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Best Laid Plans

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I've been told to pull my car over at the Fort Frances border crossing in Ontario. The border patrol agent peers into the car.

"You don't seem to have this trip thought through very well," he says, eying my dad's fifty-year-old metal tackle box and a couple of dusty rods. "It's not even walleye season yet."

I explain that it doesn't matter. He feels the breadloaf-size box poking from my duffel.

"Is this your dad's..." he starts and stops.

"Yeah, those are his ashes," I reply.

"I'll just leave that alone, then."

It is May 6, two decades to the day since my dad died. I am headed to a motel in Nestor Falls, Ontario, on Lake of the Woods, where his family fished for decades. I went a few times as a kid, trips that left an impression of a great north country full of boreal forests and lichen-covered rocky shores. I'm about 1,700 miles into my travels already, and the only solid plan is to check into Helliar's Resort tonight. Tomorrow morning, I will take a boat to the island where I stayed as a kid, do a little fishing, and let my dad's ashes float off.

The border patrol officer was right about my plan. The resort is a roadside bait shop with a few rooms upstairs. The island I want to get to is about twenty-five miles away by water and obscured by a windy blanket of forest fire smoke. The only boat available at the tail end of winter is an aluminum v-hull beater.

Glen, the owner, shows me the winding finger-lake route I'd have to take. "It not being summer and all, with no one else out on the lake, you're likely to find yourself on an island tonight trying to start a fire," he warns. Glen is right: I wasn't going to make it to the island. If the smoke didn't clear, I wouldn't be able to get on the water at all.

For now, I head up to my room, have a sandwich, sip bourbon, watch the gas truck guy fill the tanks outside, and sleep.

In the morning, the winds have shifted. They're stronger, but they're now pushing mountain-size clouds instead of smoke. Glen's brother, Wayne, sets me up with the boat. I muscle my way out of the cove. I get far enough into Sabaskong Bay to feel like I'm doing something appropriately significant. I pry open the plastic box, terrified I'm about to re-enact The Big Lebowski. But the winds cooperate, and the ashes disappear in the deep blue waters.

I get the boat back to the dock. Whatever plan I had or didn't have, and despite departures from my loose, twenty-year-old script, I'm happy to set the GPS to avoid highways and take the long way home.

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