Where Suns Collide

by David C. Ake

“The cub’s shoulder was stiff and sore, and for some time, he limped from the terrible slash he had received. But the world now seemed changed. He went about in it with greater confidence, with a feeling of prowess that had not been his in the days before the battle of the lynx. He had looked upon life in a more ferocious aspect; he had fought; he had buried his teeth in the flesh of a foe; and he had survived. And because of all this, he carried himself more boldly, with a touch of defiance that was new to him. He was no longer afraid of minor things, and much of his timidity had vanished, though the unknown never ceased to press upon him with its mysteries and terrors, intangible and ever menacing.” FROM WHITE FANG, Jack London

For Anjee and Mark, two people I deeply appreciate having in my life. And for the Invictus kids. Never say no to an adventure.

I

was a soldier. I was the gunner on an M1A1 Abrams main battle tank, and I deployed with my tank to fight in the cities and deserts of Iraq in 2004. I turned 21 in a combat zone. It’s important to know that, because this story is about the struggle many years after. It begins on my 27th birthday, when I was still trying to move past that war. My black Honda Civic sped west across U.S. 24 in the middle of a blazing day in June, passing through an expanse of farmland in Illinois. As I drove, I struggled to reconcile with the blond girl crying in my passenger seat. We had about 10 minutes left together before she would be driving my car back to Indiana, alone. After today, I wouldn’t see her for a week. She had just told me that she stuffed a stack of cards in my rucksack, one for each day that we would be apart. She told me to open one each night and read the message she had written inside. It was a sweet gesture, an expression of how much she would miss me while I was gone. Without thinking about all of that, I told her that they would come in handy for starting fires. For the past few days, survival and efficiency had been on my mind. The olive, metal-framed rucksack containing the cards was the one I had used in the Army. It was stuffed into the back seat of my tiny car, the water-resistant, heavy-duty nylon fabric stretched to its limit. Carefully packed inside were survival necessities for the week I would be spending in a remote cluster of lakes in northern Minnesota called the Boundary Waters. I was going there with my friend Mark, whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. Among the mosquito net, camp cooking kit, and extra clothes was a bundle of cards sealed in pink and purple envelopes and bound tightly

with a lacy ribbon. I didn’t tell Anjee how sweet it was to write me a card for every day. I didn’t tell her how thoughtful it was to sneak a token of her affection into my bag. I didn’t tell her all the reasons I loved her right before I left. Instead, I told her I was going to use the cards to light fires. It’s safe to say that I messed that one up. We grew silent as we neared Eagle’s Nest, a little diner off the highway where I was meeting Mark. I didn’t know what to say to make things better in the car. I was angry because I couldn’t explain to Anjee that I was mentally preparing myself for the mission ahead. I had already gone into Survival Mode, which is a name I gave to the mechanism I have learned for coping with uncertainty. I couldn’t make her understand why a few years of hard soldiering might cause the kind of mistake I made. I no longer saw the cards as a gesture from the bottom of my girlfriend’s heart. When they entered my rucksack, the cards became practical supplies in a precise mission loadout. I couldn’t make her understand that, in the military, I learned to deal with fear by hardening my heart. I was excited for the experience I was about to have, but I had spent most of the car ride wondering if I was actually prepared. Soldiering taught me how to deal with the fear, but it was sinking in that soldiering might be wholly different from what I was about to do in the wild. I put my hand on Anjee’s thigh and squeezed it gently. For the final few minutes we were together, I rubbed her leg and didn’t say anything. When she stopped crying, she put her head on my shoulder, and I pressed her soft blond hair against my cheek. As we pulled off the highway, I said, “You know I love you?” “Yes.” Her soft, green eyes looked up at me. With the sort of dismal smile that only comes across the face of a lover used to dealing with a broken partner, she said, “I know.” * * *

Mark was waiting at the Eagle’s Nest in a military-style boonie hat, white T-shirt, and camouflage pants. He threw up a goofy wave as we pulled in. I told Anjee that he looked like some kind of weird mercenary from the Southeast Asian bush. I said goodbye and told her I loved her. I transferred my bag to Mark’s

truck, and before I hopped in and left for the week, Anjee told me to find whatever I needed out there in the Boundary Waters. She told me to be careful and hugged me tightly before letting me go with Mark. Mark is one of my oldest friends in the world. We go way back, all the way to sixth grade when he was the only Asian kid in a nearly all-white classroom in White County, Indiana. Always a curious one, I asked him what kind of Asian he was. “Chinese,” he said. And we’ve been friends ever since. It’s a simple story, but the stories behind most male friendships are simple. We’ve stayed friends throughout the years because we love talking about religion and politics, being outdoors, and smoking cigars. I looked forward to doing all three with my old friend as we left the Eagle’s Nest in Illinois and drove west on Interstate 80 toward Mark’s home in Davenport, Iowa, to finish packing and preparing for our week in Minnesota. Our visors were flipped down to shield our eyes from the sinking sun, and the windows were rolled all the way down to ventilate the El Mejor Emerald sticks we puffed away on. Mark told me how excited he was to almost be done with chiropractic school. He said he was pretty sure he was going to marry a girl he had been dating for a while. In summary, he was living life well. Things were pretty good in his corner of the world. My what-have-you-been-up-to wasn’t quite that cheery. I told him about the wet, cold funeral we had for my dad in November and my failure to secure a summer internship that I had gunned for. I told him that, at 27, I was a little humiliated that I had to move my girlfriend and me into my mom’s house because I had no internship and had let my apartment lease run out because I planned on having one. To top it off, I told him that I had started this trip by stomping all over my girlfriend’s heart. But, I said, I was glad that he and I were able to take a week off and get lost. I felt like it was something I really needed at this point. My friend asked if I was okay, and I told him more about the debacle I’d wrought in the car with Anjee. “You told her you were going to burn them? Jeeeesus, dude.” “Yep. That’s what I said.” Mark laughed and slapped the steering wheel. I laughed a little as well and took three steady pulls off my cigar. I watched the gray ash swallow up the shaggy tip. On the third puff, I rolled the smoke over my tongue and exhaled a wide gray stream.

“I’m in Survival Mode, man,” I said as I shrugged my shoulders. “Five years later and I still go into Survival Mode. I can’t shake that shit, man. I still look at everything through the lens of a soldier.” Mark didn’t quite understand what I meant, so I told him about a guy I had seen a few weeks earlier at the VA hospital when I went in for a checkup. I was in the waiting room checking out the tattoos etched into the arms and legs of other veterans, trying to see if I could read their eclectic stories. I explained that a tattoo of crossed rifles usually indicates an infantryman, crossed pistols are a telltale sign of a military police officer, and the famous eagle, globe, and anchor are all I need to pinpoint a Marine. An older man -- probably in his sixties -- walked into the room wearing a pressed jungle camouflage uniform. His shaggy white haircut indicated that he was no longer in the Army, but the uniform he had on could have made me guess otherwise. His black boots were shined to a high gloss, and pinned precisely to his lapel was the rank of specialist. It was the rank he probably wore when he was discharged from the Army 30 years ago. The old soldier was dressed for duty. The few people talking hushed and looked at the man as he walked in sharply and sat down with perfect posture. They gawked because most of them understood why he got dressed in his service uniform in the morning before he left for the VA. I suspect they, like me, knew how hard it can be to take off that uniform for good. I told Mark that the man exemplified what I love and hate about being a veteran. I love that I was part of an institution that impresses upon a man so deeply that even after he has been discharged for many years, he’d shine his boots and iron his uniform to go to the veteran’s hospital. At the same time, I hate that I am part of an institution that is so difficult to leave behind. “It’s hard, you know, to just shut it off,” I said. I felt like I was becoming that guy. I left the Army five years ago, but I couldn’t seem to move past it. I still dealt with heartache and failure the same way I’d done as a soldier -- by shutting down. I knew I couldn’t expect Anjee or anyone else that loved me to understand that. I told Mark that I needed something else or I’d wind up being that guy, alone, getting dressed in my old uniform to go to the VA. Mark said the answer might be trying new things. He said this trip was a good first step to getting out of my slump.

I took a few draws off my cigar and relished the creamy smoke before exhaling it out the window. “Yeah, you’re right,” I said. “Fuck this rusty cage.” * * *

Mark and I spent that evening laying out our equipment in his basement. After we were sure we had everything we needed, we repacked it to maximize the little space we had. In addition to the rucksack I’d brought full of clothes and gear, we still had to accommodate all the food, our shelters, Mark’s clothing, and a big bag of cigars. We opted for a Communist approach and decided to share packs instead of having two individual ones. We packed a ruck Mark had rented from school with the food, put our clothes and cooking equipment in my ruck, and stuffed our shelter equipment into a canvas canoe bag Mark had borrowed from a friend. “Are you sure we’re going to be able to hump all this gear and a canoe?” I asked. “When we portage, you’ll carry the canoe and the canoe bag and I’ll get the rucks, paddles, and fishing poles,” Mark said. “You’re built like a mule. Should be cake for you, dude.” Portage is a verb used to describe the process of carrying everything over land on harsh trails to get to the next lake. It is also a noun used to describe the trail over which you must portage. “Strap the canoe bag on and throw the canoe on your head.” Mark made it sound simple enough. “What does a portage look like?” I asked. “They’re marked on the map, and most of the ones near where we put in will be easy to see,” he said. “They’re just a worn footpath. We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled when we get to where there aren’t any people. The portages out there can be tough to spot, and some of them will be rough. Snakes, mosquitoes, leeches, you know. Are you allergic to poison ivy?” “Nope. I used to be, but not anymore. How far out are we going?” “About 25 miles from civilization.” Twenty-five miles was a long way to wander from all roads, motorized traffic, and civilized life. I wondered if I had ever been that far away from everything. In the corner, by a shelf full of vinyls that Mark had been collecting for

years, an old record player and two enormous speakers spat out tunes from The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix. After “All Along the Watchtower” finished, Mark changed the record and complained about digital music for the better part of an hour. “I don’t care about being able to carry all my music on a small device. Analog is the way the music was supposed to be heard.” As we finished checking our inventory and packing the meals Mark had dehydrated, we discussed broken limbs, bears, and drowning -- all potential dangers ahead. We could deal with most accidents that might happen out there. Mark was a few months away from being a doctor, and I took some emergency medical training in the Army. I boasted my foresight for packing fluorescent cloth that could be used to mark an air medevac site if we got into trouble. “If we lay the pieces out in a Y, planes and choppers will see it and know we need help,” I said. “Well, you probably won’t see any helicopters or planes,” Mark said. “The Boundary Waters is a no-fly zone except for the Forest Service, and I read online that they rarely fly at all.” He broke out the water-resistant topographical maps he had ordered on the internet and showed me where we were going. He dragged his finger across Fall Lake to Newton Lake, across a portage to a huge body of water called Basswood Lake, through Tin Can Man and Horse lakes, up around the Horse and Basswood rivers and back down to Fall Lake. Our path was a big circle that covered nearly a quarter of the map. “You sure you can still read a map, soldier?” he asked. Of course I could, and I shared a story about the first medal I was awarded in the Army. I earned it by walking with my rucksack, packed to bursting, all day and night -- literally 24 hours -- through a Bavarian forest. The mission was, using a topographical map and compass, to locate 14 points spread across miles of German mud and forests. It was a grueling training exercise. My unit broke down into four-man teams and competed to see which team could find all the points first. The day was hot, and it rained all night. I was so cold and exhausted when it was over that I didn’t even hear my name when it was called out during the award ceremony. Except for the year I spent in combat, I consider it the most physically challenging thing I did in the military. Mark nodded and listened.

I asked why Mark didn’t learn how to read a map when he went to the Boundary Waters last year with a group of friends from school. “The big kid I showed you in the pictures was a guide there for a few summers. He read the map.” “Well, while we’re out there, I’ll teach you. You need to learn.” “In case you die out there?” he joked. “That, and if you can read a map, you’ll never be lost,” I said. * * *

We woke up early the next day and took our final hot showers for the week. We threw our bags in the long bed of Mark’s pickup and left Davenport to drive north, about eight hours, to Cloquet, Minn. Mark had a friend from Cloquet named Jeff Leno who also studied at Palmer. When Mark told him a few months ago that we’d be spending a week in the Boundary Waters, Jeff insisted on lending him the canvas canoe bag we had our tents packed in. He was also adamant that we stay with his parents to get a good night’s sleep after the long drive from Iowa. Staying in Cloquet with Jeff ’s parents, Mel and Curt, would put us about an hour away from Ely, Minn., which is the little town that serves as the gateway to the Boundary Waters. “Their last name is Leno, like Jay Leno?” I asked. “No, it’s pronounced ‘Lee-no,’” Mark said. “They’re great. They go to the Boundary Waters like twice a year.” Shortly after getting on the interstate in Iowa, Mark offered me a cigar from the plastic bag he had set aside for the drive north. I used a windproof lighter I’d brought to toast the foot and light my cigar. I savored the first puffs off the black maduro. We drove the long haul and listened to rock music while debating the validity of organized religion in modern society. Around us, the world changed from a waving ocean of tall prairie grass to a land dotted with clusters of pine forests. When we reached Cloquet, the sun was going down. There, we passed fishing supply stores and signs pointing toward the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation. Mark pulled onto a street lined with elm trees where most of the houses were older, nothing modular or prefabricated. I turned the radio down as Mark searched for the correct house number. He stopped the truck in

front of a white two-story home with a big American flag draped beside a vibrant red door. “This is it,” he said. We got out of the truck and walked up to the porch. Before Mark could knock, a small attractive woman with long black hair came around the corner of the house waving. She looked athletic and was dressed as if she had just gotten back from a run. Mark waved back. “Hey, Mel. This is my buddy Dave from Indiana.” I shook her hand, and Mark asked about her run. “Not a run, just a short jog,” she said. “We’re running a marathon tomorrow, and I didn’t want to kill myself.” She spoke of running a marathon as if it were an item on her to-do list. “Curt went to get some beer and should be back about any minute. Hope you guys are hungry. We’re gonna do burgers as soon as he gets the grill fired up. Come on in and I’ll give you the tour,” she said and led us inside. The interior of the home was as beautiful as the outside. I made it a point to say so. “Thanks,” Mel said. “We used to have a big house when all the kids were home, but once they left, we decided to get a cozy home in town. We love it here.” She took us downstairs to a beautiful finished basement and pointed out the sauna -- pronounced “sow-nah” in the north -- and joked about it being a common fixture in the homes of Viking descendants. “What can I say?” she said. “Up here in the north we just love to sweat.” She showed us the living room and then took us upstairs. She pointed out her bedroom and the spare bedroom down the hall and told us we’d be sleeping in comfortable beds before we had to sleep on the ground for a week. “Wait, where are you and Curt sleeping?” I asked. Mel pointed out the window to a camper parked in the driveway behind the house. I looked at Mark and shook my head. Mark agreed. “No way. You’re running a marathon tomorrow,” he said. “We’ll take the camper. You guys sleep in the house.” “Nonsense,” she said. “You’re our guests, and we want you to have a real bed before you put in tomorrow.” Mel and Curt had met Mark, but they’d never met me. They didn’t know anything about me. To Mel and Curt, I was a total stranger, but it

didn’t matter. It made them happy to lend their home to me. They were good people, and I was glad to meet them at this juncture of our grand adventure. Curt’s truck pulled into the driveway as Mel’s tour ended, and we went downstairs. He walked through the back door with a case of beer and a bag of charcoal and sat them on the counter. He greeted Mark and welcomed me into his home. For several minutes, Curt and Mark talked about Mark’s trip to the Boundary Waters the year before. Curt listened with enthusiasm as Mark gave an animated description of his first experience in the Boundary Waters. Curt asked me if I’d ever been. “No, I’ve only seen his pictures,” I replied. “Oh, man. After this week it’s gonna be in your blood. You’ll fall in love with it out there.” Curt put his hand on my shoulder. “You’ll see what I’m talking about.” While Mel grilled the hamburgers, Curt took us out to the garage and broke out a few Leno Boundary Waters photo albums. Many pictures were of the big fish the family had caught there. I saw a young man holding enormous walleye and pike, a man holding small children, and an older man, who was now holding the albums, in a few pictures toward the end. It became apparent to me that Curt had been going to the Boundary Waters his whole life. Before putting up the albums, he took a photo out of one and put it in his shirt pocket. Mel called us in for burgers and invited us to dress up our sandwiches the way we liked. When we sat down to dig in, Curt pulled the photo out of his pocket and slid it over to Mel. She looked at it for a moment and smiled, saying nothing. She shook her head in disbelief and said, “Jeff was so little here. That’s when he used to just ride in our canoe.” I was a little jealous of the family Jeff grew up in and said that I wish I would have grown up in a more adventurous family. Mel looked at Curt and smiled proudly. “That’s the way we’ve always tried to be as a family,” she said. “If someone invites you on an adventure, you go.” Curt nodded, adding, “Never say no to an adventure. That’s a rule we live by.” * * *

The sun was barely up when we snuck out the back door at 5:30. It took us about an hour to get to the little shop in Ely where, on its website, Mark had bought a Boundary Waters permit and rented a canoe. While he handled the paperwork, I took off my sneakers and put on my portage shoes. A good pair of portaging shoes looks like a pair of sandals but is built to provide the same mobility and ankle support as a pair of hiking boots. They’re made for moving through water and across land. A few weeks ago, I didn’t know what portage shoes were; this morning, I was putting them on my feet. Mark shouted out the door and told me to pull the truck around the building so we could strap the canoe on it. The employees looked at us like a couple of idiots when we asked for help putting the canoe on the truck. We could handle the canoe in the water, we said, but we had no idea how to secure one to a vehicle. A short drive up the road put us at the Fall Lake public access area, which was nothing more than a parking lot with a huge boat ramp. Before we unloaded everything, we both took a minute to call home. I called Anjee and said that I loved her and that I was sorry for being so cold in the car the other day. I told her all about the Leno family and how I was going to say yes to more adventures. I told her I was going to try to be different when I came back. I had awoken her. I wasn’t sure if she could process my garrulous enthusiasm so early, but she demanded that I read my damn cards and get off the phone to go find this new me. “You’re a little crazy, but I love you,” she said before hanging up. After our calls, Mark and I removed the canoe and bags from the pickup. He suggested we take a good look at the map before we started paddling. I agreed and unrolled the waterproof map case I’d put mine in. Mark leaned over my shoulder and pointed to the blue and green areas of wilderness on the map into which we were about to embark. “So I know this is water and this is land, and I know that the red dots are campsites,” he said. I seized the opportunity to teach my travel companion a little about map reading. First, I removed the map from the case and folded it to show only the area where we had plotted a course. “This will help keep it simple,” I said. “Now let’s get our bearings using terrain association. See these lines on the map?” “Yeah.”

“These are called contour lines, and depending on the scale of the map, they represent roughly 10 meters between each line. That means when they’re close together, it represents steep elevation or a cliff.” Mark pointed to an area on the map called Lower Basswood Falls. Curt had suggested we camp there if we got the chance. He said there was nothing quite like falling asleep to the sound of a waterfall. “Like these cliffs?” Mark asked. “Exactly. These are the cliffs next to the waterfall.” I pointed to the public access area on the map. “We’re here, on Fall Lake, this huge body of water here. See that sandy beach on the tip of that strip of land out there?” I pointed across the water in front of us to the long body of sand, rocks, and evergreen trees about a quarter of a mile away. Mark nodded. “That’s Mile Island. Care to guess how long it is? We should paddle to the tip of that island and paddle across to the next two little islands, here and here, to get to the first portage. That’ll get us over to Newton Lake.” “That’s a plan,” Mark said. “If we make it about 10 miles today, we can camp somewhere up here by New York Island.” We picked up the canoe and carried it to the bottom of the ramp. We sat it in the cool, clear water. Our sloshing caused schools of minnows all around us to break up, dart in all directions, and reassemble into little black frantic schools. After loading our bags into the canoe, we sloppily took our seats. It took a minute for us to find our balance and for me to stop wobbling in the back of the boat. The feeling of a fully loaded canoe was new. “Hopefully we’ll get better at getting in this damn thing.” I said. “We need to get into a rhythm or we’ll be all over the place on big water like this. Nice and slow.” We pushed into the gravel with our paddles and launched from the base of the ramp, drifting out to the deeper blue water of Fall Lake. Our canoe turned in a circle at first, but we managed to get it straight. About halfway to the island, the wind picked up dramatically. Mark and I tried to steer the canoe west toward the tip of Mile Island, but the wind gusted and turned us backward. We tried again and realized we weren’t making any headway. Our only choice was to drift onto a beach about 1,000 feet short of the tip we were trying to slingshot around. “Where the hell did that come from? If we could’ve made it around the tip, the wind would’ve pushed us over to the next island.” Mark looked

frustrated. “It wasn’t windy at all five minutes ago,” I added. Mark looked down the shore and asked if we should try and walk the canoe around the island. I shook my head and pointed at the cracked brown rocks sticking out of the water where the shore started to curve. “The wind came from nowhere. Maybe it will die down in a few minutes,” I said. Mark turned around and held his arms open to the thick wall of pine trees behind him. “Hell, we’re in the woods. Let’s make a fire and smoke a cigar,” he said. “There should be a campsite around here.” I looked for it while Mark pulled the canoe out of the water and retrieved a couple of smokes from his ruck. I made it a few hundred feet and turned around. “What exactly am I looking for? What’s a campsite in the Boundary Waters look like?” I shouted. “You’ll know it when you see it,” he shouted back. I walked until I saw an opening carved into the wall of the trees and a small area on the ground that was cleared to accommodate a tent or two. The sparse grass was flattened by previous guests. In the middle of the site, there was a fire pit encircled by bricks. Beside it was a small stack of firewood. “The Forest Service clears these out so people don’t wreck the B-dub,” Mark said as he came up from behind. “And they leave firewood?” “No, man, that’s a rule of the Boundary Waters. You always leave enough wood for the next group to start a fire.” We sparked up our smokes and started a small fire. I gathered some wood to replace the few pieces we used and plopped down on the sand to enjoy the stogie clenched in my teeth. I stared at the boat ramp and hoped we didn’t have to camp a thousand feet from where we had started. As we waited for the wind to die down, Mark and I watched a group try to launch its canoes from the ramp. The group would make it a few hundred feet, lose control in the wind, and be forced to turn back. After a few failed attempts, the group leader shook his head and motioned for everyone to pick up the canoes. It made me feel a little better about making it this far. At about the same time our cigars were nearing their end, a chipper

father and a little boy dragged a red canoe to the base of the boat ramp. “Want to bet on whether they make it over here?” I stood up and threw the brown nub of my cigar into the fire. “I kinda hope they don’t, or this campsite is going to get crowded,” Mark joked. They launched. Dad sat in the back and paddled with all his might, struggling to keep the canoe on a straight path. The wind blew hard, and the canoe started wobbling. “They’re not going to make it,” Mark said. He stood up. “And they’re way too far out to turn back.” A blast of wind swept across the water and an impressive white-capped wave dumped the father and son into Fall Lake. Mark and I were about to jump in our canoe to help, but we noticed the lake current was quickly pushing the father, son, canoe, and gear back to the boat ramp. After a few minutes in the water, the intrepid father and son were back on shore waiting for their bags to wash up. Mark and I slumped back down to the sand. I said we should see if there was a place to the east, where the island was narrower. We might be able to carry the canoe over if we could find a spot where the trees weren’t too thick. On the other side of the island, maybe the wind would be less intense. We put out the fire and crept the boat along the shore until we saw the other side of the island through a thin band of trees. The loaded canoe was heavy, but we slid it most of the way in the sand. On the other side, the wind was less threatening, but it still required a great deal of energy to get anywhere on the water. We paddled vigorously and managed to jump to the next island and again to the following one, but the wind picked up, and we were forced to stop on a tiny island a few hundred feet from our first portage. “Dude, it’s right there. I could hit it with a rock.” Mark pointed to the worn path in front of us. I was frustrated but not quite ready to tackle the next 300 feet of water. The wind was still blowing too hard. To the left of the path was a waterfall marked Newton Falls on the map. To the right was a nest of jagged rocks. The wind made any miscalculation dangerous. Looking at my watch, I saw that we’d been in the Boundary Waters for about four hours. We hadn’t even traveled a mile. “We’re either going to have to camp here or we’re going to run out of

cigars waiting for the wind to die down,” I said. “I’m in if you think we can make it.” A wave smashed hard against the rocks to the right of the portage. “So you think we can make it?” I asked. Mark looked across the water, and with a twinge of doubt, he replied, “Well, we can try.” It was the little bit of motivation we both needed to get moving. We pulled the canoe around the tiny island and pointed it toward the left of the portage to compensate for the wind. We took our seats. “Give it everything,” Mark yelled, and we paddled hard. We shot quickly across the water. It looked as if we were going to make it, but the wind blew hard from the west when we got out to the middle. We wobbled. A wave hit us hard, and I felt my balance shift in the canoe. I saw Mark lift his paddle above his head, and I did the same. Another wave hit our canoe, and I felt us tip. “Oh shit!” I screamed. The lip of our canoe dipped below the water on the right side. Mark and I both leaned to the left at the same time and made the canoe slam back down on the water. It was the perfect mix of luck and dumb reaction, and it saved us from dumping all our gear. “Paddle! Paddle!” Mark shouted from the front. The canoe glided into the sand at the mouth of the portage, and I jumped out. I was ecstatic to be on dry land and not floating in Fall Lake. My hands and knees were shaky from a good jolt of adrenaline. “Holy shit, dude.” Mark said. He pointed at my trembling hands. “Let’s portage before that wears off.” Mark strapped the two rucksacks to his body, one on his chest and one on his back. He grabbed the paddles, net, and fishing poles and took off. “See you on the other side,” he said. I put the canoe bag on my back and quivered a little under the canoe’s 50 pounds, but I managed to get it on my head. As long as I kept the weight centered, it wasn’t that bad. I looked silly at first, stumbling up the hill with a 16-foot canoe on my head, but eventually I found my rhythm. One foot in front of the other. If I tilted the canoe slightly back, I could see the path in front of me. To my left, Newton Falls crashed down over the rocks and eventually turned into a steady, calm flow of water. It took about 15 minutes to portage to the other side. Toward the end,

my hands started going numb under the weight on my head and shoulders. Just as they were starting to turn a little purple, trees on either side of the path receded, and the trail sloped downward to a sandy shoreline. I walked until my feet touched the water of Newton Lake and lurched the canoe off my shoulders, splashing it in the water. I dropped the canoe bag into the center of the boat and removed my sunglasses to wipe the stinging sweat from my eyes. “Not too bad,” I told Mark, who was breathing heavy like me. “Don’t get cocky. The portages are going to get harder the farther we get in,” he said, taking his seat in the front of the canoe. I used my paddle to shove off the shore. Our assumptions were correct about the wind on this side of the portage. The thick forest that lined Newton Lake blocked most of it, allowing us to move with ease. Mark paddled in sequence with me and asked, “Ever do anything like that in the Army?” “Nope, nothing quite like that.” I said, laughing at our stupid luck. “Shit that was close.” “We could’ve easily ended up like that guy and his son.” He turned his head to look at me over his shoulder and with a wide grin said, “Welcome to the Boundary Waters, dude. She giveth, and she taketh away.” * * *

We paddled about four miles across a narrow portion of Newton Lake and decided to stop for the night before portaging over to the next lake. We were half as far as we wanted to be, but we were tired from fighting the wind and were running out of daylight. The lake shifted from a winding, constricted body of water to a huge bowl filled with islands of stone. A rock cliff jutted out on our left. It was a campsite on the map called Caribou Point. “There’s no fire there,” Mark said, pointing out that the site was unoccupied. We agreed to make camp before we got caught out on the big water in the strong wind. My shoulders were tired, and I was glad to stop paddling for the day. I also looked forward to lighting a fire and enjoying the particularly awesome view Caribou Point appeared to offer. “How do you feel about chili mac tonight?” Mark asked as our canoe scraped a natural stone ramp that served as a dock for the site. I suggested

that we pair the dehydrated meal with a medium 5 Vegas cigar. We had to climb a set of waist-high stone steps, so I waited for Mark to ascend and then handed up our bags. I pulled the canoe a little further onto the rocks -- just to be sure -- and climbed up to find a flat, grasscovered piece of stone that we’d be living on for the night. In the middle, there was a fire pit with some logs stacked by it, a flattened area of grass for the tents, and a thick forest where we could gather more wood. I stood there for a moment with Mark, truly looking out at the Boundary Waters for the first time. We were out of the water, mostly dry, and still breathing. Waves on the lake blew sideways, and the wind whipped through the tall grass around us. When the words finally reached me, “What else could you ever want?” was all I could say. We could stare in awe only for so long because we still had work to do. I started a fire and gathered wood while Mark set up his tent. When his shelter was complete, I set up my tent, and he cooked. We finished the work and sat down to eat as a round yellow moon rose over the lake. We each put on a pair of dry, comfy socks and washed the dishes by headlamp. As we broke out the cigars, a loud splash directly below Caribou Point almost made us jump out of our skin. “What the hell was that?” Mark asked. I grabbed a machete, and Mark snatched up the handsaw we used to cut the firewood. We rose from our log seats and crept to the edge of the cliff with our weapons. We clicked on our headlamps and saw three people struggling with a huge blue canoe on the rocks below. One of them slipped and fell into the lake. As his head resurfaced above the water, he let out the longest string of curse words I had ever heard. “We could smell your fire, and we just headed toward it,” one of them shouted. I sheathed my machete and shouted back, “Yeah, it’s warm up here. Get around these rocks and pull your canoe up over there. I’ll guide you with my light.” Mark and I helped the men get their canoe out of the water. They climbed up to the campsite and plopped down by the fire, shivering on the stone ground. Dennis introduced everybody in his company. He wore a camouflage Army Gore-Tex jacket, like one that I had buried at the bottom of my ruck. He had a thick red moustache and thinning red hair. He told us he worked at a casino with Craig, the bear of a man sitting next to him.

Craig reminded me of John Goodman when he had the perm on “Roseanne.” He was big and blue-collar as hell. He sat next to Dennis in a wet rain jacket, digging frantically through his pockets for something. Lenny, the third guy, was clad in wet flannel and denim. He was Craig’s friend and worked in a mine near the casino. They all spoke with a heavy northern accent, like nothing I’d ever heard in the Midwest. It was almost hard for me to understand. Craig dug a wet pack of cheap cigarettes out of his pocket and held it up. He ripped off the top and looked heartbroken as he pulled out soaking clumps of tobacco and filters and tossed them into the fire. In a desperate last attempt, he tore open the sides to give the pack one last look before discarding it. “Oh thank God!” he shouted. “Would you look at that? One left. Bent all to hell, but one left.” He carefully removed the disfigured cigarette from the pack and rolled it in his hands above the fire to dry it off. When he could wait no more, he stuck it between his lips. I passed him my windproof lighter. He lit the cigarette, slumped back, and puffed away like it was the last one he’d ever have. “So what happened?” I asked. “Damn wind tipped us. Lost everything except a couple paddles.” Craig spoke in concise sentences. “Floated in the water for almost an hour. Tell ya what, I don’t think I’d have made it if it weren’t for my family. They were all I could think about when we were floating.” “I wasn’t sure if you were going to make it either. Your lips were turning blue there at the end,” Lenny said. “We floated for an hour before we reached land, and that water got damn cold damn quick.” Craig stopped puffing on his cigarette to ask if we started out at Fall Lake. “Yeah. The wind was hell on us too. It took us all day to get this far,” Mark said. “That’s where we put in too. I’m surprised you guys made it here,” Craig said. “That’s about the worst weather I’ve ever seen out here in the summer.” “You’ve been coming out here for a long time?” I asked. All three of our unexpected guests said they had been visiting the Boundary Waters since they were kids.

“Any advice for a couple of new guys?” I asked. Craig smoked his cigarette down to the filter and flicked it into the fire. “Either one of you guys married?” he asked. Mark and I explained that we both had serious girlfriends that we intended to marry. “Tell your girls you love them all the time. Tell them as many times as you can in your life,” Craig said. He leaned toward the fire and steam rose from his soaked clothes. “An hour ago, I thought I was gonna die, and all I wanted to do was tell my wife that I love her.” * * *

I awoke the next morning to Mark tapping on the zipper of my tent. I sat up, moving my sore muscles slowly. I could tell by the dull light poking through the nylon that the sun hadn’t been up long. “Dude, you gotta check this out,” Mark said. I stuffed the card from Anjee that I opened last night back into my ruck and grabbed my toothpaste and toothbrush. I emerged from the tent and was greeted by dew-soaked grass and a still lake. There was no wind at all, and the water beyond Caribou Point looked like a mirror. “We’ll make up some ground today,” Mark said. He insisted we break camp to get on the lake as soon as possible. “Lenny, Dennis, and Craig gone already?” I asked. “Yeah, it looks like they took off as soon as the sun came up. I’ll bet they were pretty anxious to get back home,” Mark said. “Brush your teeth. I’ll get some dehydrated biscuits and gravy going.” After breakfast, we packed our belongings back into the three bags and loaded them in the canoe. We shoved off the rocky slope below Caribou Point and took off across the water. Paddling on the placid lake was a different experience. We traveled swiftly and with little effort. We had to conquer a short paddle and a rough portage to get over to Basswood Lake. On the other side of the portage, I saw the biggest lake we’d encountered yet. Without the wind, it was more incredible than intimidating. I thought about what Craig had said the night before. I hung onto the advice he’d given us. The military had made me a hard man, but I needed to come back from this trip and be better about caring for people, and at letting them care for me. The rescue of Lenny, Dennis, and Craig showed

that you never know how the day is going to end. We rowed about six miles until we reached the western edge of Basswood Lake. The portage over to Tin Can Man Lake was short and easy. From there we had a short row to the portage that would put us on Horse Lake, where we planned to camp for the night. My arms were tired, and my back ached from sitting in the canoe for the first half of the day. As we guided our canoe onto the northern shore of Tin Can Man, I said I was looking forward to another dehydrated meal and a well-earned cigar. We got out of the canoe and prepared our belongings for transfer. Mark took off ahead as I strapped the canoe bag on my back and maneuvered the canoe onto my head. When it was finally seated, I walked up the hill and entered the dense forest. The portage over to Horse Lake was barely wide enough for the canoe. I kept bumping the front of it into trees. Each time I did, it would stop me in my tracks and jar my neck and shoulders. I fought the trees and my balance as the path gradually became a combination of shoe-sucking sludge and mud. The forest thinned out, and the path became an ankle-deep black water swamp. The sulfurous smell of rotting plant matter filled my nose. My face and arms became a feeding ground for the hordes of mosquitos that guarded the swamp. Without a free hand to swat them, I was powerless against their onslaught. When the black water became shallower, I noticed several black leeches hanging from my ankles and feet. I trudged through the muck and bugs to find Mark on the other side pulling leeches off his legs. I dropped the canoe in the water and scratched my skin furiously before joining him in leech removal. When we were both parasite-free, we took our seats and paddled the final two miles to the campsite at the mouth of Horse River. The site was a beautiful place to discover at the end of a long day. There was plenty of space, fallen trees for firewood, and a few primitively constructed log benches around the fire pit to sit on. On the northern edge of the campsite was a natural stone shelf that sloped down into the water and leveled off before dropping off into a bluegreen abyss. When we were done making camp, we walked out onto it and dove into the deep lake. The water felt good after a long day of hard work. It also felt good to get the crud from the last portage off us. After a good swim, we made dinner

and put on dry socks. With full bellies and dry feet, we sat on the northern slope and smoked cigars while the sun set. The still water made it look like two sunsets were crashing into each other. When they finally did, the orange sky turned dark purple. The two colliding suns became one and shrank until it burned out and covered the Boundary Waters in darkness. It was a reinvigorating display, the kind that makes you feel like you’re better for seeing it. No picture could do it justice. The best thing about it, though, was that it was earned. I couldn’t help but think that this must have been what Curt meant when he said I’d fall in love out here. * * *

The next morning was warm and sunny and made us feel lazy. We decided to stay on the mouth of the Horse River another night and leave for Lower Basswood Falls the next day. I spent most of the day catching crawdads on a sandbar that stuck out from the south end of the campsite. I remembered reading on the internet that travelers caught and ate them out here. I gave it a try but didn’t have much luck. The few that I found were too small to eat. We ate another dehydrated dinner and figured out our next move. We planned on getting up early and paddling up the Horse River to the campsite at Lower Basswood Falls that Curt recommended. The trip looked easy on the map, just four miles and a couple of short portages, but when we took off the next morning, we learned that even the easy days are hard in the Boundary Waters. There were some nice spots on the Horse River where we could take our paddles out of the water and ride the current, but most of it was not pleasant. Every few hundred feet we would encounter jagged rocks and rapids, forcing us to get out in the fast moving water and dislodge our heavy canoe. In addition to the hazards in the water, we had to trudge through muddy portages where mosquitos the size of pterodactyls descended upon us. Finally, the Horse River widened into a pine treelined bowl where the Horse and Basswood rivers met and emptied over the stone cliffs of Lower Basswood Falls. We got to the waterfall right as the sky turned overcast. We took a brief survey of our campsite and set up the tents quickly to avoid getting caught in the rain. We got a little wet but managed to wait out most of the passing

storm in the tents. When the sun came back out, we emerged and explored a little more. There was a cliff that stuck out over the waterfall past the fire pit. The weathered stone near the edge had a slope that curved at the perfect angle, making a nice backwoods recliner. Mark and I sat down and leaned back, soaking in the warm sun. The smell of wet pine and soil filled my senses, reminding me of the German forests I had spent most of my time in the Army training in. I’d had some times like this in the Army -- worn out, wet, and missing home but also proud. I was proud of what we’d accomplished because we were here. A few days ago, we were looking at a little red dot on a map, and now we were drying off at Lower Basswood Falls. We were sitting on million dollar real estate. It was land that would be snatched up by rich souls if it were not protected, and we were just two kids from desolate corners of the Midwest enjoying it like a couple of hobos. After a good rest, my search for firewood revealed that fuel would be scarce at this campsite. The little I could gather from fallen branches and twigs was soaked and made it difficult to get a fire going. We discussed breaking a rule of the Boundary Waters and cutting down some trees to burn, but we decided to stick to the code and move on tomorrow instead of staying for two nights like we originally planned. Curt was right about sleeping next to the waterfall; there was nothing quite like it. I fell asleep to the sound of water crashing down onto rocks and washing away into Canada. The next morning, we packed up and left our little piece of million dollar real estate. * * * When we shoved off from the campsite at Lower Basswood Falls, Mark asked to take the map. He wanted to take a stab at navigating our trip up the Basswood River. Our destination was an island about eight miles away that we had picked for our final two nights in the Boundary Waters. The paddle was upriver, but the current was slow enough for us to build momentum and use it to glide. It made the ride smooth and steady and helped us conserve energy. Between bursts of speed, Mark unrolled the map and studied it carefully. Wheelbarrow Falls was the first obstacle we had to portage around.

Before we loaded up for the short trek, Mark brought the map over and asked if I’d noticed the mile-long portage we had coming up. “No. A mile?” I said. “Yeah, dude. A mile.” A mile was pretty damn intimidating considering the longest portage we’d made up to that point had been less than half a mile. I took a look at the map and saw that there was no way around it. “Better summon that inner soldier, Dave. And eat plenty of trail mix on the next paddle. We’re gonna need the energy.” We knocked out the short portage in front of us. The trail took us up and over a steep hill covered with overgrown roots and loose rocks. Carrying an extra hundred pounds made it treacherous for the ankles, but traversing the bush with a canoe on my head was something I’d become good at. On the other side, we chowed down on trail mix before heading upriver. Another short portage separated us from the Mother of All Portages. As I walked the narrow trail of mud, I was in Survival Mode again, preparing myself for the upcoming challenge. It was going to be hard, but that was the reality of the Boundary Waters. Lady Boundary Waters will make her visitors suffer. She can take everything away in seconds, but I’d learned that testing my mettle for her often led to something beautiful. Out of the portage and back on the river, we paddled about a mile until we saw the entrance to our hardest trial yet. We brought the canoe on land and loaded up for the haul. “One foot in front of the other,” I told myself and took off behind Mark. The portage began with a wide, easy trail but quickly became rugged. It descended down a tiny hill and into a steamy patch of thick Minnesota overgrowth that covered the path. The thick bush made it hard to follow the trail. The first major obstruction was a knee-deep, black water swamp that had become flooded with yesterday’s rain. It was teeming with mosquito larvae just below the murky surface of the stagnant water. Overhead, the adult mosquitos dive-bombed us and latched onto our necks and forearms to get fresh blood. We waded through the swamp and approached a steep incline. The path was muddy and made it hard to climb. To keep the weight of the canoe centered on my head, I had to slow down and fall behind Mark. When I reached the top, I was all by myself. My thighs were on fire, and I had to give myself a pep talk to keep

moving. I kept telling myself that I could do this; I’d accomplished harder tasks in the Army. It was just enough to keep me putting one foot in front of the other. The path widened again and crossed a few crystal-clear streams. Then, unexpectedly, it split off into two paths. I shouted to Mark to see which one he had taken, but he was too far ahead. I didn’t get an answer, so I continued on the trail I thought to be correct. It wasn’t. I ended up walking a half-circle back to the top of the hill I climbed after the swamp. I saw that I had just backtracked about 500 feet. My hands were turning purple, my legs burned, and I was covered in mosquito bites. I wanted to throw the canoe on the ground and sit down. There was still at least half a mile to go, and all I wanted to do was give up. I leaned the tip of the canoe against a tree and took deep breaths to get oxygen to my tired muscles. I was about to lurch the canoe off my shoulders when I decided to do what Mark had told me and summoned my inner soldier. I tapped into the part of me that keeps going in a situation like this. I shifted the weight of the canoe bag to my shoulders and used all of my strength to seat the canoe back on my head. As I forged on and got to the correct path, I realized for the first time on this trip that there were still parts of the warrior in me that I could use in the world I was now a part of. I had something that set me apart from most people. In a tough situation, I’ll never give up. The final stretch was a strenuous climb up a craggy hill and a long, steady decline to the mouth of the Basswood River. I was beyond exhausted when I reached the other side. I couldn’t feel my hands or shoulders, and I could barely see through the sweat stinging my eyes. But Lady Boundary Waters greeted me with a baby blue sky and a lake of glass. She held up her end of the bargain. Mark had already dumped his gear on the sand and was leaning against a large rock. When I came out of the woods, he looked up and wiped the sweat off his forehead. Still breathing heavy, he said, “That’s the stuff that cuts men from stone.” * * *

I dubbed the island where we spent our last two nights “Whale Island.”

It didn’t have a name on the map, but the island resembled a fat-bodied whale with its tail flipped up. The campsite on Whale Island was spacious. It sat on top of a hill overlooking stone shelves and a bay where a warm current circulated, making a nice swimming hole. The thick forest surrounding the campsite provided plenty of firewood to cook with after we went swimming. One of the best perks of the island, though, was that it was far from the mainland, which made the mosquito population scarce. After dinner, Mark and I sat on the stone shelves by the water and recounted our journey on the map. We were both leery about returning to the real world. The Boundary Waters was in our blood. Even though we’d been here for only five days, we had in some way become a part of it. It had deconstructed us and put us back together with the knowledge that trials and tribulations often pay off in the end. It was a lesson we intended to take back with us. Another day and night and a few miles separated us from Basswood Lake, and then everything past that would be familiar: Newton Lake, across the first portage we crossed, across Fall Lake where we almost dumped our canoe, and back to the concrete ramp at the public access area. The talk of our amazing trip ended when we heard something stomping through the woods at the top of the campsite. We stood up to examine the sound and saw a young boy and a tall, middle-aged man emerge from the forest. They looked lost and distraught. They wore T-shirts identifying them as members of a Boy Scout troop and asked to see our map. The man explained that they got lost on a trail and needed to get back to their campsite on the other side of the island. The sun was falling in the western sky, so Mark and I offered to give them a ride in our canoe before it became dark. They graciously accepted and hopped in the boat. As we paddled around the island, I thought about all the people we’d met out here that had needed rescued. The scouts’ rescue made me realize how far I’d come since the first day. I was no longer afraid of the uncertainty, and in a few bad situations, I’d even become someone’s hero. In a way, Lenny, Dennis, Craig, and the scouts had actually come to my aid. We reached the scout campground to drop our guests off and were greeted by cheering companions who were glad to have their friends back. We returned to our campsite just as the sun was setting and watched another sequence of colliding suns. We sparked a cigar in the dark, and

I thought about how being a soldier had brought me to this exact point in my life. My past led me to the screwup before the trip and helped me conquer the mile-long portage. Sitting here, I reflected on the warrior ethos etched into my soul and how I was going to use it going forward. * * *

Our final day in the Boundary Waters was bittersweet. We were anxious to get back to our girlfriends and ready to cut the scruff off our faces. Our bodies were sore and beat up from hard-core trekking. We were both ready to re-emerge from the wild, but it didn’t make it easy to leave. I spent the last day by the water, being lazy and smoking cigars on the rock ledge until the sun started to go down. Before our last dinner, I learned one more valuable lesson: The best time to catch crawdads was at night. Before Mark started cooking, we both went to the water to wash our hands. I used my headlamp to light the way and found a nice surprise in the shallow water near Whale Island. The bright LED light revealed hundreds of crawdads hunting in the lake at night. I waded out and plucked dozens from the water. We returned to the campfire with our bounty and boiled the critters until their fat bodies turned bright red. When they were done, they looked like miniature lobsters. We tore off the tails and put them in the gumbo mix Mark had saved for the final night. It was a meal fit for a couple of Boundary Waters hobo kings, but all we talked about over dinner was getting a greasy cheeseburger the next day. * * *

I woke up before Mark the next morning and packed my sleeping bag in the top of my ruck. I put the last of Anjee’s cards back in the bag. Before pulling the nylon drawstring closed, I decided to write her a letter. I dug out a notebook and pen from the bottom of my bag and scrawled a note in the dim sunlight piercing through the tent. The letter thanked her for taking on baggage that most women didn’t have to deal with. My choice to be a soldier took me to war years ago and got me through it by teaching me how to be tough, but perhaps I’d shut down my heart a little too long. When I came back, I found it hard to be anything but a soldier.

There is no switch I could have flipped that would have turned me back into a civilian. But, I wrote, I was going to try my best to use the same toughness I’d learned as a soldier to be a better man. If I said yes to more adventures in life, big or small, and committed myself to something in the same way I committed to being a soldier, I might be a better person in the new life I was trying to build with her. I signed it “Love Always,” stuffed it into my ruck, and sealed the bag for the final time. Mark woke up when I started breaking down my tent. Without saying a word, he packed his gear and prepared for departure. We had a nine-mile paddle back to Fall Lake and a nine-hour drive back to Iowa. It was necessary to get an early start. We skipped a hot breakfast and instead ate a hearty portion of trail mix before leaving the island. We moved quickly on the still water and paddled until we reached a familiar portion of Basswood Lake. Our route took us past Caribou Point and Newton Lake and back to our first portage. After the mile-long portage and all the other nasty ones we had tramped through, this one was a welcome sight. The fact that the sunny morning sky was turning dark also made us glad to see the end of our long adventure. As we strapped on our gear and took off into the forest, it started to sprinkle. Raindrops tapped softly overhead on the thick Minnesota canopy. I trudged forward quickly to beat the oncoming rain. As I got closer to the other side and heard the sound of Fall Lake rushing down Newton Falls, I encountered a pair of travelers entering the Boundary Waters. They were a couple of young guys like Mark and me, but they were clean-shaven and not covered in filth. I hadn’t showered in a week, and I could smell their clean clothes as they approached. Between them, they carried their empty canoe, making it so they’d have to walk the portage once and then go back for all their gear. It seemed like an amateur mistake. We nodded a hello. As Mark and I passed, I heard one of the guys say to the other, “Did you see those guys, man? We should carry the canoe like that. They know what they’re doing, dude.” It made me smile until we arrived at the public access ramp and pulled the canoe out of the water for good. I sat with the boat while Mark fetched the truck and backed it down the ramp. We strapped the canoe to the truck like the employees in Ely had showed us and left the parking lot just as the rain started to pour.

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In many ways, I am still a hard man. Recovery is a process that takes time. I am, however, making a conscious effort to love more deeply and to let people care for me. I married Anjee in February 2012, and she is still putting up with me. I’ve also made an effort to say yes to more adventures, and the fact that you’re reading this story is a testament to that. One of the first adventures that came along after the Boundary Waters was an invitation to join a writing group at the college where I was studying. Before I went to the Boundary Waters, I would have had a thousand excuses not to join. I might have told myself that I’m a combat veteran and I’m not like them, or I might have decided that I just didn’t want to take part in the group. But the words of Mel and Curt kept repeating in my mind. Instead of no, I said yes to the adventure and met a handful of vastly different young people who shared a similar passion for writing. Their support throughout the completion of this story helped me understand that I could move past the tragic slump in my life by submitting to the writing, and that’s what I’m still doing. In life, there are few happy endings. There certainly isn’t one here. There is only the reassurance that every adventure you say yes to is a new opportunity to reinvent yourself into the person you wish to be.

Gently Used by The Invictus Writers is licensed under a Creative Commons-AtrributionNonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco,California, 94105, USA. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.thedudeman.net. Photo by Robert Engberg, available through the Creative Commons License. See the original picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rengber/4620739888