Saturday, February 6, 2010

June 23 - July 20, 2002 / Pinawa - Saskatchewan River

June 23 Pinawa Manitoba

Our trip so far has been amazing, fun, challenging, beautiful and even sometimes frustrating. All in all, though, we feel lucky every day to be able to do this, and we are so happy to be here.

The expedition has been pretty smooth so far. We are ahead of schedule, thanks to strong tail winds and a much stronger current than usual. This are was poured on by the same rains that flooded Rosseau (Minnesota), so the water water levels on Lake of the Woods and the Winnipeg River are high. The dams on the Winnipeg River are letting lots of water through, giving us a boost to our paddling speed, but also making it more difficult to get around the dams. We spent over 2 hours trying to figure our way around the dam at Slave Falls, and we got through only after talking to the dam operator by satellite phone!

We've encountered quite a bit of white water, and have been able to shoot almost all of it, thanks again to the high water. That has been a really fun part...for me, since I had hardly paddled white water at all before this trip. Although things like a set of white water make each day different than the last, I will try, if I can, to describe an average day for us.

We try to be on the water by 7:30 am, partly to avoid midday wind and partly because we like to camp by 7:30 PM. That means we have to get out of our sleeping bags by 6:30 and start to pack up. Morning also involves finding lots of ticks, which have migrated from Scout to us in the night. It is not unusual to find 25 ticks crawling on us each day. I guess we are lucky we're not scared of ticks. In the morning, we have to pack up our tent and personal belongings, pack the canoe and get our spray skirt tight over our gear. That all takes about an hour. We also have to put on boots wet from the day before, but our wool socks warm our feet right up.

We paddle for 1-2 hours before we eat breakfast - oatmeal, cereal and coffee cakes Mark makes the night before have been standard so far. Sometimes we pull over on a rock let Scout run around, but if we have a tail wind or a good current we'll have a floating breakfast. Morning is a strong time for us, and we will paddle 3 or 4 more hours before eating a lunch of cheese, crackers, peanut butter, raisins, GORP and dried fruit.

The long haul is from lunch until dinner, which we don't eat until we camp. As we paddle, we look around at the scenery, talk and spot wildlife. We've seen so far many bald eagles and deer, lots of pelicans during our first 4 days, a beaver out of water about 15 feet from us and many loons. I've also seen hundreds of dragonflies in a single area, feasting on mosquitos (I think!) out of the wind. Speaking of bugs, the mosquitos have not been bad yet, but the black flies have dotted our legs and necks with bites. The time for bugs is definitely the worst in the evenings, before we go to bed, and all day when its cloudy and still.

Scout is also bothered by the bugs, and she hangs out in the tent while we make dinner. We think she is having fun, though. Lately she has switched from riding in the canoe under the spray skirt to on top of the canoe. Both she and Mark have a lot more leg room that way. She loves the windy days, and running around in our campsites, but she gets very nervous around dams - even more than a mile before them. We haven't figured that out yet.

Our campsites and camp times have varied. We've found great spots at 6 PM and stayed or have had to paddle until 9:30 PM. Luckily we have long days right now. We try to paddle 20-30 miles per day and sometimes we have to keep paddling even when we would have liked to camp.

Our dinners have been delicious - lots of pasta, pesto, Vigo beans and rice and even a cheeseburger from a town we passed. We make brownies for dessert occasionally, but we've been too full to want them most nights. We write in our journals before we sleep, and then settle in for good, tired slumbers.

We'll be on Lake Winnipeg in a couple of days, and our typical day and scenery will change. Here it has been much like Northern Minnesota...We'll miss this familiar feeling terrain....

June 24

This section of our expedition has been characterized by kindly people, portages around dams and the emergence of mosquitos and black flies.

After paddling a beautiful and very narrow section of river, we came to the town of Pinawa. It is an idyllic little spot with a Huge public part that follows the entire shoreline of the river. The town was built as a planned town to serve as a head of nuclear research. Now it is finding new life as a retirement community. There we met a couple of skullers and Stephen, who immigrated from England. He is a very likable fellow and we chatted with him and his wife and daughter more the next day as we paddled past their home in Lac du Bonnet.

The town of Lac du Bonnet itself proved to be filled with generous and welcoming folk. A group of 3 couples out for an evening helped us carry our bags and got the mayor Lac du Bonnet to clear out a bit of space in his garage for our canoe, so that it would have a safe space to spend the night. They gave us a real treat by saving us one west portage and we are grateful for the genuine interest in our expedition and the time they took to make certain that our brief stay in Lac du Bonnet would be a pleasant one. (It certainly was!)

On the last stretch of the Winnipeg River we've met a handful of other generous people. Paul, who works for Manitoba Hydro gave us help around a tricky section of River. George (another mayor) and his wife Sue let us portage through their front yard, found us a spot to put our canoe back into the river after a big falls, helped us with our packs and, most memorably, fed us coffee and biscuits...

The weather has been very cooperative. We've had favorable wind and our last few days have been overcast but dry. Right now it is about 10:00 PM and still very light out. It is also pounding rain, but we are inside the dry comfort of our MSR tent. Tomorrow is slated to be sunny and 90° F or more. We'll get up before 5:00 AM so that we can get to know Lake Winnipeg before the afternoon wind kicks in.

We are getting stronger and are now able to paddle for much longer periods of time without rest. Ten days into the expedition we are full of energy and we feel like we are getting into the rhythm of the trail life. Little things like making a meal or packing up the canoe, which used to be laborsome and tricky, are now second nature.

We are happy to be falling to sleep tonight to the pitter-patter of falling rain, and we are eager to begin the next phase of our expedition which involves ten or fifteen days of portages paddling up the Winnipeg.

June 28
Mark writes:
...We were windbound just south of the narrows last night. This morning we got up at 4:00 to make the crossing before the waves kicked up. We've met very few people on L, Winnipeg, but everyone we talk to has a warning to pass on about the Lake. "Anything can happen on this lake in 20 minutes..." "Its supposed to blow 60 kms this afternoon..." "Be careful of the shallow spots..."
With the exception of the time we spent windbound yesterday, the paddle up the Lake has been calm and hot. We are a bit in awe of how physically challenging this trip has been. We have vowed to take a more relaxed approach to our days. We want to make certain that we take time to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. This lake is very unpopulated and amazingly picturesque!

June 30
Norah writes:
...We were pretty excited to get to the big lake, back on day 10. we've read about it in almost everyone's travels as a volatile, unpredictable beast that will get you if you aren't careful. Lake Winnipeg is large - you can't see the other side - and extremely shallow. Together, those two factors make for big waves in a short amount of time. So, you want to be close to shore in case the waves kick up. But if it's at all wavy, we can't be close to shore because of the breaking of the waves...

When we got on the lake, the wind had already started. We bounced through the waves for a couple of hours before realizing that we'd better head for shore since the waves were bouncing over the bow (front) of the canoe. Now we had stopped on one of the many sand beaches that line the shore earlier, and we aimed our canoe for another to escape the wind. Mark told me to "jump out of the canoe" and "pull the canoe up on shore" before another wave broke over the stern. I attempted to do this as gracefully as possible while trying to get out of my spray skirt but the alleged sand beach that we had run up on was, in fact, mud.

I stuck where I jumped out and could hardly get a boot out. This was not exactly what we had envisioned when we thought about being windbound. Our beach was a mixture of sucking mud, trees torn out by their roots by the waves and walls of driftwood. Even Scout could hardly walk because of all the mud stuck to her paws. When the wind died, we launched our canoe again and headed to a better spot.

Today we are wind bound, too, but it is sunny, the wind is keeping all bugs at bay, Scout is curled under a shrub and we are drying all of our gear on this rock island, our temporary shelter. There are whitecaps all over the lake. Its the first wind that has kicked up since the muddy landing, and we will wait until it passes to paddle. The last two days have been very unusual for the lake - still, hot and windless. We tried to paddle as long as we could on those days - until 10 pm one night - and it paid off. We averaged 32 miles a day for our 3 days on the lake and we're still ahead of schedule.

The lake is indescribably beautiful. Sand beaches are every where, no sign of people on them and so many birds to watch! The sunsets here have been tremendous and tomorrow we hope to see the sun rise as we cross the the narrows of the lake.

On day 12, a thick haze of smoke drifted over the lake, making for an eerie landscape and very limited visibility. The water was still and the sun shone red through the clouds.

We continue to watch the pelicans, cormorants and gulls here. We've also seen geese and goslings and more bald eagles.

The challenges of the lake are different than the challenges of the dams, portages and sometimes lack of campsites on the eh river. Here, we never portage but must paddle for 12-15 hours per day on a big lake, sometimes paddling toward one point for an hour. To fight monotony, we talk, sing and if it's still we listen to a $5 radio we bought in Lac La bonnet. With all the noise the paddling makes, though, only one person can really listen at a time. Of course, the AM oldies channel comes in best.

The only other challenges are sore arms from these long days and the bugs. The conditions must be perfect for mosquitos right now because they are thick! They don't seem to bother the do but they do bother us! We eat dinner in our bug tent and have even resorted to bug stuff - the Lemon Eucalyptus from Repel works great! ...

July 2
Mark writes:
We are still windbound today. It is a mixed blessing - a pleasant respite from the 10-14 hour days that marked the first two weeks of our trip but it is frustrating to watch the chasm between where we are and where we should be get even wider.

Norah and I are in good spirits as it is warm and the wind is keeping the bugs as bay. It is Scout, our trusty dog, however, who is most happy with this break. She spends her day sprawled out in the sun. "She looks like someone just poured her out on the ground," Norah noted yesterday. Scout loves to groom herself and these days have offered ample opportunity for such activity. She seems fully adjusted to expedition life. That said, her days have not been solely hours of sloth. Scout stepped up to the plate in two big ways in the last few days.

One of the challenges of this expedition is that Norah and I are just two people...we are quieter than larger groups and also a bit more vulnerable to wild animals. Scout is always on alert, even as she sleeps. She is our warning system. We watch her posture - her eyes - the hair on her back and the tension in her face to know what kind of danger is around...The most dangerous thing to do with a wild animal is just stumble upon it and catch it by surprise. Scout has proven very effective in eliminating this danger. On day 15, Norah and I had just left eh small community of Matheson Island. While there, we'd taken a brief respite and had happened on a tiny restaurant/grocery store (where I had a delicious hot beef sandwich which I've thought of often in the days since). The heat of the day, the fullness of our bellies and the fact that we had the benefit of being ahead of schedule led us to pull over early to camp on a friendly looking sand beach. We pulled over and then walked west along the beach to seek out the best tent spot. The beach was littered with small shrubs and big rocks. The sun was warm and Norah and I walked slowly with Scout at our side. Suddenly, the dog took off - barking and raising the hair on her back. Not 50 feet away from us what we had taken for a black rock was actually a black bear! Scout charged at the bear barking loudly and looking decidedly ferocious! Norah and I were scared into stillness wondering if the bear would turn on Scout. But it was Scout who had the upper hand on the mid-sized black. She chased the bear off the beach and into the woods. Then we had another fright. Would Scout continue to chase the bear into the forest? Would she come back to us? We yelled her name, and to our delight, as soon as Scout had cleared the beach of any threat, she returned faithfully to us. This is the 2nd bear Norah and I have seen on this trip, but the first that Scout has seen. She reacted exactly as we'd have wanted her to. We left that beach and headed to another 20 or 30 minutes away, grateful for Scout's warning.

Today, we are camped on Moose Island and it has lived up to its name. We saw two on our way here back on a beach cooling themselves in the water. Her at our home for the night, we saw moose footprints as big as Norah's size 8.5 foot were imprinted along the shore. We were hanging out - awaiting the calming of the wind - when Scout set into action again. A massive moose had sauntered down the beach on what must be a regular pathway, towards our tent, canoe, packs, fire, selves. A moose is much larger than a bear. Larger than a horse. With legs and hooves that deal terrible blows. Scout took off before we ever saw or heard the moose and followed a similar routine that she had taken with the bear. The moose took to the woods and Scout came calmly back to us.

We are grateful to her along for many reasons. She is a faithful companion. A warming presence in the tent and friend. We are also happy to have her warning ears and eyes.....

July 3
Norah writes:
WINDBOUND! I've always heard of canoeists getting stuck for days on end on big lakes, but it never seemed really possible. Somewhere inside I thought they COULD have paddled if they really wanted to. Now, however, I know that I was wrong and it is indeed possible to move only 10 miles in 4 days because of strong winds. 4 days! That is how long we've been basically stuck.

Don't get me wrong - we have tried to paddle and made minor progress on 2 occasions. But wind can be totally different on one side of an island than another, and right now we are on the wrong side of Moose Island. This morning at 4:30 am, we set out into the lake and were greeted by 4 ft, choppy waves that tipped our canoe crazily and helped us realize that we should be on shore. So we ferried about 1/2 mile across the bay to a new beach for the day. Even Scout wore her life jacket.

Now it's 7:30 pm and we're waiting for the waves to mellow enough for us to move on. It will be a late, buggy night. We must paddle, though, because we are falling behind.

Although frustrating in principle, being windbound is fun and relaxing in reality. Because the first 2 weeks of our trip were so busy, we had very little time for the in-camp activities that make camping so fun. We've been able to catch up in our journals. We finished reading Tolkein's The Two Towers out loud and have moved on to The Return of the King, both great reads. I read a whole book on my own. We take lots of cozy naps while the waves crash on the beach outside the tent. We swim, and yesterday we rigged up a real shower - what a treat!

Most of all, though, we seem to eat constantly. On day 4, I remember I could not finish my portion of dinner. Never again! We never seem to feel full, and on these idle days we are continuously concocting something yummy. Today we ate coffecake and coffee for breakfast, pancakes for brunch, peanut butter and crackers for a snack, soup with cheese and crackers and brownies for dessert and we'll probably eat dinner still. And I have not felt full all day.

Other than that, we play games, talk, take walks, nap more, make driftwood fires, dry out our gear, repack the packs and play with Scout. Because of the wind, we've been able to spend most of our time outside, bug free. It's been sunny and warm until today and quite pleasant.

We're ready to go. Most of our gear is packed and we're listening to "As it happens" on Canadian radio, waiting to leave. It looks like we'll be able to go in the next hour or so. At least we hope! I hope next time I write, we're more on track than we are now!

July 5
Email from John Scanlan

"Norah and Mark called last evening with their update. They were at Jackhead, on the west shore of Lake Winnipeg, beyond the narrows. They were wind bound for four days, with six to seven foot waves on this very shallow lake. So, now the days begin with paddling at 3:30 until about 8:30 when the wind comes up, and then back on the lake when the wind starts to die at night and paddle til midnight. They are behind schedule. However, the schedule actually anticipated a possible seven days of problems with wind on the lake and they are confident that they will be off Lake Winnipeg on schedule.

They describe the lake as desolate and beautiful, with many sandy beaches. The Mayfly hatching was spectacular, and the Pelicans beautiful. Faithful dog Scout (a 40 pound sled dog) has so far chased away one black bear and one very large Moose, so she is earning her keep. And she faithfully wears her life jacket...."

July 10, 2002
After two weeks of enjoying the warm weather and beautiful beaches on Lake Winnipeg, of being occasionally windbound , and paddling hard when they could, Mark and Norah are moving north, a day ahead of schedule.

Email from John Scanlan
"We heard from Mark and Norah tonight. THEY ARE OFF THE LAKE!! They are safe and sound in Grand Rapids - one day behind their schedule in that they were to arrive yesterday, rest today, and leave tomorow. They are leaving tomorow, so are back on schedule. The lake was beautiful. The past few days were 30 mile, and 12-14 hours a day. They are happy to be where they are. We are scheduled to meet them in La Pas on the evening of the 16th..."

July 16

Email from Mark and Norah:
Hello It is our 31st day and all is well. We arrived in The Pas one day early - yesterday, July 14 - after putting in a few epic days including a 26 mile day upstream and into a 20 mile per hour headwind. We are definitely getting tougher as the days wear on and are able to paddle for much longer stretches of time without a break.

We have 3 "speeds" that we paddle at. Our "Easy Speed" is how we start out in the morning and how we relax during the day. It is something like 55-65 strokes per minute. Our "Cruising Speed" is our normal daytime traveling pace and it is 65-75 strokes per minute. The we have what we call "Race Pace" it used to be called the Joke Pace - We are using it more and more as our bodies get tougher. It is 75 to 85 strokes per minute and we've occasionally hit 90. As the trip wears on I am sure we will paddle faster and longer. At the start we could paddle for about an hour at a time before resting. Yesterday we were in the canoe for 10 hours straight.

We got off of the big lakes - Winnipeg and Cedar and are now in the much different and more marshy landscape of the Saskatchewan River. Lake Winnipeg was amazingly beautiful and very unpopulated. We say only a few fishermen during our two weeks on the lake and rarely saw cabins. However, we did see much wildlife, including hundreds of birds - including hosts of bald eagles, terns and northern white pelicans ( my favorite.) We also saw, and camped on, remarkable sand and pebble beaches that often stretched on for miles. And of course we also saw waves. Big waves. We paddled for time to time in waves as big as 6 feet, and were forced to shore often by sudden gales.

The wind was a major problem for us, but we we able to stick to our schedule thanks to the assistance of a couple of kind fishermen who we met in Gull Bay. They gave us some help to get up to Grand Rapids and back on schedule. Cedar lake is also massive, and was a bit strange to be on. The lake was created in the late 1960's when the dam was put up at Grand Rapids. There are still trees under water there from when the delta was flooded out to make a reservoir to power the dam. We heard many stories from the people in this area of how their lives were changed by this dam. An entire town had to be relocated and many people lost their livelihoods.

From there we headed into the reed and marsh start of the Saskatchewan. We were grateful to for the GPS that Pete West loaned us. It totally helped up the find the needle in the haystack. After perfect campsites on the big lakes, we have had to settle for more swamp-like spots on the lower Saskatchewan. We crashed campsites on our first two nights in the tall marsh grass on the side of the river, in nothing that looked like a campsite. We spent 10 minutes or so just tromping down the marsh grass into an area that our tent would fit onto. We also found out that tall grass--6 foot tall grass--is a great home for mosquitoes. It also did not help that we camped at sunset both nights, the bugs' favorite hour of the day. We definitely wore our bug jackets there.

On the plus side we have seen a multitude of wildlife here as well. Muskrats, beavers, river otters, ducks of all kinds, more pelicans, loons, moose and even - as we approached The Pas - cows. Our days have been long here as we are paddling upstream. We also absorbed the 20 miles that we were slated to paddle today into the mileage to our last 3 days so that we could maximize our time in The Pas. Norah's parents have met us here to resupply us for our next 40 days and to visit. It is just great to see them and to swap stories. We will spend the next day and a half organizing and drying out our gear, packaging our food and visiting. We are staying in a hotel and were very happy for showers last night that helped to clean off the mud of the Saskatchewan River.

We have a new system for sending updates, so now they should come more often. Thanks to all who are following along. It is fun and inspiring to know that others are looking in on us from time to time. Have a great week.

July 20
Email from John Scanlan

The Pas July 15 - 18
As Norah noted, they arrived safely in The Pas on July 15. It was a very friendly and hospitable community. The Wescana Inn was especially helpful in allowing us to store the 20 foot canoe in a meeting room, arranging connecting rooms for us, and providing an excellent resturant.

The community library provided free internet access. And the Campground permited us to spread out packs, sleeping bags, tents,etc. to dry.

The Pas is at 53 degrees, 55 minutes North Latitude, so the days are long - the sun rises much earlier than we did, and set at about 9:45. The day time temperatures were in the 80's. The river is about 50 yards wide with a noticeable current. They paddled off in a light rain at their 75 strokes per minute cruising speed.

Fax from Mark and Norah:
Day 36 - July 20, 2002 - 22 miles today - 704 so far.
Temperature - Roughly 20 degrees C Skies - Overcast
Outside - Amazingly Buggy - the air is literally thick with mosquitoes
Inside Our Tent - Almost Bug-Free - a little damp, mostly cozy

We are camped about 4 miles ahead of schedule near Barrier Lake on the Saskatchewan River. The last three days on the Saskatchewan River have been characterized by clouds, light rain, thunder, mud swamp banks, wildlife and a steady uphill climb against the current.

We had a sad good-bye at the government dock in The Pas. It was so great to see Norah's parents there. They were incredibly helpful and patient and supportive and caring. We ate good food together, traded stories, spent hours and hours preparing for the next 40 days of our journey and just enjoyed time spent in each otherÍs company. The Scanlan love and support cannot be overstated and so we paddled slowly away from their care and company.

Minutes after slipping around a bend in the river and out of their sight, the rain hit. We sought shelter under an overhanging bank and then spent the rest of the day getting in and out of the canoe as thunder and lightening forced us to shore. The river is amazingly muddy. The banks rise up as the mud cliffs topped by either shrubs, reeds or deciduous trees. Totally absent are rocks of any size or shape. We've seen only a handful on this entire river and each has been worthy of note.

Despite these missing elements we have seen a multitude of wildlife. Yesterday we watched a bear swim across the river - a big black bear that we followed across for a minute or two before it raced to the far bank. Today we watched a deer on a similar trek. In the bird world we've seen: pelicans, kingfishers, terns (white and black), evening grosbeaks, bald eagles, finches, swallows, red-tailed hawks, and many more. We followed a few sets of geese with the goslings today and got very close to one gosling who was hiding (apparently not too well) in the brush along the banks, and countless ducks and ducklings.

We've seen no people in the last two days, but we have seen 3 or 4 cabins. Tonight we are camped on the shore of the river in a field of water plants and wildflowers. It is very pretty, fairly wet and indescribably buggy. The mosquitoes are a thick as I've ever seen, even on my trips to the Arctic. Overall, we've enjoyed certain aspects if this river, but we're looking forward to getting to Cumberland House tomorrow where we will have a bit of lake paddling to refresh us for our push up the Sturgeon.

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

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