Sailing into the Wildernessbytmitrue©
A gentle rocking roused Charlotte from her deep sleep. She'd slept well last night; then again, anyone can sleep well after they have a bottle of red wine all on their own. It took a while for her to gather her bearings with the morning light pouring down onto her bed from above her. She was reluctant to open her eyes -- still shaken by where she felt she was and where she actually was.
The rocking is what threw her off.
After a bit of an internal struggle, she opened her eyes. Slowly, avoiding the piercing pain in her head that was inevitable combining a bottle of red wine and early morning sun, she awoke, inhaled and exhaled deeply. The rich scent of pine, water and wilderness filled her lungs.
"The boat," she thought bitterly as she rolled over onto her side. Of all the places she could have been that morning, she was on the boat. The deathtrap. The prize award from her divorce.
She'd never exactly wanted the boat. Her idiot of an ex-husband, Greg, had disappeared early in the morning on a Saturday in March, only two months after they had gotten married, only to return after dark with the papers for a brand new, 38' sailboat. The money that she had been hoping they'd use for a down payment on a house had just squandered away on a sailboat. She didn't even know if he knew how to sail and her knowledge of the "sea" was limited to a day and weekend trips on an inland lake that she'd taken in her teenage years.
He had visions of grandeur and adventure for the two of them. They would abandon their rented condo in the city and sail to the ocean after spending the summer in the Great Lakes. They would make their way to the East Coast and cruise their way down the Caribbean and spend the winter island hopping in the warm, crystal blue waters.
How either of them would pay for the trip down there was still to be determined. He had a good, well-paying job -- as one would, having just purchased a sailboat -- but he wasn't one of the "old-timers". He was the youngest partner at the firm, by at least ten years, and had only very recently gotten the promotion. He certainly could not simply abandon his job and his work for six months on a boat! And Charlotte was in no position to leave her job as a teacher at a small Montessori school in the suburbs.
She was young -- very young -- a recent graduate, having only just obtained her Masters degree, at the tender age of 24. She'd met Greg, fallen stupidly in love, and after only two months of dating one another they were engaged. Four months of engagement and they were married. Three months of marriage they were separated and by four months, they were divorced.
Charlotte hated being a woman already divorced by the time she had turned 25. When she had married Greg she had been under the impression that they would be together forever. They were both attractive, they related to one another in a way she had never related to anyone before. Sure, he was about ten years older than she was, but age was irrelevant for her. Their sex life was mind blowing and they cared for one another. He could be a bit selfish from time to time, but in her mind, all men were that way. It wasn't until he bought the boat totally out of the blue and without saying a single word to her that she realized something was wrong.
She was not one to snoop or pry into her husband's business. Up until the boat incident, Charlotte had trusted Greg completely. Sure, she fell asleep alone nearly every other night of the week, but he was a partner in a big accounting firm, of course there were going to be nights where he was working late into the night and wouldn't get home until the wee hours of the morning. And she had gotten used to -- and even enjoyed -- the weight of him slipping into bed next to her while she was still half asleep. "Two in the morning sex" as she fondly referred to it became her favorite part of dreaming. Greg's cold hands would slip under the covers, gently glide across the curve of her hip, warming as they trailed down her side. When his hands reached her ass, he would ever-so-gently nudge her leg off to one side and slip his hand down between her legs, seeking out the hot center. She was nearly always wet when she roused in the middle of the night and he would use it to his advantage. He would slip inside of her as easily as he'd slipped into bed next to her. If the penetration didn't wake her up, the rough, carnal groan that escaped from deep in his throat would. He would rock her back and forth, spooning her from behind, his arm wrapped tightly around her waist, forcing her down and pushing him further inside until he came -- usually no more than two or three minutes later -- and then fell asleep, still inside her.
The late-night sex became more and more infrequent, though, and the nights of the week where he returned home before midnight turned to one day a week. It wasn't until Charlotte arrived at a company outing in April -- one she was supposed to meet him at -- that the pieces of Greg's infidelity puzzle started to fall into place. He had been absent, a surprise to all of his co-workers, and one of the receptionists at the firm was also surprisingly absent. Not wanting to jump to conclusions, Charlotte gave her husband the benefit of the doubt and stayed for an hour and a half, hoping that he would surprise her by showing up. When she arrived home to find the lights in the bedroom on, she was really ready to tear him a new one. When she walked towards the kitchen and saw a tiny redhead in nothing but a lace thong and Charlotte's favorite apron fleeing for the stairs, she was ready to kill him.
It had been Greg's intention to simply sell the sailboat during the divorce. He hadn't even gotten the chance to take it out of it's slip and he was ready to sell it back. His receptionist mistress suffered from horrible motion sickness and he was quickly starting to realize what Charlotte had known all along -- owning a sailboat was a stupid idea when you barely have time for a weeklong vacation. Charlotte, on the other hand, saw this as an opportunity. Even though she didn't have much of an interest for sailing and she was afraid that the whole thing was going to flip right over in a high wind, Greg had spent a lot of money on it and if anyone was going to sell it, it should be her. After all, she was the one who was hurt in all of this. She got the sailboat, every high tech piece of equipment that went with it and even the slip it was docked at. If anything, it would be a nice place to go on the weekends. She could invite her girlfriends over for drinks and they could pretend they were in Key West without ever leaving the Midwest.
The more time that Charlotte spent on the vessel, however, the more she grew to like it. In May, she found someone at the nearby yacht club who was willing to give her some advanced sailing lessons and to help her brush up on the basics she'd learned as a teenager. By the end of the month, she felt brave enough to take the large boat out into the open water on her own. By June, after school had let out for the summer, she found herself spending most of her week on the boat and would take it out onto the lake, sometimes traveling 30 miles over the course of two days, spending each night in a different, small marina. Then, a week before the first of July, she found herself making phone calls to her family and closest friends, letting them know that she was headed north for the summer and wouldn't be back to the city until sometime in late August. Each person she spoke to protested her decision. Her parents called the boat a "deathtrap", convinced she was going to sink in a storm or drown. Her closest friend asked her if "going away for the summer" really meant suicide. Charlotte scoffed at all of them and promised she'd keep in touch as often as she could. She just needed the time away, the time to herself.
On July 1st, just as the sun was rising, she cast off her lines from the dock and headed north. She had some boating charts that her acquaintance from the yacht club had given her. He'd told her that all of his charts were electronic and he would be throwing them away anyway. He had given her charts for Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and northern Ontario. She ultimately decided on Lake Superior after browsing through the charts that she'd acquired. She conveniently kept this information from her parents and friends. They were worried about her enough already. They didn't need to know that she was planning on tackling one of the most notoriously mysterious and difficult lakes in the system.
So here she was. Charlotte, the girl from the suburbs of Chicago, a quiet, elementary school teacher was alone in the middle of the vast wilderness of Lake Superior. She'd never experienced such a quiet as the one she was facing now. She was alone -- really, really alone -- and had been for the past week since she entered the lake through the locks. The weather had been surprisingly forgiving -- much to her elation. The water was calm, the wind just right for a slow sail, the fog was minimal and she had not seen a single boater, with the exception of fishermen, in the past week. She was in Canada, that much she knew. She also knew she was sailing along a natural park and campgrounds, though she hadn't seen a single camper yet.
She stretched once more and decided that now was as good a time as any to get up and out of bed. The boat rocked gently with her shifting from one side to the other and steadied once she was on her feet. She padded into the galley and opened up the cabin doors, taking in the warm rush of air that immediately filled the area below deck with summery, fresh wilderness air.
The air, now that was something that she loved about this trip. After leaving the shores of southern Lake Michigan, it was as if something had changed. The air became cleaner, the water became clearer, everything felt so fresh and natural. It was as if Charlotte had the chance to shed off her old life in the city and start all over again. She knew that she had obligations back home, but when she sailed through the straights in Michigan, she suddenly understood the appeal of Greg's dream to sail off to the Caribbean. When she went through the locks and entered Superior, she started to wonder if she could find a job teaching somewhere in the area. She didn't know how she was going to return to the vast urban jungle that awaited her return in August.
Charlotte stepped up to the deck, her water bucket in hand. She peered down into the water. The boat was telling her the water depth was fifteen feet where she was anchored, but she would have never guessed it. She could see straight to the bottom -- it looked no deeper than three feet. The bucket dipped down into the water and for the first time since the previous night when she had anchored, she looked at her surroundings. A well-protected cove, sheltered by granite bluffs and tall pine trees. Most of the shore was large boulders, save for a small bit of land just to the back of the boat with a little bit of sand and small pebbles. Charlotte breathed deep again, even though she had been out of the city for a couple of weeks now, she felt like she was still trying to vacate the city air from her lungs.
She lifted the bucket from the water and set it on the deck. Leaning over to gather some of the water in her hands, she splashed cool water over her bare legs then brought some to her face. Just as she was about to lift her nightgown up and over her head, she stopped.
"Red..." she said to herself softly, spotting something in the trees just beyond the spit of sand and pebbles on the shore. She may have had an entire bottle of red wine the previous night, but she had been certain there had NOT been a tent there when she eventually crawled off to bed. She grabbed her binoculars from the cockpit and peered through them to the clearing of trees. Sure enough, a red tent stood erected barely within eyesight. A yellow bag hung high up in the trees -- a camper's attempt to keep their food and essential items away from bears.
She wondered when her anchorage mate had arrived. She certainly hadn't heard any tromping through the woods or setting up of camp -- the again, her ears had been buzzing from the alcohol last night. She was both impressed and even a little angry with the mystery person up on shore. Impressed in that even she, the woman who mastered the sailboat in record time and was brave enough to make this trip all on her own, wouldn't have had the balls to set up camp in the dark. Angry in that she was in no position to leave the anchorage; the forecast was reporting for winds to pick up and she desperately needed to bathe and had hoped to be alone as she wasn't one to dive off the boat naked when other people were present.
Charlotte sighed and walked back down into the cabin of her boat. She poured her water into a teakettle for coffee on the tiny galley stove and dove down into the little galley ice chest for the last two eggs from her last provisioning. Like everyday, as she cooked herself a meagre breakfast, she wondered what she would do with her day. She was nearly through all of her reading material she had brought with her. Even though the first week of her trip had consisted of extremely long days and very short nights, lately, only traveling 5-10 miles a day left her with a lot of spare time on her hands. She'd hiked when the opportunity arose, but as much as she loved the wild wilderness of the area she was in, she was growing tired of hiking along dark trails with dense tree coverage with the periodic reward of a hilltop view of expansive green and blue. Her radio provided her a bit of companionship during the dusky evening hours, but she was growing tired of listening to the thoughts going through her head.
Of all the sounds that Charlotte had grown used to being on a boat, knocking was not one of them.
She couldn't lie, it was a bit startling, especially since she had been so engrossed in the book in her lap.
"Hello?" a male voice called from outside.
Charlotte was definitely startled. She could pretend she was sleeping below, not a problem. She had encountered a few kind people along the way -- mostly people roughly her parents' age, in marinas, who realized that she was sailing all alone. Just to hear another voice though, someone who wasn't her or the Coast Guard droning over the marine radio...
"Hello?" it was a bit more tentative this time.
Male voice, couldn't tell the age by the voice at all -- not old-old. Frantic thoughts started to race through her mind. She wondered if anyone had ever been kidnapped off their boat. Her mind wandered to rape and murder.
"Why is it always the extreme-extremes?" she chastised herself for thinking it in the first place.
"Hang on," she said, feigning sleepiness in her voice to make him think he'd just woken her up from a late-morning nap. She marked her place in the book she was reading and slowly made her way out of the cabin into the warm, July sun.
"Hi," a voice from over the side of the deck said. Charlotte smiled to herself just a little bit.
"What? Did you swim all the way out here?" she asked as she peered over the edge. She jumped a bit though when she realized she didn't have to peer too far down to the water.
"Something like that," the man said as he sat in his kayak, using his paddle as leverage to keep him close to the hull of the boat.
"Hi," Charlotte said, somewhat stunned. She looked back up towards shore and the red tent and yellow sack were gone from the trees. She turned her gaze back towards the man in the kayak and smiled slightly. He was, in a word, rugged. If he wasn't more or less clean shaven -- he had a bit of stubble -- he had a strange appearance that gave her the impression that he'd been camping out in the wilderness for months. He didn't have long hair, but it was definitely shaggy around the ears, chin and neck. He had kind, soft eyes that were a deep shade of green and his smile was radiant. Full, red lips (possibly tinged from the sun) and dazzling white teeth. She couldn't see much of his physique between the life vest he was wearing and his legs hidden beneath the kayak hull. His arms were well toned and muscular -- even under a wetsuit -- and his hands were large and strong.
"I'm headed out," he said, very nonchalantly, "I just wanted to apologize to you for disturbing the peace last night."
"Disturbing...what?" she asked.
"I just, I came in to the campground late last night and I may have made a bit of a ruckus setting up camp," he explained. "I didn't even see your boat out here in the anchorage and I tend to be a bit noisy when I think I'm all alone in an area."
"Oh," Charlotte said, shaking her head and silently kicking herself for not turning on the boat light the previous night. "Don't worry about it. I didn't hear a thing."
"Heavy sleeper," he said with a smile. "No harm done then."
"Yeah, no, don't worry about it," she said shaking her head.
"I just know how some of you boaters like to be left alone," he continued. "I haven't been on the lake in about a week now. I've been making my way down the river and just portaged over this way late last night. I'll tell you, the woods are scary as hell after dark."
"I can imagine," she said, nodding without much interest.
"Anyway, I'll be on my way," he said, gently pushing off the hull. "Where you headed?"
"I don't know yet," she said, a bit of a bluff. She knew she was headed further west, but she didn't know how far the next trip would be for her. "You're leaving now? Even with the wind forecast as it is?"
"Forecast schmorecast," he said with a smile. "Don't believe anything about anything with Superior weather."
Charlotte nodded, even though she could see the tops of the pine trees swaying in the wind on top of the bluffs.
"Safe travels," she said.
The kayaker nodded.
"You alone?" he asked as he dipped a paddle in the water, sending ripples towards her. For a moment, the illogical rape and murder thought sprang into her head -- she couldn't blame herself, she was from Chicago.
"I guess I am," she replied cooly. "You?"
"You know it," he said, still smiling. "Unless you consider Mother Nature a travel companion."
"A pretty silent companion, if I do say so myself," Charlotte said, returning his smile for the first time.
"Are you kidding? Mother Nature is one talkative lady if I do say so myself," he retorted. "Keeps me from getting sleep at night sometimes." He effortlessly glided past the boat towards the mouth of the cove. "Anyway, you stay safe now. Enjoy the summer!"
"Thanks, you too." And with that, the man in the kayak glided across the water, carefully maneuvering around a boulder in the water and out of Charlotte's line of view.
She didn't quite know what to make of the brief encounter. On the one hand, she wanted to follow him right out of the anchorage -- if only to have the human companionship for a few more days. On the other hand, it seemed so strange to have a complete stranger come up, knock on the side of the boat and engage in a conversation. And apologize! Oh, the apology. Why even bother? She shook her head and retreated back below deck to pick up her reading once more.
Setting the anchor was Charlotte's least favorite part about boating. The anchor was so heavy. It was so exhausting getting it just right. And if it didn't set, she had to go and do it all over again. God forbid, if it dragged in the middle of the night and she had to go and set it. Again. Setting the anchor was the only part of her day where Charlotte wished she had Greg -- no, not Greg, ANY other man -- to drop and set the anchor for her.
After two days at anchor in the cove where she had met the kayaker, she hoisted anchor and headed fifteen miles to the west. After sitting in the anchorage for an hour or so, she realized how similar it was to the previous. The sand and small pebble beach was a bit larger, a bit longer, but there were still high bluffs and pine trees everywhere. Charlotte made herself a small dinner, trying not to go through any of her food too quickly.