Have the paddler in the bow jump our first and guide your vessel into shore. Tie off while you unload; once the weight is lightened, pull the vessel clear (the towboat wakes have been known to steal a canoe).

Collect firewood: the driftwood chewed clean by the beavers works best. Start a fire: arrange the logs so that they lie parallel to the vector of the wind. Boil a pot of river water, so that come morning after one more boil it will be clean enough to drink. (Coffee is as important here as in the workaday world).

Select a site for your tent, upwind from campfire smoke. If weather is coming, take shelter in the trees. If you roll on your side, remember the old Navajo trick: dig a small, hip-sized divot atop at the center of where you will pitch your tent.

Cook well, eat better, enjoy the fire and the coming of the night. If weather is approaching, be sure that your gear is secure. Enjoy your hard-earned sleep.


I own a 170-liter bag that’s made of heavy-duty vinyl and keeps its contents dry even if submerged. I’ve learned to pack so that the items I want most lie on top.

Dry footwear, then -- a happy luxury after a 12-hour day in soggy neoprene boot., The towel with which I’ll clean the mud from my toes. My duffel bag, which should never be far, in case the weather shifts and demands a change of clothes. My tent and tarp and poles; the rainfly is separate, below those, contained in a sleeping-bag stuff sack (the nights when it’s not needed are the nights when I am blessed). Sleeping pad. Travel pillow. And stuffed loose at the bottom, my sleeping bag.


Camped on Buck Island, we will be in Helena, Ark., tomorrow, at which point we begin a five-day layover, since we’re so close to home. Shower, laundry, mattress: all these glories await. And their proximity has me contemplating this life out of a suitcase (or, in my case, a drybag).

To get where we’re going takes -- in the most literal sense -- work. We are applying force over distance, stroke after stroke after stroke.

But out there in the other work, the real world, I guess -- though if you stay out here long enough you begin to wonder which world is more real -- to get where you’re going takes something else. Hassle, mostly, I think. There are lines to wait in, gas tanks to fill; tickets for scanning, identification for scrutiny. By the time you get to your hotel room, all you want to do is heave your bag in a corner and lay back on the bed

I’ve had those weeks before, where day after day it’s one more bland and plastic hotel room, one more flight, one more hour of squinting into the high beams of the traffic driving against me. When I have those weeks, I’m always ready to be home.

And don’t get me wrong: I’m excited to be back to the warmth and comfort of four walls and electric sockets and loved ones and the animals who adore me. But out here -- with my bed unfurled above the sand and below the stars, and listening to the wash of the water -- to say I miss home would be wrong. Most of the time I feel that I’m home already.