Thursday, December 19, 2013

My little canoe trip

I had a room once over an x-rated video store in some Canadian city I believe was Vancouver. I once heard Vancouver was a hole which was hard to get out of if you partook in the less affluent districts. So anyhow I was sitting in my room one night thinking about what I could do other than killing myself and I had an idea. Why not get a canoe and head east. I had a green van bought with some insurance money I got from being in a bus that rolled down the side of a mountain so next day I advertised it and it sold right away. It took a week to cash the check because I was a nobody but finally I got my money and went shopping. I bought a tent and a good sleeping bag and an iron pot and a huge duffel pack and fifty pounds of brown rice and got on a bus for Prince George. I know it was Prince George because I bought my canoe there and a paddle but I honestly can't remember how I got to a creek way south of Williston Lake where I put my canoe in the water and the duffel bag and me inside and we headed off through willow branches and over sand and rocks till the creek got deep enough to paddle in.

My first real memories of this journey was me screaming at the world from the middle of a little treed in lake. Inner city life can really get on ones nerves and it must be a necessity to express oneself and it was such a quiet, solitary little lake. Other than that I had a highway map I really didn't know where I was going so after several days I became more and more amazed at the huge naked dead trees standing in the water as my creek widened and the current slowed and before me a huge expanse of drowned out and fallen timber as far as the eye could see. I knew they'd built a dam to make the lake, but who knew the impediments? There were no signs or anything.

I came to shore amongst the standing dead trees on an afternoon and these huge eagles started swooping down over me getting closer and closer. The power and strength they portray at twenty feet and seventy miles an hour can be slightly unnerving. I finally realized they had a nest in one of the dead trees a couple hundred yards away and they were just screaming at me already and I could hear the air whooshing as they dived ever closer, so I got out of there in a big hurry. I guess they didn't get much company and that's how they liked it.

Good camping spots were hard to come by as the shore was more like a flood zone with the lake being in its formative years and the water level not all that stable. Several times I canoed all night because there was nowhere to find dry ground in the swampy uprooted mess. I found a sand island once flooded that must have been the top of an ancient hill. It was nothing but a tangle of dead branches and sand so soft you couldn't walk on it, but I was tired and didn't care. This lifeless desolation of a place out in the middle of nowhere must surely be eroded by now to lie beneath the waves till some madman blows the dam sky high.

Following the east shore I discovered signs of civilization in the form of logs being corralled in huge floatations and what really gave it away was the buildings and smoke stacks. I never saw anyone and that's how I liked it. Maybe it was Sunday?

As I got further away from this impingement on my solitude I noticed these little guys swimming along. As they got closer their bright eyes laughed as they played in a world where I was a curiosity and they were obviously at home. I believe they were otters and what a treat they provided that day with their total disregard for the conflict in the middle east. May the force be with them and their offspring.

On a really good stretch of shore that finally showed up I camped for a day or two when to my amazement there were engines and voices way down so off I went to find a bunch of drunks in their four by fours fixing a u-joint with a piece of wood. They were out for a weekend joy ride and I walked back with as much steak and canned beans and spaghetti as I could carry. Thanks guys and I hope you made it back. Brown rice can only be boiled in so many ways.

A little bobcat came to visit me one night. The lake had narrowed as I got further north and cliffs along the west side with a narrow ledge along the waterline provided a camping spot that was better than you could pay for at the Royal Hilton. I had a little fire going and in the shadows by an outcrop of rock a little head with pointy ears was watching me. We exchanged stares of amazement for several minutes and then it was gone. Next morning it was totally fogged in you couldn't see anything and a moose tripped over my tent peg. He ran off snorting and just about took my tent with him. A truly amazing place.

Next day I arrived in civilization. Actually the end of a road were a nice family had a little restaurant and some boats for rent. Across the inlet from it was a campground with picnic tables so I stayed there a couple days but there was no toilet paper in the biffy so I only gave it two stars. This place is where the south and north and east arms meet and waves come from all three directions and if your in a little boat it's a fun ride but I made it down the east arm to calmer water. I can't remember much about the east arm other than that there was a picnic shelter on the south shore. Everyone and their dog had carved their name and date into it and that's about all it was really good for, someone's idea of a joke. “Yes Mike, lets build a picnic shelter for all the families to roast their marshmallows in.”

You could see the dam from miles away and it was a long paddle till I got there. I was going to carry everything past the dam, but some guys in a pickup gave me a ride to a campground a couple miles past. The river here was full of eddies and a little swift but I found a quiet spot to load my canoe and pushed into the current and the next twenty miles took about twenty minutes but then it calmed slowly into a lovely valley with cows grazing peacefully below the hills.

I spent a lazy afternoon on some sandbars in a wide stretch of the river and tried to figure out where I should go. If I stayed on the Peace River I'd end up in the arctic and that wasn't my intention and I'd run out of brown rice halfway there and fish are good but not that good and what would I do in the arctic anyhow. So I studied my highway map till I found a stream that led into Lesser Slave Lake, but how to get there? The Peace River only came within sixty miles of the little blue line on the map. But that was days away yet, not to worry. From what I remember the river was sometimes slow and sometimes fast depending on how wide it was and how much water they were letting through the generators and you could sort of keep track of where you were by the ferries and bridges and towns.

When I reached the southern most bend before the river finally makes up it's mind to head north I said “that's it for this stream” and I camped in the ditch by the highway heading south. I think I was there for a week. Every night this family of skunks came to visit and the little ones got so tame they would climb right on me till mom and dad would lead them off to their next nightly adventure.

At about three one morning this van with flowers painted all over it sort of died right beside my tent and after about two days of me unplugging the rad with a piece of wire and some fresh antifreeze from the river we took off from there at a speed of fifteen clicks and my canoe on top. After being pulled over the fifth time by the RCMP we reached the park where my map showed the little blue line and we parted ways. I still puzzle over the beginning or end of their adventure as they surely do about mine.

The little blue line turned out to be overrated. The little lakes were swamps and the blue lines between them needed three inches of rain. So I pulled and shoved and carried for days and days and eventually came to a maze of water and reeds and willow banks and heading towards the sunrise I eventually saw Lesser Slave Lake. It was like heaven – clear blue open water.

By way of another vehicle portage by a friendly farmer I wound up in the Saskatchewan River system and after three months succumbed to civilization half way down Lake Winnipeg when I woke up one morning with six inches of snow on my tent and stuck out my thumb on a gravel road and got a lift into Winnipeg where I got married a year later. The moral of this story is never take a room over an x-rated video store or you'll end up married in a strange city.
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