Lake Superior looms cold and grey, and even the foam of the waves seems eager to jump to warm land as it laps against the port.
The harbour has been socked in with rain and snow for the past several days, which means the longshoremen can’t load the wheat that’s supposed to fill this enormous freighter – the m.v. Irma, 200 meters long, fitted with three cranes and Polish as a block of golka.
I arrived in Duluth last week, having taken the Greyhound from Brandon to make sure I arrived for the ship’s scheduled departure. My bike was boxed beneath the bus and I felt like a huge fraud every time I looked out the window and saw the colours of autumn whizzing by. Minnesota is stunning at this time of year and I really wanted to cycle the highways, but I wasn’t sure I could bike 800 or so miles in only a week. There was no way I was missing my boat. Given the weather, it turns out I would have had almost 10 days to pedal, though I had no way of knowing that beforehand. Oh well.
I’ve resolved it in my brain by promising myself that I’ll bike through the northern states when I eventually make my way home. That way I’m not cheating, just . . . um, delaying. Semantics.
I’ll post a picture of the Irma when I get a chance, but suffice to say it’s already been an interesting experience and we haven’t even left port yet. The crew is entirely Polish and a bit shy, although some speak a bit of broken English. The captain, who reminds me of a wonderful mixture of Michael Gross and Fred Penner, is a hilarious guy who uses our encounters to tease me and make sure I’m perfectly comfortable on the ship.
So far so good. My cabin is bigger, much bigger, than the dorm room I had in university, plus it comes with an attached bathroom. I kind of feel like a fat mess in the shower, however, because I can’t turn around and it takes a Houdini-like effort to raise my arms and wash all of my 2,000 parts. These quarters are so cramped they’re almost squeezed into eighths. But it doesn’t matter. Most of my baths have been in lakes this summer, so the prospect of washing in clean, hot water is one I’m not about to pass up.
The food has been fantastic so far, but the trouble with eating Polish food, to kinda-quote George Miller, is that five or six days later you’re hungry again. We’re talking meat, eggs, meat and eggs, eggs and meat and sometimes bread. I’m trying my best to eat mortal portions, but I suspect I’ll lumber off the boat more than a few pounds heavier than I boarded.
Hopefully the added pounds stack up in the cranium department too. My first day on the ship taught me a stinging lesson about the differences between 220-volt and 120-volt electrical outlets. It turns out the plug adapter I borrowed from my sister did not include a power converter – hardly a problem until my electric razor exploded in my hand and spat fire and soot onto my bare chest. I don’t need to go to the Shriner’s Hospital or anything, but I do have an ugly burn and a maimed Remington.
The worst part of all was that I’d only managed to shave half my head before the fireworks started. I had to Bic the rest with a wholly inadequate blade, and though heaven knows my head isn’t that big, the job took me about two hours. It was either that or walk around like a Sex Pistol, but given the disposable razor carnage that litters my bathroom, I’m not sure I would have chosen the same course again. Live and learn.