events together were frustrating, like a dream after waking in the morning, some pieces clear, others just beyond the mind’s reach.
I recalled a bit of a ruckus, being wheeled into a large, drab M.A.S.H.-like tent. Again, unsure if my memories were accurate, it seemed almost out-of-body to my recollection—more like watching it happen, than actually experiencing it. There had been a real urgency to what I could only guess was a nurse or some emergency medical person’s voice. She instructed that I be removed from the emergency suit, stripped of all my clothes and warmed up. Now! The details and words, I could not recall exactly, as if I was just out of earshot in a movie in which I was the main character. The urgency was clear. It was surreal, lying there, attempting to piece events together, half conscious, still unsure if any of my recollections were based in reality.
There was a tinge of uncomfortableness or embarrassment as I was taken out of the bulky orange emergency suit and stripped out of my still damp clothing. Yes, the big orange emergency suit. I remembered. They had called for a rescue boat. Apparently the volunteer had seen I was not well as I sat next to the small fire on the shoreline, contemplating my ability to continue. He may have saved my life. Shortly after getting on the rescue boat, I’d been instructed to put on the emergency suit. I had seen these things on television: crab fishermen who’d fallen overboard placed in them in attempt to stave off hypothermia. We were miles from the next checkpoint and the rescue boat captain got me into the suit immediately, offering up some hot coffee as we launched.  Terribly disappointed to have DNF’d (“Did Not Finish”), the orange suit seemed a small badge of honor, almost cool. I thought, well, you at least went down swinging. No one would question my reasons for quitting, my toughness, once we arrived. My ego was doing its best to find some solace in failure. The mental conversations and search for justifications would not last long. I lost consciousness some time shortly thereafter.
The lone white light bulb hanging from the ceiling cast just enough light to allow those within the tent to do their work. Its glow, like the other details, random. Why are they taking all my clothes off? What is going on? What has happened to me? Am I dreaming? I have had those dreams, at times so vivid, certain they were reality. A warm drink, chicken soup or some similar broth, was put to my lips.
“Drink this,” a voice from somewhere said, holding my head up. “We need to get his body temperature up quickly. He is in trouble,” 
I was growing a bit more certain that I was indeed alive. At times it had been murky, like that space in books or movies when a character watches their life pass before them. Maybe I had been in the in-between place, one foot with the living and the other not. The weight of the wool blankets made it difficult to move. A large stocking cap of some sort covered my head. Gaining a grasp of my surroundings, I realized had anyone entered the tent, I doubt I’d have even been noticed, entombed in what nearly became my sheep-skinned casket. 

The wool cocoon, the ice-pick-in-the-forehead type headache, the tent walls, the faint voices coming from outside confirmed this was indeed a real place. My eyes opened for the first time. Still very groggy, I had no idea where “here” even was. Was it day or night? What day or night? 

Many questions needed answers.
Where the hell are my clothes?!? That seemed as logical a place as any to start.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Chapter 2 - Upside Down in the Yukon River

Eco-Challenge was Mark Burnett’s baby, the beginning of reality TV, and led eventually to the Kardashians. I’m sure the latter was a completely unintended consequence. Burnett’s show detailed the racing adventures of four-person teams from around the globe in some of the most remote, gnarly, nasty, beautiful areas of our planet.
Two stints living in Colorado had opened my eyes to the adventure/endurance athlete scene. Eco-Challenge was like crack. I was becoming a junkie. I could feel it. The more remote the adventure, the higher the suffering these nut-job super athletes faced, the more I jonesed for it. The Aussie team would attempt to not sleep for the entire race—something insane like five days—and eventually one of their members nearly walked off a cliff in a sleep-deprived haze. One of the girls from the all-girl team cut her finger lashing a makeshift boat together. Seemingly innocuous at the time, days later the infection from that cut nearly killed her. Three teammates tried to nurse their fourth along as he fought Giardia—puking in the boat, out of the boat, occasionally on himself and anything or anyone else within the blast range. This was the eclipse I could not help but look into. All for one and one for all! No person left behind! Either you all finished or no one finished. Four working together as one. The show captivated all who watched it. It was next-day, talk-about-at-the-coffee shop or water-cooler-at-work kinda stuff. Ian Adamson, Robyn Benincasa, Rebecca Rusch, Marshall Ulrich. These people became my sports heroes. Mark Burnett became my drug dealer, giving me episode after episode for free, knowing I’d return for more. I was not content to simply shoot up each Wednesday night from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and go on quietly with the rest of my life. I wanted in.
Chapter Three
Adventure racing introduced me to paddling. Like most kids, I had spent a bit of time in a canoe growing up. Not much though. The only real memory was a family trip to northwest Iowa. Brian, my cousin, and I had paddled out to a small island, maybe a mile or so from camp. The water was calm, a slight breeze at our back made the trip a real treat. Brian had some paddling experience; his father and he had taken a few trips to the Boundary Waters. To the best of my memory, this may have been my maiden voyage. They gave me a few basic pointers, explaining how one’s hand goes on top of the paddle, the best way to slip your paddle into the water, and the proper exit point. A few strokes on your left, a few on the right, repeat. Brian would handle keeping us on course from the rear of the boat. There was no mention of fore, aft, starboard or port. Maiden canoe voyages were the stuff of left, right, front, and back.
Arriving at the little island, we were Christopher Columbus, the first to set foot on this faraway land. Beaching our aluminum vessel, stepping into the clear, chilly, bluish-green waters, steadying the boat for my trusted companion, I was feeling quite full of myself. Not in a braggadocious, look-at-me sort of way. Well, perhaps there was some look-at-me feeling, but there was an innocence to it, a sort of self amazement. Did I really just paddle from that distant shore to here? Me, the city kid, who reluctantly came along on this trip in the first place?
Per Brian’s instructions, I steadied the boat, watching as he stepped, slowly and deliberately down the center of our vessel, so as not to topple it. As he exited the front of the canoe, we pulled the now much lighter craft onto the beach. Time to explore our new found island. Wonder filled me. What might lurk beyond the small sandy beach we stood on? Were bears hiding beyond our view? Are there bears in Iowa? I wondered. As I was fairly certain there weren’t, it felt a bit like the bogeyman. Of course, in the safety and light of day, the bogeyman was a silly concept. Let darkness fall though, and then a bump in the night, and suddenly what seemed so silly an hour ago has a bit more teeth. This felt similar. Bears were a silly, almost laughable idea from the distant shore, but we were no longer on the distant shore. This was uncharted territory, and once we were inside the towering trees that lay in wait, who knew what dangers lurked?
Brian took the lead as we began our exploration. Armed with tree branch “machetes,” we were prepared for all matters of bushwhacking and, if necessary, self defense. Young minds are such fertile ground. Just add adventure and watch what sprouts. We were certain an indigenous tribe called this place home, and we hoped to be the first to encounter them. Brian joked that hopefully they were not of the head-hunting variety. We were almost certain they would not be, and even if they were, a couple of young kids’ heads would probably be of little trophy value. We were more excited by the possibilities of witnessing a tribal dance, meeting the medicine man, and returning back to camp, painted faces and necklaces proving our honorary status within the tribe.
The island was a lush environment. The forest canopy shielded much of the sky, which unbeknownst to us was beginning to cloud a bit. I hoped Brian was paying attention, as I realized I had been following aimlessly, the forest not offering a clear path to guide our return. Being the rookie of the crew, I was not going to question his plans or abilities. My thoughts were interrupted as he stopped suddenly, his gaze intently focused just off the trail to the right.
“No way!! Look at that!!” he exclaimed, hurriedly running a few quick steps, as if whatever “it” was might escape.
As Brian reached down to retrieve his great find, I could see an ivory-white tip just above the tall grass of the forest floor and to his right. The skull was a perfect white, bleached by the sun for who knows how long, and the eight antlers—four per side—were nearly symmetrically perfect. What a score this was! Proof of our adventure, and more importantly, evidence that we were clearly explorers of the highest degree. Brian put the beast’s skull above his head like a ceremonial headdress. We concocted stories of the animal’s demise. Perhaps the carcass was still near, hidden by the beast that had slain it. If so, we should not dally long, or risk a similar fate. Could it be that the tribe had hunted the great buck, interested only in its meat and skins for subsistence? I recalled my stepfather, a great hunter in his own right, saying while field dressing a nice fat doe, “You can’t eat the horns, son.” Had they seen our coming from the distant shore and left the headdress as a gift, a sign of peace and welcome to the young explorers? We especially liked that idea.
We decided after lengthy discussion and celebration of our monumental find that it would be best not to overstay our welcome. We would return the gift of the island people by searching no further and leaving them in peace.
The gods of the sky had been quite busy during our exploration. The light, wispy, clouds, that were earlier friendly and dancing across the light blue sky had been overtaken by darker invaders. We wondered, had we overstayed our welcome, perhaps angering the gods that kept watch over this place?
Seasoned paddlers we were not. To be fair, I was not. We were however able to discern that we needed to get our butts back across that lake, pronto. Pulling the canoe from its hiding place amongst the lush, waist high grasses, we readied it to go. Even a rookie kid like me knew instinctively that the small waves and stiffening wind, now in our face, was not ideal. Sticking the front half of the canoe into the water, Brian urged me in and steadied the boat so as not to topple over. I baby-stepped my way down the center, bending slightly at the waist, enabling me to balance a bit easier holding on to the sides of the canoe. Brian launched us once I’d found my seat in the front. A few quick steps in the now not so friendly tides got us underway, and he hopped in, taking his seat at the rear.
Brian’s instructions were clear before we were underway. Three strokes left, three strokes right, repeat. Rest if you have to, but it would be best if you didn’t have to so we don’t go backwards. I understood. Our lighthearted adventure was on hold. The dark clouds above had sent invitation to the winds, and they had gratefully accepted. In turn, the lake now was being churned up, its waves pushing back against our every stroke. Earlier, the slight breeze and currents maximized the distance travelled each time our paddles pulled the water below. No longer the case, it was as if the island, or perhaps its unseen inhabitants were willing us back. The sun-drenched buck’s skull, now on the canoe floor between us, may not have been a gift after all. It seemed it was wanted back.
Brian was doing expert work keeping us in line. We would beat slightly left by the third strike on the right side of the boat, coming back in line as I switched my paddling to the left. On occasion, we would get a bit off kilter and, in doing so, nearly tip as the waves would catch us on the side. Sure, we had our life jackets on, but I didn’t know a thing about self-rescue. The thought of tipping and the cold water below that splashed up on us with every rogue wave scared me. Brian hollered a word or two of encouragement from time to time. I’m not sure if he was frightened more by the predicament or that he knew I really had no idea what I was doing. The latter probably exacerbated the former. Closing in on the shore provided a bit of relief from the wind, which in turn began to settle the water. A slight rain had begun. We paid it little mind though, relieved by the fact that we may actually return to terra firma mostly dry. The canoe hissed as it reached the end of our journey, its bottom rubbing against the sand below. It was a welcome sound. The return paddle from the island, somehow escaping
the lakes wrath, had taken us about an hour or so. I crumpled over myself, equal parts exhausted and relieved. Brian, in his haste to get us back as quickly as possible, had shot for the nearest land which put us a good bit from camp, where we had initially launched. I had noticed this when on occasion I took a moment to look up from my three stroke left, three stroke right ritual. It didn’t cross my mind to question my navigator. I had simple instructions and was pretty scared. I was all for anything that got us back to land, as fast as possible. The fear of drowning or, at the very least, capsizing was a great motivator to paddle on as told in whatever direction Brian saw fit.
Wobbly legged as could be, I exited the canoe, pulling it as far into shore as able, so as to make it easier for Brian to get out. We were whipped, a mile or so from camp Brian figured, and definitely overdue to return. I was about to get my second big lesson of the day: how to portage.
Here’s the main thing you need know about portaging a canoe: it is way harder than paddling one. At least it was for two twelve-year-olds, each not strong enough to support the craft without the other’s help. Thinking back on the scene, I’m reminded of a favorite saying: “It looked like two monkeys trying to have sex with a football.” Even if we weren’t already exhausted, on our best day on flat pavement with no overhanging branches, rocks underfoot, or ninety degree turns, carrying that aluminum craft a mile would have sucked. It would have made a roaring silent picture, sped up and accompanied by the music of the Keystone Cops. Three steps, bang into a tree, switch shoulders, drop canoe on foot, curse using words twelve-year-olds weren’t supposed to know—thankfully it’s a silent movie—four more steps, stumble and fall while trying to look ahead, so as to not hit another tree head-on, more cursing; what a comedy of errors! It would be funny only to those who might have been watching. There was no humor in this at all for us. I was a soft city kid, in over my head, and Brian, although more seasoned, was still barely ninety pounds all in. Continuing down the trail, keeping the shore in sight best we could to serve as our guide, we finally broke through, emerging from the woods that had held us captive, dropping the canoe, falling to our knees, we had made it—almost. The family site was at the other end of the campground. It was ok though, the canoe could be dragged from here. It would have to be. Seemingly, the craft had become a hundred pounds heavier the last few hours.
It seemed a cruel joke as we lugged the canoe into camp those last few steps. The angry skies were again calm. Everyone looked curiously wondering why we appeared so haggard. It seemed we were barely missed. Had they not noticed the wind that whipped the lake into a boiling sea, bent on keeping us as a trophy of its own? Had no one even questioned the safety of their two young explorers? Their whereabouts? The expected concern, the Do you know how much trouble you’re in? We have all been worried sick. Where the hell have you two been?! was disappointingly absent. We had been certain all that would be forthcoming and now, without them, the tales of our great exploration lacked the proper lead in.
Dropping the canoe next to the beer and soda can-covered picnic table, Brian and I stood silently noticing how unnoticed we were. Perhaps it was just as it should be. The magnitude of our exploration surely would have been lost on them anyway. The unexplored before today island, the tribesmen lurking around us without our knowledge, the daring paddle and portage home would remain a memory between just two boys. A grand adventure that would someday be recounted in books for sure. The gift of the island people fell to the ground as I untied it from my waste. Coming to rest near the canoe, the great buck deer’s skull was a single clue left for those that might notice and wonder. Brian and I used what little energy we had left to find somewhere to lie down. Finding a cot in the back of Uncle Bob’s pickup truck, I passed out more tired and more fulfilled than at any other time in my life.

"Well, How do you like it so far??? I hope your as excited to read the next chapter as I am to share it. See ya next Tuesday 7 PM for Chapter 4. Have a great rest of your week!"
Steve Cannon

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