Across Canada: Stage Two
I had paddled the entire length of the North Saskatchewan River and now I only had 15kms until entering Cedar Lake. This was my last night on the river and like all of my other trips, I seem to look forward to finishing each goal set, but when I get there, I always have some sense of sadness. From now on I wouldn’t get any assistance from a current, in fact at times I may not be moving fast at all as I fight windy lakes and the current as I paddle upstream on the Winnipeg River. The easy days of doing over 100kms a day have gone.
Thursday 7th July
I slept well, I was up at 6.10am and off at 7.55am being helped along the way by a slight wind and a current. I passed another cabin which was underwater and another where the river divided and this was the last cabin I saw. The birds had been plentiful and were constantly chattering, but it became quieter near the end of the channel where there were no bushes.
I paddled to the right of an island of reeds where a beaver had made its den of sticks, reeds and mud. My map gave an indication that the river was going further but once around the island it suddenly opened up into a huge lake. Islands were scattered around it but without my GPS or my map it was hard to gauge which way I should be heading. I was heading south-east and it looked a long way to the shelter of an island should the conditions change and the lake suddenly become rough. There was no one out here to rescue me or a bank close by to swim to. I was committed and as I headed off on a compass bearing towards the wilds of Cedar Lake, I felt that leaving the safety of the river and paddling into the open shallow lake was a bit intimidating. From now on though, crossing lakes and big bays were going to be frequent.
I arrived at my first island before the wind started to get a little dicey disturbing an eagle which was happily perched on the tallest tree nearby. I had a pee, a stretch and off I went to the next island taking another pee. Not knowing if I will have to stay in my kayak for hours I made sure that at every opportunity to get rid of any excess fluid. There is nothing worse on having a full bladder paddling in a rough sea and unable to do anything about it. I have never peed in my kayak and I didn’t want to start now but I carried a cup inside my cockpit for emergencies.
I managed to get behind an island that would shield me from the northerly wind and found a friendlier set of bays with pelicans, loons with chicks and some beautiful rock that was scarce in the area. I had seen little colourful rock on my journey so far and I was longing to see more.
By 6.00pm, I crossed over to the mainland on a stiff breeze and for some time it didn’t look as though I would find a campsite but as I turned in towards Paul Inlet, I spotted a tiny beach, though littered with timber it was my camp for the night.
When this lake was created, little was done to clear the trees. On one of the previous lakes, apparently two bulldozers with a wire cable between them just knocked over the trees. Of course over time, the trees floated to the surface and then with the prevailing wind they drifted towards the closest shoreline. So the Cedar Lake shoreline was completely chock-a-block with big and small trees.
I was sheltered from the wind on my small sandy beach, I had the pleasure of having a strip wash and for a time be able to walk around with the minimum of clothes. It felt good after the confines of the river and all the greenery to have open spaces and be able to feel the sand under my feet.
I hadn’t seen a boat all day but a commercial fishing boat motored into Paul Inlet and some time later it came out again. The boats wash threw up quite a wave and being less than a metre higher than the waterline a wave nearly washed into my camp. Worst of all the wind changed to the east and the constant lapping of waves up the beach created splashing onto my tent. I was hoping it wasn’t going to get rougher as I just might get flooded out in the night.
Eventually the mosquitoes did come out and they managed to follow me into the tent and it took me quite a long time to kill them all. Blood was oozing with every kill, my blood I suspect!
With the lapping of waves and the odd mosquito bugging me, I didn’t sleep as peacefully as the previous night.
Friday 8th July
My tent door was wet from the spray of the lapping waves. The waves also created problems for leaving as they were very close together and I couldn’t imagine getting into the kayak without one of the waves filling it up. To my surprise I waited for a lull pushed off, jumped in and got away without a hitch.
An eagle was perched on one of highest but dead trees in Paul Inlet. As I crossed the bay and headed virtually straight into an easterly wind I noticed a cabin at the bottom of the inlet which must have been the fisherman’s headquarters.
With the wind forecast to be in my face virtually all day, I could feel it just wasn’t going to be a good day, but I had to fight it or get nowhere. Parts of the beach along the first stretch had been cleared of dead timbers and cut up into small pieces allowing people and small boats to land on the beach. This was the only place I had seen it being done, maybe the cabin or the fishing community uses the timbers for their fire!
I was getting frustrated with the strong headwinds so at the first opportunity I landed on a drift log beach to pee. Lapping waves pushed the kayak hard against a log, I heard a crack, it got pushed again but I was unable to hold onto it and I winced when I heard another crack. Checking the kayak out later I couldn’t see any damage.
I saw another eagle, it was being chased by two gulls. It was like a Lancaster Bomber being chased by two Spitfires planes. The rain set in, the wind increased and the day didn’t get any easier. I landed a few more times, some time on rock ledges other times on a type of seaweed particles that sank underfoot. At one point I was considering camping on the seaweed as there didn’t seem much alternative but instead I moved on hoping to find something better.
As time to camp got closer I was keeping my fingers crossed that I would soon find a spot as the day had been tough and I didn’t want to cross another bay tonight. Luckily I found another tiny beach with fewer timbers so I was able to land. I was so happy to have found that beach even though it was swampy a few metres away. It was so good to be off the water.
It continued to be cloudy and the wind dropped a little by 9.00pm.
Saturday 9th July
It was still extremely windy and thunderstorms were erupting over to west, although they seemed to be headed my way. I left the tent up until the last minute just in case I needed shelter. I was in a dilemma to if to leave the shore or risk crossing a bay with the chance a thunderstorm taking me out. I needed to get on so I chanced it and left.
I was headed east against a SE wind so it wasn’t directly in my face which was a little better. At least the kayak wouldn’t be slamming up and down over ever wave that came along. I kept a constant look out for the thunderstorm. The sky was grey with large bands of black and it was enough to be concerned. I noticed two cabins over on an island that I was passing and they were the only signs of man being around.
I reached the point that I was headed to, had a short break and headed directly into the wind across another bay. At noon I was stopped again on my last leg before the dam. It wasn’t going to be a pleasant paddle heading across another bay for about 10 kms directly into the wind. As I took off the wind suddenly swung around and started to blow in more of a westerly direction and it started to help push me across the bay.
The help from the wind was strong but when it gets too strong it is more dangerous than when pushing into it so I had to be careful. The big waves which were close together kept swamping the kayak and whilst it wallowed underwater it made it a lot more unstable. As I couldn’t see what was coming from behind, several waves surprised me. On the up side I was travelling at a great speed and it didn’t take long to get across to the Grand Rapid Dam.
I was unsure where to land for the best portage. This was a big dam and it looked as if I would have to walk at least 10 kms to get back in. I had the phone number of the dam so I stopped near a road about 500 metres or so from the dam wall and rang the number to see the best way to portage. The man in the control room told me to paddle further to a boat ramp and he would see if there were any staff members that could help me with the portage.
I paddled for another five or so minutes and as I arrived at the boat ramp so did my lift….now that’s what I call service. Adam Newman drove me around to a cabin/ camping park where I set up tent and where I intended to have a day’s rest to charge batteries, do my washing etc.
The park had several fishermen staying there. They were all excited because the fish were biting and it didn’t take them too long to haul one in. Apparently the fish that they were catching were pickerel, one of the best eating fish around. The fishermen would drive their boats close to the dam wall where the water was being released and then just float down with the current. When they got to Lake Winnipeg, which wasn’t far away they would motor back up again. In the meantime they would have caught several fish. It was as easy as that.
Being at Grand Rapid and the start of Lake Winnipeg left me with a little dilemma. A group of canoeists in a big voyageur canoe, who were ahead of me doing the same route suggested that I didn’t paddle the west side of lake Winnipeg for the first two hundred kilometers because the water in the lake was much higher than usual and with the west side being swampy there wouldn’t be any beach to land on. Other locals made a similar suggestion. So what do I do? I have never been one for detouring but I had to evaluate the importance of doing the route I set out to do. After seeing what Cedar Lake was like and the limited camping it had on it, would the west swampy side of Lake Winnipeg actually be under water or was it just people guessing what it could be like?
Do I take their advice or just give it a go? Normally I would give it a go as if I had taken advice on all the other things I had done I wouldn’t have done anything. But it was true there were big floods raising rivers and lakes, so maybe this one time I should be cautious, swallow my pride and take a suggestion of some fishermen in the camp.
One hundred and ninety kilometers south of Grand Rapid there is a river that flows from Lake Manitoba into Lake Winnipeg. Lake Manitoba has been flooding with many communities lost to floodwaters. To get from Lake Manitoba to Lake Winnipeg there is a lake and a river. If I did this route as suggested by Ben and Jim, this would cut out 200kms of the swampy coastline of Lake Winnipeg but it is still 120 kms to get back into Lake Winnipeg at a similar place. So although I will miss a chunk of the big lake I will only lose about 80kms in distance taking the optional route.
Jim and Ben had fished these waters for years and they knew a lot about the area, and like others they too didn’t think I should paddle the western shore.
When Jim, Ben, Ben’s son Sonvasilis and his friend Austin returned from a fishing trip they invited me to their cabin for a fish feast. And what a feast it was. Jim was the chief cook who used beer batter to give the fish that extra taste. The fish were only hours old. The beer was older and three cans slipped down very nicely. So with three fish fillets and three beers it didn’t take me long to decide that doing the detour was the best option.
I returned to my campsite full and very contented with my evening meal. Several other fishermen were cleaning and filleting their catch of fish in the fish cleaning shed and there were still several boats on the water catching their quota of fish. It was a busy place.
Because I had Internet coverage here I was able to send away several photos of the trip.
Sunday 10th July
I had a relaxing morning washing clothes and doing odd jobs. Ken and Jim had said they would give me a lift and pick me up about midday. They arrived arrived earlier so I wasn’t quite ready. It was a quick pack up, put the kayak on the roof rack and we were away. I was leaving Grand Rapid and deep down I knew I was going to resent doing the detour but I had made the decision so I couldn’t let it eat away at me.
We had a quick stop at a service station for ice, a drink and a bite to eat before following the road which was lined with spruce trees.
We soon arrived at Fairford a small community and campground right next to a river that was rushing with furry out of Lake Manitoba. The boys dropped me off at a campsite very close to a bunch of pelicans and close to the water. I got settled in, it was warm and as I hadn’t showered for several days I thought I would see what a hot shower was like. It turned out being as good as I expected.
I may not have looked much fresher, but I sure felt it. On the way to the shower, I caught up with John, the owner of the park and he was very much into strange creatures never seen, like huge bats that can kill a moose, big snakes, enormous beavers, and all the huge mysterious animals you hear about, but the photographs are always blur. He said he was researching them and he has been having talks with the local indigenous people and is writing a book about the creatures. He was very enthusiastic about them and he couldn’t stop talking about the subject.
Although I still needed to update my blog the chance to go and eat a meal at the local restaurant couldn’t be overlooked. After checking out the pelicans near the bridge the restaurant was more of a take-away place with a few seats and by Joe it was busy. People were streaming in for chicken and chips etc. I had roast beef and chips and though it wasn’t the best at least it was different from my cheap pasta meals.
I was told that many of the people who had to move out of their homes because of the floods were supplied with free food and housing from the government. Some of the locals around here were going to be out of their homes for months and maybe years so it was going to be an expensive operation for the government because much of the state was underwater.
The campground was full of RVs housing many of the flood victims. The park owner has been buying secondhand RVs as accommodation for housing the floor victims and then the government pays him a nice sum of money a week.
Back at my tent I started sending more photo’s home but my plan ran out and it didn’t allow me to send any more emails. Bugger…. I was having a good time sending stuff but I suspect the pictures I was sending were using up a lot of memory.
Monday 11th July
The pelicans were active through out the night, I could hear the sound of their feet hitting the water as they were taking off and landing. John came around to see me off. He said he would go to the bridge downstream and help me portage the road as I wouldn’t be able to get under the bridge as it was flooded.
The water was very quick for the first 10 minutes then my free ride started to slow. I passed under an old swing railway bridge, passed a church and a flying fox chair that crossed the river. I wondered if it was the church goers use the flying fox? Then a few minutes later I was in the swamps, the current slowed considerably, there was a strong headwind and the river divided into different channels. It was hard work for a while but fortunately when it joined into one again it quickened.
I finally saw the bridge that I had to portage around. Yes there wasn’t room for anything to go under. John and two people, who were flooded out of their home were waiting a few hundred metres from the bridge at the lowest part of the road. John’s friends who were in their late 60s have never seen the water as high. Their house wasn’t that far away but it is cut off by the floodwaters and so they were having to live in a RV in John’s campground.
I took off checking the raging waters going under the bridge before turning and heading into the lake at a fairly fast pace. I had to go a long way into the lake before I could turn because of the huge expanse of reeds. When I turned to head north I was buffeted by the strong wind. At first I didn’t think I was getting anywhere but I moved slowly cutting across from one reed bed to another. The real shoreline and houses were near a kilometre away and there was no dry ground so I had no alternative when I wanted to have a pee, I had to pee in my cup.
Eventually, as I passed a village several machines were building a levy bank and I managed to find some solid ground about 2 metres wide to stop for lunch. I crossed another bay still paddling against the wind and again found the shelter of some flooded trees to have the boat steady enough to have a pee in my cup again.
As the end of my paddling day was coming to an end I was passing another village. I didn’t want to go much further than the village because the land beyond it was really swampy. I didn’t fancy stopping along the shore of the village either so I kept going until I had passed the last house and then I started to get closer to the shore to see if I could find a spot. More machines were building the levy bank nearby, kicking up a lot of dust and noise so I didn’t really want to camp where they could see me.
I passed an old barn that was way under water. It has probably stood there for untold years and it’s probably the first time it’s been under water. I paddled towards some trees and then into a channel between them which was green with slime. At this point I was quite desperate to find somewhere, so a bit of thick green slime wasn’t going to stop me from finding some high ground. I could hardly move and every time I lifted my paddle some of the green slime would slide off. My kayak wasn’t looking so pretty.
I pushed through some trees and then I had to turn as I could go no further. On the way out I saw some high ground that would have to do. It was all tall grass and weeds but it would flatten. I pulled up to the bank trying not to fall in or even put a foot in the water. It was tricky, but I managed it.
Once I pushed the grass down it was a great little hide-away with all types of birds, frogs, ducks and a million dragon flies. And the best thing was, there didn’t seem to any mossies until it started to get dark. I did find a little tick on me but I couldn’t find any others. A frog just sat on the waters edge looking at me all evening.
I even had mobile reception.
Tuesday 12th July
I had erected my tent on a bit of a slope and my bed even had a bump in it so I kept slipping off my mat. I laid there for a while listening to the birds chattering. It was quite a pleasure being snug and listening to all the activity in the swamp outside.
As I moved out of the swamp I could see tadpoles just turning into frogs. It was dead calm once I got back on the lake and so much different from the previous day. The graders and haul packs were at it again, levelling the levy that they were building.
I had to round a long point but from a distance I thought I could see a gap in it and a way through so I took the gamble to check it out as I didn’t want to paddle a lot further than I had to. As I got closer I wasn’t so sure as the route looked blocked by reeds but when I got there I was able to push through the reeds for about a kilometre and come out on the other side. Many of the reeds were laid over so when they collected on the bow of the kayak every so often I had to back paddle to get them off. It was actually good fun pushing through the reeds and I was pretty happy that I didn’t have to turn back. The best part was that it saved a lot of time.
My next objective was to find the start of the Dauphin River which lay somewhere across the bay. It was comforting to think that when I reach it I should have some good current flow down the river. I was soon disappointed though when I reached it as I couldn’t feel any movement so at first I thought I must have missed the real entrance to the river. A kilometre further with relief it started to flow, then a few more kilometres there was so much water that the road next to the river was flooded. All I could see were the signs and the road edge posts and a really tall post which had an eagles nest on top. The eagles seemed quite content.
I stopped on a higher part of the road to check my backrest as it was rubbing and torturing me. I also had a delicious snack of bread and cheese, well maybe it wasn’t that good, but it filled my stomach. Two sets of surveyor tripods and waterproof boxes had been left nearby. Probably got caught out with the flood! Apart from the road, which was the highest point everything else was underwater. There was no high ground in the forest and all the cabins were swamped.
The river narrowed then widened, went quicker and then it slowed. As I headed downstream I could see the yellow limestone road appear and then disappear again when it was lost underwater. As the river changed direction I met a power boat and the current started to increase to a good fun speed.
I passed about five cars with boat trailers on the left bank. It looked as if the locals were using the side of the road as a boat ramp. At first it puzzled me why they wouldn’t motor up from the town, but I had my suspicion that the faster water further downstream had something to do with it. A few minutes later the gradient got steeper and the water a little faster and then small rapids started to develop. The next bend the rapids were just that little bigger and the next bend bigger still. I didn’t know how big they were going to become so I stopped to put my helmet on. No wonder the boats were put in upstream, they probably couldn’t get up the rapids.
Pelicans dotted the rapids and just as I was getting into a rhythm the water calmed, although I was quite pleased. It’s good to have a bit of excitement but being on my own I would rather not have too much excitement. The river banks had suddenly became a lot higher and houses started to appear. Most of the people had moved out because of the flood leaving just a few people to look after the town. With no road out everything had to be brought in by boat or air. Then I saw a Canadian flag flying on one house so I pulled over as I wanted to top up a water container. The building was a kind of shop. There were cabins to rent but with the flood waters they were all empty. We had a chat about the floods and one thing and another. He had an old grey Massey Ferguson tractor outside with a grass reaper on it. It still works, he said, I cut all this grass the other day. I used to drive a grey Massey Ferguson tractor from when I was eight years old on my dad’s farm so I had a bit of affinity with it. He topped up my water bottle and I said goodbye.
Back in the kayak it wasn’t far to the town. Four big boats lay on the dirt on the riverbank. Their day has come to an end. A man in a boat motoring up the river stopped and had a chat. At the end of our conversation he asked if I wanted a fish. Yes please, I said. I expected him to produce one from his boat but instead he said, I’ll just go and get one, I’ll check my net.
He whizzed away out of the river mouth into Lake Winnipeg. I followed checking out all the buildings and cabins on my way. It looked a nice little town. I paddled about a kilometre in the lake when the guy stopped his boat and handed me a fish. I’ll put it in this glove to stop the blood, he said. He then gave me it and I put it in my cockpit. As we talked it wouldn’t stop wriggling, but with time it was still. He told me about the beaches ahead, asked if I wanted another fish and then we parted.
I paddled towards the furthest beach, found a good spot and lit a fire to make some nice hot coals. I had a strip wash but the lake edges were full of dead insects so I didn’t bother going in for a swim. I pottered, checked out the bear, coyote and deer tracks and then threw the fish on the coals. When it was done it was absolutely beautiful, even without any sauces or seasoning. Now I wished I had taken another one for breakfast.
Wednesday 13th July
It was still calm when I woke but as the sun started to climb, the wind began to blow. I first had to cross over a bay and be on the other side to continue along the lakes edge. As I started the crossing the wind was blowing from the south-east and as I was going east, at least it was better than a complete headwind, but it was still hard. The crossing was only 10 kilometres so it was bearable. When I reached the other side I landed to have pee. There were a few beaches, but there wasn’t a lot of dry sand between the water and the scrubby shoreline, so I couldn’t see them being very useful for camping.
I now started to head north so the southerly wind was at last going in my direction, although with a following sea the bigger waves were making the kayak much more unstable. I was pleased for the extra push though as the kilometres went by much faster as I raced along, although it was pleasing to get to the point where the water was much more sheltered and I didn’t have to worry about the chance of capsizing.
As I crossed Linx Bay the view ahead looked a lot more spectacular as cliffs on the other side started to appear. When you have been looking at nothing but trees, the different scenery certainly made my day a lot more special.
The cliffs weren’t terribly high but they were cliffs and very intriguing with several different formations and patterns. One cliff looked like an arched doorway. Other sections had large chunks of cliff that had fallen into the water.
I stopped on a rock beach under the cliffs but the dragon flies and the biting March flies were so bad I had to get back in the kayak to get away from them. Out on the water they swarmed around me for some time and as soon as I passed a large number of cormorants and pelicans out in the next bay they disappeared.
Across the next bay I came to another cliff line and the yellow coloured beaches I saw from afar were actually yellow rock rather than yellow beaches. I didn’t realize that at the time but as I rounded a corner I noticed this unbelievable sandy point. I was so excited to see part of Western Australia there in front of me I imagined camping on it and watching the sun set below the cliffs and running around in the nude. Life tonight was going to be like being in paradise.
I drew closer to McBeth Point but I was hugely disappointed to see that the yellow sand was all rock and impossible to erect a tent on. I disembarked and checked out the long point. On the other side, the lake was over excited and pretty rough with waves pounding the shoreline. Mingling amongst the bigger rocks on that side I noticed a small section of pebbles which I could erect my tent on but with it being so windy I really needed to find a better place.
At the point on the eastern and rough side I could see some abandoned cabins of a fishing processing plant. I decided to check them out, to see if there was a nice camp and a good beach to land on! I rounded the point and the raging waves slapped me up and down with no regard for my safety. I realised I should have stayed on the sheltered side where at least it was calm. The cabins were located on a very rocky shoreline, which was impossible and almost suicidal to land on in the rough conditions. I moved further around a low rocky point disturbing a colony of gulls and pelicans and tried to find a better way to get to the cabins. There was an entrance but with the high water and the waves smashing against the shore, the timber stumps and the jetties protruding the water made it too dangerous to attempt to land.
So now here I was on the rough side of the point with nothing but the flooded forest or rocky shoreline in front of me. There was nothing for me to do other than back tracking to the other side or try to land where I saw the small pebble section on the point. I didn’t fancy back tracking so I decided to take a chance and go ashore and hope that I wouldn’t get smashed up the rock beach.
I lined myself up, waited for a lull in the waves, the trouble was, there was no lull on the windy lake to wait for. I paddled towards the shore hoping not to crunch my bow up the rocks and to my surprise I managed to get my spraydeck off and get out the boat between the smashing waves and I had the kayak dragged up the rocky slope with only a scratch or two on the hull. I was quite amazed to be landed.
The wind was ultra strong, which the eagles didn’t seem to mind but I soon got cold so I changed quickly and then I wondered how I was going to get the tent up in the strong wind and even if I did, would the pegs hold? I used the kayak to hold down the lower side of the tent facing the wind and although the fabric and poles were buckling, it held up. I had images in my mind of the tent flying away in the night with me still in it!
I skipped having a hot pasta meal as it was just too rough to think about cooking so I slipped into the tent to get out of the wind and to write. Just before retiring I stepped outside for a pee in a cold wind under the canopy of a beautiful full moon.
Thursday 14th July
The wind had calmed during the night, but it was nearly gale force again when I awoke. I was quite happy with the tent and the fact that it had held up after taking so much strain. The water had been lapping up against the shoreline all night and at one time I was concerned so looked outside to check to see if everything was still there.
There was a rush to get packed up and get going before the bay got even rougher. With it still too rough to launch safely on the windy side, I carried it over to the calmer side of the narrow spit, a little further to walk, but a much safer option.
I paddled around the point for a second time and headed for another point 12kms away. It was rough, but not suicidal. I was travelling SE and the wind was coming from the south so at least I wasn’t paddling directly into it and my kayak wasn’t slamming up and down as much. It took longer than expected to reach the point but at least I was able to get out and rest when I got there.
From then on I literally went from one point to another crossing several smaller bays. Each time I would get out and have a rest and a pee as now I was paddling directly into the wind and it was extremely tough going.
I eventually came to Jackhead, which again took forever to reach. I didn’t bother stopping as I wanted to get to Jackhead Harbour which was just before another bay that I had to cross. I landed on a great beach in Jackhead Harbor to camp, but unfortunately it had a lot of biting houseflies that didn’t respond to insect repellent.
Just before hitting the sack I went out for a pee. Up until then I hadn’t heard any mosquitoes but as soon as I went out with only my underpants on they were on me. I stood there trying to hurry to pee whilst at the same time slapping myself all over to keep them at bay, of course it didn’t work so I was covered in bites! The moon was coming up and what a beautiful sight that was, but I couldn’t linger long, as I was being bitten on places that are usually hidden.
As I entered the tent I rubbed against the sides to get rid of the mosquitoes on my back, but it wasn’t successful, there were lots of mosquitoes that came in with me. I then had to slap and swat, trying to kill them one by one and it wasn’t till they had all gone that I could sleep.
Friday 15th July
I was up and ready to go by 7.25am. Although I was told by Alaine (my weather station) that it was going to be westerly winds it was still coming from the SE, the direction I was headed so I wasn’t happy. It was only 10kms across the bay but that’s a long way when the wind is against you. The wind was even stronger than the previous day and the dark sky didn’t look that good either. It was a very grey day.
It got worse, then it calmed a little. I was happy to reach an island which took longer than I anticipated to get to, but the island was too swampy so I couldn’t stop so I had to pee in my cup. The next island was only 6kms away but it was headwind and there was no place to land unless I wanted to paddle 400m out of my way. I peed in my cup again.
The next island was 8kms away and again it was too swampy to get out and after being able to get out several times the previous day it was a bit of a shock to the system to be penned into my cockpit. The rough water however gave me something to think about and as long as I was able to pee I was okay. Eventually I made it to Matheson Island, which was near the mainland and landed to have a walk around.
Just when I needed the wind to help me head north, the southerly winds eased so I couldn’t use it to my advantage. A ferry transporting vehicles from the mainland to the island came into view. I stopped and asked the ferryman about the island and if he could spare some water. Every time he was about to give me some water someone wanted to cross so he stepped on the ferry to take them. By the time he was back another car had pulled up and this went on for about six crossings. Eventually cars stopped coming so he was able to top up my container and have a chat.
I had thought there was a shop on the island but he said it had closed down and now there was nothing. Without a shop I decided not to go to the main island community but to cross over and follow the mainland around. The ferryman said that there was a sandy beach around the next bay, but all the yellow shoreline I saw along the way was yellow rock.
Small cliffs along the mainland turned into higher ones. There were some amazing formations and many slabs of tumbled rock. It really made kayaking that little more interesting and I loved checking the patterns and the moss covered rocks and the flowers.
Looking across to the island I could see several houses. I thought the ferryman said there were about one hundred and twenty of them. I was soon leaving the sight of the island behind and as I rounded the next point at which the lake was at it’s narrowest the island was out of sight. Up until now I hadn’t been able to see the other side of the lake, but here it was only a few kilometres wide. I moved around the cliff lined point and started looking for the beach in the next bay. I could see a lot of yellow between the cliffs but I couldn’t determine if it was sand or rock. I headed for a yellow point that wasn’t out of my way but when I got there it was rock and not suitable for tent pegs. I backtracked and moved into a small bay to find all the yellow shore was rock, but at one rock beach I found some firm ground behind the rock to erect my tent. I was happy to be there as it had been a long day and I had some chaffing on my chest from my wet clothing and I needed to treat it with some cream before it got any worse.
Saturday 16th July
My camp in Stefonsons Bay turned out better than I had imagined, I think I was lucky to find it as all the other rocky beaches that I went by were impossible to camp on. I will probably see a beautiful beach around the next corner. When I woke I just laid there for a while, until 6.00am that was.
My pebbly beach consisted of thousands of flat rounded pancake rocks of all sizes which were very clean to put my gear on. There were only spiders amongst them. Many of the other beaches had jagged rocks.
The water in the bay was dead calm and when I rounded Little Doghead Point I made a beeline to Bullhead Point 6kms away. I couldn’t see any sandy beaches in that bay either so I was pleased that I made the decision to stop where did last night.
I stopped on a stony bar at Bullhead Point where a few cormorants were standing before heading towards Big Bullhead Point and passing the community of Pine Dock which was at the bottom of the bay. The wind was still light but it was starting to pick up by the time I came to Big Bullhead Point where I stopped and landed on a rock shelf and changed into my thicker paddling jacket as it looked as if the 13km crossing of Loon Straight was going to be rougher and cooler.
After 45 minutes on the crossing it was still calm enough to have a pee in my cup and get my iPod out but shortly after the wind picked up and I was headed straight south and into the wind waves. Again it was forecast for westerly winds so at this stage the forecast was wrong again. With the wind getting stronger I knew it was going to be a slow crossing punching into the waves that were getting bigger. Despite being on a big freshwater lake I was still carrying lots of water as I was told that all the polluted water from several rivers and from the city of Winnipeg drain into the lake so it was a gamble to drink it.
As the waves built up and splashed and smashed onto my deck I could hear nothing but my music on my iPod. It was quite strange being lifted up by a wave and slammed down to the music of Ronan Keating. It was like being in a different world hearing nothing of the noise of the crashing waves but to be suddenly lifted up to the beat of the music. It was quite a strange and surreal sensation. It was the first time that I had used the iPod in rough seas. I usually put it on when it is calm to prevent me falling asleep.
Two light aircraft flew over as I worked hard to get to the other shore. I had already had five days of head winds and I was told the prevailing wind came from the NW which would have been a great help, but where was it?
I was pretty pleased when I crossed the bay and came into the Loon Strait where I saw a small community on shore. The wind started to calm and turned a little to the SE. and 8kms further I spotted a nice beach and although it was only 5.15pm I didn’t care I could feel my arm chaffing and I needed to do some washing so it was the perfect place to allow things to dry. The beach was free of mosquitoes with only the odd march fly so it was near perfect.
As I unpacked I realized I had left behind my 30 year old small camera tripod. What a sad moment for me and the tripod, as the tripod has seen as much of the world as I have. It was probably sitting on the pebbly beach sad and lonely and waiting for me to return.
As soon as I had finished dinner I crawled in the tent to write. The sun set right in front of me. The sky was full of dragon flies and pelicans on the water. It was good to be there.
Sunday 17th July
The lake was dead calm when I awoke but that’s not to say it will stay like that. Pelicans were spread across the lake as I could see all the white bodies dotted around. It’s strange to see no pelicans on some parts of the lake and lots in other parts.
The lake was littered with millions of miniature dragon flies with only two wings. I was told these insects only live for 24 hours then die. They were very thick is some places and even thicker in other places. It was amazing to see the lake carpeted in insects. I had seen them before but they had always been washed up on shore now the lake was like a blanket of them. With the still conditions and nothing to push them across the lake they were still lying around. Other insects were living amongst the dead, like mosquitoes and many small flies and other insects.
I was wondering if any of the fish ate them because it was certainly an easy meal. An hour later I got my answer when I noticed a fish on the surface with it’s mouth open and scooping them up. I got so close to the fish that I could hit it with my paddle. Then I saw another and another all easy to approach, but once they saw the shadow of my kayak they darted away.
Pelicans were landing around me like aircraft. Rocky islands, many bare of vegetation were havens for gulls and pelicans. You could hear the sound of the gulls long before I could see the islands.
By 10.00am it was still calm which was quite unusual. For half an hour I took off my PFD but it was heavier in my lap than it was on my back so I put it on again. It was so calm I didn’t even need a spraydeck.
The rocky islands with gulls, pelicans and cormorants on were becoming more regularly. Then many other islands of the Kasakeemeemisekak group of islands with vegetation and moss rocks came along. My map was littered with islands and I thought they might be rock bombies, but they were scenic islands very pleasing to the eye. There were heaps of birds chattering away and many taking to flight as I approached them. I was enjoying the scenery and the calm day which couldn’t have been better.
There were two power boats whizzing around. I paddled over the bay to Black Island and they zipped past me again. As I rounded the point of Black Island I looked up in the sky to see where an aircraft noise was coming from. I then noticed way, way up in the sky there were four pelicans gliding in circles on the thermals. It was amazing how high they were. And why were they way up there? There was no food in the sky.
I crossed over from Black Island to a small community of Seymourville. I expected it to be a First Nation Village but it seemed to be a community of very expensive houses and lodges. People were swimming, sitting, walking, gathering. I felt a little lonely being out on the water when I could hear the laughter of people on shore. They were either very rich to own one of the houses here or very rich being able to have a holiday at one of the huge houses and lodges. I really wanted someone to invite me in, but they didn’t so I moved away from the community to find a campsite.
I rounded Clements Point and crossed a bay towards three beautiful beaches that turned out being rock islands with communities of birds. Further on though on the mainland there was a good beach. Although there were no insects on shore, when I got close to the trees the same small insect which were dead in the lake flew from the leaves and virtually smothered me. I subsequently kept away from the trees.
To my surprise I could get mobile phone reception so I sent more images home. Unfortunately Alaine was having trouble with the computers and were unable to update my blog. Well that was her excuse!!!
It had been a very hot day so I had a strip wash. With all the insects in the water I didn’t bother going in for a swim. The one good thing about being alone is that I could wash and walk around without clothes if I wanted. It wasn’t so good though when the flies and mosquitoes started biting.
Monday 18th July
There was a thick smoke haze in the air and it was hard to see more than 200 metres or so. The tent was also smothered with small insects. The lake was perfectly still and the white bodies of the pelicans stood out amongst the grey of the water and the grey of the smoke haze. Ravens were crowing as usual, a very common sound along my route but there were no gulls screeching. The morning was a little creepy.
I left my bay and a young eagle flew overhead being less afraid than the fully grown eagles were. I paddled up to four fish with their mouths open scooping up the dead insects. I took pleasure in creeping up to them. When they suddenly noticed me it was great to see the surprised look on their face. Then there was a bit splash to get away. I had thoughts of getting close and grabbing one with my hand but I wasn’t sure about the spines. All around me pelicans, one here one there were dotted around the lake as far as my eyes could see through the haze.
An island appeared and I thought it looked like Alcatraz Island, the prison Island in San Francisco. It had a tall tower and several buildings but when I got closer, the tower turned into a sign and the buildings turned into pelicans. Amazing what the eye sees from a distance.
From out of the haze a large flock of about 30 pelicans came towards me like aircraft in a D Day formation. It was also good to see pelicans glide straight at me then all of a sudden realize I’m there and peel off. Another pair of eagles flew from one high tree to another. I had been wondering what eagles eat, then out of the blue, instead of one flying away from my presence it started to dive towards the water. I attempted to get my camera out but I was too late, the eagle soon hit the water surface and with it’s claws ready, grabbed a big fish and flew away to savour it’s catch. Well, that made my day.
Parts of the shoreline had been devastated by the high water and wind wave erosion. Many of the trees closest to the water had fallen or had been uprooted and lay like match sticks along the shore. It wasn’t a pretty sight and it did make landing difficult.
A little further closer to Little Black River Band community there were some of the best sand beaches I had seen. Unfortunately it wasn’t time to stop but soon after I needed a pee so as I was pulling into the shore I saw a bear, but it didn’t hang around it soon slipped into the forest. Another eagle flew directly overhead only metres away. I tried to get a photo but I again, I was too late.
I soon passed a beach in a bay with several people swimming. At first I thought it might be the community but the community was a little further on down the bottom of a bay so it must have been the local swimming beach. I had just passed Sturgeon Point when I noticed a pelican east of an island. It seemed to be flapping and then I realized it was a canoe coming along the lake and amazingly with two beautiful girls paddling it.
I was excited to meet someone else on the water as so far on my trip I hadn’t seen any other paddlers to speak to. They were extremely tanned and had paddled about 1000 miles from St Paul in Minnesota, USA. They started on the 6th of June and had a few days off to go to a wedding. I was amazed at the distance they had covered, but they needed to learn how to pack a canoe. It looked as if they had just thrown things in and was all piled up. I was a bit concerned that if they hit rough weather on the lake they may capsize but I forgot to mention it and by that time they had gone.
They didn’t appear to have a spraydeck, although they didn’t need one today as it was calm but I imagine when it got rough they would have water coming over the deck. Ann was from St Paul and Natalie was from Florida and they were on their way to Hudson Bay. I could have talked all day and it would have been good to have camped together but with the calm conditions we both had to keep moving. Their website is Hudson Bay Bound. You could imagine I was pretty reluctant to leave them.
I rounded a couple of more points, pushed through a few islands and then I heard an engine noise and two jet skis came flying around the corner. They stopped briefly for a quick chat and scooted off back across the water to Traverse Bay. I rounded another point where I expected to camp but all the good beaches had gone and now I was faced with thick tumbled down trees along the shore. I could see a yellow patch in the distance near Sinclair Point so I was hoping it was a beach and not rocks or logs. It turned out being a great little beach free of trees. It was extremely hot, I washed and had three swims.
When the sun went down, I captured a great picture of the sunset and millions of mosquitoes were soon buzzing outside of my tent. Halfway through the night I heard noises in the forest, but I woke up the following day so whatever it was it didn’t bother me. I think I covered about 50 kilometres along the lake today and I was about 17kms to my next destination of Pine Falls which was up the Winnipeg River.
Tuesday 19th July
A big thunderstorm hit in the early morning. It was my last day on the lake which meant I would be paddling up the Winnipeg River against the current after this. It was exciting in one way as I was getting closer to Kenora where I would meet the girls but it would be all against a current. As usual I felt a sense of sadness leaving the lake and another part of the journey. I left my campsite as two beavers were swimming by, like me, they too were on a mission to go somewhere special. They kept going and I lost sight of them when they hit the choppy waters of the point.
The wind came up from the south again but I managed to make headway to the next point and to where the lake narrowed even more. I still didn’t feel any current from the water coming down the river but things were about to change. As I got closer to Pine Falls and into the Winnipeg River system where it was really a river everything looked man-made and un-natural as many of the banks were bolstered with rock. Houses along this first section of river were fairly basic and I imagine homes of the working class.
The lake narrowed more and it wasn’t until that last two kilometres that I really felt the current against me and even so I was able to make headway. I found the boat ramp and asked some fishermen the best place to get out and I was told to paddle another kilometre further and get out at the beginning of the rapids. When I arrived at the rapids I pulled the kayak up onto the rock. I was hot and sweaty so I had a quick wash to freshen up! Loud music echoed from a house across the river, a mixture of country.
A man who came down to the river offered to help me portage but I wasn’t ready to be rushed so I watched him drive away. Two workers eating their lunch told me that the dam was only one mile away which I didn’t think was too much of a portage so I didn’t bother about paddling further but I found out a little later it was over 3kms. In fact I should have portaged the rapids and paddled to the dam wall which would have saved a lot of hot hard work. Instead I strapped the kayak on the trolley that I had been carrying for this purpose and started pulling it up a slope of a dirt track towards the main road. It was hard work. Even when I reached the main road I had to stay on the gravel verge or get run over. The kayak was full of my lighter gear but I carried my heavy backpack on my back and a food bag and water in my left hand and towed the kayak with my right hand. I reached a shop hot and with sweat just running off me. I stopped and filled my backpack with extra food so I was strained to the max when I carried on and had to stop frequently for short rests. I soon developed a huge thirst and I must have smelled something rotten.
I carried on down the road, pulling the trolley on the gravel with pot holes. Lots of cars flew by and the time I would have loved a lift no-one stopped. I called in at the town office to ask for information and they told that the dam was still a few kilometres away, Oh! that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. The ladies were interested in my trip and offered me cold water.
I kept pulling down the main street passing shops and eventually reached the dam turnoff. After 500 metres along the dam road I was about to call in to the forestry office to see if they had any maps, when a car pulling a trailer and carrying canoes stopped to offer me a lift. I only had a kilometre to go to the camp ground but I gratefully accepted the lift as I was on the dam wall and the campsite was on the other side of the river.
I was welcomed to the campground RV park by Gail who virtually let me chose where I wanted to camp. I needed to charge my batteries that powered my electronic gear , so I parked myself next to the RVs as the campsites didn’t have electricity. After I had settled in, Gail took me into town to do more shopping as she said it was too far to walk in the 40 degree heat that we were having. I welcomed the lift. On our return she showed me around the campground and where I would put my kayak in when I left there.
It was still extremely warm at 7.30pm when I walked across to the service station restaurant. I felt hungry so I ordered Pickerel fish and chips and a salad. I had been nibbling all afternoon and by the time I had finished my meal, I felt that I had eaten too much and it didn’t sit well in my stomach. Either I had made a pig of myself or my belly had shrunk over the last few weeks.
I returned to camp and a couple in an RV called me over and offered me for a slice of pie and the use of their WiFi so I could sent emails home. I was too full to eat the pie but I had a beer with them instead. I left them and crawled into my tent and being the hottest night so far, it was hard to sleep and I usually get to sleep quickly.
Wednesday 20th July
With having a late night and the temperature being extremely hot, I didn’t get much sleep. Thunderstorms had been active through-out the night and soon after I had a shower, washed some clothes it started raining again so there was no chance of getting them dry!
I sorted my gear and took out all the things that I thought I could do without. With 40 degree temperatures I didn’t need warm gear. They went in a bag to be sent to Kenora. Lucy, my next door RV neighbour offered to take me to town, so I could send my gear away. Another guy in the park also offered to take me to town and so did Gail, the park manager so I certainly didn’t have to walk. Everybody was very friendly.
Lucy stopped at the Manitoba Hydro office when we were driving to town to get some information on all the dams that were ahead. It’s bad enough having a barrier to go around but when you have no idea how to get around the barrier or where to put in on the other side, it can be frustrating and time consuming. The dams are obliged to help a passing paddler to portage because they have blocked the waterway but they don’t seem to go out of their way to advertise the fact or have any information on a portage route. One department is advertising the fact that the river is a canoe route, but the Hydro are not helping to share the information.
The office girl told me as much as she knew but eventually I managed to talk to a supervisor who gave me information on which side of the river to portage on four of the dams ahead but he didn’t suggest that they would help me portage. At least the dams along the Winnipeg River were much smaller than the ones I had already done, the maximum I would have to walk was about 3 kilometres.
The next stop was the post office to post some excess gear that I didn’t need, like all my warm gear that I had needed in the mountains. It was easy to buy a box to put the gear in but trying to find out the postal address of the post office in Kenora was much more difficult. Even the post office employees said they didn’t know. I managed to find a number of the Kenora post office, but it was one of those recorded messages, so it wasn’t very helpful.
I talked to Lucy who was waiting in her car and fortunately, she just happened to work for Canada Post on a service desk! Lucy then suggested to the lady in the post office, that she ring the service desk number and finally we got an address and it was only then that I was able to send my parcel.
Unfortunately for Lucy, she was being made redundant as Canada Post because they were out-sourcing her position. The lady behind the counter was also having her hours reduced to just 10 hours a week, so it seems the problems that we have in Australia are also here in Canada.
Back at camp all the washing that I had been trying to dry was wet thanks to a thunderstorm passing over. Lucy allowed me to charge my phones and iPad in her RV because I couldn’t use the electrical socket at my campsite because of the rain, so I managed to get everything recharged. I thanked Lucy for being so generous with her time and transporting me around town and started packing.
Once I was packed I said my thanks to Gail and then wheeled my kayak to the water’s edge which was about 500 meters away. I had a little more room now I had sent some gear away so loading was a bit easier. My big portaging pack that I usually had on the deck of the kayak was now able to fit inside the rear compartment but it did take up a lot of room. Normally, I wouldn’t carry such a big pack but I needed to get my gear around the dams in one go rather than walking back a few times. It was heavy though when it was loaded and it put a lot of strain on my back but it was something I had to cope with.
I was packed and paddling off by 3.30pm. It was a bit late in the afternoon but I would be able to do about 15kms before I had to stop. Because of the dam there was no current in the narrow lake to hinder me on the first few kilometres so I made good progress. The river then started to have a few houses around its shoreline and the numbers increased the further I paddled. Many of these houses were very posh, obviously homes of the wealthy. I passed the village of St George, the river widened and there were more houses on the right side of the river going upstream than on the left where there was more farmland.
With so many nice houses around it was quite interesting checking them all out. When I came up to Silver Falls, a fast flowing narrow section of river there were a cluster of beautiful houses lining the shores. One couple was BBQing at their home next to the rapid. I made a dash to get up the fast current and the lady started asking me questions and I was hoping she might ask me in for dinner but she didn’t. I paddled as hard as I could on the right side and managed to get up the rapid.
Within 50 meters another couple were fishing from their jetty. I stopped to talk and they told me there was a big thunderstorm coming through. The wind was now gusting strongly so I thought I had better try to find a camp spot soon. The trouble was that now all the shoreline had houses on it and there weren’t too many good places to stop.
I crossed a small bay but first allowing a float plane to land. Another float plane came in as I crossed over and one went out. There was a small float plane operation in the bay. It was amazing how the planes seem to struggle to take off. I supposed the floats cause a lot more friction than wheels. They are pretty noisy so the people living around there would be cursing them at times.
I found a nice beach in a small cove so I stopped. There was a house well back and no one could see me so I didn’t fret. It was one of the best camp spots I had seen along the way and it was out of the wind and it would be sheltered from the storm.
There were no mosquitoes, probably too windy for them, but there were some fresh bear tracks. I had a tomato, some luncheon meat, a fruit tub, a drinking chocolate and a snickers bar for dinner.
Thursday 21st July
My little bay was calm and when I paddled around the first point I could see the rapids I was expecting and a big expanse of washed rock where the water tumbled over when the river was higher. I paddled to the left of the main section of water that was being squeezed through the narrows on the right hand side looking upstream as it was very fast and turbulent, far too fast for me to paddle against. Nevertheless I paddled closer to the drop itself and hid behind a rock shelf before moving out into the main current and trying to paddle against it. I couldn’t and I certainly didn’t want to get side on to any rocks nearby so I drifted back and then paddled around to where the polished rock rapids were. There were some great play holes to try out if I was in the right sort of kayak.
Water was tumbling over 3 or 4 gaps of the wide rock bar, I picked one with the least water and less grade so I could drag the kayak over the wet rock to save me unloading. There was a little bit of scratching but other than that it worked well. I took a few photos before getting back in and paddling across the main drop. There was certainly a lot of water going down the main channel but it looked as if you kept in the mid channel it was quite easy to go down.
I moved over to the right and crossed some small bays trying to keep out of the current and finally made it to the power house and dam. There was no boat ramp just some sloping rock that was quite easy to get out on, although the portage didn’t look easy. There were some old concrete steps that led up to a foot track so I followed it and came to a fence. There was a man walking by about twenty metres away so I called out to him, told him what I was doing and he instantly said, I will get a few apprentices to give you a hand.
By the time I walked back to the kayak and started unloading the 3 others were there ready to carry my gear. In one fowl sweep everything was taken about 100 metres to a waiting truck. I jumped on the back with one of the other guys and held onto the kayak as it got ferried through the compound and to a boat ramp. Within minutes it was unloaded.
The other guy with me on the back of the truck told me he was from the east in Canadian Shield Country and was envious of me doing the trip. When I talked about the paddling, there was a real sparkle in his eyes and a sense of excitement on his face. You could see that he would really love doing what I was doing.
I thought the guys said I only had a kilometre to paddle from Great Falls to the next dam, McArthur Falls but it turned out being 8 kilometres. The wind suddenly picked up and even when I was paddling close to shore or crossing bays only 500 metres deep it was giving me trouble as the wind was gusting strongly.
I guided myself through some islands against a manageable current but the strong wind had me stopping in the shelter of an island for a rest at every opportunity. When I was rounding one point and I could hear the squeaking of a young eagle in the top of the trees and then a mature eagle took off. I paddled a little further and I could see another parent eagle and a quite large mature young eagle without any white markings in a nest that looked as if it had collapsed.
The river narrowed and the water sped up and it took me a while to make any progress. I inched ahead against an extremely strong wind. I was pretty pleased to have reached the boat ramp at the MacArthur Falls Dam as it was getting way too rough.
A boat was just being taken out with three First Nation men in it. They asked me if they could help me portage but I wasn’t ready and I didn’t want to hold them up. A few minutes later one of the dam employees Jerry drove past, saw me and backed up. The guys at the Great Falls Dam rang him to tell him to expect me. The portage wasn’t that far, and I was in two minds to take a lift but it was good to have help.
I had lunch before putting in at a swampy area which was yucky but much better than trying to put in on the rock levee banks where the water was lapping up the rocks quite violently. It was extremely windy crossing that first small bay. The wind was gusting and trying to whip the paddle from my hands. It was not fun. I started to head through a few islands which were less than a kilometre apart yet they were very hard to get to. The day was turning into the windiest gusting day yet and I must admit I felt as if I should be stopping but there was nowhere to stop the water was too high leaving no good camping apart from at a cabin and I didn’t want to intrude on private property.
I kept paddling getting nowhere at times, the wind still trying to whip away my paddle. I was even leaning into the wind as it was that strong and keeping my paddle as low as possible to prevent it being snatched away and there were times when I did think I lost it.
I rested briefly behind an island with two cabins before facing the elements again. I started creeping across towards the mainland and two reed beds at a snail’s pace. It seemed crazy to keep going but I had nothing else to do and if I could make a few kilometres that was better than nothing. I hit the mainland and started crossing another small bay and it was hell. I can’t remember a time it had been so windy. It was extreme wind.
I managed to get to the side of the lake in the shelter of the levy bank. It made paddling so much easier but still the wind gusted strongly sometimes catching me unaware. My right paddle blade would skip over to my left side and the force of the wind on the blade would virtually pull me over. It wasn’t a nice feeling being that vulnerable. I started to change direction and the wind started giving me a bit of a push from the back rather than from the side. At least now I was moving and making a few kilometres and getting closer to my destination for the night, Lac du Bonnet town.
I then had to leave the levy bank and cut across another small bay that I wouldn’t even had noticed in normal conditions. But this wasn’t normal conditions. A few metres from shore I was again on tenterhooks as the wind tried desperately to turn me over as now it was coming from the side again.
A beautiful cottage was positioned on the point that I had to go around. How great would it be to stop here, I thought. I rounded the first point and as I was crossing a tiny bay that had a powerboat and jetty, one of the three figures on shore waved me in. It was so nice to get out of the wind but even better when Al asked if I wanted to have a cup of coffee. Just to stop was such a relief but to be able to sit and talk to some interesting people who obviously must been good people was just the best.
We sat in the beautiful cottage and Al’s wife, Lynne produced some biscuits. The other man Don was there to fix the wooden balcony on one of the guest cottages. We talked continuously as I looked out the window onto the rough lake which had white caps and a wind that was gusting at a terrific speed.
The afternoon was running away and if I wanted to make Lac du Bonnet I would soon have to make a decision to move on. I was dreading having to change back into my wet clothes and face the elements and have to find a camp before nightfall. Then Al said I could stay in the big cabin if I wanted. God must have been listening to my prayers. Although I did need to keep moving I would have been stupid to turn down such an offer especially in such bad weather. They gave me the huge master bedroom in the big cabin, well it was a house really and I had it all to myself. It looked over the lake and had tables chairs and electricity and all the things I don’t get at a camp site.
After a hot shower it was off to the local restaurant for a meal and a beer which I was treated to and returned home for a glass of wine. It was amazing how the day ended up as at one time I thought I may be swimming or been blown across a lake and be in deep trouble and a few minutes later I was safe and receiving great hospitality and I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to the day. This is what travelling by kayak is all about and the rewards of all the hard work can be wonderful.
Friday 22nd July
I was called over for breakfast at 8.00am. We had mixed fresh fruits and Al cooked eggs and toast. Al and Lynne lived and worked in Calgary but spent a lot of summer time at the cabins. Apart from owning the large property that they were on, they also own two islands that I passed yesterday and a nursing home in Lac du Bonnet as well as other property elsewhere. Al is a property developer.
The conversation never let up so by the time breakfast was over it was 10.30am time. I needed to do some shopping and buy maps so instead of me paddling into town they offered to take me in by car and stay another night. We first visited Manitoba Hydro but I couldn’t get any more information about the dams ahead other what I already had. The forestry didn’t have any maps of the area either, so we went to the local boat shop and they had some boating maps that were very precise, but only the ones in Manitoba so I had to go to the library to print off some google maps for the Ontario section of the river. They came out pretty faint but they were better than nothing at all.
After topping up with food, buying batteries for my GPS I had everything I needed so we returned home for a late lunch.
It had been Lynne’s birthday the previous day so Al cooked a meal which consisted of some very big thick steaks for dinner. They also invited their friends and neighbours Marie and Eldon so at 7.30pm we sat down to a delicious meal. When Al showed me the thickness of the steaks I never believed he could get them cooked so tender. How wrong was I. They were perfect.
Just before Marie and Eldon had arrived they had been talking to some friends in Bunbury, West Australia. How coincidental is that. Marie mentioned that she had some friends on the river closer to Kenora who were chefs. You should call in to see them she said, I will send them an email.
Well after such a beautifully cooked dinner, desert, a beer, some wine and lots of conversation it was time to retire to my big cabin. I tried writing but with the wine, the weather and wind turning cold I didn’t get very far.
I think I was asleep by 12.30am.
Saturday 23rd July
I had a bit of a sleep in. Al continued his morning ritual by going in his hot tub and then jumping in the freezing lake for a swim. It was too cold for me to think about jumping in. For breakfast we had porridge, toast and jams. I didn’t want a fried breakfast as I was hitting the high seas that morning.
Lac du Bonnet was having a music festival the following weekend so many of the musicians were staying there on Al’s property in the cabins and camping.
Al had to go to the farmers market in town to buy some fresh veges so I said my good byes to him but Lynn was there to see me off. By the time I left it was 10.30am. The wind for a change was actually blowing on my back and helping me along. I was even surfing the waves and that felt great. Houses were now lining the shores, all had boats next to their jetties or pulled up the bank, but some also had float planes. There was a float plane harbor just before the bridge. It was certainly a nice area around here.
I virtually surfed all the way to Lac du Bonnet where I got out at the town boat ramp to go to the toilet. I passed the town sand beach. No one was actually swimming it was either too early, too windy or too cold. As I left the town the wind for a while came from the side but once I got back into the main river it calmed. As I moved up river there were several houses for sale, which if I had some lose money I wouldn’t mind buying. Living in Australia it was a long way to go for a holiday though.
I talked to a couple on a jetty who invited me for lunch but silly me thought I had better make a few miles that day so declined the offer. I regretted it later. The river narrowed further, more float planes were parked up in people’s back yards. The closer I got to the dam the faster the current became but I was still able to paddle against it. Eventually as I got further away from town the houses on the left started to fade out but there were still several on the right.
After the bridge before the Seven Sisters dam the stronger current had me struggling up one short section as I paddled over a rock bar.
I kept out of the main current as best as I could and landed on a sloping rock shelf a few metres from a track before the dam. I stripped off to get dry as the place was deserted, but soon after, as I was unloading I heard a motor. I quickly dressed and a man called Don on a quad bike pulled up. He watched me unload and when I had all the gear ready to go Don suggested putting all the heavy gear on his quad bike. He also offered to tow the kayak but I thought that was too much of a risk. I was happy not to be carrying and pulling all the weight in the kayak.
The track was rough with some very large stones and within 60 metres the track turned steep and I started to puff. Of course the quad bike had no trouble. After a hundred metres or so it started to level off. Thank goodness I thought. We moved through the works yard and up to the levee bank to the put in point.
Some say the Seven Sisters Dam was named after seven lakes nearby, but there weren’t seven. Other people said it was named after seven falls on a rapid that used to be there before the dam. Who knows?
There was a ramp down to the water but the put- in-point was studded with sharp quarry rock and the waves were lapping uncontrollably up the dam wall. It wasn’t the best place to put in but it was better than off the rocky levy bank. Don watched me load and then he helped me to lift the kayak over the rocks. He even walked into the water and got his shoes wet to hold the kayak. I jumped in, fastened my spraydeck and backed away from the wall which the waves were crashing against. Luckily the waves didn’t flood the kayak before I got the spraydeck on and I was surprised how easy it went considering how rough the water was.
I thanked Don and was away heading across a bumpy lake which calmed the further I got away from the dam. The shores for the first few kilometres were rip-rap which is mainly heavy quarry rock to stop the erosion of the levy banks (the locals call dykes). It soon changed to a natural shoreline and I saw a couple camping on a high spot, but they didn’t wave or make conversation so I think they didn’t want any visitors.
I was soon at the outskirts of Pinawa where I found a RV park. I paddled over to where the manager lived but he wasn’t in so I asked another person in his RV nearby. The man said he was at a party at the other end of the park and offered me his bicycle to go and find him. It was so nice to be on a bike. It was so easy to push along and much faster than paddling. I found the manager at the party and he showed me where to camp at no charge and when I returned the bicycle the man gave me some spare ribs that were so tender the meat just fell off the bone. He said he cooked them for 6 hours.
I paddled around to the main beach and to where I was to camp and within minutes the man cycled to see me and give me four more chops and a muffin. That was dinner sorted.
A couple with their two kids came over to the shelter and watched me unload. The kids were trying to find frogs but having a hard time doing so. The man said come around to number 8 RV afterwards and have a sit down and drink.
A thunderstorm was threatening so I quickly erected the tent, had a shower and then crawled into the tent to write my diary. Twenty minutes later the man came with a glass of whisky and asked me if I wanted to do my writing in his mum’s RV as it wasn’t occupied. I told him I wasn’t a whisky drinker so when I arrived at his mum’s RV he gave me a bottle of wine and a box of savoury biscuits. He opened the fridge and told me to help myself to any of the food. As he left he said just turn off the light when you leave.
I set to writing, drinking wine and eating a few crackers and within the hour I was feeling sleepy but I wasn’t sure if it was tiredness or the wine.
Sunday 24th July
I woke up to a deer and two fauns outside my tent and then walked through the campground and back into the woods. There was only the odd person up when I went to the toilet and it was 7.15am. As I was eating my breakfast under a pergola I talked to a lady who’s son was paddling a canoe on the lake. He loves canoeing she said, but I would worry if he went on a trip. The beach that I was on was about 50 metres square and was used for volley ball and horse shoe throwing or any other activity. They even had bands come and play music there and have pancake breakfasts on some Sunday mornings.
The man who gave me the spare ribs said it was the best RV park in the province. It only cost $1500.00 to have your RV there through summer and winter and it has a great atmosphere. Great community. The park wasn’t posh but it certainly seemed to cater for everyone and it did mean that a working class family could spend time near the river. I could see why he loved it there. He lived in Winnipeg and went to the park every weekend. I think it was about a one and half hour drive to it.
I left at 9.25am and still very few people were up. I have noticed that Canadians seem to go to bed late and get up late.
Around the next corner the town started to take shape although there were no buildings near the river at that point. A park with bench seats dotted along the way followed the lake shore and a couple was sitting and looking out at the water. I started chatting to them and they asked if I needed anything and if I needed the toilet they would go and open the canoe club shed. They said the club had several paddlers who had paddled some of the remote rivers on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. I said good bye and moved off seeing more of the town and the marina around the next corner. A cluster of young geese were bunched together near the shoreline.
It looked as if it was a nice looking town and my heart wanted to stop, check it out and relax and go for a coffee but I wasn’t close enough to Kenora to relax too much. The river split into 3 channels, I took the direct route through Sharkey’s Channel which was the shortest but the man on the bench said there was a strong current along there at times. Apart from near the end of the channel it was an easy paddle through. The scenery was getting better and as I popped out the other end of the channel and saw Otter Falls I thought, yes I could really live here.
I started crossing another small lake over to Otter Falls. A few power boats were zipping around going from one fishing spot to another. I paddled closer to the houses around the lake to find several mansions. I wondered how many rich people we have in the world. At one of the big houses the music was blaring out and people and kids were playing games, fishing or just talking. They were having some family fun. How good would it be to own that house I thought. I felt like stopping and joining in but I think that might be a bit cheeky. I passed them by checked out all the other houses many vacant and paddled towards the next point where the water started to get faster as it ran over a ledge.
I paddled up the rapid flow and entered another part of the lake. There was a beautiful long beach over to my right. As I looked at all the houses and location I thought how lucky were the Canadians to have all these lakes and be able to afford a summer cabin or a summer mansion.
A boat was flying around in circles towing some children on one of those big tubes. They were having fun. I crossed the lake and got closer to the houses stopping when two people on the shore asked me where I was going. They were brothers. I asked if they knew the best way to get over the next two dams and David said if you can paddle into my place, which is about a kilometre or so the other side of that island I will show you a map.
We both took off, he in his car, me in the water. I reached the island as a canoe and a double sit-on top were paddling away. A swimmer was about 200 metres away from the island. He had come all the way from shore, nearly 2kms away. He said he was okay when I passed.
I reached David’s house and landed on the beach closest to where I had come but he had a better beach around the other side. He was surrounded by water on three sides. He said that sometimes it feels as if he is in the middle of the lake. I was asked in to his house to meet his wife and family, his sons, daughter and daughter in law. One of his sons was married yesterday to a beautiful East Indian girl.
Luckily for me they still had some left over food so David’s wife, Wendy made me a coffee and some very tasty Indian food, a salad, and some mango and strawberries. What a tasty most scrumptious meal. I had a second coffee and while David was showing me his very old stone arrow heads, pottery and artefacts that he had found on the beaches and along the shoreline, his son gave me a beer.
With the river being an ancient trading route for thousands of years David and several other people in the area have become collectors. I was quite amazed with his collection. I can see once you find something so old, the want to find other pieces would be quite strong. David was passionate about finding and collecting.
I know of two other expeditions that were going along the Winnipeg River and David had met them both and not only that he met them near his home at the exact same time. One of those expeditions were Mountains2Montreal and the other I think started in the north of the US and going to Hudson Bay. Now he has met me.
David had WiFi so in-between all our talking I started sending lots of photos home to go on my blog. I had spent 2-3 hours with David and there didn’t seem to be a quiet moment. He and his family were top people and it would have been great to spend more time with them but again I had to be careful with my time. It was funny because he said what I was thinking earlier and that was, – how lucky were the Canadians to have the lakes and cabins to enjoy.
It was time to leave after a few photos. I rounded his home on the point and took a photo from the other side, said goodbye and paddled across the lake towards another part of the lake feeling very good about meeting the family.
As the river narrowed and part of the land jutted out creating a small bay, it was suggested that the current may be too strong for me to paddle against and that I may have to portage. I didn’t like the word portage so I started paddling around the jutted land and managed quite easily getting up the current.
Once around it the river opened up into a lake with power boats flying in all directions. The word slow or speed limit is not a word that these boaties understand, if their motor goes fast, then that’s how fast they go. Houses surrounded the lake on the western side all the way to the bottom of the bay which was several kilometres deep. The wind had picked up and the crossing was bumpy due to the waves being created by the wind and the power boats.
I soon arrived at Sturgeon Falls and this time it did look like I had to portage as it was a real rapid with some big waves and very fast current.
From a distance I felt that I might have been able to creep around the edge but on closer inspection it looked too swift soI didn’t want to risk it and be swept into the big waves and holes. I conceded that I had to portage.
The rapids were a bit of a tourist attraction with several people looking at them from the bank. Powerful power boats were going up them with ease. Mind you they kept to the smoothest waters and they didn’t go in the real rough stuff. It was quite a spectacle.
I pulled up to a rock ledge and dragged my kayak up it. The crunch didn’t seem to be good for the kayak but I couldn’t unload in the water. I started unloading and a lady with her young family asked if I wanted any help to portage. I thought about all my expensive electronics and fragile paddles, but what the hell they were dying to help and it would save me struggling by myself. So within a few minutes they had all my gear in a small bay about 80 metres away. After a couple of photos I was off leaving all the people behind as from here very few people venture further upstream of the rapid.
I could easily live around this part of the river that I had paddled today. I made my way across another river lake and it suddenly got lonely, there was no one, not even a house to look at. The river narrowed again but I managed to get up the current before crossing another small lake and more narrows. I landed on the rock ledge of the island that David suggested I camp, just before the dam at 6.10pm. I had thought about going on to the dam which wasn’t far away but I kept with Dave’s suggestion. He reckoned I might have a good chance of finding some artifacts as it was the first landing spot after the rapids that were there before the dam was built and the early inhabitants would have camped there.
Although I didn’t really know what I was looking for and where to look I decided to go for a walk around the island just in case something popped up.
There was a beach on the other side of the island but after following the rock ledges it went to mud and after treading in it and sinking half way up my leg I decided to turn back as the way forward was blocked. It took me ages to clean the mud off my sandals as it was thick and like glue.
Monday 25th July
It rained in the night leaving the tent wet but at least the morning was dry. It was only a kilometre or so to the Slave Falls Dam and the portage and there was even a triangle sign to indicate where the portage was. It was the first portage sign I had seen. There was a nice sandy beach at the portage point which made a good camping spot at that water level.
I was told they are not letting as much water out the dams along the way as other years because of a drought, so the water level in the river is lower than normal, which is so different from the other lakes further north-west where the floods were.
I soon unloaded and carried one heavy pack to the first short but steep section of track, up a ridge and onto a mowed wider grass track and 150 metres or so further to the dam wall. I then returned for my kayak and another load of gear. I had to carry the kayak up the first slope as it was impossible to move it with the wheels. When I reached the dam I had to cross a tram track which I did, but the wheels didn’t, and they collapsed. A few workers in the powerhouse were watching on so they must have had a giggle when they saw the wheels stop dead in it’s tracks.
I soon loaded and was off by 9.15am along a fairly narrow river with beautiful rock walls and a current to slow me down a little. The water was high above the dam so there were no sandy beaches but the scenery was quite stunning.
A deer and two fauns were grazing and leaping and larking around on a grassy area close to the water. I continued to find some spectacular and intriguing rock and forest picture postcard scenery. I would paddle on then see something special then stop, study it and very often take a picture. Sometimes when I saw something special and didn’t take a picture I’ve regretted it. There have been lots of special places since leaving Lake Winnipeg that I regret not taking a picture.
The Slave Falls Dam to Pointe du Boise Dam was only about 12kms so it didn’t take me long to reach my pull out point. I paddled across to a house and asked some people on their jetty the best place to get out. They said the RV park which was nearly two kilometers from the dam and it had a boat ramp.
It sounded good. As I moved further up river I could see the dam and a wide set of high tumbling rapids. It looked quite spectacular. I’m sure I could have paddled a lot closer but I didn’t want to get there and find that I had to climb a concrete wall or get out on a huge pile of rocks along the shoreline.
I pulled into the boat ramp, changed, loaded up and wheeled my kayak up the track. The track was more up than down and the ups were quite steep. I struggled but I had to think about the positives and realise it was actually making me fitter, which I wanted to be. The last two years I have only paddled for exercise so my walking/running fitness has been lacking. Now I think I’m getting it back and it feels good to feel fitter in all departments and have more flexibility. At one time I got to the stage that my belly was stopping me from tying my shoelaces easily. I did feel that I had let myself go and my pot belly was getting a little too big and too unsightly. After 2600kms in the kayak I am feeling much better, much fitter, much healthier and I have started to like my body shape again. I have to make sure that when I get home I don’t let myself get another pot belly. Then again if I do, it is a good excuse to do another trip.
It was hard work carrying a heavy pack on my back, lifting and pulling the kayak and carrying a bag full of heavy food in the other hand. It is something I didn’t train for. I passed houses that were backed onto the river. I could have kept paddling and got out at one of those houses I thought, but they were private and many were holiday homes with no one in them. Another hill, another quick rest. It was hot and the road was deserted so getting a lift was not an option. I finally started getting closer to the town and met two ladies who were impressed with my load and told me a shop was not too far away.
I dumped my pack on the grass outside the shop and with sweat running off most parts of my body I went in to see what they had. The shop didn’t have a lot. Burgers seemed very popular with the local workers so I tried one. I was told to grab a bun from the packet, stick my dressing on and the lady came out with the cheese burger filling which was slapped on the bun and closed up. It was a real take-away burger, not big but it actually tasted pretty good. In fact if there wasn’t a queue of workmen I would have had another. The donut was pretty good as well.
I still hadn’t finished my portage. There was about 1km to go so I loaded up and found a boat ramp further along. I still had some dry bread left so I bought some jam at the shop and slapped it on. It wasn’t nearly as tasty as the burger, but it filled a hole.
I slipped away from the ramp as two guys in a boat with some equipment looked as if they were testing the water. Along this section of river they have some of the purest drinking water you will ever find but at many public places there are notices telling you not to drink the water or if you do you must boil it. I was told the town filtering systems don’t necessary cope, especially when the river is high or stirred up. This river wasn’t high so I wasn’t sure what the problem was.
After paddling across the first wider part of the river I moved into the south shore channel and kept close to the islands to get shelter from the fairly strong wind. The most famous Canadian waterbird, the loon was singing out across the water. It’s hard to describe the noise they make but sometimes it sounds like a person crying out for help. They are becoming more popular in the smaller lakes than the real big ones that I have passed over. I see them a lot by themselves or with one other and occasionally with two or three others but I don’t think I have seen them in flocks like you do when you see ducks. At night their call can be annoying if you are trying to sleep and one is close. Their call however reminds me I’m in North America. They have even named a coin after the loon so they must be important to the Canadians.
I then paddled down a long straight with the wind behind me and I had a lovely ride before passing through a narrow gap next to Big Island. Within 4kms I was approaching Lamprey Rapids. There was a canoe campers camp on the left on the point but it was too early to stop. The rapid was just fast running water over a ledge. There was strong current at first, but once I got over the main ledge I was able to make headway.
For the next few kilometers the current slowed my progress but I was still making reasonable time. A couple of boats were zipping around and stopping at a lodge/cabins on the left side. The current quickened again but once I got through the narrows I regained my momentum. About 3kms from the cabins, near Little Hay Bay I came up to another campers campsite.
Since the dam I have been in the Whiteshell Provincial Park and here paddlers are asked to use the campsites provided. The next campsite was about 12kms away and I was in two minds to paddle on, but then I would have a late finish and this was a beautiful camp with a small rapid metres away, a table and some nice green grass, so I decided that an early finish would be in order. I was now getting closer to my destination so I could start relaxing and taking it easy as I was on schedule.
I had about 4 hours before the sun went down, the wind was blowing so it was a good time to do some washing and someone had already rigged up a washing line. I also had time to potter and to type my diary into my iPad. It was a great camp. It also had a shelter which had signs to keep it clean and it was. There were tents, fuel and other bags stacked in the corner.
The wind kept the insects at bay.
Tuesday 26th July
I was camped on the west side of the island so although I had a great sunset the trees blocked out the early rising sun from the east and with the night being damp the tent was still wet when I had to pack it away. It was a misty morning and the call of the loon echoed down the river. I was truly in Canada.
The current continued to hinder me a little in the narrower channels but seemed to have no effect when the river widened. I saw a beaver swimming across the river but it had seen me and only allowed me to get within 20 metres. I paddled a little further and noticed another beaver get out of the water. I was some distance away so I quickened my pace and then let the kayak glide straight towards it by using the rudder. I got closer and closer and closer.
I thought after being 3 metres away it would have seen me but no, it just kept nibbling at the weed in the shallows. It was quite a big one. The bow of the boat just about hit the bank before it realized I was there. I managed to get a couple of close up shots before it saw me. My next shot was just a big splash. I only had my small camera but if I had had my big camera I could have got a series of shots. It was only a beaver but it was still one of those special moments.
A few power boats were whizzing around before I passed a number of cabins and a lodge on Pine Island. It looked quiet but it was still early I suppose.
The river widened into Eaglenest Lake and the current ceased. I stopped on some rock slabs of Gull Island for a short break and to give my bum a rest.
As Eaglenest Lake turned to the east another flash looking set on cabins were over on the west shore. It looked a bit more up market than most places. I stopped for an early lunch on a beautiful rock slab island and noticed some bench seats and tables further up the slope. A buzzard was perched on a big rock nearby the tables. I don’t think it saw me come ashore so I sneaked up aiming to get the best photo ever, but it flew off before I could get a shot. I ate bread, cheese and jam sitting on a big rock overlooking the lake. It was quiet.
At the end of Eaglenest Lake a float plane landed in the corner of a bay. I could see a few boats and some people so I imagine that the plane was there to collect some overseas or Canadian fishermen on holiday. As I turned eastward and the channel became narrow the current returned. I crossed the border of Manitoba and Ontario at 12.45pm.
For some reason once over the border there seemed to be more power boats zipping around. The waterway was like a jungle of channels, bays and other waterways. It would have been very easy to get lost if I didn’t have a map. On this section I now only had a faint google map printed out at the library but it still worked okay.
The river narrowed and was split by three islands. The current looked pretty serious so it was going to be a challenge to get up it. I was aiming to go through to the left of the bigger island but soon changed my mind when I saw the speed of the water, instead I paddled to the right of it and up the narrower of the two channels where the power boats weren’t going down. With a lot of grunt and paddling in one place for a time I inched my way up it.
A man in a powerboat a little further upstream was surprised that I had managed to paddle against the current. The river divided again and I took the shortest way with the faster current but it wasn’t all that bad. Further on the river did another sharp left turn, but if I didn’t have a map I may have taken the straight-on channel which looked more like the river. Although I knew from the map I was going the right way I couldn’t feel any resistance from the current so there was a little doubt.
I soon knew I was going the right way as a kilometre or two further I could see parts of Whitedog. A boat came close so I asked him if he knew of a campground. He said there was an old one the other side of the dam which was quite a few kilometres ahead. It was a little too far to get there today and with the section ahead First Nation Land I decided to stop when I saw a good beach on an island on the right, just before the town. No one could see me there apart from people at the tourist cabins across the river about a kilometre or so away.
It was a nice beach but you could see it was used by the locals as there was some broken glass and a bit more rubbish than normal and a smell from the rotting fish flies.
A squirrel scampered in the trees and sat on a rock ledge and started chattering to me. It then disappeared. Some time later I saw the trees move behind me, I first thought of a bear. The next tree moved and then the next. Was it a deer, a moose or a bear, I thought. The next thing I saw was this squirrel jumping from tree to tree.
There was complete cloud cover and it was still and very silent. In fact it felt really weird. There seemed to be no life in the evening. Not a good night to get my washing dry or even to have a strip wash.
I had paddled 50kms today so I was quite happy.
Wednesday 27th July
The town of Whitedog stretched further and was bigger than it appeared the previous night. There didn’t seem to be much movement in the town but that seemed usual for these parts. It was still calm and cloudy as I followed the channel passed and beyond the town that stood on high ground and would never be flooded.
The channel turned to the right and further on 11 pelicans were gathered. I hadn’t seen any for several kilometres. On the last right turn a small rapid stretched partly across the narrow channel. I’m still amazes me the route the river had taken. The river was like a jigsaw of channels, have a look on a google map.
It took me about 1 1/4hours to get to the dam portage point. There was a rough track that led to the main road. I landed there. On my GPS it looked as if the portage was just over a kilometre long which wasn’t that bad at all. The first part though was quite rough and steep and hard work but it got better especially when I pulled the kayak along the bitumen road. After a few hundred metres it turned off to the right and went down another gravel track and within a hundred metres or so there was a track to the river where I put in.
Again there were some very beautiful islands and post card scenes. The river even after the dam wall wasn’t very wide and at the narrow points there was a current. A lot of the beauty was in the narrow sections but the easier paddling were on the wider sections where there was no current.
From moss covered cliffs, spruce tree forests, flowers and vegetation clinging to rock crevices to less vegetated islands that were home to pelicans, cormorants and gulls, the scene was changing constantly. Where the islands were closer together the current quickened at times making me work harder than I wanted.
The further I got away from the dam the more open it became. Channels, open water lakes, bays, more channels, more lakes dotted with islands. This was some waterway and to keep track of where the river was heading was nearly a full time job.
A cabin appeared to my right, another appeared way down in a bay on my left. I stopped on a small island with a rock sloping ledge and several big round boulders that looked quite attractive.
I continued on arriving at another bend with current and 3 boats with people fishing. I had a quick word with one of them and then a little further had a word with a few people in another boat. The fish like to be where the current is they said, but this year the water is lower and the fish are not so plentiful. You could see some were serious fishermen and some, especially the ones lying down and sunning themselves were not there to catch that big one.
It was now virtually straight south to Minaki and I was making good time and getting closer. Once across a 5km lake there were suddenly more houses on the islands. Some were like palaces, others more basic. More power boats started zipping around and on my last five kilometers the waterway came like an highway. One of the islands someone had built a stone wall right around it but it was falling down in many places and looked pretty shoddy. A new house was going up and by the looks of the timber framework it was going to be a big one. It was interesting seeing all the different styles again I wondered what types of jobs these people have, to afford such luxury. Where did I go wrong?
I was given a contact in Minaki and I was getting close to where I was told the people lived. The only thing was, when I was being told about them I didn’t write anything down and the only thing I knew about them was that they were chefs and that they lived on the left on a stretch of river just before a bridge. At the time I imagined there being only one house on that section but when I got there, there were several. Silly me I should have listened and now I was trying to think what else Marie had told me. At the time I didn’t take that much notice because I didn’t think I would stop. I find it a little imposing stopping at a friend of a friend when they know nothing about me, but Marie did say she was going to email them so a nice cup of coffee wouldn’t go down too bad at the moment and with only about 5 hours to go before I reach Kenora I could afford a few minutes as I was now ahead of schedule.
I saw two women on a jetty ahead. The chance of them knowing two chefs in this area was probably pretty slim but I had to ask them. I made a beeline for them, then all of a sudden a lady came out of another house before I got there and shouted, “Are you Australian?”
As you can imagine I was overjoyed to hear those words, I had found them.
I think if I hadn’t have found them I would have been pretty depressed as I had been looking forward to meeting them all day. Other people came down and stood on the jetty or at the water’s edge. The Canadian and Swedish flags were flying on the flag pole. I felt very special. I wasn’t expecting such a welcome. Because I didn’t know the names of the people I was supposed to meet, I didn’t realise that I wasn’t meeting the two people I came to see. But it didn’t matter, I was being welcomed by their relatives and friends, but it took me a few minutes to figure that out.
There were a lot more people in the cabin sun room just finishing lunch. I immediately got invited to have lunch but first I got out of my wet clothes.
I was given a chair and told to tuck into the food. They had special Montreal smoke ham and it seemed that it was a rare treat. They also had a special bread and lots of yummy salad.
Before I started eating the questions started to flow so for the next ten minutes or so I was telling stories of the trip I was on, to the crocodiles and sharks in the Kimberley, to all my other exploits. It was like story time and they were all very interested in listening. I was told to eat and drink, try the Montreal ham, you’ll love it. They were right it was tasty and tender and I was encouraged to take more.
I was actually being hosted by the Hammerbakk family of Swedish origin. There were 5 brothers and 2 sisters and their partners and one or two sons, daughters, cousins and friends. Two brothers were missing so it was a big family. The lady who shouted to me was Elaine who was married to Eric who was the brother of the lady we came to see. I was introduced to everyone, but at the time I could only remember a few.
After my story session and the cleaning up of all the food on the table people drifted to the jetty decks, to relax play games or swim. I was invited to stay there the night and given a beer and I too relaxed on the jetty with them listening to 60 and 70s music. Four of the younger generation didn’t seem to appreciate some of the music and I was with them on that, as some songs were a bit crappy, but many of the old songs did bring back lots of early memories.
There was a bit of a breeze, nevertheless it was still quite hot. The family were spread doing all different things, like a card tournament, working out the sudo number puzzles or sitting on pool floats in the river. The river was busy with boats. Living on the narrowest part of river meant that all boats passed that way to get around to the town of Minaki, from all the outlying islands to the north. There were several people fishing in this section as the fish seem to like the faster current that comes through the narrows.
On the other side of the river, a little downstream from where we were there used to be a huge old hotel resort which had been a very special place for holiday makers and the local town. It burnt down some years ago and the area is still vacant.
Just a few hundred metres upstream there was a bridge. I first thought it was a road bridge but in fact it was only a rail bridge so the cabins along this stretch are like most others on the islands, the only way to get to them is by boat. They leave their cars at marina car parks, put their boat in the water and motor to their cabins. In winter it is hard to use the cabins on this section because the river doesn’t totally freeze up, because of the current, which means the ice isn’t usually thick enough to walk across but too thick to use their boats.
The rail line going across the nearby bridge is the CN main line across Canada and like in all other parts of Canada and the US they blow that loud horn going through every town or rail crossing. I suppose it gives the driver something more to do. I started counting the carriages but I lost count as they were too long. Having containers two high the rail must keep a lot of trucks off the road. They said that some people risk walking over the railway bridge to get to this side but there have been several close calls.
Just before dinner I used their hot enclosed outdoor shower. Having it meant that anyone swimming could take a shower without going into one of the cabins. I was expecting to camp but they had a spare bedroom so that was even better.
When dinner was served there were 17 people around the table. A mammoth task for the cooks, but I was told they often had big family reunions so they were used to it.
I was later taken next door to meet some American neighbours. They were from Brainard on the Mississippi River in Minnesota. They have a helipad so sometimes they fly in by helicopter.
What a day it had been.
Thursday 28 July
The coffee pot was on the go when I got up. A few or the family were on the sun deck talking and drinking coffee. I joined them. It was interesting listening to all the past family stories. They were even talking about the 50s when they were on the farm as kids and how they used horses and reaping machines and how they used to stack wheat sheaths. I was thinking back to my childhood, but horses were being phased out and tractors were just coming in when I was a toddler.
The Hammerbakks seemed to be a close family who get on fairly well together.
The breakfast bell rang out. It was Swedish pancakes and special topping mixture, a Swedish lingonberry and whipped cream. I always have cereal but having pancakes was certainly a luxury and one that I really enjoyed. They also had a breakfast pork sausage with the pancakes which was also new to me but they were very tasty.
After a late breakfast people went their own way relaxing, swimming, playing games, reading etc. I was going to move off but I was told that Denise one of the chefs was returning to the cottage today and would love to meet me so I decided, with an invitation from the Hammerbakks to stay another night. It also gave me time to catch up with my blog as I was a long way behind.
A few nibbles came out in the late afternoon and there was always a beer if I wanted one. I was talking to Scott who was the partner/boyfriend of Kerry a daughter of Linda one of the hosts. He and Kerry had been teaching in the middle east and China for the past ten years and although he is Canadian, he is classed as a non resident because he hasn’t been in Canada for ten years, so if he wants a fishing license he has to pay a non-resident fee which is higher. You lose lots of benefits if you work overseas for a few years. At the moment he lived in a cabin on one of the other lakes. He has also created a website called Cottage Tips which tells you a lot of dos and don’ts about cabin life.
About 5.00pm Denise and a lot more family arrived. It was good to talk to the person I was here to see. Although I thought her and her husband were retired chefs, they weren’t, she had been cooking for a function in Winnipeg and she even has a function here on the lake tomorrow. She was very bubbly, pretty and seemed to have lots of energy.
When it was time for dinner we headed over to the other cabin, Elaine’s and Eric’s. Eric was cooking the spare ribs on the outside BBQ. Once at the table there were salads, vegetables, potatoes, spare ribs and wine. It was a feast fit for a king. When we had thought we had eaten the most delicious meal, one of the other sons, Dain had produced 3 huge berry pies that had lots of different fruits inside. They just didn’t look good, but they tasted good. Topped off with a coffee or two it turned out to be the 5th great meal I had there. Why would I want to leave! I know why- I was putting on weight and it had taken me 6 weeks to lose it.
Friday 29 July
I had another good sleep in a bed. This good living was getting contagious. I had to get back to roughing it or I just might get too soft. I was going to move off today around 11.00am as I felt that I shouldn’t be taking advantage of the Hammerbakks generosity any more. I know though that they would welcome me to stay another day, but I would feel a little uncomfortable eating their food and drinking their drinks.
I had organized with Eric to teach him a few paddle strokes at 9.00am so after a good cup of coffee we were ready to take to the water. Eric hadn’t had any tuition since he bought his kayak, but I expected he would be an expert by the time we finished.
The wind wasn’t half as strong as the day before so it was good to be on the water. Eric was learning things quickly. By the time breakfast was called we had gone through several skills and strokes and I could see a huge improvement.
For breakfast we had a special pan fried bread with different syrups as well as genuine maple syrup. Again it was such a delicious meal.
After breakfast we continued our kayak lesson and at about 11.15am I had to start and get ready. Being a week ahead of schedule I didn’t really need to go and I don’t know why I really was going but I was. Although the camp ground at Perch Bay, near where my double kayak was waiting didn’t take tents, I had secured a camp spot at Sunnyside Camp & RV Park about an hours paddle away. So at least when I get to Kenora I had some where to stay.
I was ready to leave at 11.45am. Most of the Hammerbakks were there to see me leave. It was great and a little sad. I left paddling against a slow current waving my farewell. I reached the bridge which must have been 500 to 600 metres away, maybe more and when I looked back and waved again I saw that several of them were still watching and waving back at me. I could see their arms going from one side to another. It was touching to think they had stayed there on the jetty until they could no longer see me. Like I said they were good people
I went out of their sight and I was alone again. The trip was full of mixed emotions. I had the urge to get into the wilderness and then when I meet nice people it’s hard to leave them and there is a strong want to see more people. This trip I think I was getting a good balance between wilderness and people. Both had there rewards. I have a feeling that this is going to be one of my most enjoyable and diverse trips that I had done in North America. I leave the rail bridge behind and as one chapter closes, another one begins.
I started to make good progress as the wind was helping to push me along. I could soon see three kayaks up ahead which were the American girls from next door going for a paddle to Adamson Lake. They said it was very beautiful. It wasn’t on the main river system so when they get close to it they have to walk a few hundred metres.
I had a few words with them and flew off in a south-easterly direction, heading for the narrows they call the Dalles. I was told I might not get up through the narrows as the current was pretty fast. Apparently it was easier on the left side of the islands but the main route was on the right side.
I took the right hand side, the main channel. It was pretty in the channel and the current wasn’t too much of a problem, in fact I kept stopping and taking pictures. I could see it would be a lot more difficult in higher water conditions.
I moved through another set of islands that had a good current flow. There were several people here fishing from boats. It was a pleasant little area that soon opened up and I soon found myself doing that last stretch towards Sunnyside Campground. I had paddled it quicker than I would have thought.
The day was warm and when I arrived at Sunnyside there were people swimming. I had spoken to them way back near the islands. I asked if they wanted to change places. They were Americans on their last day of their holiday. Pity they said, we not having a fish meal tonight.
I pulled up at the beach and walked to the office and was greeted by a very friendly owner who soon had me sorted. I camped next to some German Americans and their friends who were from Germany. I did my washing, it had been a while since I used a washing machine and as I was waiting outside for it to finish my neighbour came up to me and said we have a place set for you for dinner. I hadn’t even spoken to them and I get an invite.
I sat down to freshly caught fish, rice and salads and was encouraged to eat as much as I could. They have a son Thomas who walked the whole length of the Appalachian Trail 4000kms, the Pacific Crest Trail, which was about 4000kms and paddled 3/4 of the Mississippi River so they had some affinity with what I had achieved. They said he is 45 and he has joined the army again as a medic and he is in Afghanistan. He first joined the army when he was 21 and was serving overseas but then he came out of the army for a few years but then decided to go back in just before he was too old to serve. They worry when they get a phone call at night. It was nice to be with them and share some time.
Saturday 30 July
I didn’t have to wake up very early as I was staying put, but when I did get up a couple who I met the previous evening, Dan and Cheryl, who had two kayaks on their roof rack and who were pulling out of the park, stopped and asked me if I wanted to go for breakfast with them. I jumped at the chance.
Dan drove into Kenora which was a good scenic drive and stopped at a small restaurant opposite Tim Hortons, the coffee shop. Dan and Cheryl were from Thunder Bay a six hour drive away. Dan was 55, but was retired, although he stills volunteers with the Rescue Services there. Cheryl still works at a school. Dan loves scuba diving and at first I wondered where ever would you dive in the middle of Canada. Of course Thunder Bay was on Lake Superior and apparently it was full of boat wrecks. And later we would be paddling Lake Superior!
Dan treated me to breakfast and we returned to the Sunnyside Campground but on the way back we stopped at Perch Bay Camp to have a check of our double kayak that was sent there. It was sent to the park but it really went to the home of John Haste who very happy to let us leave it there until we turned up.
Back at Sunnyside Dan and Cheryl got changed and then we drove back to Perch Bay, so they could put their kayaks in and paddle with the current back to Sunnyside. I drove Dan’s car back so they could do the paddle. About two hours later they turned up at the campground.
Soon-after Dan and Cheryl left for home at Thunder Bay, a 6 hour drive. I started typing my blog to catch up and having electricity I didn’t have to worry about the battery going flat.
It was a relaxing but hot day which was a little hard to get used.
Sunday 31 July
It continued to be hot and the locals were saying that they hadn’t had a good rain for some time which was unusual and all the plants in their gardens needed a good watering. I read that although it had been an excellent summer for ice cream and cool drink sales and everything related to the heat, but the farmers were having it tough as they had a wet beginning to summer and now everything is dry.
After breakfast I paddled around to the Perch Bay Resort, which was an hours paddle away to unpack the double kayak. It was a pleasant paddle, even better without all the weight in it. Several beautiful houses backed onto the river and had boats and jetties and some people were enjoying a swim.
At Johns house next to the Perch Bay Resort I started unpacking the kayak. It was all in excellent condition, no scratches, no cracks so that was pleasing. John said they experienced a tornado and the pine tree which it is sat under broke off half way up, but it didn’t hit the boat. We were lucky. John had said I could camp in his back garden, but I didn’t want to be a bother, but because I needed to be at Perch Bay for Tuesday I said I would camp there on Monday night.
I returned to Sunnyside Camp with the current this time which was a nice change after paddling against the current for nearly 300kms.
It was another hot day. I relaxed again, did more typing and at dinner time a family in the park asked me over to have burgers and salad. I was being spoiled yet again.
Monday 1st August 2011
After an easy morning I started packing up to change camps. Despite Sunnyside being run down the people had been very friendly. As I was leaving the owners told me they were hoping to sell the camp for a housing development, which was sad as it would stop the poorer people, like myself from being able to camp close to the water. No wonder the camp was looking a little run down.
I was soon headed back to Perch Bay to spend the night camped in John and Charlene’s back garden. The paddle upstream this time was a little harder due to all the weight in the kayak. Paddling up one of the small rapids I misjudged the depth and scraped over some underwater sharp rocks. I cursed at myself for being so clumsy.
I landed on the Perch Bay sand beach and carried my gear through the park, between the rows of RVs and up to John’s house. On my return for my second load a couple in a trailer asked me what I was doing. Within minutes I was drinking a beer, eating cheese burgers and salad and was sat in their trailer eating and drinking another beer. Darlene, Allan and their daughter Alison Priscott had been at their trailer for the long weekend and were about to head home to Winnipeg. It seems that everyone who has a trailer or a cabin in this area all came from Winnipeg despite it being in a different province. Kenora was tucked away in the western corner of Ontario and thousands of kilometres from its capital Toronto, but it was only a few hundred kilometres from Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba.
It had been Kenora’s Harbour Fest weekend so John and Charlene who had been organising some of the events had partied until 4.00am, so when I arrived to camp in their back garden they were still in bed and recovering from the hard night.
Tuesday 2nd August
Alaine and Leonie were arriving in Winnipeg later in the day at 2.30am. I had arranged to be picked up in the afternoon by Elaine and Eric, who I had met at the cabin in Minaki. They said they would drop me off at the hotel where the girls were staying.
I had several hours to kill before then so I decided to walk into Kenora which was just over an hours walk away. I needed to pick a parcel from the post office, have my haircut, buy some maps and have a look around to see what else was in town.
I took off walking down the narrow road and chuckled to myself when I passed a dog-pound which had a sign saying,’Guard Dog on Duty’. Closer to the town centre on the lake front a few boats and float planes were parked. Unfortunately due to building works the waterfront didn’t look as pretty as it should.
I checked out the local kayak / outdoor store but they had nothing I needed so I headed to a hairdresser for a haircut and beard trim which cost me $16.50 although by the time I tipped it came to $20.00, which was still slightly cheaper than in Perth.
At the post office I was happy to find my parcel was still there as I had my doubts. I found a shop that sold maps of the ‘Lake of the Woods’. They were coloured coded and showed the areas of private land, crown land, park land or First Nation Lands. Apparently, as non-residents we were restricted to camping on crown land, and we had to pay a $10.00 fee for each night. Permits were purchased from nominated outdoor stores or ranger stations.
With shopping complete I started walking out of town when I received a message from Leonie telling me that their plane from Vancouver had been delayed and it could be a few hours late. Two kilometres further I stopped at a Subway restaurant to have lunch. It was a welcome treat. By the time I got back to Perch Bay Resort, a little more tired than when I left, I just had enough time to take my tent down, pack my gear, have a shower at John’s before Elaine and Eric arrived to pick me up.
At that moment I received another message from Leonie telling me that the plane might not be in Winnipeg before 8.00pm. It was originally going to arrive at 2.30pm. Thinking that we would all be in Winnipeg Elaine and Eric had invited us for dinner but the delay put a damper on our meal. Elaine’s sister and husband couldn’t make it at the later time as they lived way out of town, but Elaine and Eric were still keen to give it a go.
Leaving Kenora the scenery on the car journey to Winnipeg started off being rock and lakes, then it turned into forest and then flat farm land and eventually we entered the city limits and over the Red River Floodway, a wide channel that they had built to avoid the city from flooding. Eric said the channel was nearly bursting its banks earlier this year and although people objected at the cost of building it years before, it has saved the city from flooding several times. It was one project that had been built with forward thinking and had been so worthwhile.
The Red River Floodway is an artificial flood control waterway which was first used in 1969. It is a 47 km (29 mi) long channel which, during flood periods, takes part of the Red River’s flow around the city of Winnipeg, to the east and discharges it back into the Red River below the dam at Lockport. It can carry floodwater at a rate of up to 2,550 cubic metres per second. It was built partly in response to the disastrous 1950 Red River flood.
Construction of the Floodway started on October 6, 1962 and finished in March 1968. The construction was a major undertaking with 76.5 million cubic metres of earth excavated – more than what was moved for the Suez Canal. At the time, the project was the second largest earth-moving project in the world – next only to the construction of the Panama Canal. The total cost at the time was $63 million, equivalent to approximately $360 million today.
It was completed in time and under budget. Although there was huge opposition to the plan it has been used over 20 times in the 44 years from its completion, the floodway has saved more than $10 billion in flood damages.
We reached Elaine and Eric’s home and rested for a few hours before driving out to the airport to meet the plane which had been delayed further and was now due in at 8.45pm. The meal booking had to be changed yet again, it was getting later and later and I hadn’t been able to let Alaine and Leonie know that we were going out for a meal, so we were hoping that they weren’t going to be too tired.
We arrived at the airport a few minutes before the girls arrived and they were very surprised to see us as they didn’t know that we were actually picking them up. Within a few minutes we were headed to the restaurant in the city. Elaine’s and Eric’s son, daughter and their daughter’s boyfriend was already there. We were later than expected but the restaurant allowed us to stay later than they normally trade. It was a beautiful meal and we all had a great time with lots of laughter. After the meal Eric and Elaine dropped us off at the hotel. At long last after several days of waiting, the girls had arrived and I and they could get on with the second big stage of the journey.
Wednesday 3rd August
Leonie had managed to get some free breakfast meal coupons so we enjoyed a free breakfast in the hotel. The food was good, the service was good. I had eggs benedict to see if it was better than what I had eaten in Inuvik, in the far north of Canada on a previous trip. I have been trying eggs benedict for breakfast in Australia but Inuvik eggs benedict still wins out.
Mountain Equipment Co-Op was only a few hundred metres away from the hotel. The girls needed to buy some camping gear for the trip as they couldn’t bring everything over from Australia. Two hours later we were still in the store.
We returned to the hotel then Leonie realised that she had left a couple of items on the counter, we also thought of a couple of other things we needed, so we returned to the store. Back at the hotel we realised we needed something else so we returned to MEC store once again. By this time the staff members were getting to know us. Before declaring the day of shopping was over Leonie had to find a provider for her ipad so she could use it in Canada.
Back at the hotel, after having a delicious salad meal at a deli/lunch bar we sorted out our gear, had a bit of a rest and later walked down to a place they call the Forks. The Forks is a tourist destination beside the Red and the Assiniboine Rivers. There were shops, cafe’s, skate park, and lots of other community projects and venues as well as a couple of interesting bridges.
When we arrived the two rivers were still running high, with a scenic boat tour cruising up and down and people looking, eating and walking around the popular area. It was a great place to mix with the locals and to find out about the history of the area as there were lots of information signs lining the paths.
For at least 6000 years, the Forks has been the meeting place for early Aboriginal peoples, and since colonisation it has also been a meeting place for European fur traders, Métis buffalo hunters, Scottish settlers, riverboat workers, railway pioneers and tens of thousands of immigrants. Now we have the tourists here to learn about the past.
Numerous archaeological digs have shown that early Aboriginal groups arrived at ‘The Forks’ site around 6,000 years ago. Artifacts related to the bison hunt and fishing were unearthed. Evidence showed that Nakoda (Assiniboins), Cree, Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) and Sioux (Dakota) visited the site. During the small pox epidemics of 1781–1782, over half of the areas aboriginal population died. At this time over 1,000 Aboriginal men, women and children were buried in ‘The Old Aboriginal Graveyard’at The Forks.
Europeans arrived by canoe in 1738. La Vérendrye erected Fort Rouge, the first of a long line of forts and trading posts erected in the area. The Red River Colony and the forts were all established near ‘The Forks.’ The area remained the hub of the fur trade up until the 1880s. At that time, grain production became Western Canada’s principal industry and the main transportation for that industry was rail rather than waterways.
In January 2008, the Guinness Book of World Records recognised ‘The Forks’ as the home of the longest skating rink in the world. The 8.54-kilometre-long Assiniboine Credit Union River Trail on the Assiniboine River and the Red River is almost 1 kilometre longer than the previous record-holding rink. The 7.8-kilometre long rink on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Ontario lost its World Record title which it had held since 1971. Then in 2008 the rivers beat their own record which made the longest rink go to about 9.3-kilometres. The Rideau Canal, however, still holds the world record for the world’s largest outdoor rink (as measured by total area).
On our return to the hotel we stopped at a popular pub called Earls and we enjoyed a beer or two and a good meal. The service was also good with a lot of pretty waitresses.
Thursday 4th – August
We were up early for breakfast in the hotel restaurant before getting a taxi at 8.15am, arriving at the Greyhound Depot at the airport in plenty of time. We were only allowed to carry one bag free and the girls had two extra ones which they had to pay $10.00, which wasn’t so bad.
About 20 minutes before departing we were ushered through the security check. We were scanned and our hand luggage was checked. The strange thing was that the area we were sitting or standing in had no fence or barrier apart from the chairs that people were sitting on, so when anyone wanted to go to the toilet they could just stride a chair and get back into the public area again.
There were lots of people taking the bus but lucky for us there were two coaches, one for the long distant passengers which was crammed and the other for people going to Kenora, which had 12 people on, so we had plenty of room.
Winnipeg was a very flat city, I was told it was a very cold one in winter, it also seemed to have its fair share of poor areas as well as the rich. We were soon out of the city and into the farmland and then into the forests before hitting the lake areas before Kenora.
The bus stopped at the depot near Tim Hortons, which was on the other side of town. The girls bought lunch at Tim Hortons whilst I protected the luggage. Twenty minutes later we were in a taxi heading for Perch Bay Resort where our kayaks were and where I had booked a room.
As soon as we had arrived I started checking the kayaks and changing the rudder system on the double kayak. The pedals were in the back of the kayak and because I wanted to paddle at the front and have control of the rudder I needed to move the pedals to the front. It would make it easier for me to navigate and to make decisions, although being at the front might mean I end up being a little wetter than Alaine.
Alaine had brought some rudder cable and plastic sheath from home so I could extend the cable through the centre compartment and to the front pedals. The pedals from the front had to be put in the back and as they were not compatible I had to drill a few holes in the rails to make them fit.
We all had our own little jobs to do and by the end of the day our nearest neighbour had offered to take us to town the following day to do some shopping.
It was Thursday night and cake and coffee night so at 6.30pm we went to the lounge room and met a few of the other people who were at the camp. Because most of the RVs were semi-permanent it meant that most people knew each other. The cakes were delicious.
Friday 5th August
We ended up having fruit loops for breakfast, which Leo bought from the resort shop as we didn’t have any food in our cupboard. We just couldn’t wait to try out our boats so we wheeled them down to the river and went for a test run. When Alaine and I jumped into the tandem it felt pretty good especially as it didn’t have any gear in it. We paddled towards the dam which was only about a kilometre away. Mal, our neighbour was out fishing in his boat. He usually goes out early, he said.
As we paddled between the rocky hills towards the dam Alaine and Leonie had their first taste of the stunning scenery from the kayaks. They were so excited and fresh to feel freedom and with the kayaks flying along they were eager to get on the way. After paddling the slim Epic Kayak for nearly 2600kms I was now going to paddle and get used to paddling a much wider tandem kayak. Alaine and I had paddled a lot together in Australia, so in theory we should get on okay, but time would tell. Leonie would paddle my single.
When Alaine and Leo were ready to go into town Mal drove them in. I continued to fit out the tandem kayak. I expected to see them back for lunch but they got delayed, so they left me being a hungry lad (although I didn’t hold it against them)! Sue, another lady who lived in an RV at the camp was going into town so she found the girls wandering around the supermarket. Sue was a really nice caring person, as was Mal. Bill and Judy from the Perch Bay Resort also offered us lifts in town. We were meeting so many people who cared about us and were willing to go out their way to help us.
When the girls returned I had food to eat and we were able to start packing the food into individual packs. Our room and the veranda outside had food and gear all over and it looked a real mess.
At 4.00pm Sue drove Alaine and I into town to find out about the crown land camping permits, do a little more shopping and buy some beer. Sue detoured to show us her mother’s house and where she lived as a child. She talked about herself and told us a story of how she met her partner. It was a touching story. As Alaine would say she was a lovely person.
The day was hot and sunny and as Alaine and I continued packing and getting our food ready Leonie strolled over to the BBQ and cooked steak to go with a tasty salad. We eventually moved over to the bench overlooking the water and relaxed and ate our steak meal with a wine or two.
The sun set was fiery red.
Saturday 6th August
We had planned to leave today but simply we were not ready. We still had too much gear and too many last minutes things to do so we had to cull a few more things. Because someone else had booked our cabin we had to move to another one which was closer and overlooking the water. We packed our kayaks two more times to make sure all our gear was going to go in. It was tedious, but it had to be done, more gear had to be left. The double kayak didn’t have double the room as the single kayak so it was hard to decide what we didn’t need. There was only the stove that we could share, other than that we both needed our own gear.
Every one we talked to in the park kept talking about this lady called Nancy who kayaked. You have to meet her, they said. Today we finally met her when she came over to say hello.
Alaine had brought her two paddles and her paddling gear in a very fancy paddle bag. It though was too big for her to take in the kayak so instead of sending it on she decided to give it to Nancy, and in return Nancy gave Alaine a paddler’s necklace.
By early afternoon we were a lot more organised and we could see an end to our packing. Alaine and Leo decided to get a few last minute groceries so they were driven into town by Bill the campsite manager.
We celebrated not with a meal in a restaurant but with steak and salad on the bench overlooking the beautiful lake and watching the light fade away.
Stage 3 of the journey coming soon
Stage 3 of the journey coming soon