by Karl Johanson
"It's the highest waterfall in North America," my mother-in-law told me.
"What is?" I asked using the tone of voice reserved for replying to people who make a life-long habit of starting conversations in the middle.
"Della Falls, near Great Central Lake. It's the tallest waterfall in North America." She used that 'we all have to hike up there this summer and kill ourselves' tone of voice.
A few months later, after a too small amount of research into just how far a journey we were undertaking, my wife, her mother, one of my wife's sisters, a friend, Gabby the dog and I drove up to Great Central Lake with three tonnes of canoes and camping gear. Camping is something people do so they don't feel like complete morons for having spent several hundred dollars on camping gear.
Great Central Lake is really nice. I mean Really Nice. Clear water that's actually drinkable. Free spots to camp. Lots of trails. You get the idea. If we'd had four nanograms of sense between us, we would have stayed at the camping spot the whole week and been very lazy.
The Sierra Club book said it was a three or four hour canoe trip to the trail to Della falls. I had my doubts, noting that a significant factor in my inability to see the other end of the lake was the curvature of the Earth. This was when it occurred to me just how @#$%ing big our planet is. I mean, you look at a world map and you barely see Vancouver Island on it. Great Central Lake is really tiny on every map I've ever looked at. However, when you take a canoe, laden with far too much stuff and a 25 kg Doberman who decided five after you left that she really would actually preferred to have stayed ashore after all, and try to paddle across several kilometres of water you'd rather be swimming in, you get an idea of how big the planet is in a way you just can't get from looking at a picture of the Earth from Apollo 10.
The canoe trip took six and a half hours instead of the three hours the %$#@ing Sierra Club book said it would. A helicopter flew overhead several times, spraying algae into the lake apparently to feed the trout and kill every other living thing in the lake. We lost count of how many belly up stickle backs we passed. A few power boats drove past us at Mach .5, playing bad music at somewhere around 142 decibels. I made a personal note to myself to study audio circuitry and precision-guided munitions so I could invent the surface-to-ghetto blaster missile.
The hike to Della Falls, along a trail that was solid prickly plants in parts, took six hours each way, instead of the three the book promised. (The book got my vote to be delegated "fire starter.") After the first six hours of what could only be described as interesting (in the Chinese sense) hiking, we made it to Della Falls. Pretty darn spectacular waterfall, let me tell you. Was it worth the hike? No. But it was rather nice. A whole bunch of water pouring out of a lake over a bunch of rocks. Hoo haw.
Just as soon as we started back, a plane flew overhead and circled around the falls a few times in a pattern that seemed specifically designed to mock the heat cramps in my legs. Four or five of my brain cells enthusiastically mentioned, "Hey, we could have seen the falls that way!" The remaining 106,756,023,042 brain cells threatened to sever all ax ionic connections to the smartassed brain cells if they didn't shut up until we were all back in an area with warm beds, proper toilets, chicken strips, root beer floats, clean socks, and no prickly plants.
When we got back, the dog was so worn out she lay down on her side and flopped her face sideways into her bowl so she could eat. I found the remainder of my home-made beef jerky was crushed to powder in my web belt. I added it to my soup and ate it standing waste deep in glacially cold river water, which managed to stop the cramping that I wouldn't have got if I'd been smart enough to get in better shape before going on such an absurdly long hike.
Sleeping in our tent before canoeing back, I dreamt I was at an sf con. I could almost hear my subconscious mind saying, "This is what you should do on vacation. It's safer. You don't have to carry all your food around with you everywhere. It rarely causes heat cramps." I had to agree. I had great bunches of fun and it was nice to see Great Central Lake before the area gets clear cut.
Originally Published in Under the Ozone Hole Number One – August, 1992.