July 23 Day 39,
Lake Namew, Saskatchewan
I think this is our first entry from Saskatchewan. Things are going really well. We were excited to get off the rainy Saskatchewan River at Cumberland House. On Day 38, we pulled up to Pemmican Portage, on the way to Cumberland House, missing big canoe races by one day. There were 800 people in town for the races, including the Cumberland House Canoe Team, which was competing in the Indigineous Games in Winnipeg. Pemmican Portage is part of an Indian Reserve.
There we met Warren, an Auxiliary RCMP, who helped us over the portage and dropped us at the RCMP Office, where we could leave our canoe while we did errands, and Mark could borrow a cordless drill (the rivets on Mark's seat were rattling, probably due to aggressive sterning on Lake Winnipeg). About Pemmican: the Voyageurs ate pemmican as a staple. It was compact AND packed a punch (a precursor to Gorp?), made from dried chipped buffalo meat, boiled buffalo fat and saskatoon berries. The mixtured was then poured into buffalohide bags and sewn shut to be eaten later. Since the Voyageurs could not carry all their food, they cached their pemmican supply along the way, at places like Cumberland House.
Hauling the pemmican from the Saskachewan River to Cumberland House probably gave the town of Pemmican Portage its name. (Although Mark and I are being resupplied en route, I can tell you that we are definitely not eating any pemmican.) We were planning a brief stay in Cumberland House, errands, canoe seat repair, a meal, and I wanted to see the museum.
Cumberland House is a very historic site - the first European settlement in Saskatchewan, and a key stop for the Voyageurs on their fur trade route. The Hudson Bay Company used it as a trading post as well as a pemmican resupply stop. At the RCMP office, where Warren dropped us, we met Wally Urff, the Sergeant at Cumberland House, who lent Mark a drill, and while Mark worked, Wally told me so many interesting things about the area.
The Cumberland Delta of the Saskatchewan River is the largest freshwater delta in the world. Not only is it large, but the Saskatchewan River has changed channels many times in history, flowing through different parts of the region. Again, as at Grand Rapids, we heard of the impact of hydroelectric dams. The dam 80 km. upstream of Cumberland House has lowered water levels dramatically, changing the livelihoods of the native populations, who depended on the environment for hunting, fishing and trapping. Lower water levels mean warmer water, which limits which kinds of fish can survive. Further, the unnatural rise and fall of the water levels also affect the animals in the area.
Wally was very helpful, and we went into town to meet more friendly people: the folks who run the hotel restaurant, who provided lively conversation (AND free lunch!), and Julie, the High School Guidance Counselor, who let us into the high school to use the Internet. She also offered her yard to us for the night. At that time though, we still had notions of leaving that night. At 7 P.M., with a few more errands still to be done, Wally and his wife Margot, who live next door to the RCMP Office, offered us their yard to sleep in, NO PORTAGE REQUIRED. We took them up on it. They were incredibly kind and generous - not only did they mow the lawn for us, but they gave us showers, breakfast, a ride to our drop-off spot, AND the use of a signed copy of "Canoeing the Churchill", a perfect guide for our trip through this area. We had such a good time with them, and they gave us such good insights into this area, along with great conversation. We talked of travelling and of living in a small, Northern town. Wally has been in the RCMP for 35 years, in a variety of interesting places, since postings in remote areas are for 2 or 3 years only. Margot is a teacher, and in moving around so much, has taught everything, from pre-school to high school. It was fun to swap teaching stories and to compare their stories to our experiences in remote Alaska. The Urffs really took us in, and we appreciated it. We would've liked to camp there for another week!
So our 2-hour errands turned into more like 20 hours spent with wonderful people. We have really enjoyed talking and listening to the extraordinary people along the way on this trip. They have helped us to appreciate where we are even more.
This week, I also celebrated my "this is the longest I've ever been on Trail" - 37 Days (my long Widji trips were 36 days) so I'm setting new records for myself. We both are surpised at how normal it all is, how this has become our life, and we are loving it. We feel so lucky and grateful to be doing this, and we're already sad that it is almost one-third over. Everyday we challenge ourselves, see yet more beautiful things, feel thankful, laugh, and have time to do things like watch butterflies on flowers.
Hearing a beaver slap its tail on the water as we are falling asleep has become a sound we are used to. (Hearing Mark throw a rock into the water next to our tent to make me think the beaver is REALLY close is something I'll never get used to, and is always good for a laugh.) Like I said, we laugh. Tonight we're grateful for the kindness of strangers, and for the dragonflies eating the mosquitoes at our campsite.
July 24 Day 40
Sturgeon Weir River - 8 miles from Sturgeon Landing
820 miles so far
Overcast skies - clearing in the evening
Temp - approximately 20 degrees C
We're camped at a beautiful spot beside a small set of rapids. Our site is a massive slab of flat limestone rock some 50 meters long and 20 meters deep. The skies have cleared. The sun is setting. The gargle of the river is about to lull us to sleep - it is just about 10:00 p.m.
Normally we'd have just finished eating - having pulled over around 9:00. Such was the case last night when we took advantage of being back on flat water and off the Saskatchewan River's upstream slug by covering just better than 30 miles. We'd said goodbye to Margo and Wally on Cumberland Lake and headed northeast until we arrived at the pristine, clear waters of Namew Lake. The lake itself is amazingly beautiful and it held a treat that Norah and I have been waiting for since we left Lake Winnipeg - rocks! The Canadian Shield, which folks up here discuss with a mix of pride and reverence, comes up for air here and, from what we've been told, there is more big rock in store for us as we travel north. The change is quite dramatic. As we entered the lake we saw huge plates of rock poking up first at angles - as they escaped from the weight of the continent - and then more flat. These are slabs so large one could play soccer on them and our "campsite eyes" were wide with excitement that had been all but dimmed by the mud of the Saskatchewan River.
After an 8 mile crossing over the Namew's north shore, we settled on a site with 3 shelves of rock - the lower level just perfect for unloading, the second tier exactly sized for cooking dinner and the "top shelf" - as good ole keen dog likes to say - just fit for our MSK tent and out trusty We-No-Nah canoe. The moon rose blush orange and slow over the eastern shore. We toasted it with some delicious Tang beverage and called it a night. This morning was uncharacteristically slow as we prepared our packs and canoe for the upstream and, we thought, more portage-intensive day.
We arrived at Sturgeon Landing - a community of less than 100 people - in late morning. This settlement, located on the beautiful mouth of the Sturgeon Weir River, has a handful of homes, the remains of a burned down residential school (which housed hundreds of Cree and Dene children until it was burned down in an accidental fire in the mid-1950's), a unique bridge which spans the river, a K-6 school that is the educational center for a little less than 12 kids, and a resort called Sturgeon Landing Outfitters. For $12 Canadian per person, you can rent one of the small white cabins here and, for a bit more, Jim Metz, the owner/caretaker, will throw in a motor boat. You could spend carefree days fishing, paddling down (or up) the Sturgeon Weir, or just exploring the majesty of Namew Lake.
Although we'd just planned a brief visit to pick up a cup of coffee and make a phone call, we ended up sticking around for 2-3 hours visiting with Jim. He's a common-sense man who has made a real nice place for himself. In the off-season, when the lodge is closed, he drives school bus and taxis folks to and from The Pas. He also traps and hunts a bit as time allows. Jim told us several stories about himself and the history of Sturgeon Landing. He also gave us valuable river advice and a copy of the "Opasquia Times" article that Lisa Moule had written about us in The Pas. It was not until almost 1:00 p.m. that we walked our canoe up the first rapids of the Sturgeon Weir and set on our way.
The Voyageurs used to call this the "Maligne" or "Bad" River because of the many shallow rapids and subsequent slow going. Its' current name comes from the weir - or trap - that local Indians once constructed out of rock to catch the sturgeon swimming in its' waters. We're calling it "fun" and "beautiful", at least so far. Our first day on the Sturgeon Weir was spent as much out of the canoe as in. We'd paddle up a flat stretch - sometimes 50 or 100 meters - sometimes a kilometer or two - and then get out and walk up the rapids. They are quite picturesque, many of them are floored with chunks of flat limestone, not unlike the one we're camped on tonight, although finding a safe and passable path up them, through the rocks and waves, is something akin to going through a maze. We enjoyed both the challenge and the change of pace. The clear water is a joy to walk up and easy to find footing in. The rapids have rarely been more than thigh-deep. This said, the use of new muscles wore us down and the beauty of this particular campsite lured us enough to cause us to pull over early.
The very rare extra time in camp allowed us the chance to make a delicious dinner of Vigo tortellini with red sauce and parmesan cheese, followed by syrup-covered cornbread - yum! With a blueberry coffeecake for tomorrow's breakfast, we're ready for a good night's sleep and another great day on the river.
July 25 Day 41
20 miles today 840 miles so far
Sunny and warm all day long with a light wind
The Sturgeon Weir showed a bit of it's old "Maligne River" face today. We walked, pulled, waded and paddled 20 miles in just under 14 hours, making this our most epic day thus far. The rapids, which yesterday were mostly riffles and well spaced out, became endless rock gardens full of shallow stones and deep eddy holes and strong current. In the morning the rapids flowed over porous limestone shelves. Voyageurs and early explorers complained that the sharp rock tore up the soles of their moccasins, but our tough Vasque boots were more than up to the challenge and we enjoyed sure-footedness that the many cracks and pours provided. We had a few sections of relative calm where we could paddle a kilometer or two before hitting a shallow, rapids where one or both of us would have to get out and pull the canoe up. The banks were far too overgrown to allow for lining, so we were forced to walk up the bed of the river itself.
We were on schedule to get to the Amisk around 8:00 p.m. until we hit the final 4 KM. One very large set and two seemingly endless rocky areas of very strong current seriously slowed our progress. Our muscles were sore and tired because we'd used so many new ones walking and pulling. It was not until 10:00 p.m. that we finally reached the top of the river, grateful but exhausted. Pulling the canoe upstream is exceedingly challenging. First of all, with all our gear it weighs close to 400 pounds. However, the tougher part is finding safe footing and a clear route for our 20 foot craft. This task often involves weaving back and forth across the rover, making a 100 yard stretch take up to 30 minutes or more. Additionally the current itself is quite strong and the work of moving one foot in front of the other is grueling on the hip flexors and legs.
All that said, this is an amazingly beautiful river. Norah has said is looks and smells like a mountain stream. The water is clear and full of fish and ducks. The shoe is lined with pine trees and marsh plains. At times the river is nearly 100 yards across and it pools into almost calm ponds, but most of the time it is narrower - perhaps 50 or 100 feet - making for very fast moving sections of current. These rapids are walkable and shallow for the most part. There were only a few times today that we found ourselves in water over our waists.
The South Shore of Amisk Lake is home to T & D Cabins. I ran down here to see if we could get a treat for dinner. The people here are amazingly kind and, because we had no good place to pitch our tent and the cabins here are only $55 Canadian per night, we decided to treat ourselves to a night under a roof! The owner towed our gear the mile down the road; we got settled, ate dinner around 11:30 and were ready for bed by 12:30. Tomorrow we will cross 12 miles of Amisk Lake and continue up the Sturgeon Weir.
July 26, Day 42
Spruce Rapids, Sturgeon Weir River
It is beginning to storm outside, but we are snug and warm in our tent--me in my campchair writing, Mark reading "Canoeing the Churchill" by Greg Marchildon and Sid Robinson. Scout is lying under Mark's Thermarest, serving as Mark's bookstand. The book, lent to us by the RCMP, is unbelievably detailed, with maps and descriptions of our whole route from now until Day 70. We have taken to cross-referencing and marking our maps with the book info, except we forgot to bring in our maps tonight. Between the rain and the bugs (and, yes, mosquitoes have no problem flying and biting in the rain), it's hard to venture out until you really have to.
So we bring in a lot: clothes, sleeping bags, Thermarests, chairs, bag of books and journals, raincoats and rainpants (if we don't bring them in, it definitely rains), water bottles and assorted things. Scout fits in wherever she can. Often I find myself all squished up in a corner of the tent whihle Scout is fully spread out, snoring away.
We are trying to go to bed early tonight, which is not as easy as it sounds, since it doesn't get dark until 11 p.m. We would like to switch our whole schedule to an earlier hour. Now we routinely camp at 8 or 9 p.m. and sleep at 11:30 p.m. or so. Soon, though, it will get dark earlier and we'll have to camp then. We also just like the feeling of an early start.
We thought we would be camping late tonight, but a late start at T & D's Cabins on Amisk Lake (due to some fresh eggs we bought from them - yum!) put us a bit behind. We paddled the 12 miles across beautiful Amisk Lake in good time. We looked for ancient rock paintings, but found only local carvings--"J & R Forever" and such. Even the minor graffiti didn't detract from the dramatic rocky cliffs and clear water, though. It's a huge lake, with two resorts, a town and some homes. In Minnesota, that lake would be packed with cabins! Canada's northern areas are so sparsely populted--it makes for nice canoe travel.
We found a campsite at the beginning of a portage, the first, on the Sturgeon Weir River. This is the northern portion, very different from the Southern portion we paddled yesterday. So far, this is a relatively calm river punctuated by rapids. It's pretty, with tall spruce and birch on the shores, and a few cabins on the Indian Reserve side. We think our progress tomorrow will be faster than yesterday, in spite of portages.
We couldn't decide whether to camp early or not, and after debating, decided to stay put. With thunderstorms in the forecast and our next campsite probably 6 miles away, it turned out to be a good decision. A lightning bolt struck something very nearby, causing both Scout and me to run for the tent. Mark, who is not scared of lightning, finished closing up of the canoe and only then came in. After the initial burst of rain and thunder, we came out and made dinner. Actually the rain was quite welcome, because of the heat - we were sweltering today and the rain really washed away some of the humidity. Even the most soothing rain, however, brings bugs.
Right now, it's mosquitoes, which are fierce. I have bites all over my face tonight, and we had to go mosquito-hunting in the tent. The horseflies (Bullflies, if you're Canadian)are also bad, seeming to know every time you let your guard down, and then they sneak into the canoe and bite our ankles. Today we heard that the Deerfly season is almost over. Hooray! Mark and I call them "soft-landers" because we never feel them until they're biting. Scout just likes to eat them.
So tonight, since the bugs were bad, we ate in the tent, but it was one of our favorite meals: pasta (kindly donated by Vigo), olive oil and good parmesan cheese, sprinkled with salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar: simple and good.
So life is good. We're in great health, strangely enough. We notice little things: not congested or coldy, good skin, consistently happy moods. I don't know whether it's due to being away from pollution and junk food, or due to the amount of exercise we get now, but we're already talking about how to maintain it when we get back.
The same goes for Scout, who is so happy! She's strong, hardly sheds and wags her tail constantly in the canoe, and even likes to swim.. She likes walking up the rapids with us, and is fun to watch as she fights the current. Yesterday she started to drift away as she swam upstream, so we put her back in the canoe. Close to shore, she would rather run around.
Oh, one last thing: we saw the third canoe of our trip today: a man from Flin Flon on a solo trip down the Sturgeon Weir. Also a teacher, we chatted with him as we floated downstream, past a picturesque cemetery, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, on the Indian Reserve. He has paddled a lot in this area and gave us some tips.
The strange thing about this area is that we feel pretty isolated for awhile, only running into someone here and there. Even this pretty portage, running beside rapids, seemed pristine--until we came to the other end, and saw 20 aluminum motor boats stashed on the shore, awaiting motors to be portaged so that they can be used on the next portion of river. So it's sometimes hard to escape evidence of people, harder that we expected, I think, but not altogether bad. Just different.
It's still incredible to be seeing Canada South to North, a total learning experience. It's hard to imagine that soon we won't be able to remember what it felt like to be too hot! Right now, though, I am loving it.
July 27, Day 43
Scoop Rapids, Sturgeon Weir River
...a very impressive storm last night, and some sort of creature near our campsite kept Scout up off and on throughout the night. Of course, we're grateful for her watchfulness, but the whole of her alertness led us to sleep in a bit this morning to compensate.
Portaging by 9 a.m., we set off upriver at a slow but steady pace. At Snake Rapids, sometime after noon, we beat the odds and the current while cashing in on our strong paddling muscles: we actually paddled our canoe UP the first of the 3 sets of white water.
When shallowness and speed of the current had just driven us into the river to walk, we saw 2 canoes coming downriver. Andy Breckenridge and his wife, who hail out of Duluth, were coming down from the Churchill with their fathers! Seeing them makes only the 4th canoe group we've seen in 43 days. They are very kind people and we found we have some mutual friends. We enjoyed our visit. They are also retracking old trade and explorer routes, but in month-long segments, spread out over several summers, rather than our 4-month dash. They are enjoying themselves as much as we are.
An unusually large T. L. (Trail Lunch) left us tired and when we pulled our canoe over to the side of the river to stretch and drink water, we laid back on the deck and actually slept, our bow wedged into some reeds. We napped for a half-hour or so, which must've served us well, as we came as far after 4:30 as we had all day up to that point. By 6:30, we were flying, and we paddled the last 4 upstream miles in just over one hour.
We ate camped tonight, directly overlooking Scoop Rapids. This is arguably the most beautiful site we've had yet.
July 30 – Day 46 –
4 miles today, 920 so far
Mark writes, “Today was spent in and around the town of Pelican Narrows. Here we ate a big breakfast, faxed updates, got our next 16 days worth of food from the post office, spent a ton of time with a small group of fourth grade girls who were very interested in our expedition and in us, and went to the nicest – most well-stocked – grocery store we’ve seen in a long time, and, of course, met and conversed with several very kind and welcoming locals.
Packing up all of our food took quite a while, especially since we spent much of our time talking with the girls and other town folk. But we hung around town until nearly 6:00 p.m. because of the wind. It was blowing up huge, choppy waves right into our faces and with gusts exceeding 30 clicks, we opted to wait it out.
Even when we started, the going was slow and we paddled just a few miles before pulling over to camp for the night. We’re both tired and worn out from our day in town and not up to the challenge of a long, hard, late-day paddle.
This stands in stark contrast to the last 2 days which have relied heavily on evening paddles. Two days ago the beauty of our camp spot caused us to linger until later than usual, then some mid-day laziness left us with miles still to paddle upstream and into a slight headwind at 6:00 p.m. We made the miles and were in the tent before a massive thunderstorm hit around 9:30.
Yesterday, thunderstorms, and then wind, forced us over during the day. At 7:00, the weather was finally clear to go. Again, we had 10 miles still to go and we very much wanted to be at our destination by 9:00 p.m. It was with great pride that we polished off the day in just under 2 hours, having stopped 4 times (each for less that 5 minutes), twice to drink water and twice to look at the map. We also had to get out and unload our canoe to bridge it over a shallow, rocky area. Such a feat could not have been possible a month ago and it leads us to believe that, after 45 days on trail, we are becoming more and more adapted to the paddling lifestyle. Of course, 10 miles in two hours is not much by city standards, but in a loaded canoe, we feel like we’re flying!
Excelsior folks might think of arriving at the town dock three hours before sunset, loading a canoe with 300 pounds of gear (bricks or 2, 150 pound friends would work), adding a dog to the mix and then paddling 5 miles to Culver’s in Orono, running in, grabbing some water – or a butterburger – and then paddling back to Excelsior with an hour or more to spare before sunset. We sue that our to unload our canoe, set up our tent, unpack our packs, set up our sleeping gear, assemble out stove, cook dinner, secure our belongings for the night, pump water and go to bed. You at home might use it to unload those bricks and go to “Licks Unlimited”.
At any rate, it is good to know that we’ve got such a sprint in us. It makes days like today, when we went so few miles, seem less defeating and more enjoyable.”
August 1 - email from Mark to Jennifer Garrison Brownell
Woke at 4:00 ready to paddle. Wind was gusting to 60 clicks - waves big, choppy and in our faces. Back to bed. Reawoke around 9:00 - happy o have gotten more rest - picked Saskatoon, blue and raspberries. They were delicious with the coffee we prepared. Today is cold. We are sitting out here with wool hats and warm jackets in a little protected hollow that keeps us out of the wind. It is a bummer to be behind schedule again, but we are both more relaxed and more confident than we were during our windbound days on Winnipeg.
Now, as we have said before, we are very much in the trail mode. Almost 50 days out we are much more able to roll with the whims of nature. Our campsite is a bramble of shrubs, rocks & trees, but we are able to make most anyplace home. This north wind has brought a crispness to the weather. Most trees are still green of leaf, but here and there fallen leaves can be found. The berries are ripe, some birds are starting to group up. On a crisp wind-ful day such as this it is easy to imagine ourselves in the midst of the season change. We are healthy and happy and strong.
August 1 - Fax from Mark
August 1 – Day 48 – 0 miles today, 940 so far
Weather – cool and very windy. Overcast
“As day 50 approaches, we find ourselves thinking rather instinctively in “Widji time”. Norah and I led trips for Camp Widjiwagan for years and it is fully because of our experiences there that we are here today.
Forty-nine days on trail was my longest trip with them and my longest time ever on trail. So I find myself on the brink of some kind of landmark. On that trip, we went 1200 miles with the last 800 coming in a 12-day dash down the Porcupine and Yukon Rivers. On this trip, our miles have been more steady. We continue to average just about 20 miles per day and it seems to make little difference whether we’re on rivers or lakes, going up or downstream.
At any rate, 45 days is the standard length of a Widji “Voyageur” trip and as we surpassed that we reminisced often of our time there. We got some food from Widji – cakes, hashbrowns, eggs – in many of the bags we’ve found messages containing well wishes, words of encouragement, old jokes revisited. We’re grateful for that community of friends.
Other than Widji (their site is linked to our “Contribute” page), we find a host of things to talk about or amuse ourselves with while paddling. Of course, there are some stretches of silence when we’re both lost in our own world, or when the sound of wind and waves makes talking and hearing a challenge, but when it is calm and when the wind is ripe for conversation, we discuss any number of things. We also sing and play games – “Let’s start with 1492 and sing a song to go along with every historical event we can think of from then until now” – that got us all the way across the expanse of Amisk Lake and even a bit up the West Weir.
We talk about Canada, what we’ll do when we get back, friends, family, trip memories, people we’ve met, towns we’ve visited, wildlife, the weather, voyageurs and explorers, Scout, food (a lengthy discussion of Thanksgiving dinner on Day 30 was the apex of this topic. Now we tend to marvel at fresh produce, food at some favorite restaurant and things we ate last summer while traveling in Europe), where to camp, the general soreness of our muscles, our jobs, when to eat trail lunch and what of it to have, plant, funny things that have happened… We tell each other stories, jokes, songs…”
August 1 Day 48
Wood Lake, Saskatchewan
I'm sitting cozy in my sleeping bag and chair in the tent, enjoying the restfulness of a windbound day. We are on the Southern end of Wood Lake, about 20 miles from Frog Portage, where we will cross over to the Churchill River. We are behind schedule, but we are not letting that get us down. There are some things out of our control, and 30 mph winds with gust up to 60 mph are some of them.
While the last week or so feels like a whirlwind, in reality it has been composed of very restful paddles and then sprints across lakes and portages. I awoke on Day 44 at 9:15, to sun shining in the tent and Mark up making coffee and pancakes for breakfast. We were taking advantage of a spectacular campsite, directly above a small drop in the river where pelicans have fished for the last 200 years. They were there that day too - 40 or more - scooping fish out of "Scoop Rapids". We didn't leave that day until after 11 a.m., and still made 20+ miles just in the nick of time to avoid a large and scary thunderstorm. We pulled into our campsite, counting the seconds between lightning and thunder (5 seconds = about 1 mile). We chose the safest tentspot in the islands, climbed in and ate lunch for dinner: cheese and crackers, nuts, candy dipped into peanut butter.
The next days were much the same: late starts, afternoon storms, and evening sprints. We used our GPS to set our pace, and as it turns out, we can maintain 4-5 mph for 2-3 hours. We are definitely getting stronger, and we'll need that kind of endurance to catch up from these missed days.
It seems that we've had about a "60% chance of showers or thunderstorms" (according to the radio) for the last 2 weeks. It is very different from the endless clear, hot days of the first month of our trip. The storms can really slow us down, too, especially on big lakes. Going upstream on rivers, we're usually on or close to shore, and can pull over early if the weather goes sour. On lakes, however, where frequently we must time crossing bays with the weather, distant rain and thunder can be more problematic. Since the middle of the lake is where you DON'T want to be when the lightning comes, we've done lots of rainy paddling --we even pulled out our warmer Kokotat Gore-tex paddling jackets for this colder weather.
Yesterday we beat out another storm to this campsite, and it poured! Mark put up the tarp outside the tent to give us lots of dry space, and cooked Black Bean Vigo, which we ate topped with mozzarella cheese on tortilla shells, bought in Pelican Narrows 2 days ago. That was the last town we were in. We stayed outside of it, at a Cree Band-run outfitters the previous night. The cabin was pretty simple, but suited our needs perfectly. The trick of going to towns is keeping our gear and canoe safe, and staying at an establishment instead of just camping in town is often our best choice. The people were super nice, and we each ate "The Hungry Man" breakfast, which included bacon, ham, sausage, eggs, hash browns and toast. It is incredible how much food we can put away these days. When we finished, Mark told me he could easily eat 2 more! (He didn't.)
We have stayed and eaten at places like this more than either of us thought we would. We're also going through more towns than I expected. And the restaurant food is always the best treat, but the Northern Grocery Store chain has lots of good stuff too, fresh fruit and veggies, donuts, bread, Oreos. It's hard not to buy a ton of things. The Pelican Narrows Northern had a great selection, and we even bought lettuce to eat with our beans and rice! These stores that serve a whole town are much smaller than what we're used to, and besides food, carry sheets, shoes, bikes and raincoats.
In Pelican Narrows, the Northern Store was right on the lakeshore, near the public dock. We had fought our way against the waves for 3 km from the Outfitters, and the weather was looking rainy again. I stayed with the canoe, while Mark went to the Post Office to pick up our food resupply. As usual, kind strangers offered him rides there and back. While he was gone, I talked to some local 4th-grade girls. They were interested in our trip, and funny and giggly. They liked our stickers, and soon there were more children gathered around. When Mark came back, he hung out with the kids while I went to the Northern for necessities (peanut butter) and treats )yogurt). The girls then took me to the Band Office (for this band of the Peter Ballentine Cree Nation), where the clerk was kind enough to send our FAX free. On the way there and back, we saw lots of loose dogs, at least 10, the RCMP Station, a Health Center, horses, AND a brand new truck that was going to be the Grand Prize at the Pickerel )that's walleye to us) Contest the next weekend. The town is in a very picturesque spot, and the girls told me that in the summer they like to swim, bike and pick berries.
It's fun to be a traveler in these small towns. Strangers stop and ask about the trip, and kids come out of the woodwork and hang around as long as you let them. So our town experiences have been very good.
Scout has even been good around all the loose town dogs, but that night, wet her, AND our bed! So we got a late start after cleaning that up, making for another sprint to get in our 20 miles. She's been eating berries at this campsite, likes the Saskatoons, which are kind of like blueberries, only seedier and on taller bushes. It's fun to watch her picking berries. When we lived in Ely, she would go into our raspberry patch and feast, and we'd look outside and see only the bush moving.
Well, the wind is still blowing hard - big whitecaps everywhere. We hope to paddle tonight, but last night it blew all night, so who knows. Scout's next to me on Mark's sleeping bag, running in her sleep. Thanks for checking in with us! We'll write again, hopefully from the Churchill!
Very strong NW wind – in our faces all day
“After being windbound for two days on Wood Lake, we broke free by battling for 20 miles into an unfailingly fierce and unceasing headwind.
Day 49 was a frustration of failed attempts to move. We paddled into the main body of Wood Lake only to find it a sea of sharp breaking waves with no place hospitable to land. We finally did what we never do, backtracked and ended up a scant one mile from where we started. We’d avoided a dangerous situation, but put ourselves 2+ days behind.
Today – the landmark 50th day – found more reason to celebrate. We crossed the famous Frog Portage a bit before sunset and thus found ourselves on a new river and new river system. Hello Churchill! We are very excited to be here and camped on a beautiful slab of bedrock at the sunset tip of an island – even if our joy is a bit tempered by exhaustion.
The wind blew strong this morning, as it did all day. We gritted our teeth and dug in. There was not much talking today as paddling into the crazy waves took all of our strength and the wind blew all our words away. We just paddled. The gusts often held us to an excruciatingly slow 2 miles per hour pace. In fact, with only one break to speak of it took us a full 10 hours to reach the Churchill.
The wind-in-your-face paddle was made more intense by the fact that nearly the entire day was spent paddling along the bare rock and black tree remains of a massive spring forest fire. The final paddle up to the Frog Portage found the Sturgeon Weir dwindling, sometimes no more than a canoe width or two wide between walls of windblown reeds.
The Frog Portage itself was a major trading and travel spot for the Voyageurs. Amazingly, the 2 systems are connected by a spit of land less than π mile wide. Folks think the portage has been used for thousands of years, but now it is outfitted with a very broken down rail car. We’d been advised by Andy and Rachel Breckenridge to give it amiss and just portage our things as they suffered a few derailments, but we took it slow and made it through without incident.
We’re happy to have been on such an historic spot – even happier to be on the Churchill River! Overall, however, this day ranks in the top 3 of the toughest ever on this expedition. The wind wore us down until our muscles in our hands, arms, shoulders, back, face, were tired and sore and in need of rest.
A spot of sunshine around 9:30 p.m. warmed us up – but other than that it was cold all day. We were heavily bundled and chilled if we ever took a break. A lovely sunset tonight and some Vigo pasta have put a brighter face on the day. We’re ready for sleep.
We happened upon a great little fishing resort here on the Churchill. The
very kind proprieters gave us use of their laundry, some delicious lunch
and the use of their e-mail. We are, as ever, grateful for their kindness
and surprised by their generosity.
We've been blessed with a tail wind today and hope to put ourselves within
shooting distance of Stanley Rapids this evening - so that we are a mere
two days behind schedule. Overall we are doing great. It is tough to be behind schedule, as it makes us feel like we need to rush a bit to get through these spots, but the Churchill River is lovely and we are pleased as punch to be sleeping on
bedrock and paddling on pristine sweet water.
We are going up stream, but the water is low, so with strong arms we are able to paddle up some of the sets, and then we portage around the falls and big rapids. We've seen very few people, but lots of birds, a bear and a smattering of other wildlife.
Blueberries are ripe. Yippie.
August 4 Day 51
Keg Lake, Saskatchewan
We awoke today to our first blue sky in a long time! We miss those 30 degree C. days on Lake Winnipeg. The last week has been a real touch of autumn. I went from wearing a tank top and shorts to what my attire has been all this week: long underwear bottoms and rainpants, 2 long underwear tops and a raincoat. I've also been wearing a winter hat for most of the day. At night it's been even colder, and we've had to open our "clothes bags" - our stuff bags full of warmer clothes.
We've also been trying to keeps our boots dry. Normally we just plan on having wet feet, because our boots are constantly wet (some might also say stinky). I'm generally pretty wet during the day - splashing from the paddles, water getting in under the sprayskirt during big waves, rain, having to carry wet packs, etc. I also get wet from what we call the "self-soak", which is paddling negligently, and accidentally splashing yourself. Of course, overall, canoeing is a very wet sport. And then we are also very protective of our canoe, which is Kevlar, so we try to not let it scrape rocks.. But since most portages and campsite are rocky, that means we have to wade in to unload.And then there are wet days like today, when we are wading thigh-high up rapids to avoid portaging.
In any case, we are always wet, which is fine and refreshing when it's warm, but in this cold, it's quite miserable. Our Kokotat cold-weather raincoats are an incredible help; the rubber on the cuffs really keeps the water out. We also pull our sprayskirts up around us on cold days. Every little bit helps! And we did manage to have dry feet for about 2 days, but now we're portaging a lot and dry feet are an impossibility. Hopefully the blue sky is a good omen. Farmers in Saskatchewan had frost damage this week.
We really tried to push the miles today, but did not get as far as we meant to, blue sky or no. We had a steady day, except for a too-big lunch that slowed us down. We ate on a sand beach that had an eagle's nest on it, in a poplar tree. Scout loved the site, and ran around like crazy, eating whatever bones she could find. We continued on more slowly, still in a headwind, unh! We reached our first set of rapids and portage. Many of the portages here have rollers made our of logs, for motor-boats, and are very well used. We found today that the canoe portages are not at all well-trodden. Ours had lots of deadfall that were difficult to negotiate with a pack or canoe on your shoulders. We did find lots of blueberries, which made the portage more enjoyable.
The rest of the day was spent portaging and wading up slippery-rocked rapids, which are really pretty, but time-consuming. So we made 20 instead of 24 miles. And we're behind schedule. We're going to try to go the 24 miles to Stanley Mission tomorrow, where we'll fax these updates (and buy some sausage-yum!).
There have been some other notable things in recent days. First, we have seen and heard so many loons! We've seen as many as 6 together, which is quite unusual. Apparently they group up when they migrate, but I didn't think it was time for that quite yet. Also it seems to be mandatory that all loons call ALL OF THE TIME right now. They're definitely more active than we've seen before on this trip, flapping their wings, scooting around on the water. They are such beautiful birds, and bring back many happy memories of summers spent in Ely, Minnesota.
Second, spiders are everywhere! We have started categorizing all campsites into "spider-sites" or "non-spider-sites". At spider sites, we must see 25 different kinds. One time, we had 30 Daddy-Long-Legs on our tent at one time! They make webs on our tent, packs, and in the canoe overnight, and when we pull over, in the morning we are usually taking half a dozen on as passengers.
More animal updates to come in future, In the meantime, I need to sleep. I am responsible for getting us up tomorrow. We've decided to take turns, since we keep oversleeping. You'd think Scout would get us up, but she's the sleepiest of all. We've tried using our short-wave radio as an alarm clock. It works pretty well, except that we never know what will be on. The other morning I awoke to a German language lesson that gave me very strange dreams. So I turned it off eventually, and we slept too long. There are only so many hours of daylight, and we need all of them that we can get right now.
Thanks for reading these! We'll be excited to share more stories when we return! We hope you enjoy these last weeks of summer!
Email from John Scanlan
Norah called from near the Rock Trout Portage on the
Churchill River. They were windbound a second day on
Woody Lake, so remain 2 days behind their schedule. She
says they are not worried about it, but find it
bothersome. They remain healthy and enthused, and
continue to enjoy the country and the people.
Mark and Norah Garrison
Trans-Canada Canoe Expedition
236 Courtland Street
Excelsior, MN 55331