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  • Writer's pictureCliff Jacobson


This month, I'm breaking with "blog tradition" to share with you Chapter One of my teen book, Justin Cody's Race to Survival! 10,000 Lakes Publishing, 2019 ( The hard copy is shipping now. Details are on my web-site. A high-adventure novel plus a wilderness skills "how-to" book, Race to Survival teaches as it entertains. 43,000 words, full color.


Thirteen year old Justin Cody stared at the huge waterfall below him. He marveled at the power of the rushing water and how it swirled around the rocks below, sending showers of rainbow- colored droplets skyward. As his grandpa would say, “This one’s a ‘must’ portage, meaning they would have to carry their canoe and gear around it. An old trail that was choked with bushes skirted the falls, and Justin knew they’d have taken it if his grandpa was here. But his grandpa was gone—he had flown away an hour ago. In all of his young life he had never been so alone. As far as he could see, all he could see, were rocks and trees, trees and rocks. And of course, the river. There were no cars; no roads, no buildings, no human voices. Except for the swish of a light breeze and the determined hum of mosquitoes, his new world was silent.

Questions? Why did they have to find the flying saucer? Yeah, the flying saucer. If they hadn’t found it, gramps would be here now and they’d be canoeing down the river. What was so important about it anyway? Why did they send a float plane to fetch it? Why did gramps fly away with those men and leave him behind? Why did he yell “Run, Justin, run!” just before the plane took off?

Justin was worried about gramps, but he was also worried about himself. Had the men kidnapped grandpa then tried to kidnap him? If so, why didn’t they chase him when he ran? Or at least tried to call him back? But they didn’t. They just closed the door and flew away without saying a word. Maybe gramps was just warning him to get out of the way of the propeller, which was just starting to turn. Or maybe gramps was so fed up with him that he wanted to leave him there. Today was the fourth day of their canoe trip and Justin had resisted every minute of it. He balked when asked to do simple chores, like fetch water or firewood or wash the dishes after meals. He made it perfectly clear to gramps that he absolutely, positively DID NOT want to be here. Maybe he had stepped over the line and his grandpa had had enough of him.

He wanted his damn phone! He wanted to text Sara, his girl friend—well, almost girl friend. She was smart and would know what to do. He and Sara were in English class together and he couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was so beautiful. And nice. He and Sara were constantly texting back and forth at school, and sometimes, after school, they’d game together on his Xbox.

They were “best friends”, that’s all—at least that’s how Sara saw it. But Justin wanted more.

Sara never got into trouble. He always got into trouble! She was the clever one; he the klutz. He often got caught when he played on his phone; she NEVER got caught! Unlike him, Sara was a really good student. She got A’s and B’s in all her classes. She said school was easy if you just paid attention when the teacher taught important things. The rest of the time, you could do what you want.

Justin once asked her how she knew what was important and what wasn’t. “I don’t know; I just know," she replied. Anyway, school would be out in two weeks, then Sara would fly to Cape Cod for the summer to be with her aunt. Justin wouldn’t see her again till fall.

Justin knew that his parents and teachers were fed up with him playing on his cell phone in class. They had taken it away from him more times than he could count. But somehow, he had always found a way to sneak it back. But what really got him into big trouble was when a teacher took the phone away and locked it in his desk. Justin knew where the teacher kept the key so between classes he unlocked the desk and replaced the phone with an old flip-phone he had. It looked different than his smart phone but he was sure the teacher wouldn’t notice. Wrong! When Justin’s mom discovered what he had done, she brought the roof down on him! Said he was grounded for life! No phone, no Xbox, no nothing!

Justin was flunking and no one knew what to do. He wasn’t a bad kid, really. He was never mean or hurtful, and he never talked back to his teachers. But he wouldn’t pay attention in class, and he wouldn’t do his homework. The one thing he did well—really well—were puzzles. In fact, he was the only kid in math class who could do the Rubik’s cube. His math teacher thought he was pretty smart—that he could get A’s if he would just apply himself. He needed what the teacher called an “attitude adjustment”.

Justin had failed two classes—Social Studies and English— enough to land him in summer school. But neither his parents nor his teachers thought that six more weeks of sitting in a hot classroom would improve his subject matter knowledge or his attitude. So together they came up with a brainy idea, which Justin’s Grandpa Henry, who was a nationally known wilderness expert, thought was brilliant. Henry said he would take Justin on a wilderness canoe trip in Canada—that is, if Justin agreed to go.

The trip would last a month. Justin would keep a daily journal, take pictures of the trip, and afterwards, write a report about it. In return, his teachers would pass him in English and Social and he wouldn’t have to go to summer school.

Henry Jansen was well known in the outdoor field. He had written more than a dozen books about camping and canoeing. Heck, Justin even had an autographed copy of one of them, though he’d never read it. Henry never gamed or texted, and evidently, he hated music because there wasn’t a single song on his smart phone. His computer was nearly a decade old and he didn’t even own a tablet. But he loved a good time and would often stay up all night partying with Justin’s mom (his daughter) and her friends. He looked young; no one could believe he was 75.

Everyone hoped that a long wilderness canoe trip would cure Justin of his addiction to texting and gaming and teach him the value of learning. Henry had chosen what he called a “mildly challenging” river in northern Canada, one he had done three times before. He said the river had lots of “canoeable rapids”—meaning ones that were safe to paddle (if you knew what your were doing!), beautiful water falls, large lakes, awesome fishing, and long eskers that were great for camping. He said they might even see some moose or caribou. Maybe bears too, though he didn’t consider them a problem.

An esker is a long, narrow, winding ridge that is made up of sand and gravel that was left behind when the ice from a glacier melted thousands of years ago. The shorelines of northern rivers are often crowded with bushes, so there’s not much room to pitch a tent. But eskers have lots of open space so they’re great for camping. Some eskers stretch for miles!

“The river is very remote,” said Henry. “Only a few parties canoe it each year, most in late July or early August. We’ll go in June so it’s doubtful we’ll see a soul. It can be chilly that time of year, so good wool clothes and rain gear are important. There are no roads to the river; we’ll have to use a float plane to get in and out. It will be quite an adventure!

Justin will learn to focus on small but important things, like how to tie a knot that won’t slip, and how to waterproof his gear so it won’t get wet in rain or a capsize. He’ll discover that there are serious consequences for “doing things wrong” on a canoe trip and that a smart aleck attitude just makes things worse. He hugged Justin’s mom reassuringly and said: “Don’t worry, honey; I won’t let anything bad happen to him.” He added that he was bringing a satellite phone, but it was for emergencies only. He would not waste battery life making casual calls—and he would not check the phone for messages.

When Justin was eight, Grandpa Henry took him on a week-long canoe trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota. They paddled a white canoe, camped out in a tent, portaged heavy packs on rough trails through the woods, and built big campfires every night. They also caught fish—which gramps called Walleyes—which tasted AMAZING! But so what? A week in the woods with gramps was fine when he was little, but now, at 13, the thought of eating dried food in plastic bags (no Big Macs or pizza!), battling bugs and rain, sucked. Worst of all, there was no electricity. Running water was when he ran down to the lake after it! Same thing every day— paddle and camp, camp and paddle, then paddle and camp some more. Boring! Thirty days with no phone, no TV, no Xbox—forget it!

Tantrum time:“I’m not going; I’m not going, ”he screamed at his mother!

“Fine”, Summer school starts in two weeks!

“No , no ,no!” He chanted, as he ran to his room and slammed the door.

For awhile, he just sat on the bed and stared at his wall—his completely blank wall. He felt miserable and empty. When he’d calmed down he began to weigh his choices. Six weeks of summer school or four weeks canoeing with gramps? Six versus four, four versus six. Summer school would be awful, even more awful than camping out and eating bad food. Either way, there would be no phone or gaming. At least while he was on the canoe trip, he wouldn’t have his parents on his case.

Reluctantly, he decided to go.

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