Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The end of a journey


What a strange feeling, to have gone so far and worked so hard, and have it end so suddenly. Lake Superior literally snuck up on us, a good 1/2 kilometer earlier than we thought it would. It was a beautiful day to emerge from the woods after two days of hiking, and see what might as well have been the ocean in front of us. It felt like it too, with the cool misty air and wonderful breeze.

We had been tracking our progress with the GPS along the Grand Portage, shuttling the canoe for 2 km at a time and then going back for bags (we couldn't do a single carry for that beastly portage, so it ended up being about 40 km of walking over 2 days. The gear was extra heavy after a solid day of rain, and the canoe was just too heavy of a boat to carry with a pack). At some point, I think after crossing Hwy. 61, we stopped tracking progress and just hiked, feeling a bit emotional at the end approaching, and knowing there was under 2 km left.

The last 1 km of the Grand Portage is definitely the most well-maintained and well-used. We weren't really sure where along the water the trail would emerge, but it led us right to the old fur trade headquarters, and we were able to portage right under the gate and out to their wharf, for a short paddle to the marina. Is it crazy to say I really didn't want to stop paddling, after 2350 km and 61 days? There was much talk in the last few weeks about the next leg, from Thunder Bay to Lachine, which Karl and I would both love to do in a few years.

I can't begin to express how well things worked out all summer, from people helping us out along the way, to support at home from Karl, to the unbelievable weather. I believe there were about 3 days during the whole summer where it rained during the day (and only a few hours each time), and any other rain came at night. We had beautiful blue skies and calm, glassy water on some of the biggest lakes (Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake, Namakan) and exciting tail winds on some of the other biggies (Sagananga, Knife, Gunflint)-- we discovered that 11 km/hr was about the max speed at which we could safely sail the canoe. At that speed the boat wanted to carve (we had no keel) and Karl could barely hang onto the sail.

After the busy Quetico/Boundary Waters section, we had a beautiful string of lakes all to ourselves on the border route, with under-used but well maintained portages -- we weren't sure what to expect as far upkeep, but someone is doing a great job!

It feels like a great accomplishment, to have seen so much of the country by water, and to come out feeling so good and on top of the world. It really kicked in, the distance we covered, when we were driving back through Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana.

I'm so appreciative to Angela, Erich and Karl and for everything.

Angela and I shared the planning and the excitement of starting the trip together. We had both had it in our minds to do a big trip, for a few years, and had tossed around the idea of a cross-Canada journey.  Last Christmas was the final stick in the mud, when we decided to commit to planning it together! We both had butterflies at planning something so huge and investing in food and gear.  I wouldn't have stood on the shores of Superior if it weren't for Angela committing to head out with me in the first place. There aren't many people in the world, let alone that I know personally, willing to take on big expeditions. Angela, I really hope your back heals up for good, so you can confidently take on new projects and trips!

To Erich, I feel lucky to have spent a month with you!  You sure are a busy guy, and like the wind, always embarking on new adventures in new places. We laughed so much, and pushed each other across big lakes and up many rapids. I wouldn't have made it upstream in such good time without your knowledge of currents and amazing ability to read water. It was great fun navigating rapids and pushing farther and farther upstream. I won't ever forget those beautiful glassy, glassy days on Lake of the Woods. We couldn't have been any luckier on that lake, to have such good weather and blue skies.

To Karl, much thanks for helping us from home, even before you were a part of the paddling 'team.' From sending out food boxes and surprise packages, to making calls and inquiries, to letting Angela and I take over the house with packing, to being a great listener when I used my cell to call from odd places along the way. And of course for putting the bug in my ear, for reminding me that I was fully capable of continuing on solo, when I thought the trip might be over early. Thank you so much for rearranging your whole summer and work schedule to be able to paddle the last leg, and drive out early to switch places with Erich. I threw someone who had never been on a canoe trip into the hardest leg of the journey-- you fared amazing on the long days and even caught us a few fish (and rocks!)

Thanks to Jay Morrison for being inspirational and so helpful along the way. I hope this trip allowed you to re-live a bit of your journey!!

Of course to my family for always being supportive and encouraging of my adventures, and for not batting an eye when I decided to go solo!

Erich has already thanked many people, so I won't go overboard.

I guess this really is the end, which is hard to admit, but I hope to write an article soon so I can share the story with more people.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Upstream through the Canadian Shield!

"One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast... a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards." 
– Edward Abbey
(American Writer whose works, set primarily in the southwestern United States, reflect an uncompromising environmentalist philosophy)

As with most trips I am always amazed at how fast they go by. In a strange way I love the end of a trip just as much as I love the excitement that surrounds the start of a journey. Of course this trip isn't quite over as my sister still had around another 500 km to go when I left her and Karl in Fort Frances.

I would like to give a special thanks to Karl for doing such a good job on the "support" end of the trip. All extended expeditions always require a certain amount of support from the outside. The transitions of each leg of the trip have been made possible because of other people! To Zenon and family in Prince Albert, Mike and family in Winnipeg, to Jay and to all of our family – Thank you!

Then there’s the stranger who brought us fresh water at a campsite in MB. And I can’t forget the boaters on Lake of the Woods that told us to swing by their cottage for a beer which quickly turned into fresh pickerel caught that day. Nor will I forget the 4 polish tourists that helped carry our fully loaded canoe over the 2 meter portage at the very end of a long day in Barrier Bay, MB. And cheers to the four airplane mechanics who made us  drinks and shared some fresh home-grown garden cucumber at the bottom of Lamprey Rapids after a solid 40 km day.

Thanks to the campground in Minaki who didn’t charge as a dime to sleep on their screened-in porch and offered us showers! Thanks to the Hydro Manitoba workers who gave me a motorboat ride back 5 km to a dam where we forgot my small dry-bag at the other end of the portage. (If you’re a canoe-tripper you know that’s a mistake you’ll strive to never make again.) Thanks to Hydro Manitoba for their hospitality during the middle of 2 portages by simply stopping to talk and providing encouragement - it's good to know that not all “No trespassing signs” are strictly enforced. Thanks to Kristina’s old classmate from University who made our stay in Keewatin, ON a lot easier and very restful. I know for a fact that there are numerous other thanks owed to people not mentioned here.

As much as I enjoy pure wilderness trips where you won’t see another sign of human life for weeks on end, paddling through towns and seeing other people doesn’t take away from the experience. Using the water ways (which often follow the highways and roads that we whiz by on a daily bases) provides a unique feeling of independence and competency. Being able to tell others what we were doing always provided us with a mix of reactions. It’s interesting to note how many people were scared for us on “big” open lakes or camping in black-bear country. Some were genuinely scared for Kristina’s life during her solo portion of the trip.

The over all flow and progress of this trip was amazing. Time and time again things just seemed to fall into place. It wasn’t a cake walk by any means and in fact, these were some of longest and hardest days I have ever done canoeing. Once back on the water in Powerview, MB, our first few days were below the 36 km/day average we were aiming for. In order to bring the average back up, 40 km/day became the unofficial new goal. It was fun to crunch the numbers and notice day in and day out how consistent we were at putting in solid days of paddling. We weren’t rushing or not enjoying ourselves, but Kristina did have a timeline for when she needed to be at Superior. It didn’t matter what obstacle came our way we still were able to keep going.

Upstream travel was fun. I hadn’t done much of it before this trip. Hugging the river banks where the current is weaker provides close ups of riverbank features. We rarely had to portage any of the rapids as we were able to eddy hop, ferry, and use features of the river to move us upstream. Most rapids that we negotiated ended up with us just needing to line (or track) the boat up the top portion of the rapid. I recall approaching rapids a couple of times later in the day (around 5-7pm). We were definitely looking for camp near or around that time. Most people I know would call it there, set up camp and deal with the extra effort needed to paddle up the current, or track the rapid feeling fresh in the morning. But if we were only 35km into the day or if there was no appealing place to camp, Kristina and I pushed on. Be sure to take note that efficiency is not synonymous with easiness. We still needed a bit of extra energy and focus to negotiate the currents. Paddling when we could, hopping out when we needed to. It seemed like minutes would fly by and the roar of the obstacle was now getting quieter behind us.

My hat goes off to my sister. She’s a trooper. Everyone has different mental models of what endurance and limits mean to them. We were both tired but at the same time I felt rested. With 7-9 hours of sleep of night and good food we had what it took to keep moving. In the world of the outdoors there is a wide variety of personal styles, paces and reasons for seeking adventure. It’s pretty cool to have a sister whose style and mentality is compatible with my own. Then again, I think the only people who want to do a trip of this magnitude are naturally going to be the “trooper” type! Crosswinds, headwinds, current, mosquitoes, clay, sloped tent sites, tornado producing storms, and other forms of adversity just become things you have to deal with! There’s no sense in thinking negatively which then emmits less productive energy.

Numerous times Kristina I discussed loose plans and ideas for future trips. Both her and I have partners who are very competent outdoor enthusiasts as well. There is an endless combination of rivers and water systems that could be linked together to provide beautifully challenging trips. We never know what the future holds but it is always fun to dream up ideas. I’m pretty sure most ideas just start out as talk…

I am excited to hear how the last leg with Karl goes. It’s pretty cool that my sister has been the one constant throughout the journey and has had 3 different partners. I hope that Angela heals up 100% and will grow positively from the unfortunate experience of needing to leave the trip. I am happy for Kristina who chose to carry on by herself. Thank you Mom and Dad for making it possible for me to join my sister mid-trip! It was a very satisfying sight to watch Karl and Kristina paddle Eastward on Rainy Lake.

For now I am super happy to be back in North Vancouver. It was a little over 3 days to hitch-hike from Grand Portage, MN to Vancouver, BC. That’s definitely on the faster end of hitching time-lines and it was a cool experience to stand on the side of the highway with a PFD and paddle in hand. My sign read “Canoed X-Country.”  Thanks to everyone who stopped to pick me up.

Happy adventures!


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fort Frances the journey continues with new paddling partner

I suppose we can call this the fourth part of the adventure. Angela started out with Kristina and unfortunately had to stop due to a previous back injury. Kristina then continued on for 10 days on her own. Part three would be when Erich joined up with her in Prince Albert. Part four (to the end) will be with Karl. He arrived in Fort Frances yesterday afternoon and met up with Kristina and Erich. Kristina made a quick call to us last night to let us know they met up just fine, had dinner and were staying at a camp site somewhere in or around Fort Frances. They had to shop for another map, of Quetico, and some more camp fuel before heading out today (Aug. 8th) Erich will now take Karl's truck and drive to the take out in Grand Portage. Erich and Kristina met up with another paddler, a 64 year old from Port Carling, close to home in Muskoka. They exchanged phone #'s and hope to get intouch with him when they are home together. The call last night was short. We should hear from Erich today. As Kristina said, they have lots of interesting stories to share. Regardless of the number of paddling partners, Kristina has almost come to the end of this amazing journey. Stay posted for the next blog which Erich will post when he gets back to Vancouver early next week.

Sabine and John