Flathead Lake Circumnavigation | Day 4

Day 4 | Goose Island - Grinde Bay | 30 Miles

Ominous feelings settle in like a fog. The vast expanse of open water beckons to the south. Anger brews in the Salish Range; streaks of lightening curl across the eastern sky. Nervous, my hands move slow at their morning work. 

Loaded. The decision is made to cross Goose Bay before the storm and wind can find the boat exposed in open water. Leaving the protection of the little island, another storm is spotted brewing to the north. A third shows itself spraying like a sprinkler head in the center of the lake. Above, a clear patch of sky patiently hovers. Staring at the little piece of heaven, it’s clear to see that we are both heading in the same direction. A good omen or a siren’s call? Not sure. Time would be the one to tell. 

I point the canoe south into the tempest.

Goose Island catching the morning light.

Fears melt away with the rising sun. A matter of magnificence unfolds that could shift the tides of even the strongest swell. Fiery red clouds collide with ripe ribbons bathed in a deep plum purple. A runway of clear blueberry sky extends to the south. Not one to complain, I follow the path south along the cliffs of Painted Rocks. 

Tailwinds continue to push the canoe gently across Shelter Bay, beyond Boundary Point, past Mello Point, and into the Dayton Harbor. The rain catches up with us here; but it’s too late, previous good fortune had already earned the canoe a name. Merlin. With its cherry stripped interior and an aged magicians robe as hull, the sixteen foot purple boat had summoned tailwinds and parted storms for the sake of the journey.  Laughing at the irony, rain pummels down as we paddle past Gregg Point and into Elmo Bay. Merlin couldn’t hold back everything.


Edging out from the north-west shore of Elmo Bay, Camp could be seen resting across the bay near Park Point. Looking back, a black wall from the storm hovered over Wildhorse Island. Enjoying tailwinds once again, temptation knocked. Maybe we could just coast right across the wide part of the bay before going too deep into Elmo Bay. No sooner did the thought develop - I reeled it in and battened down the hatches. Unfortunately, open boats don’t have hatches to batten. It came roaring from behind. Jumbled waters transformed into sinister white capped grins. My beard blew out in front and the poncho turned into a sail. This was going to be a ride.

There was no quick escape. To turn for shore would expose us broadside, greatly increasing the chances of a flip. Planting my knees wide and straddling the center yoke just behind the gear, we went along for the ride. Far from shore, homes zipped past in a sprint. Angling the bow to the one o’clock position, shoreline slowly came into reach. Ready for land, the winds suddenly settled and the water became more manageable. Plans changed and we cruised the shoreline until confidence returned - crossing Elmo Bay once the water settled to a manageable level.

On the water.

Big Arm State Park can be found nestled along the east shoreline of Park Point in Big Arm Bay. Merlin and I arrived in good time, considering. There were no sites available at the small park and the park didn’t offer the hiker/biker sites that I was led to believe they would have. This wouldn’t have been an issue if sites had been reserved prior to the trip; but seeing that we were already a day ahead of schedule, it wasn’t meant to be. 

Undeterred, the decision to attempt finishing the circumnavigation came into mind. The afternoon winds were already picking up and no less than two exposed bays lay between home. We would still have to squeeze back through The Narrows. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. Diving deep into the protection of the bays that lay ahead, there would be at least sixteen more miles to paddle. I had a hunch that the winds would die down later in the day. If the hunch was wrong, it would be a long night.

Resting on the hunch, Merlin carried me slowly into the headwinds. The paddle chipped away for an hour, then another. At this rate The Narrows would be paddle by cover of darkness - not a good prospect. Entering Indian Bay, the hunch came to fruition. Winds tempered and the lake transformed into an emerald sheet of tranquility. An overwhelming sense of calm came over me… we would make it.

The hours that followed still feel like a dream.

A dream!

Slipping peacefully through The Narrows, we glide out of Narrow Cove toward Queens Bay (Stone Quarry Bay). A small concrete bridge creates a connector into to the bay. The paddle moves slowly. Familiar territory. Looking around, there was nothing to do but soak in the day.

A motor raced in the distance. Dazed from the effort, it took a moment to recognize Mark and LaDonna’s boat, our hosts. Leah sat smiling in the front seat. Still a mile from the finish, an ear to ear grin let the satisfactory feelings wash over me. 

Finishing it up.

Leah handed over a beer and asked if she could join for the final mile. After over 90 miles paddling solo, the nod came easy. I took a sip of beer.

Life was good, it was all good.

Final thoughts: Douglas Wood captures the essence of the journey.

The Backcast:

So why… why go through it? Why even be here? The second answer is easy. Because “here” is where the beauty is. Here is where the sunsets are. Here is where the campsites and campfires are, and the clear, deep waters, and the loons, and the pines, and the islands. And yes, the storms and the big winds and the rapids. Here is where the journey is.

But why go through it? Why do I…why do I go through it?  I think because no one else can go through it for me. And because the modern city-world system uses people to get work done. Important work, supposedly. That’s the whole idea. That’s why we get paid. But here — here I’m using work… to get myself done. What better work is there than that?

Or maybe…maybe it’s enough to say that I am here, as another voyageur once put it, “to iron out the wrinkles in my soul.”

And maybe it is only on the trail to nowhere-in-particular that you find the most important thing of all. Yourself.                                - Douglas Wood “Paddle Whispers”


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