Saturday, February 6, 2010

Aug. 7 - Aug. 18, 2002 / Nipew Lake - Methe Portage

A CONTEST for the Armchair Expeditionaire
Mark and Norah are announcing a contest to determine the
best mnemonic aid for remembering the names of the 8
rivers they are traversing. They will announce the
winner(s) sometime after they return. They haven't yet
determined a prize. An example: "When Scout Saw-Windy
Clouds Climb A Snowy Mountain".
Send your entries to

Norah Writes
Day 54 August 7
Nipew Lake

The return of nice weather! Today was beautiful! Although we awoke to mist, it changed to sun and we were able to dry out somewhat.

The last two days have been challenging, but beautiful. The area we are in now is in the heart of the Canadian Shield, so there are rock outcroppings everywhere. These make for great campsites and spectacular scenery.

We awoke yesterday to a thunderstorm. In my opinion, there is nothing cozier than lying in your tent during morning rain and NOT having to get up because of thunder. Because of the storm, we didn't get out until around 9:30. We left the Stanley Rapids campsite (more like a campground) and paddled away into the misty drizzle toward Stanley Mission.

Stanley Mission started off as a Mission only, and the town grew up around it. In 1860, an Anglican clergyman completed Holy Trinity Church there, which stands today as Saskatchewan's oldest building. It is beautiful --white, tall and in stark contrast to the dark hues of the trees and water around it. It is still in use, and on the old organ, there are copies of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer in the Cree language.

We spent a little time in town -- a really friendly place. We left our canoe at the landing and visited the co-op store, where we bought some fresh fruit and treats, then went to the Post Office and the restaurant (we couldn't resist!) Eggs and bacon are a real treat these days. Scout's life jacket has been the source of good jokes with the locals. I guess most dogs up here don't wear them!

We set off again, in the rain, to continue up the Churchill. In most places, the Churchill does not seem so much like a river, but more like a series of lakes connected by rapids and waterfalls. We are slowed by the current, but looking out onto the water, you wouldn't necessarily know you were on a river.

We paddled up Mountain Lake (part of the river) and realized we saw paddlers coming our way. (The only way to see canoes from far away is by the flash of paddles.)
This was a welcome sight for us, because we haven't seen very many paddlers relative to the miles we've come.

Suddenly we realized we were seeing multiple boats, and looking hard, we counted 17! Wow. They looked like a small fleet in the mist. We talked to one of the two guides, who informed us that they were from a Scout base. Kids and some parents were on the trip. Since Mark and I have travelled only in small groups, it was hard to imagine leading such a number, but the group seemed to be having fun, in spite of the weather.

The rain continued as we paddled past many small islands,where local people had their fish camps -- beautiful rocky spots with frames set up for wall tents and tarps. Some also had small cabins. They wre all empty at this time of year, but during the fishing season, it must be lot of fun! Local people also have cabins on the lake, and we jealously paddled past, hoping someday to also have a cozy place in such a beautfiul location!

We saw more paddlers as we went on, since it's a popular route. We also did a portage with the steepest hill I'd ever climbed while canoeing. When we got to Otter Lake, we were eager to make miles and camp.

Unfortunately, since it is a popular route, all the spots we found were occupied. Nearing 9 o'clock, a solo paddler already at a site pointed us to some potential places to stop, but not before Scout jumped out of our canoe to fight with his dog. To add to the gloom of the rain and late hour, we could hear gunshots here and there through the quiet. We finally pulled up at a slopy rock around 10 p.m., made a rushed dinner and went to sleep.

Today we paddled the rest of Otter Lake in the rain, skipped going to Missinipe (a jumping-off point for canoers) and portaged around Otter Rapids. These are deep, and a local told us he and friends would put on lifejackets and float down, or even jump off the bridge into them! That set was definitely a boundary of some kind, because after it, we saw hardly any people. Paddling up the river toward Little Devil Falls, the usage dropped dramatically -- no trash on the portages, hardly any campsites obvious to us, and no people in sight! The previous area had been so heavily travelled that it was a shock to be in such pristine wilderness again.

The portaging today was hard, and we are tired. We camped on a sand beach tonight and made a big fire to burn some unneeded supplies and food: anything to lighten the load.

We made our portages in 2 trips: once over with each of us carrying a big food or equipment pack with lots of small things strapped to it, and a second time with Mark carrying the 100-pound canoe and me with the two personal packs. On both trips, our hands are full of paddles, camera cases, water bottles, etc.

At Widji, when we led trips, we packed in large Duluth packs with very little extra stuff, to make portaging easy. We started this trip that way, but since we had few portages, we started packing in more small things to make reaching items and packing under the spraydeck more convenient. Now, however, it takes a long time just to pack for the portage each time. Since we learn as we go, we are working on a better system.

Two more things: first, I scared a big black bear at the end of the portage around Big Devil Falls! We worrieda bit leaving half of our things there, when we had to go back for the second load, but one of us going back, and one staying behind, would have taken too much time. We crossed our fingers that the bear wouldn't come back (and it didn't).

Second, we figured out what the gunshots were: we met a man walking over a portage. He had a small backpack and his gun. He keeps a boat on either side, he said, so he does not have to carry one (boat) back and forth. I asked him what hunting season it was, and he told he this is the best time for moose, because they are fat. People are also hunting ducks. And the Native Canadians can hunt whenever they want to, so we may see and hear more gunshots before the official seasons begin.

Well, I hope for a sunny day again tomorrow. Saskatchewan is an amazing place, and we are incredibly lucky to be here!

Thanks to eveyone who has sent us nice notes! Internet use here is very limited, and we have not yet had the opportunity to respond to most, but when we can, we will!

Norah Writes
August 8, 2002

Great weather today! A classic canoeing day overall - a little of everything.

We ate raisin bran for breakfast today in the middle of Nipew Lake - no people in sight, just low clouds, trees, rocks and birds. Pelicans are still plentiful; I wonder when they migrate? Ducks, grebes, loons, sandpipers, bald eagles, terns, gulls and herons...we never tire of watching the birds.

We lined our canoe up some rapids, using ropes to pull it up --and waded up some others, avoiding a couple of portages. Since loading and unloading at portages takes so much time and effort, we will walk in water up to our waists to avoid portaging, if we have to.

If I come back to the Churchill, I would want to paddle this section again, except downstream, and with more time. The rapids are gorgeous and wild, the water is clear and the rock ledges are everywhere! Best of all, there are so few people! We saw one couple today, and a group from Saskatoon, almost everyone over 60. They were so nice, and reminded us of the fun we had leading Elderhostel canoe trips.

Coming from the U.S., it is sometimes hard to comprehend how much less crowded it is here. When we mention that to Canadians, they hold their fingers to their lips and say, "Shhh! Don't tell!" This portion of the Churchill is devoid of people and also signs of people. The portages are narrow, the campsites unused and clean --it's incredible. It is like being in the Boundary Waters in October. We love it! We do see the occasional motor boat from a lodge, but very few. The fishing must be good here.

"You're not fishing??" I can hear people gasp. We hope to, but now we have no time. Our windbound days at Wood Lake have put us behind and we have not been able to catch up. We spend as much time as we can in the canoe, but the portaging and wading slows us down. Unfortunately, we have only a certain number of days to complete this trip. We can keep on our schedule, but it's difficult to catch up when we're behind.

We spent some of our paddling hours today making up haikus about our trip, a good game when you have lots of time. My favorite of the day (Mark wrote/told it):
Brown Saskatchewan
carrying secret sewage
Why did I drink you?
Needless to say, the water on the Churchill is much cleaner! We drink it happily.

We do need to figure out how to make up the miles we lost on Wood Lake. Those decisions will come in the next few days. Meanwhile, we're working hard, enjoying the wonders, and thinking of those who walked the portages before us. We're also thinking of all the good things we'll eat when we get back.

Neatest things of the last few days: *GREAT Northern Lights! The days are getting shorter, and we're up to see the Northern Lights more often.
*A spider being pulled across the lake by its web. Since we were 100 yards from shore, I don't know what it was connected to, but it looked like it was waterskiing!

I hope you have time to notice the littler things around you too!

Thanks for reading, Norah

Mark writes
August 5, 2002 – Day 52
Keg Lake to Stanley Rapids – 20 miles today, 982 so far
A mix of sun and clouds – some light rain – headwind
Today will be remembered forever in our minds as “people day”.
We met: Several residents of Stanley Mission out on a moose hunt
2 plumbers
2 farmers
a truck driver
a priest
his nephew and a friend
4 ranchers and fellow paddlers (one who’s met Sig Olsen)
a few fishing guides
2 resort owners

We’d heard of 2 resorts at Potter Rapids but we did not plan on stopping there. It was Scout who sought out the folks at Angler Rapids Lodge ( ), looking for attention, or perhaps a treat. Norah and I were carrying our packs across the portage and, when I set mine down to fetch Scout, I struck up a conversation with Melissa, who was shutting things down after a brief but promising first season running the lodge. Evidently this Ohio resident and her husband, Cary, were well-versed in Canadian hospitality since they took us in, offered us cold beverages, use of their laundry and the last 2 showers of the season (since the water was being turned off as we left). They also lent us their computer so that we could check our e-mail. They fed us a feast of a lunch, complete with burgers, chips and coffee and corn on the cob before sending us off with well wishes to accompany our full bellies, clean clothes and hair, and our refreshed state of mind.

They also found Scout a happy recipient of treats and fed her hot dogs, cheese and cat food left over from the season. They sent us away with treats for both her and ourselves. The lodge itself is in a beautiful location and is well kept and run. All in all, it was tough to leave their kind resort

Our evening’s paddle took us into a headwind and through light rain to a well-established camp spot at Stanley Rapids. Because this brief section of the Churchill offers a common out ‘n’ back trip spot for paddlers, the site is large and able to accommodate several groups.

Two other parties were there when we arrived about 9:00 p.m. (It is common for us to milk the last lick from the day and camp around one hour before sunset, thus allowing time to cook and set up camp before the bugs come out). On this night, however, we stayed up until 1:00 a.m,. talking and laughing and swapping stories with the others in our camp spot. This is the first time we’ve ever camped near another group and we welcomed the conversation.

One group included 3 generations of teachers – one of the foursome had done extensive traveling on the Churchill and had been across the Methye Portage a time or two. He’d also met with Sig Olsen and we spoke of that man’s wisdom and awe-inspiring writing style. After dinner, we visited with the priest, Jim, and his traveling companion, Art, a Saskatchewan farmer. Farmers up here have had a terrible year. You will hear things like, ‘My father is 81 and he’s been farming his whole life and he says this is the worst it’s ever been – worse than the dust of the 20’s, even.’ Or, ‘I’m not even talking the combine out this year There is just no crop.’

Hurt by drought and heat and then frost as well as farm subsidies in the USA, which drive the price down, these folks have had a heck of a go this summer. Despite it all, Art was in good spirits and we sat around the campfire until the early hours.

Jim has done countless trips on the Churchill and he told us of places we’d see and of life on the prairie. We went to bed only when yawns replaced words.

Mark Writes
Day 56 – August 9 –
Sunny and warm with a light headwind and a few strong gusts

31 miles today – 1082 so far

We woke up early and had oatmeal and coffee with Carnation Evaporated Milk – delicious! Out of camp around 9:00 a.m., we traveled south to Birch Rapids. Here we met with the first of several surprises the day had to offer. We were able to eddy-hop up the lower half of the rapids and then track (pull our canoes and steer then with 50 foot long ropes) up the strong current further up.

We were pleased to be able to skip the portage and we were making excellent time. Birch Falls was the next obstacle in the river. We portaged on an easy path around that.

With only paddling after that – or so we thought – we set a goal of reaching Needle Falls. As the wind picked up, we revised that and decided on heading for a campsite we’d read about at Silent Rapids. The rest of our day was spent paddling through the maze of islands, flat water and current that make up Black Bear Island Lake.

We paddled in 4-mile sections, first just stopping then and later stopping more often to hydrate and rest muscles and escape wind. We saw stunning exposed rock. The Shield is in full force here and it made a prefect backdrop for the wildlife we saw.

Countless bald eagles, both mature and immature, swooped down around us. A loon did an extended “tail dance” that involved much calling and wave-making and prancing – presumable with the intention of impressing another. However, since no other loon was in sight, we assumed the show was for us and we totally enjoyed it.

We eat several small snacks throughout the day rather than one big trail lunch (TL). We find that a big lunch makes us tired and sluggish while a snack of gorp or cheese and crackers gives us good paddling energy. Most of these snacks are taken in the canoe, either in the lee if an island or with me paddling in the stern while Norah prepares the food.

To escape the afternoon sun and to stretch our legs, we took one such break at a narrowing in the lake where the current formed a huge, nutrient rich eddy. It was literally full of minnows, thousands of them, who swam in great schools past crawfish and snails and above the ominous eye of some large fish waiting in the deep holes.

Spots as beautiful as this one remind us of why we are out here. My father sent me a quote stating something like, ‘life is measured by the moments that take out breath away.’ This little minnow narrows with scattered boulders and trees and shade on the south shore and a steep, sharp cliff on the north and so much aquatic life swimming around and the two of us with our dog and canoe alone and taking it all is – provided such a moment.

The rest of the day was a mix of lake paddle, spotting a few ancient rock paintings, paddling up strong current, tracking up a couple of especially forceful sections and finally, as the sun was flirting with the treetops on the western horizon, making our goal of Silent Rapids.

We were proud of our accomplishment as we paddled up the rapids and around one last point to the rock site. We’d seen no one all day and were therefore shocked and surprised to see people walking around. Our shoulders sank. Should we push on? Should we go back to that spot down river? Will we end up camping in the bugs and the dark?

The, the most unexpected surprise of all, ‘Mark! Norah! Are you going to join us here tonight?’ With something like 3 million people in this entire province, it seemed unbelievable that we’d see someone we knew, but this is an area with very low population density so that odds get better.

The man in the green shirt calling our names turned out to be our old friend, Jim, from Stanley Rapids. He’d flown in to Needle Falls for his summer holiday second canoe trip – this time with his sister and two parishioners, Val and John.

John and Val had never been out canoeing before and John later confessed that, as he saw us paddle up, he thought, ‘Good! More people!’

The silence and slowness of life in the bush is a stark contrast to city – or even small-town – living and it can take some time to get used to. Norah and I recalled a time a year or so ago when we’d decided to escape the city for a night. We spent it in a cabin in the woods – the only one on a remote lake, Rather than being restful we found it a bit unnerving – too dramatic a slow down too quickly.

John must be feeling a similar sensation. While we can certainly empathize, with more than a thousand miles and nearly two months and countless Vigo meals behind us, we are well accustomed to the ways of life here. We know how to read the wind and predict the weather and when a bird’s call signals danger and when we can make our way up a rapids and when our bodies need water or food or rest and when Scout will benefit from stretching her legs on shore and where on the lines and dots of a map a good campsite might be found and how to set up camp quickly and paddle in silence or make up poems or tell stories and the difference between the deep sound of a far-off plane and thunder and talking with others make us aware of all of this and proud.

It is useful knowledge in its’ own way. Just how it will enhance our life as teachers in the Twin Cities remains to be seen, but we are glad to have it.

Mark writes
Day 57 – august 10
19 miles today – 1101 miles so far
Sunny and warm with a constant nagging headwind

Today we woke up to the rare – almost unheard of on this trip – treat of breakfast being made for us. Jim and his crew picked blueberries and were fixing up pancakes. Yum. It was a wonderful meal made even better by another rare treat, fresh fruit!

As always we were grateful for the hospitality of those we’ve meet along the way. It is really fun for us to swap stories with fellow travelers.

Today we traveled through some of the most beautiful territory we’ve seen. The Needle Falls section of the Churchill is dramatic and on this bright sunny day when the sky was a deep blue, the falls and rapids were so starkly white they were quite breathtaking.

We portaged the first falls, after a long 8-mile paddle into a growing headwind. The portage was flat, short and well-traveled and it provided raspberries for our mid-day snack – we also ate TL there.

At the second set of rapids, we looked for a portage but found only an unused trail. After some time spent seeking a better trail, we opted to wade and track our canoe up the set. It was a challenge because the river is very strong here. This is, in fact, one of the narrowest sections of the entire Churchill. Portions of the rapids were also deep making for dangerous walking – and full of sharp rocks that were tricky to negotiate.

After ascending that set we arrived at the last drop but not before some serious into-the-current paddling. We portaged this drop and spent some time mulling over our predicament. \
Yesterday we paddled upstream into a headwind some 30+ miles. Today the stringer wind was forcing us down to a very slow pace. We knew that 20 miles would be tough to attain. While 50 miles in 2 days is good work by any canoeing standards, it is not enough to make up the 70 or so that we are behind. We need to find a way to make up this time before the Methye Portage. We discussed several options but came up with no positive solutions.

We are using every available moment of traveling time in the day. We wake up early and go to bed late. It is now after midnight, the only time left for journal writing and reading. However, even with very long days of serious pushing we still find ourselves 2-1/2 days behind.

None the less we care camped on a high rock overlooking the Churchill River. It has narrowed down again after widening out to fill out Sand Fly Lake.

Of course, we are full of thoughts of Voyageurs and explorers of old. There is something about the untraveled nature of this section that makes us think it is still very much the same as it has been for hundreds of years. When Alexander Mackenzie came through this area on his way to search for the fabled Northwest Passage, he noted a large boulder on a rock shield island that looked alarmingly like a bear’s head. By chance, we veered off course to avoid a west wind and we came across the same rock. Indeed it does look bear-like. There is even a dark spot for the eye and a long streak for the mouth. Was Mackenzie facing a similar headwind when he passed through? Perhaps.

The rock we are camped on – with a low flat point and a high, east-facing tent spit, would be coveted in the BWCA, but here we find no sign that it has ever been used as a campsite before.”

August 16

Norah reports that they are at Buffalo Narrows, and back on schedule. They continue to be in good health and very much enjoying the people that they meet. Scout has taken to diving off the canoe, swimming to shore and running along the bank. It is hard to get much information about them as they are most interested in hearing news from home. They welcome letters (addresses on the "Contact us" link) and emails. And they look forward to spending some time with Mark's father, Phil, when he does the second, and last, food drop at Fort McMurray on the 26th.

“August 15, 2002 – A Reply to Mr. Kleemeier’s Class:

Mr. Kleemeier’s class has been following our expedition. We’ve gotten several letters from students there at the Tri-District School in Maplewood, Minnesota. It is fun for us to hear of their interest and to field their questions. We’ve done our best to answer then here.

To Haley, Stephanie, George and Corey:

We’re glad that you’ve enjoyed following our trip all summer. We’ve thought about you being in school while the two of us are on a very extended summer vacation.

We did not bring any soft food for people with teeth problems.

We got our sponsors by writing to something like 100 companies who produced goods that would benefit us and who we wanted to promote. Our sponsors have been very generous

You mentioned the pictures on our site. We’ll do our best to get more up there soon.

To Marina, Jessa and friend:

The trip is going very well. Thank you for asking!

Yes, we do get tired. Our days are long. We often spend 10-14 hours in our canoe each day. We set up our tent, make dinner and eat just as it gets dark, go into the tent, write in our journals and get up 6-8 hours later to do it all over again.

Today it is quite cold – 45 degrees – and raining with 3-50 km winds. However, our trip has been warm up to this point. I’ve yet to zip up my sleeping bag at night.

When we finish our expedition, we’ll return to our jobs as teachers. We’ll also give a few presentations to tell our story and thank our sponsors. Perhaps we could even come to your school.

To Elizabeth, Helina and Lewis:

I teach 5th grade at Excelsior Elementary and Norah teaches 7th and 9th grade at West Junior High in Hopkins.

Scout is 7 years old, but she still acts like a pup.

To Bretta, Codi, Alan and Andrew:

We’re having LOTS of fun on our trip. Thank you for your note and your canoeing story!

To Katie, Raquel, Dara, Christopher and Dang:

Scout is very good in the canoe. She walks around on the Northwater Spandeck or she lies down. She swims to shore when she has to go to the bathroom.

It is only hard to steer the canoe in strong wind or strong current. Otherwise our MN III is a fantastic and stable craft. We are totally pleased with it!

We’ve never gotten lost. We have great maps which we follow closely and a GPS which we can use if we get confused.

To Chelsea, Kayla, Nora and Christain:

We’re not too grossed out by the ticks – they are just a part of the experience. The bugs have not been bad at all and when they are, we’ve got out “Ultimate Bug Shirts” to ward them off.

Scout only jumps off the canoe when we are close to shore or when we give her permission to jump and swim. Once, however, we were talking to some fishermen in a boat and she jumped into their boat! She likes to meet new people as much as we do, I guess. She just has slightly different methods.

Thank you for your words of encouragement.

To Mr. K:

Thanks for your letter, kind words and treats! We’ve not forgotten about Dooger Day! When the time is right, it will happen.

Have a blast at the State Fair. It is the one thing that will be very hard for Norah and me to miss this year. Take pictures if you can! – Mark

Greetings and thanks to all students, young and old, who are following our expedition.

Mark Writes
Day 59 – Ile-a-la-crosse
1241 miles so far
August 12, 2002

Norah and I have been blessed with a great opportunity. Four months to travel across Canada with only our dog and our canoe. Our school districts – Minnetonka and Hopkins – were accommodating enough to give us nearly two months in the fall – allowing us to complete this epic adventure in a single season. In many ways it has been exactly what we expected - rugged wilderness, big rivers, lakes, rock – and there have been surprises – amazingly kind people, a month of hot sunny days off the start, the number and variety of birds and the wind.

Our very tight itinerary allows for the occasional delay. We’ve taken into account towns we might stop in – the early Arctic ice pack freeze up time, the date (October 21st) that we need to return to work, the dates of our resupply our level of fitness at t various points in the trip and even being wind bound from time to time. Paddling hard, we once logged a frustrating 6-1/2 miles in 3 hours. In good conditions, we might go 12 or more in that amount of time and our schedule demands it.

We woke as early as we could and paddled until just before dark, often not having time to write in our journals until midnight. In the process the trip became all work. The Churchill is beautiful and we had a tough time taking it all in.

The peak of it all came when we ran into a few fishermen. We talked to them for 10 or 15 minutes and, as we paddled away, we realized we’d been complaining – the current…the wind…It was a beautiful day with a steady wind and unbelievable scenery. We are on the trip of our dreams. There was no reason to complain. We wanted to be having more fun in the moment to moment, bur we could put up with hard work like this for another few weeks. The problem was that, although we were pushing our bodies to the limit, we were not making the miles. We deliberated out options. For days we did this. None were good.

We’d decide to get a ride and then second guess ourselves. We’d decide to push on and we’d have a good day and then be held to a standstill by wind the next. Back to the ride, but no, perhaps not.

Finally, taking in all the factors – time, miles, number of hours in a day, number of days we had to work with, strong upstream current – we opted to ride – not far at all, just enough to put us back on schedule so that our daily hard work can pay off, so that on the water we can feel proud rather than frustrated that we couldn’t make our bodies go one or two more.

Our trip is not yet over and there is still much hard work ahead. On the big map of our trip, this ride would be covered up by a finger. We still have thousands of miles left to paddle. We still win. But we’re sad, too. Perhaps if we had unlimited time it could all go as planned, but there is still wind. There is always wind.

Someday we’ll return to paddle this little skipped section. We’ll paddle though mile upon miles of the Hauldrin marshes with their miles up on miles of basketball sized rocks, making camping – or even stopping – all but impossible. Today, however, we’ll sleep well. Back on schedule. Ready to work hard tomorrow. Still living out a dream. Still working towards a goal. Still enjoying life in Canada’s wilderness. Still doing all these things. Grateful for the opportunity.

Norah writes,
August 13
Day 61 – Macbeth Channel, Churchill River

Rain! The pitter patter continues tonight on our tent. It’s cozy in here, but outside everything is wet – boots, socks, raingear, packs, silverware, gorp, the bugstuff – everything! Rain is not my strong suit. Mark functions normally in the rain, but I lose patience with being wet.

Our rain-proof stuff is working, though. Raincoats, drybags, and tent have kept everything in them dry. But at some point you have to open the dry bags in the rain, and things get wet.

I sound like I am complaining and I don’t mean to. Camping is just easier when it’s not cold and rainy. I have a feeling, however, that I had better get used to this weather!

The rain today was misty most of the time, but we got some serious downpours. It was quite beautiful, actually, and the multitudes of birds made it magical. Long lines of cormorants flew toward us all day, along with pelicans. Terns were diving from high above for food. Ducks and ducklings were abundant and loons called all day long. We traveled 24 miles or so in the wet bird world and then camped on a sandy beach and made a big fire to warm up. And we ate a whole pound of pasta tonight, which actually filled us up! We are gong to buy more in town so that we can increase our portions to pound each.

We had our first hail of the trip on our way out of Ile a la Crosse yesterday evening. We pulled over in time to whip up our tent and avoid being out in the thunderstorm. In the night, we were visited by 3 or 4 dogs. Scout woke up and we caught her before she burst through the tent. Not in time to avoid having my face stepped on though.

The dogs were probably from Ile a la Crosse – it’s not unusual to see packs of 2-6 dogs roaming around. We haven’t yet seen a dogfight and they seem to get along with each other. They are very anxious about Scout - sometimes 3 or 4 will some over and sniff her at the same time. Poor Scout! She holds her own though, and doesn’t get pushed around.

We haven’t had her wear her life jacket as often lately and she’s become a good swimmer without it. She has taken to jumping off of the canoe 25 feet out and swimming to shore, running for a bit and then swimming back. Mark’s trying to get her to sit behind him in the canoe but she fell off today in the choppy waves. She doesn’t seem to like it so much anymore, even though we scooped her up right away. We love having her along. She keeps us warm at night and is such a great source of entertainment in the day!

We’ve been in two towns since I last wrote, Pinehouse and Ile a la Crosse. Pinehouse was small and nice, with colorful houses, mostly on Pinehouse Lake. Everyone there was really helpful. The RCMP helped us find a taxi service and our driver, Henry Smith, was kind enough to wait while we grabbed some lunch-to-go at the café. He told us lots of interesting things on the drive, about himself and the town. He actually grew up outside of the town and would take his dog team into town for school. He works for the health services, driving folks back and forth from Pinehouse to the clinics in Ile a la Cross, and even the 5 hour drive to Saskatoon. He told us about the history of the area and the lake, which used to be called Snake Lake. He was very helpful and fun to talk with.

In Ile a la Crosse, we had a hard time finding a cash machine but were finally able to pay Henry for the ride. We picked up more food there, including a box of Zup’s beef jerky from my mom. Yum! We also got more crackers and tried to re-register our shotgun – rather a confusing process. We ended up camping on the lawn of a B & B outside of town. We met a nice woman named Mona, who was caretaking. She told us her tales from living in the Canadian bush for 20-odd years, suggested that we stop at the fall fishing camps and that we sleep with our gun in our tent. She was very hospitable.

On the Canadian hot roast beef sandwich with fries and gravy tour, Ile a la Crosse ranked pretty high. The Lakeshore Café (the only restaurant in town) was delicious and complete with pie, ice cream and coffee. We rolled out of there, packed up and paddled in the first sun of the day (it had drizzled all day!) until we were met by a hailstorm that brought is to a stop.

We will be happy to see the sun again. On my trip in the Brooks Range of Alaska in 1997, my fellow campers and I did not see the sun for 10 days. Not a glimpse. I hop ewe don’t; have the same experience now! Good humor is about the only way to endure such conditions, and so far we have it!

We also have drive – the Clearwater River, and all the downstream travel that follows it, are a good reason to get up on misty mornings. And, spending a couple of days in Fort McMurray with Mark’s dad and Patricia sounds great! We’re looking forward to it.

Last, I should mention that the Rainbow Ridge B & B in Ile a la Crosse looks like a cozy place to spend some time if you pass through.

We’ll update again when we can. Until then, take care!

Email from John Scanlan
August 22

Norah called last night from Methye Portage, the 12 mile monster portage. (It is pronounced 'pour-taahge' in Canada.) They were part way across the portage and will finish it today. She reports that they were both very tired. It is grueling work. Apparently there is evidence that 4 wheelers use the track. Before starting, they agreed that they wouldn't accept help if it came along. By the end of the day they were hoping someone would come along, but no one did. 4 more days and they will reach Height of Land, and start down river

Mark and Norah Garrison
Trans-Canada Canoe Expedition
236 Courtland Street
Excelsior, MN 55331
(952) 380-9727

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