But not Jason and I. Not this time. After the fishing was over, we still had the long drive home to turn over memories, reflect on glory and failure, and plan the next trip. And unlike the plane traveler who must conceal or neutralize their hard-won stench, we embraced ours to the point of connoisseurship.
“Old hamburger patty under a summer sun.”
“With overnotes of dairy barnyard.”
“I’m getting a little dried squid on the exhale, if that makes sense.”
Make no doubt about it, we retained our kingly status during the whole ride home. We stretched our 30-hour trip to 40. We sang and laughed until our tears mixed with the fluids weeping from our black fly wounds. We stopped where we pleased, stood leprously in line for coffee after coffee. And then a day and some hours later, on the midnight outskirts of Toronto, we decided it was time for a proper sleep and found a spot at the back of a dimly lit gas station parking lot. Jason called dibs on the back of the CRV and burrowed himself into a cocoon of rod tubes, damp waders and fly boxes, rolling around like a dog in a gut pile until he found a configuration he liked. I popped out for a nightcap of Molson and potato chips before settling into my front seat sleeping quarters. And as I listened to the semis roar by in the distance, I realized that we were not only physically half-way home, we were also at a metaphysical half-way point. I could still smell brook trout slime on my arms and pick black spruce needles out of my hair and beard, could still hear the churn of the Atikonak over the boulders and see the Northern Lights curtained across the sky. But I could also check in on the latest Packers transactions on my phone and cram my belly full of all the finest fruits of civilization, by which I mean Canadian potato chips in all colors of the savory rainbow: Maple Bacon, Montreal Smoked Meat, Scalloped Potatoes, Cowboy BBQ Beans. And that’s when I realized what a proper fishing road trip really is: a gentle double taper of a journey with a transformation at either end. Heading out the tame man becomes wild; heading back the wild creature is tamed. But it’s such a slow process that, for a while at least, the feral creature and the civilized human sit across from each other, staring eye to eye, in the same body. And that’s how I drifted off to sleep that night, on the edge of Ontario’s Fertile Crescent, straddling two worlds and seeing both more clearly than before, sipping my Molson, the window rolled down just a crack, listening to all the life flowing by.