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!


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