It's been a pleasure. What a great time its been thus far! I can recall lying on my mattress the first night in the tent letting out an enormous sigh thinking, "This is better. This is where I want to be."
After a full day of airports and airplanes and figuring out how to meet up with my sister from Saskatoon to Prince Albert (Thank you Nicole!) it was great to leave all that behind. Things get a lot simpler when you are on the river. Oh sure, it's hard in some ways, but in others it's a lot easier. You wake up, find the blue barrel that has all those gluten-free yummie calories in it. Figure out what fuel will get us through the day, load up and paddle! Yep, thats what you do on a canoe trip. Put your paddle in and pull some water, and do it again and again. Its ridiculous to some, but to us it just makes sense.
We've got our systems dialed. We both like having a clean and efficient camp site. We're quick in the mornings (motivated by our tiny buzzing, biting neighbours) and then we're on the water. We crunch the numbers, stay found on the map while at the same time not being too consumed by distances and progress. The best part about doing something like this is just the process. Being in the moment. Every bend, every nook and cranny along the river bank offers some form of familiar uncertainty. Whether its man-made hunt camps or beavers launching themselves 2 meters off a river bank in front of you there's always something just around the next bend!
It's been cool to check out this part of Canada. Having spent time on outdoor trips in Quebec, Ontario, B.C. and the Yukon, the prairies (especially these northern sections) had never been on my radar. My thrill-filled trips come from white-capped mountains and white-capped rivers of the West and my peaceful ventures have always sprouted from the land of the lakes in Ontario. I feel almost proud of the fact that I am getting to experience the lesser sought after, North Saskatchewan River.
It's been different. At first there was clay, although by the sounds of it, I didn't have to deal with the brunt of it. Clay banks and thick willowy/aldery "schwack" along the shores are different from the eastern smooth rocks and spruce/fir forests which we are excited to get to. Closer to Prince Albert, the Sk river was full of mamal activity. It seemed to make sense that as the river turned into a marsh-like delta there wouldn't be as many wildlife sightings. The closer we got to Cumberland House, mosquitos and hunt camp care-takers seemed to be our only friends.
When our little blue tent is pitched on the shores of the only main watering source for elk, moose, cayote, deer, beavers and bears you can expect to hear and see lots of action. There were a few days where seeing 2 coyotes, 2 elk, a moose, and 8 white-tails were not uncommon. Floating by them in a canoe gives a better opportunity to be quiet and not scare them off. Of course, this meant at night it was a regular occurance to hear loud rustles and footsteps. On the 2nd night something pretty large in size came trampling right beside our tent. I can attest that every noise and I mean every noise always sounds bigger when you're lying down in your tent. I'm pretty sure this must of been an elk as we could feel the thudding of its foot steps. With hearts racing and just 30 min of sleep, we couldn't get back to sleep. I recall staying up for quite some time just chatting about anything and everything.
As we got into Muskeg territory we were happy to have paddled upon a beautiful hunt camp. It looked well maintained, with grass recently cut, I called up onto the river bank and the only one there to greet us was a gorgeous golden lab. We knew someone would be back and waited for just an hour before Nathan, a care-taker boated up from downstream. Having the kitchen there to boil water, and a lodge to get relief from the bugs was amazing. The photos and quality of this camp left an impact on both Kristina and I. Nathan, the care taker was very hospitable and we wish we could have stayed longer to meet the owners who seem to lead quite the ideallic outdoor lifestyle. Signing the guest book we learned that we were only 1 day behind a family who's doing a similar trip in a canoe. We had heard upstream from others, about this couple, with a 9 month old baby and their dog paddling in the same fashion as Kristina and I. I can only hope that one of the first acts this baby learns is how to swat a mosquito on his face.
Where we are from in Ontario people make reference to the bugs being bad. Now, I know black flies are a different breed and that bugs are bugs, but I have never experienced mosquitos like we did in muskeg land. I'm no biologist, but I can safely say that we went through Ground Zero. All mosquitos in the history of the earth must have migrated from, or orignially started in the marsh lands of the North Sasketchwan. One swat on my leg killed 16. I once took my head out from my bug net to lick a plastic knife that had peanut butter on it and I killed 2 mosquitos with my tongue against the utensil. Okay, okay, I know that there are tons of wet landscapes I have yet to travel and maybe one day I will be fortunate enough to trump this experience, but it was noteworthy to say the least! I thought about how all mammals experience bug stress. Those poor Elk have it worse then us! With the right clothes, closed shoes, a tent and managing your time it really isn't that bad. My only advice for anyone who ends up in the muskeg would be to never, at no time, relieve yourself in the bush. Doing your thing in the forest is a piece of cake compared to Ground Zero. Let me know if you find a way to hold it in for the 200km's it takes to get through it! The battle is 100% mental.
We are enjoying the rest here in the Pas. I have to take care of job applications and paperwork for the up-comming fall and winter seasons. It appears that there are numerous trippers and people in the Winnipeg paddling community who are reaching out to make the transition to our next leg easier. What goes around comes and around. Here's to being in Friendly Manitoba! Thank you Jay Morrison for the CPAWS contacts.
Thanks to all the friends and family for support. My time is running out on this paid internet card. No time for editing - apologies for typos and spelling errors.