When you’re on a canoe trip, and you’re not a strong paddler, and you can’t carry a canoe, and you can’t carry a pack, when you’re inconsistent carrying the paddles, when you’re sent into the woods to collect firewood and you come back and say you couldn’t find any, there’s not a lot available for you to help with.
Except for one task, the task assigned to people who are unable to perform any other task on a canoe trip. What task is that?
You go out on the lake and you fill the “horse bag” with water.
It’s the easiest job on a canoe trip.
That’s what everyone says.
My suspicion is that “everyone” has never tried it.
And it’s hard.
Even if I were capable of performing other canoe trip chores, they – “they” meaning the “trippers” in charge of the canoe trip – would probably have sent me anyway. That’s because they traditionally send the complainers out to fill the “horse bags”, and I was definitely one of those.
A complainer with just cause. Is there any other kind? There’s a lot to complain about on canoe trips. For one thing, no matter where you set up your sleeping bag, you usually end up sleeping on a stick. Well, not a stick, exactly, but on the protruding root of a nearby tree, so, though it’s not technically a stick, it is wood, and it hurts when you sleep on it. That’s why you complain about it.
The reason they send the complainers out to fill the “horse bags” is because the task requires them to venture out to the middle of the lake. A long way from the campsite. So you can’t hear them complaining anymore.
“Horse bags” were called “horse bags” because that’s what they looked like. Extended, (in this case) army green, cylindrical canvas containers with a strap across the top, which, if you stuffed hay it one and lifted the strap over the horse’s ears, no one would say, “What’s he eating out of that for?” They’d know, because it looks exactly like a horse bag.
Two types of water were required on canoe trips, one type for cooking, and one type for drinking. If you were going to boil it over the fire, the water didn’t need to be that pure. You could just go to the edge, where the campsite met the lake, kneel down and scoop it into a pot, after extracting the dirt, debris and minnows.
Drinking water had to meet a higher standard. When the water was collected, a purifying Halazone tablet was dropped into it, after which you waited half an hour for anything in the water that could kill you to die. Unlike cooking water, drinking water was collected not at the water’s edge, but from the deeper part of the lake, further out, where it was assumed it was cleaner, since no forest animal had peed in it. And whatever the fish did in water, they did lower down.
This brings us to the “horse bagging” procedure itself. How so? The drinking water was collected in the “horse bag.”
“Horse bagging” is a two-person assignment. One person paddles the canoe to the middle of the lake, holding it steady, while the other person (who we’ll call “me”) scoops the water into the “horse bag.” It sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Not so fast.
First off, you need to know this. The canoe is an extremely tippy means of conveyance. It flips over easily. You do not want that to happen. Because then you’re in the lake.
Balance is essential. The paddler is of great assistance here. If the water collector leans, say, over the right side of the canoe, the paddler needs to lean very pronouncedly to the left. Not too far to the left; otherwise, the canoe will tip over on that side. It probably goes without saying, but when it comes to ending up in the lake, it makes little difference which side of the boat you fell out of.
We are now down to the nitty gritty. The part of the “horse bagging” procedure we call
“Getting the water.”
We’ll assume that the lake is relatively calm. A choppy lake considerably increases the difficulty. A turbulent lake, and you may never come back. Not being alarmist. Just setting the parameters.
His canoe floating at the water-collecting spot, the “horse bagger” reaches over the side of the canoe, and dips the “horse bag” into the lake. “Dips”, not drops; the “horse bag”, at least until it gets waterlogged, floats.
The “horse bagger” then skims the “horse bag” along the surface of the lake, filling the “horse bag” with water as he goes.
Now here’s the thing, the essential dilemma of the “horse bagging” procedure.
You want to fill the “horse bag” with just the right amount of water. You don’t want to bring a half-filled “horse bag” back to camp, even though it would be easier to lift into the boat. You don’t bring enough water, you’ll just have to go out and do it again.
On the other hand, if you fill the “horse bag” to the top, one, you can’t lift the thing. It’s too heavy. And two, even if by some miracle you could lift it, as you hoisted up the filled-to-the-brim “horse bag”, if you looked down around you, you would see water from the lake pouring into the canoe. Trust me. You do not want that.
Getting the precisely right amount of water into the “horse bag” requires a trial-and-error process, which goes something like this:
Too full? You spill some out. Spill out too much? You put some more in. You fill. You spill. You re-fill. You spill some back. Your objective is for your “horse bag” to contain exactly the right amount of water. What is “exactly the right amount”? Enough to service the needs of the canoe trip, but not so much that they have to send out another canoe to rescue you.
Breaking the natural sounds of birds and water animals, comes an unexpected, rather impatient sounding voice, emanating from the campsite:
“Come oooooooon iiiiiiiiin!”
Sure, they’re thirsty.
But you want to do it right.