As I hung onto the rock the wind tossed whipped my kayak like an old screen door until suddenly I was facing into the tempest. . .
I launched out from the Devil’s Lake north shore boat landing into a glassy lagoon. The sky was a mix of blue and black as broken heavy clouds raced northward over my head. I could see some wind waves beginning to build on the other side of the small sandy bar that separates the lagoon from the mile long lake. I knew the wind would make the days paddle a bit of a work out, but I needed it. There in the calm water I adjusted my gear and stretched out glad to be back in my warhorse with it’s new shiny black keel strip. A long hike the day before had left me feeling stiff and immobile but I knew after a few minutes on the water my old muscles would loosen up. Back in my boat again I had to readjust my body to my customized cockpit and high peddle placement. I slipped my big Lendal blade into the water and pushed off with my foot. For a moment I had to reacquaint myself with the euro blade. I’d been paddling almost exclusively with my Greenland paddle for the last couple weeks. For my first few strokes my feather angle was slightly off and my boat would wobble in reaction to my miscues. However within a few moments my rhythm came back as I accelerated into the mouth of the lagoon.Wind waves were funneling into the channel more than willing to help me return to the shore if that were my intent. As I entered the north east corner of lake my nose jumped over the sharp little 1 foot waves that blasted my face with wind tossed spray. I paddled west along the beach then turned south to follow the Talus fields that dropped into the lake from the west bluff. As I continued south I became aware of subtle bass concussions moving though the environment. My hunter and gatherer mind feeling the warning pressure changes before becoming conscious of their audible effects. I came out of the haze of my thoughts and took stock of the world around me. The air had stilled sometime within my distraction. The water now safely behind the protection of the south bluff was glassy and reflecting the solid dark line that signaled the arrival of change. I found myself looking around for signs of normalcy on the lake. Birds, ducks, boats on the water. . . But the water like the air was empty of life.
Soon I heard the first audible rumblings of thunder cross over the Baraboo Range to be funneled and amplified by the rocky bowl that surrounds the lake. Thunder crosses the water while bouncing back and forth from bluff to bluff until the sound waves are broken and spent. With just over a mile paddle to return to the north landing I decided to cling to the eastern shore and follow the railroad tracks back. I knew once I passed the last of the trees along the south east bank I would be paddling over subversive submerged boulders pressed into the water in front of a back drop vertical ledges. When I slipped my paddle into the water and pulled my kayak passed the last impossibly tall River Birch tree I knew I was committed.
A mile is not very far. Especially when the wind begins to shove at your back. A sea kayak can travel that distance in no time. As the thunder rose in consistency and volume I was taking in every moment of a suddenly electric environment. Soon I became aware of lightning flashes that are almost indistinguishable from a blink of the eye. Unsure if it was lightning or just my eyes, I threw out a brace near the tail of my boat and twisted around to see the south bluff fading away into white. For a moment I was lost in awe of this magnificent site. Vertical bars of grey and white connect clouds to the lake below. The bluffs hidden behind closed vertical blinds. Then I looked up into the sky to identify the actual rain line that was quickly racing toward me. Then the tin roar of the approaching down pour racing across the lake rose to match the volume of the constant thunder. I returned to the job of paddling my boat and soon the small bullet holes of the first hard rain drops entered the water around me. Then only moments later the water was boiling under the unleashed torrents. Now I was back in the world I got into kayaking for. I was immersed in the natural world. A place that had no care or respect for me. And as if to make that point, in a sudden and angry blast the wind ripped into my thoughts like draft of a speeding truck just inches from your face. The water lifted into the air until all around me was white mist spinning like a vortex of volcanic smoke. The wind came too fast on this small lake to build tall waves. The waves could only rise slightly higher than my deck before being decapitated by the howling banshee in a white bloody splash.
Holding my blades flat against the wind I was pushed forward faster than the waves yet I knew it would only take one unexpected twist in the wind to rip the paddle from my hand. I now could not see land in any direction other than a few boulders that rose slightly out of the water to my right. I was alone in an empty angry world. My logical mind knew I was taking a risk now. If I lost my paddle and were flung broadside by the wind it certainly had the power to roll me over. I fought my paddle into a right bow rudder and the momentum turned my boat quickly toward a small pointed stone sticking out of the water. My boat rocked for a moment as a wave dropped me onto a submerged boulder as I slug my paddle under the front bungies and laid out encircling my target with my arms. The wind quickly whipped my boat around as I held on. In just a moment I was turned 180 around the stone and facing into the harsh wind. Feeling more stable I could take stock of the world around me. I now could see a small rocky beach just a few feet behind me. I was sure that if I let go of the rock I would blow right onto the beach. That gave me an “out” and allowed me to confidently stay put clinging to the rocky outcrop to enjoy the winds and rain.
Through the grey bullet rain I began to see a gold glow expanding in the featureless void that quickly expanded to fill the southern sky and began to return definition to the world. I knew then that this little squall would soon be over. Knowing only minutes were left, I let loose the rock and brought out my paddle. With a couple strokes into the wind I leaned back sinking my stern and with a small sweep I let the wind help me again spin the boat north and began to race the waves back to shore. The rain soon began to lift and I could see the shore line just 70 yards ahead. Knowing the wind would soon die off I bow ruddered left to bring the boat broadside to the wind and let it pitch me over into the lake and quickly rolled up with the wind. The lake water was much warmer than the rain. Then I dropped over into the wind and rolled against the wind and waves. I was careful to keep my paddle and body low as I recovered. Laying back on the deck provided less for the wind to grab and I recovered easily. After a couple more rolls the wind died down and quickly the clouds became broken and hints of blue began to appear.
The water of the small lake quickly calmed as I returned into the lagoon. A couple who had watched the storm from their car stared in disbelief as I slid up onto the sand. Soon I was loaded back up into the Jeep and leaving the parking lot. Just as I was turning onto the main lot I had to swerve to avoid a huge tree branch that had been torn down in the storm. That’s when I really looked around to see leaves & branches covering everything around me. With a loud blasting laugh purely for my own enjoyment I thought, “I wonder what’s “Beaufort” for that?”.
Warning! Do not try this at home. Risk is part of life. I knew the odds of a storm were good when I left for the day paddle. I was actually hoping to catch it. Knowing the environment, I knew that the local lake could not toss up much more than 2 foot waves under the worst conditions. Then, only under constant 35+mph winds. Well within my abilities. I also kept to close to the shore as the storm came in so I could quickly get on land if necessary. Even if that meant crawling over rocks to do it. Lightning was certainly a risk. Again though I made a personal choice. Based on the conditions I saw at the time. Personally I know I cannot trust my own abilities unless I test them in conditions. On small lakes the only way to get into “conditions” is by being on the lake in the heart of a storm. Even then you only get minutes as the squall line passes over. As an individual I’m willing to take risk for fun and to test myself. However, I don’t recommend this course of action for anyone else. Welcome To America! We need a disclaimer for everything!!