It seemed trivial to the accused at the time, but I took the act of my canoe-mate stealing all my red Lifesavers out of my candy stash very seriously. I toss these sugared rings in my mouth at every thousand-metre mark along a portage. It’s a personal act of rich reward, and the only thing that was helping me get to the other side of the gruelling, bug-infested trails we were forced to walk across on our trip.
He claimed I was being a little overdramatic when I threatened to never travel with him ever again if he pinched another candy. I thought differently. He gave me an evil smirk and took my last Lifesaver. I haven’t tripped with him since.
What gets each canoeist to the other side of a portage varies. Some treat themselves to high-grading their candy bag. Others go into a dreamscape of past dates that went well, movies worth seeing a second time, dirty tricks to play on the boss, and, what seems to work for me, portages you’ve had to endure that are worse than the one you’re on.
Some simply think of bad things happening back at home—like traffic jams and noise pollution—to justify why the pain of the portage isn’t all so bad. Many of us hum monotonous show tunes or songs we heard on the radio on the drive to the put-in to pass the time away. The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” tops the list for some; so does “Dancing Queen” by ABBA, Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle,” or John Denver’s “Poems, Prayers and Promises.”
I remember a nightmarish solo trip where, for 27 days, I couldn’t get Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” out of my head. Imagine “I’m a Barbie girl in a Barbie world” every step of every portage. It was a long month spent alone.
The location of the portage on the trip changes the carrot I dangle in front of me. In the beginning, I daydream of monster fish, picturesque campsites and peaceful solitude I know I’ll find deeper into the interior. Near the end of the trip, it’s the thought of a cold beer or roadside junk food that makes me quicken my pace across the trail. Ultimately, what gets most of us to the other side—no matter when and where—is the fact that the portage, nasty or not, is the only thing left that protects the place you’re portaging to.
It’s pretty much a guarantee that whoever suffers the most will be enriched the most. A two-Lifesaver portage with a few steep inclines and squishy spruce bog will give you complete solace. There will be no crowds at the end. If you do manage to stumble across another paddler—ideally not as you’re belting out “Come on Barbie, let’s go party” at the top of your lungs—be assured they’ll be just as passionately in love with the pain and pleasure of portaging as you are.