Facing the Storm

"A Spearfish Lake Story"

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2001, ©2009, ©2012

Part VIII: Little Woodlark Island

Chapter 29

It was crowded for six adults to be sitting in the cramped confines of the quad-cab pickup, but it really wasn’t a long distance – it was only about twenty miles from the store in downtown Spearfish Lake to the Turtle Bay boat launch on the northeast end of the lake. The back of the pickup was filled with camping gear, and all eight kayaks rode on the kayak trailer hooked to the back. Behind them on the state road was Kirsten’s car, carrying Mike, Kirsten, Blake, and Jennifer.

The launch ramp at Turtle Bay was small, without a lot of parking, and Tiffany knew that there had been car cloutings out there at night – Hoselton kids, she suspected, but didn’t know for sure. She didn’t really want to have the pickup beaten up for being left there out in the middle of nowhere for three nights, so Mike and Kirsten would take the pickup, car, and trailer back to the house, and come back Tuesday afternoon to pick them up. It was the usual procedure for a trip out here; she led tour groups out here occasionally, people who wanted a taste of kayak touring. This was, in many ways, a group like that, or at least several of them qualified, but it was a group of friends, too, and the atmosphere proposed to be a lot different.

Spearfish Lake is roughly fifteen miles long, and half that wide. The northwest end, from Spearfish Lake around to Crystal Bay, halfway down the north side of the lake, is mostly privately owned land, and is dotted with cottages, but the rest of the shore is state land. Much of the south shore is swampy, as is the land behind, but there are several higher areas along the east end isolated by swamps and the Albany River, little visited by land especially in the summer.

This was all new country for Candice. Although she’d been coming up to Spearfish Lake off and on since she and John had been in college, she’d never been farther along the state road than the turnoff onto the road that would take her out to Josh and Tiffany’s place, so each turn of the road was new to her. She got a glimpse of the lake where the road passed Crystal Bay, and could make out the city in the distance, but now that the cottages were passed, it really seemed like they were in the middle of the north woods country, which they were. Trees rose high on either side of the road, reaching back into a forest that held a mystery that was beyond view. Somewhere to the north was the railroad that Josh spent so much time on, and once or twice he’d offered to take her on a cab ride, but the opportunity had never quite arisen. Perhaps this summer, she thought, now that the house was under control and she had some time on her hands.

In a few miles, Josh slowed the pickup and turned off on a narrow gravel road that twisted and turned for a mile or more down a gentle grade through a sweet-smelling forest of tall pines. As the road neared the lake, a snatch of blue could be seen through the trees, and quite suddenly they came out on the launch site.

There were half a dozen cars and trucks parked around the site, most with empty boat trailers attached, and they filled half the parking area. Josh swung the pickup around and backed the kayak trailer up next to the ramp. They’d be a while unloading, and he wanted to leave the ramp clear in case someone showed up who wanted to use it. "Well, we’re here," Josh said. "Hope everybody brought their bug dope. This place is usually pretty buggy this time of year."

That made Candice cringe a little. Josh was one of those people who didn’t notice mosquitoes unless they were pretty bad. If he thought it was buggy, there was serious danger of being carried off by swarms of the little bloodsuckers. Even with a serious mosquito control program it could get a little difficult in town after dark, one of the things she hadn’t considered when the decision was made to move to Spearfish Lake. Fortunately, this time of year was now a little past the peak of the mosquito season. It stayed light late enough that there usually wasn’t much reason to be out after dark that often, but Candice knew that going into the woods during the day could be a trial.

"They shouldn’t be that bad this time of day," Tiffany said hopefully, opening the pickup’s door. Like everyone else, she was wearing shorts and a T-shirt for what promised to be a pretty warm day, but Candice also knew that mosquitoes didn’t bother Tiffany much, either, and wasn’t reassured. She resigned herself for the inevitable, and piled out of the pickup following John.

Compared to the view of the broad expanse of the lake from her house, Turtle Bay was intimate, perhaps a mile or a little more across, although she could look out the mouth of the bay, and see that there was still a lot of lake out there. Halfway across the lake she could see the trees of Horse Island, but the shore beyond it was lost in the haze. There was no sign of town; she knew from the map that it was lost from view behind one of the points that almost enclosed the bay. The sky overhead was blue, with some little white clouds popping. It really seemed like they were deep in the wilderness, and by Decatur standards, they were.

"Well, let’s get started," Josh said, as the others piled out of the car that was parked behind them. "Let’s set all the boats out on this side of the pickup, just to keep the ramp clear."

"It helps if we have the boats all pointed toward the rig," Tiffany added. "That way there’s not as much stepping over them while we’re loading."

It was quick work to unload the eight kayaks from the trailer, although the taller men, Blake and Mike, handled the ones on the top level a little more easily. Soon all eight were sitting on the ground as a multitude of colors, and Tiffany was up in the back of the pickup, handing out gear. There was a lot of stuff in the back of the truck, and it seemed hard to believe that it was all going to be able to fit down the hatches of the boats. As the gear came out of the pickup, Josh and Candice helped sort it out and hand it to the owners.

The majority of the boats belonged to Josh and Tiffany, and they had sold the rest of them to their owners. Phil had decided against getting the Telkwa Sport; he liked the way it handled, but had realized that as Brandy got serious about her kayaking, he needed a boat that stood a better chance of keeping up with her. So, he bought an off-white Nimbus Lootas, the longest boat that they’d brought with them, and the fastest, as well. Jennifer had tried on several boats, and finally wound up bringing the Nimbus Solander that Tiffany had recommended; she’d been out paddling with the women about half the evenings for the last few weeks, and Candice had realized that Jennifer was a pretty good kayaker, as well. Blake had the Necky Tesla he’d bought a couple of seasons before; while he’d tried other boats, this one still was his favorite. Since Phil hadn’t bought the Telkwa Sport he’d been kicking around, and Tiffany needed a decent boat for guiding trips, she decided to use it. It was an awful big boat for her, but it had the advantage of a lot of gear capacity that made guided camping trips more comfortable for the customers. She’d only been out in it a few times, and figured that this trip was a good chance to get more familiar with it. The rest of them had Necky Looksha IVs from the store’s rental fleet.

Candice had the one with the burgundy deck, and had paddled it a lot in the last few weeks. She was getting out in the kayaks a lot, and felt a little guilty about always having to take one of the rental boats, especially since Tiffany made it clear that it was hers to use if there was no prospect of renting it out. It would have been nice to have had a kayak of her own, but money was still a little tight with the move and she wasn’t working yet. Tiffany had suggested that if she really wanted it, the rental boats would go on sale at a substantial discount at the end of the season, and Candice had already pretty much earmarked the boat as hers.

Once the pickup was empty, they turned to packing the boats. "I don’t know where all of this is going to go," John said, eyeing everything.

"It’s not that much," Candice protested. John really hadn’t had much to do with the trip preparations, spending a lot of his evenings at the ball field for practice or games for the Little League, but Tiffany had given Candice a list of gear, some drybags, and some hints on what they should take. It really wasn’t a lot, and Tiffany had warned against going overboard. Much of the equipment John and Candice had, like tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads, was rental gear from the touring business, but she realized that if they did this often, then they’d have to be buying some gear of their own. John had already been talking about bringing the boys on a trip like this sometime, and maybe later in the summer, they would.

The kayaks were bigger than they looked, and the gear disappeared into them rapidly. In the middle of the process, Tiffany came by and handed each of them a twelve-pack of beer or Coke. "This stuff is heavy, so we’ll spread the weight around," she said. "Try to put it close to the cockpit, and low in the boat." She stopped to help John wrestle with a drybag, and wound up pulling half the gear out of the back of the boat and restuffing it, a process that only took a minute, showing that she’d done it before.

Busy with packing the boat and organizing her gear, Candice hadn’t noticed much in the way of mosquitoes, so it hadn’t been as bad as she thought it might have been. In a few minutes, she stood up and looked around to see that everyone else was pretty well ready to go, too, and Josh and Blake had already started carrying boats down to the little beach next to the launch ramp.

Once they were ready to go, Tiffany called them together. "OK, here’s the plan," she said. "I think we should try to stay pretty much together, but if we spread out, at least do it in pairs. Brandy, John, Candice, you’re the newest ones, so if we do spread out, stay with one of the rest of us. What we’re going to do is to head pretty much south over to the far shore, and then follow the peninsula around to the mouth of Goose Bay. It’s a pretty good crossing across the mouth of the bay, and we may just want to go around the inside of the bay if the wind picks up, but I want us all together before we make the crossing. There’s a nice beach on the north shore where we can stop and stretch our legs before we have to make up our minds. If we do make the crossing, we’ll want to all stick together. I’d just as soon try it, since it’s about an extra six miles to go the long way, but we’ll wait till we get down to Goose to figure it out. Then, we’ll follow the south shore of the bay out to Woodlark. Does that make sense to everybody?"

"Sounds pretty reasonable," Jennifer said. "Looks like it’s going to be a nice day for it."

"Yeah, after the cold, crappy weather we had last week, this is going to be nice," Tiffany agreed. "Should be nice the whole weekend. Well, we’re not getting anywhere just standing around talking about it."

"Yeah," Josh agreed. "Let’s go see what the wizard is up to."

One by one they put on their life preservers and spray skirts, got in the boats, and got out on the water, as Mike and Kirsten stood there watching. "Have a good time," Kirsten called.

"We’ll see you Tuesday at two," Mike said. "If you have to get back sooner, hike up to Shaundessy’s Bait Shop and give us a call."


*   *   *

It was a glorious day to be out on the water. There was enough of a breeze to keep things comfortable, and by the time they got under way the sky was half full of puffy white cumulus clouds, which kept the sun from beating down on them too heavily. They had a fairly long trip ahead of them, about ten miles if they made the crossing of the mouth of Goose Bay, but it wasn’t so long that it intimidated them. They took their time, at an easy cruising pace, spread out five or ten yards apart, mostly alongside each other. John probably had to work the hardest to keep up, since he’d been out less than the others, but he wasn’t complaining.

The run along the south shore of Turtle Bay was interesting; in the shallows there, they occasionally saw fish, and several times they disturbed herons feeding along the shore. The birds took off squawking in protest, amazing them always at how the bird could have such a big wingspread, their long necks folded back somehow, putting them in mind of pterodactyls. Once they saw a doe and two spotted fawns feeding near the water, but the group didn’t get very close before they disappeared off into the brush beside the lake.

Eventually, they reached the mouth of Turtle Bay. There was a light breeze out of the west, but it had been blowing hard enough to set up some long swells about a foot high. They had to run parallel to the waves as they headed south along the other shore of the bay along what was known as East Point. West Point, where Blake and Jennifer lived, was where the town was, but no one called it that, just "The Point." The waves weren’t anything they couldn’t handle, just a little activity to keep the trip interesting. The shore along here was a rocky beach that had long been pounded by the waves sweeping across the lake, and they ran close enough to it to hear the waves washing against it, but far enough out to avoid any rocks that might lurk below.

After they rounded the tip of the point, a small bay opened up to their left. Phil and Brandy decided to pick up the pace and go explore it, and took off leaving the others to slog ahead and cross the mouth of the bay. The little bay wasn’t deep, and the two soon caught up with the rest of the group, not long before they came to the sandy beach on the north shore of Goose Bay, where Tiffany had planned to take a break.

"We could have lunch here," Tiffany said, "But it’s still a little early, and I’d just as soon wait until we get to where we’re going and can unpack the boats."

Nobody objected to the plan, and it was good to get out of the boats for a while, stretch legs, and stand up for a bit. Some of them snacked a little on raisins or peanuts, washed down with water from their water bottles.

There really wasn’t much need for discussion about the crossing to the south shore of the bay. The shore lay low in the distance, a couple of miles away, but the breeze hadn’t picked up any, and it didn’t look at all challenging. Considering everything, though, Tiffany reminded everyone to stay together, and after a while they loaded up and started out. It was a pleasant crossing, out in the open, and in a half hour they were on the south shore of the deep bay, heading along a rocky, rugged, picturesque coast toward the end of Albany Point and Albany Island, which lay beyond. It was early afternoon, now, and they’d made fairly decent time, considering. The crossing of the channel separating the point and the island was a short one, less than a quarter mile, and no one thought much about it. The run along the north shore of the island was a quiet one, that gave them a rest from the low waves that had been a feature of much of the trip, and soon they reached the end of the island. They could see Woodlark Island lying off in the distance more than half a mile away, and it was still no big deal to make the crossing.

However, there was a disappointment, the first one of the day. Tiffany had planned to use a favorite campsite along the north shore of Woodlark Island. The island was fairly high and rolling, and there weren’t a lot of good beaches, but there was a nice one near the northern tip. But, when they got there, they found a power boat pulled up on the beach, two or three tents set up, and a fire burning.

"No big deal," Tiffany said. "There’s some other spots that are just as good. Let’s go look at the east end."

It was only another few hundred yards to the east end of the island, but the beach there had a small sailboat pulled up on it, and a tent could be seen in the trees above the beach.

"We’ll find a place," Tiffany said. "There’s another couple places along the south shore, and if push comes to shove we could go back to Albany."

"How about that little island out there?" Phil said, pointing at an islet that lay several hundred yards offshore to the east.

"I don’t know," Tiffany said. "I’ve been by there several times, and I always thought it might make a good place to stay, but I’ve never really taken the time to take a close look."

"Let’s go see," Jennifer suggested. "It’s not far."

"Fine with me," Tiffany said. They paddled out to the island – Tiffany wasn’t sure if it had a name, but it was tagged "Little Woodlark" in her mind. The water was shallow all the way, and Tiffany thought that it would be possible to wade across the sand bar to Woodlark Island proper. As they drew closer, they could see that it was low and tiny. A small copse of trees stood in the center, and there was a nice beach on the west side. It was tiny, though – no more than fifty yards long, and thirty wide, but with a couple of obvious campsites. They paddled on around the island to find that the northeast shore was all sandy beach, but the back side was low, rocky bluffs.

"Looks pretty good to me," Phil said.

"Me, too," Tiffany agreed. "It doesn’t look like there’s anyone here, either." She called to the other kayakers, "This all right with everybody?"

A chorus of assents echoed back. "All right," she went on. "Why don’t we keep this to ourselves? Let’s spread out a little bit, to keep anyone else from wanting to camp here, and that’ll give us each a little privacy. There should be enough room to have twenty or thirty yards between each tent. Josh and I can go back to the west end, and we’ll set up the dinner fly there. Does that sound good to everybody?"

She got no arguments. "All right, let’s get tents set up and get ourselves established, then come on down in half an hour or so and we’ll get into some lunch. Let’s get the boats pretty well unloaded, and maybe this afternoon we can explore back down in Albany Bay. That’s pretty neat. When you come down for lunch, bring the twelve-packs with you, and I’ll get them chilling.""

In a few minutes, Phil and Brandy were setting up along the north shore of the island, Blake and Jennifer near the eastern tip, and Candice and John just around the backside of the east end, just short of where the rocky bluffs began to rear up.

Candice and John pulled their boats well up the beach, and started to unload them. "What did she mean by chilling down the twelve-packs?" John wondered aloud. "I wasn’t looking forward to drinking warm beer."

"I expect we’ll find out," Candice smiled. "That looks like a good spot to set up the tent."

It was back in the tree line, where there was a little shade from the sun that was now beating down on them. It was getting warm, now, and it got warmer as Candice and John unloaded their boats and carried the gear up the beach. It didn’t take Candice long to peel out of her shorts and T-shirt. Tiffany had suggested wearing a swimsuit under her clothes, so she’d been wearing a fairly conservative blue bikini underneath, and now she could see the reason why. She suspected she’d be pretty much living in her swimsuit all weekend.

The tent was one of the rentals, and there were no instructions, but it wasn’t hard to set up. It was going to be on the small side, if not downright intimate, but, all of a sudden, she realized why Tiffany wanted to spread out a little.

Intimate was going to be fine, and she suspected that Tiffany had the same idea when she’d suggested it.

*   *   *

It was only a short walk through the trees to where Josh and Tiffany had set up their tent, and a fly for shade from the sun; a tarp had been spread on the ground so they wouldn’t have to sit in the sand. The warmth of the day had obviously gotten to them, as well; Josh was in a swimsuit, and Tiffany had stripped down to a tiny red and white bikini that didn’t leave much to the imagination. Candice already knew that Tiffany was muscular, but while she always looked a little on the heavy side when dressed, the bikini revealed that the heaviness was all muscle. "Did you bring your twelve-packs?" she asked.

"Right here," John said.

"Good, I’ll get them rigged." While they watched, she opened the cardboard boxes and dumped the containers into a net bag, added a small rock, then tied them shut and attached a light hanked-up rope to the neck of the bag.

As she worked, Phil and Brandy walked up. Brandy was wearing a dark green bikini that was even more daring than Tiffany’s if such a thing were possible, and it made clear that, like Tiffany, most of her apparent heaviness was actually muscle – but more so. Candice knew that she had been working out a lot, but the bikini revealed that she couldn’t have been in bad shape before she started. "Here’s two more," Phil said, handing the cardboard boxes to Tiffany, who repeated the procedure.

As she began, Jennifer and Blake arrived walking hand in hand, both wearing swimsuits, but Jennifer had on a black, strapless one-piece that contrasted sharply with her long, blonde hair. She was, in a word, stunning. Jennifer looked at the other women, and commented, "I see everybody had the same idea. I just wish I could wear a bikini."

"I don’t see why not," Candice said, a little surprised at the statement. If anyone there had a true bikini figure, it was the tall, slender Jennifer.

"Oh, I could, I suppose," she replied. "It probably doesn’t matter that much anymore, but I don’t like to give away freebies."

"I don’t understand," Candice frowned.

"It’s simple," Jennifer said, and pointed over at Woodlark Island, where the campsite with the small sailboat was a speck in the distance. "Suppose you were over there with a big telephoto lens. There’s a lot of places where you could sell a telephoto shot of me in a bikini for more than enough money to make the trip worthwhile. A one-piece, like this, isn’t worth the film. We’ve had people up here in the past trying for sneak shots of me, but none in the last couple years, I think. But still, I try not to make it easy for them."

It was hard for Candice to think of this woman, who was starting to become a close friend, as someone who would have to be concerned about such things. It was harder still to imagine having to be concerned with such things herself, to have to live that way, and it made her feel a bit sorry for Jennifer. Fame may be nice, she realized, but it can have unpleasant side effects.

"Is that why you quit going to the club?" Tiffany asked. "I always wondered about that a little."

Jennifer nodded. "A shot like that of me would be worth an awful lot of money. I always used to say that I didn’t want to make anyone an instant millionaire, although I don’t think it’d be worth that anymore. Worse, let one photo like that get out, and there wouldn’t be any privacy left for anyone over there. So, I don’t go out there unless I have to, and then I always stay dressed."

"That’s a shame," Brandy said. "I sort of miss those days of running around bare-assed all the time, but I really don’t miss them much."

"You quit going out there about the time you started going with Phil, didn’t you?" Jennifer asked.

"I never cared much for it," Phil said. "It always seemed like a put-on to me."

"I sort of miss it, too. My folks sold out of there years ago, but I guest-visit once in a while," Tiffany said, tying up the last bag; there were now four of them resting on the sand. "I’ll plant them out after we eat," she said. "I presume everyone is ready to eat?"

"More than ready," Phil said. "I’m looking forward to what you and Blake came up with."

"We kept it simple for this meal," Blake said. "We didn’t know if we were going to be on a beach somewhere, or in camp."

There was something that she didn’t understand in the conversation that had just passed over her head, Candice realized, but couldn’t put her finger on what it was. Well, the time to bring it up had passed. Maybe she could ask John later; he might know.

Lunch was simple, but excellent – thin wheat and rye crackers, spread with a variety of pastes – hummus, some sort of meat, some sort of cheese. The hummus was made on the spot from a bean powder and some water fresh from the lake that had been run through a water filter, while the meat paste came from a dry bag that had been wrapped in Tiffany’s sleeping bag. "We have to eat the keep-cool stuff the first day," she said as they ate. "So, we’re going to have the steaks tonight."

"I see you’re planning on keeping us fed this trip," Brandy commented.

"Blake came up with some really good ideas," Tiffany said. "Some of them sound like things I’d like to take on tours, so we’re going to try some of them out."

"What do you have in mind?" Phil asked.

"Oh, a bunch of things," Blake smiled obliquely. "We brought plenty of stuff."

"That does bring up one administrative issue," Tiffany said. "That’s the plans for this afternoon."

"Which are?" Brandy asked.

"That we have no plans," Tiffany said. "Look, I know I lead a lot of trips, so I suppose I’m acting like the trip leader, and if I get too bossy, someone jump on me. I figure we can go swimming, get some sun, lay around in the shade and shoot the bull, take a day paddle, or whatever."

"That’s sort of what I had in mind," Phil agreed.

"There’s one thing that has to be done," Tiffany went on. "I took a pass around, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of down, dry dead wood we can use for a fire, and we’ll need it for the steaks tonight. I thought that after I get the pop and beer planted out, maybe some of us could get in the boats and head down into Albany Bay, and see if we can find some driftwood up on the beach. That burns pretty good. It probably won’t be a long trip, an hour or so."

Most of the kayakers were quick to jump on the idea, but John was different. "If you don’t mind, I think I’ll take a pass," John said. "I don’t get out in the sun as much as the rest of you, and I think I’m picking up a little burn." He gave a little wink to Candice.

She picked it up instantly. "Yeah, I might just stay back and take a little nap," she said.

"Good," Tiffany said, oblivious to the communication that had just passed between her in-laws. "It probably won’t matter, but it’s usually a good idea for someone to be around to keep an eye on things. Well, if someone wants to do the dishes, I’ll get started with the cans, and we can get going."

"Planting out the cans" turned out to be simple. From somewhere in her large boat, Tiffany produced four small floats – really plastic jugs with a small handle on them. She got in her kayak, took one of the bags in her lap and paddled out to darker water, fifty yards or so out. "It’s probably still in the forties down there," she said as she sank the bag in the lake, tying the float to the free end of the line, then paddled back for the next one, which John waded out into the water and handed to her. By evening, they’d have something cold to drink, and if they rationed it, they’d have something throughout the trip.

In a few minutes more, Candice and John watched their six friends paddle away toward Woodlark Island and Albany Bay beyond, leaving them alone on their desert island.

"Were you thinking what I’m thinking you were thinking?" Candice asked as the paddlers drew out of earshot.

"If you weren’t thinking what I was thinking, there’s something wrong with you," John smiled. "We should have an hour or so. I didn’t think it was going to be that easy to get alone."

"Me either," she said. "The tent, you think?"

"How about out on the beach?" he suggested. "We might not get the chance again soon unless we come out here by ourselves some time."

"How about up in the trees behind the beach?" she said, thinking of people with big telephoto lenses. "I’m not crazy about giving out freebies, either."

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