Left Edmonton around 4pm after we repacked the grocery bags Dana & Peter had gotten. Dana even took a taxi back to carry everything. Our camp on the dock was surrounded by police who cordonned off an area to look for … apparently important since they could not tell us. They were so focussed on their work they did not even question us on our being in a public place. Such are the meetings on the river.
Beautiful day, we paddled on t’ill we were out of town and suburbs. As much as Edmonton is a nice clean modern town, when we passed down the river the treatment plant was easily identifiable by the stink of the decantering lagunes and then the flow of sudsy water that pourred out of the plant smelling this time of washing suds and leaving a foam trace about a kilometer long on the river. Someone ought to look into the water quality of their lagunes and rejection in the river. It’s either human or technical incompetence, perhaps both …
Again bridges, I must have counted over a dozen passing Edmonton. Then we started smelling the petrochemical plants that are implanted every kilometer or so on the side of the river. With the banks we cannot see much, however the smell is strong even in the fairly good wind which should push the stink away and we again deplore the rejections in the river that look (again we do not have water quality measuring equipment) BAD.
As much as it seems Edmonton city is paying attention to the quality of life of it’s citizens, the quality of the pollution, by product of the wealth of the city, appears to be an accepted evil. Poor earth we destroy for centuries. It reminds me of the French President saying he would swim in the Seine river in Paris … he got re-elected but never swam and I dont recommend it. Rivers take centuries to clean up !
As we camped that night we met Mike who came down the river behind us. Mike is alone with his dog crossing the continent from Rocky Mountain House to Montreal. Mike shared a meal, gave me tips and wormy looking bait & hooks for fishing and then instead of camping with us decided he still had an hour of daylight so wen on down river. We’ll probably be meeting Mike on the way as he is taking much the same route as we are.
In the morning the sun came out on a totally bleu sky announcing a warm day. The workers building probably a housing complex across the river were at work at 7am with their engines. I sat looking at the sunrize and spring announcing itself in every plant with various stages of buds becoming flowers or leaves. I have my coat and sweaters on as the dew turned to ice melts from the tent top. Today is my birth day, May 10 and the guys have already told me there was a special diner planned.
We packed up and kicked off by 9:30, it seems as always on camping trips that there is an uncompressible time between wake up and departure. Hugo wants to reduce it and have us go at dawn, but as I get up at that time, he often opens an eye and goes strait back to sleep for another hour or two. Having had a half day of no paddling, we are more efficient and slowly the 4 of us are getting into a rythm which I have still difficulty maintaining for a long time due to back akes and numbing of my hands on the paddle a result of pinched nerves in the back. We should be stretching more as Dana would say.
We are already short on water so we stopped at the next town, Dana & I hitched into town with NO LUCK so we walked and flagged down a city employee on his forklift type carryall. Kindly he called a collegue with a pickup truck and we purchased at Canadian Tire (they have much more than tires!) two new 20l water containers with spigets and filled them in the back room of a Pita chain restaurant. The employees were afraid to let us fill our containers as we might contaminate the back kitchen. Dana was about to purchase something as a thank you, but seeing the back kitchen conditions he prefered to abtain. Another area where appropriate controls are not in place. Our city friends then drove us back to the bridge under which we had left Peter & Hugo listening to the radio and laying in the sun.
Once on the river we had a delicious meal on the boat. Fresh cut vegetables, celery sticks, carrots, nnd slices of cucumber … Thank you Kathy & cohorts ! With peanut butter on the sticks or on bread it filled the gap while satisfying the need for fresh food. I have not eaten so much peanut butter since my teens … it just seems right when fending off the cold and need for efforts.
This is the first really hot day. I have inovated and am paddling in tee shirt and shorts (my pants have legs you take off to turn them into shorts. We are getting sunburned and putting sunscreen on. This is a prelude to the weather we’ll be having soon. We decide to stop by 5 and found a place with grass and … it happens to be Ean’s house. We go up to the house and he graciously lets us stay on his 50 acre farm he purchased 15 years ago for $40 000 on which he has built his own house. No electricity, but the state
provides gaz to his house. This means he has to pay a line maintenance fee of $30 a month but the gaz is cheap, he only pays $5 a month for his needs. Electricity is a gaz generator with batteries. As often in these types of installations the batteries are dead and need to be replaced … important recurring costs. Particularly since he spends half the year here in the summer and the other half in countries where living is cheap, last year in central america. When I speak to him of my plans to take two donkeys from Seattle to Chily, he asks me as many have wether I plan to go around Bolivia by the sea … a way that has become traditional due to guerilla warfare. Ean is quiet, says little but you can feel he is observing, a man used to being alone. His house & garden give us the same feeling as when we were at Mike’s place in BC. Self constructed homestead with a care for costs, efficiency, practicality. After an accident as a woods management consultant, ‘the young ones just did it faster’, Eon has chosen to live small but live his own life. He takes care of his sister and a niece … a full life for one who choses to live his own values.
The guys are all busy preparing my birthday meal, fresh asparagus in a rich sauce with spaguetti and a carrot cake decorated with rehidrated carrots. Quite a success ! Of course aperitif was a 10 year old Alberta rye wisky and with diner two wines from south america and south africa. Ean did not eat diner but stayed with us to share a drop of wiskey and the cake. A good evening and we went off to bed early as usual a little over fed and alcoholized.
60 and paddling down a river, interesting how I dont feel any incoherence with this. On the contrary I feel right at my place with these emerging men for whom I must represent old age yet who accept me as one of theirs. I’m not as strong either in carrying or paddling but I try to bring other things of value … life experience perhaps. Probably one of the better birthdays a man can have with real good and open hearted expressions of fellowship. I hugged each one as we celebrated.
This morning as I sit on a stump in the sunshine writing to you while all are asleep, the river purrs in the background and I feel close to nature, life and humanity. A feeling of wholeness that makes life worthwhile.
Breakfast of « Mike’s famous potatoes & eggs » done by Dana, we said goodbye to Eon after he gave us drinking water he gets in town to fill one of the 3 jugs. We felt this intrusion into his life had been worthwhile for him also. We left with the early morning wind. 12 km per hour! With a makeshift sail but without paddling. Unhappily the river turns and thus the wind has become frontal stopping us and making us paddle hard for little gains. We stop once on a muddy bank, yes the mud is still with us, and then try going again. Again thanks to Kathy & Co we ate sunflower seeds to keep the tonus.
We cross little « historical » looking sites. It seems they are all closed waiting for the summer vacation crowds. Some look like homesteads, others like ancient trading posts. They are up on the banks and not easily accessible from the muddy river banks.
We saw many eagles and their nests are big in the top of the trees. Often they are being chased by smaller birds either to distract the eagles from their nests or as a hawk seems to have demonstrated, a marking of hunting territory.
White headed, large wings, they hover over us too briefly to grab a picture.
At present we are stopped, sitting on a bank waiting for the wind to die down. Some are
reading, others sleeping, a lazy afternoon as it has been decided that once the wind goes down at end of day, the we will paddle … possibly all night. I really enjoy this continuous adaptation to the environment, ideas surge of new means of adventure which I probably would not initiate. Why not, paddling all night down a river with a half moon … and no expected rapids or critical passage in sight. We have 315 km to get to our meeting point with Njal who is planned on joining us the 17th at Battleford. Peter has offered us a beer, one of the last but what a good taste at afternoon’s end !
4pm, Dana calls for action and we’re off after Peter & Hugo fix a quick diner (spaguetti al Dana’s with herbs & melted cheeze & TVP (texturized vegetable protein). We talk of paddling all night as the wind seems to take a break and if not disapear at least allow us to progress. Our arms are vigourous as if at the begining of a day … what is announced is 12hrs of paddling in the night ! We progress well during a couple of hours, our day is saved we have made 42km, a little less than the day before … but still an acceptable day since this is « as the crow flies », I figure 50 km with the detours of the river.
But night falls, and we start by hitting a sand bank, then we hear a roar in front of us and the wind is making our efforts once again come to nill. We all agree by 9pm that it’s best if we just go to shore and wait it out by sleeping tonight. Since the stars are out and the prediction is for good weather each curls up on his mattress with his sleeping bag in whatever flat spot he can find.
We wake up late have a quick breadkfast and then load and take off. Peter in the bow, then me, followed by Dana in the two seat station, the luggage and Hugo at the stern. We barely make 200 meters that the wind sweeps us by a gust to the shore. We try again, and paddle bravely a kilometer or two but we have to admit the wind is too strong. Our paddling like mad men is really not worth the effort. So we stop, climb ashore, take the white barril where we have our books & lunch and decide to wait it out.
I can’t say that a days’ rest is not a welcome idea for me. I’m sure the guys feel it as well. We “have to learn to live with the weather” says Dana as he settles down with a book after exploring the environment. The wind does not let us really feel the bitting sun but we are cautious and keep to cover. Our thoughts wander during this type of stop. Time to think about the loved ones we left behind, the experiences we are not sharing, the situation here with 3 other men which for the duration of the trip are your imposed compagnions. We find aloneness in books and rests, we come back together for the meal, once again peanut butter and bread with an apple and Gorp (mixture of breakfast cereals, nuts, seeds, coconut, candied papaya, raisins, apricots, etc). The wind howls in the trees and we sit over a muddy river full of waves with the opposite bank 200 meters away. A real chance to become Buddha.
I think about you reading this and wonder if your imagination fills in the blanks of my hesitating descriptions of the daily life on the Sasketchewan River. I feel both like letting you float on the adjectives of the descriptions I attempt and sharing with you some of my observations. Wether of nature, group interactions, the trip as an event, or personal observations. I wont burden you with this, just wanted you to know I care about how you can live this, each of you picking out what you deem interesting or … possibly experiential (that which is experienced)
We decide to sleep early and get up early to do a big day. The radio says the wind will die down tonight and it sure is blowing too much right now! I imagine the trappers/voyagers sailing upstream on winds like these as they join the hunting grounds. We saw a flat boat, barge that were used for commerce and that used to be the transportation mode around the river.
Up at 4:30 am but went back to sleep and woke up at 6. As I start putting around all come to wake and we’re off by 7:30 which is a record to date. Beavers are jumping in the river left and right, they sometimes are caught fiddling in the current with a stick and don’t see us coming. Then with a flap of their tail they plunge too early for me to take a picture. Other times they seem so pressed to get to the water from the river bank that they stubble and we hear a big splotch as they hit the water. Dana points out an eagle perched and looking at us from his throne. Geese are flying off as well as pellicans.
We are by now quite used to seeing these funy birds in groups of 5 to 8 along the river. Once one had a fish in his gull and during the flight seems to have swallowed it. We do not see them plunge for fish … possibly later.
Doing good time with little wind, after 2 hrs we get to have a breakfast of Gorp (2 full handfulls says Dana).
The day is grey but there are spots of bleu and progressively it seems to get better. By noon we have sunglasses again and we have made our 40 km by 3 pm. As they announce more wind tomorrow we’ll take a long day and try to compensate for yesterday and possibly tomorrow. I find it strange that narrating the process seems important to convey to you the rhythm of our lives. We switch paddling every 2 or so hours from right to left and vice versa, now we are able to paddle about half an hour without a break, though each takes one when he needs. The rhythm is varied, at time coordinated but most of the time each has his own rhythm which is faster or slower than the others. I see these young men go in bursts with very strong paddling at times but on an average we are all paddling what is physically possible and slowly developping longer sustained times. I get to thinking that in
a couple of months our arms and bodies will be like those of the Voyagers who could paddle up to 200km per day in 16hr stretches. I must say I look forward at the portages with mixed feelings.
Stopped at a bridge so Hugo can call Njal who is joining us in a few days and buy the required items if we find a store. I found a bar where I can drink a beer while I write and most importantly recharge my PC and camera. Dana & Hugo arrived with water can (Dana filled) and finaly Dana drank a beer before relaying Peter while Hugo wen to the grocery store. I stay here with you trying to give you a look at daily living on the river. The bar maid is a matter of fact woman in her thirties who seems to manage and master her place. The lady playing the juke box, fat and looking like her life is empty has left as well as the man who was drinking solo a beer at the bar.
A couple? At least a woman and a man just walked in and each sat at a video lottery consol and started playing. Seems like it ‘s a past time here … the music filling the empty space, keeping each and all distant, is playing on.
We seem to keep the people we’ve met and those we left behind in our minds and silently be dialoguing with them (you in sorts) as we live various experiences. I think of my daughter who is living difficulties with her first life job and my son who is finishing his Baccalaureate, I imagine they miss me as I miss them. My wife to be on her ups & downs of folding our Paris life and preparing for a life of her own possibly with me if she so chooses. Then there are the phylosophical questions “Is living experiences sufficient to justify our lives?” How much of our lives we experience and how much do we do as an activity and then seperate the experience. “I work for a living” is the usual statement. Each one will decide for himself, I just keep the kids informed that they’d better do something they “live” and then figure out how to live from it. The other way around is a form of slavery to the production society which is difficult to negotiate … though some of us have not done a bad job and thus had both the security and the adventure. Possibly its a question of how one is able to negotiate. Politics after all rule the world … if not money.
I look at the people over 60 for sure playing the lottery in Alberta, in Duvernay at the “river side hotel”, a bar, this is their choice of how to spend and afternoon. Later another couple joins them, they are in their late 40s and sitting next to each other on individual machines with his arm on her chair. One of the machines starts squeeking, sign he has won something, no one moves, obviously not an important sum. Sorry, I’d rather be canoing or making love.
The trees have taken on leaves! Yes the green is there beyond the purple orange buds that the poplars had yesterday, they now seem to begin to glow with that fresh green of early spring. Where the chlorophyl is so tender that almost all is good to eat. The country is opening up, more exposed to wind but also more straight lines of river and wide perspectives. We have another 100 km of Alberta and then we enter Sasketchewan.
Our last pieces of ice are black on the river bank. We take bets on what day we expect to no longer see them, the consensus is that we’re still a week away from that which means around the 20th of May before the evidence of winter disapears.
The afternoon is really warm, sunshine is eating at our skins and the river is too cold to enjoy. The country is no longer changing at each turn of the river, we listen to the radio as we paddle and paddle and paddle. I had forgotten how the young delight in pushing their physical limits, not to achieve something particular, just for the pleasure of knowing they did “it”. The talk is about paddling all night while we have already 10hrs of paddling in our arms. We stop by the river bank after passing a bear hunter who is killing beavers and setting feeding places for bears with the dead beavers. Apparently the Americans pay good money to hunt bears, so some folks specialize in making sure the bears are around and lead expeditions “in the wild” to kill the bears for good money. In Alberta apparently you can kill even mother bears with cubs … this says a lot about the mentality of the people here. Like America, guns and killing are identity vehicules from the past that still linger. As McLullan says, it’s not because we leave an agrarian culture to go to an industrial one, and then a computarized one, that we do not continue to have people living in each type of culture that the majority grows out of.
So we stopped, packed out the food, made diner with the chick peas I had soaked with oignons and thyme and carrots, added 3 bouillon cubes and lots of water to fill ¾ of our 20 littre caudron and made it boil an hour.
Mike, the lone canoe crossing Canada to Montreal stopped and shared a few chips with us. He too was waiting for the wind to die down which he expected around 8pm. Indeed, after a diner, a little music and talks around the campfire, the wind went low at around 8pm and we all packed up and got back on the river. The moon is 2 days away from being a full moon and we see the sun disapearing with the stars coming out, a peaceful sight on this ever flowing river. By the time night really comes in Dana suddenly talks about a campsite and we start looking in the dark for a place to sleep. We end up on a steep bank and once again load everything off and haul the canoe up the bank. Illustration of doing things the “hard way”. Mike the loner is down the river and what I observed is that by his knowledge of the country and the river he is able to go almost as fast as us 4 while using currents, timing, and as always with water paying attention to the rhythm of life on the river and living with it.
This morning Dana announced a Gorp breakfast ‘to go fast’ and so we packed up and even if we woke up late (everyone needs to recuperate) we were on the river by 9. Unhappily this is about the time the wind started kicking up and after a few kilometers we were forced to find a place to stop and wait t’ill the wind dies down. Not sure if it will today, this might make for a night paddle … I let the guys work it out, it is their trip fundamentally and I’m just a participant … even if at times I weight in directions that seem more relevant to me.
There is not only an age difference, there is slowly emerging a cultural difference which might be termed a “young country” mentallity as different from my “old world” mentallity. We listen to a lot of Canadian Broadcasting, the official national radio. World news are sketchy and brief, we hear about Canadian ships being shot at in Lybia but most of all about the flood in Sasketchewan and local Edmonton news. Last night we paddled with some good bleues and some country music … a whole program. Flowing in harmony with the environment is a way of respecting it, something which in a country based on conquest and “working the land” is far from inate.
At the pause, Dana is healing his wounds (bruises on his hands), Peter is reading and Hugo is taking pictures while I write to you. Across the river a farmer is making a lot of noise with his tractor, probably fertilizing a field from what I can make out. I keep hoping the wind will die down and we can move on. I dont like these half stops where we do not really set camp, do not really go about our lives since we are ‘waiting’. I’d rather be more whole in what we do. For example have a good cup of coffee, which I can’t do since the food barrels are at the bottom of the canoe and that means unpacking everything. I must be getting old …
Well, they wanted an all night paddle and off we went. The moon almost full accompanied us until the aureole boreal, the northern lights, came to take the relay. Like ghosts appearing over yonder, the misty light seems to play with the terrain and like a rainbow dissipating it’self and the suddenly recreating a new figure … fascinating to look at and impossible to commit to film or still pictures due to the low light conditions. Paddling at night is nice, you need to trust the river and you miss the landscape but you do see some wid life (less these days) and if by chance there is good music on the radio the time passes by rather pleaseantly. We switch sides for paddling every hour or so as the muscles tend to get tense and stiff. I guess I asked for 4500km of paddling and I’ll get every centimeter of it. We have now quite a rhythm when we get going, Peter is an excellent stern man and Hugo does well at bow though his rhythm is too fast and not regular, while Dana & I in the middle provide the power and steadiness. Wether coordinated or not we manage to go down river between 8 and 10 km per hour with a current helping at 3 or 4 km per hour. After 2 weeks of getting acclimated we probably need another 2 weeks to be at our top paddling output.
65 km to French Butte and when we crossed the border with Sasketchewan we drank the rest of the half bottle of wisky to obey the canadian law that makes it illegal to import alcool from one province to another. Actually we were cold and tired by 2am so the wiskey ‘hit the spot’ as a preliminary to a bread, cheeze and for somme penut butter & jam session. The bread we had cooked right prior to leaving and this loaf is the best one we have made yet. I’m re-using the ‘mare’, one third of the bread I put aside each time I make it, so that we let the yeasts grow a day or two prior to making bread again. With whole wheat flour and salt it makes a really good bread. We learned that 45 minutes in the cast iron Lodge pans that fit into a dutch oven are just what it needs on a good bed of coals below and a fire on top. The secret with bread is the malaxing until it is ‘silky’ on the surface and then letting it rize in the cooking pan at least an hour in lukewarm temperatures.
Nature is now in full spring effervescence. The nettles are just starting to appear on the banks and many small plants are just coming out of the ground, hopefully to complete our meals with some fresh greens. The trees are amazing, they went from winter sticks to purple buds and now to fresh green clumps with some staying in winter and other in full leaf. Also the grass is now visibly green on the hills and we see cattle which must just have been left out to pasture now on the farms. With spring are arriving the bugs, all sorts and still groggy from the winter. For the time being no stinging mosquitos or black flies, but Hugo estimates this is the 2 week priviledged time prior to having to protect ourselves.
We estimate that we probably saw our last ice on the banks last night. The mud is still very present and though you can tell it is drying, it is still sticking to our feet up to the ankles (when not the knees!) and getting on everything we own. I have proposed that we do a laundry in Battleford our next big stop with the hope that this will coincide with the mud having dried enough, the river changed into sand banks and grass to have grown enough to hold us out of the mud. The nights are still cold and even if the weather says it’s around 7°, on the river with the wind and the humidity, we are fully covered with 3 to 5 layers and still we are freezing our feet and barely protected from the cold. The exercise is the means to keep warm … it keeps us paddling. I’m rather content to be able to hold my own in the paddling area since they are in the full bloom of their manhood while with 30 years more I’m past my prime … a nice way to say it no?
The beavers are still with us though I long to see their dwellings in the lakes of Ontario. They are funy creatures, swimming near us and then with a big splatch of their tail diving under (often we only hear the splatch and never see the beaver). One of them made us laugh as he ran to the edge of the bank and tripped and fell flat on his belly in the mud before scooting away sheepishly. I gess we all miss a step at times. Dana though careful to check the ground each time, pierced his Thermarest with one of the miriads of little sharp willow sticks that cover the river banks. The beavers eat these and with their sharp teeth harvest them at ground level with a single bite that leaves a pointed stick in the place of each willow harvested.
The wind is back and still apparently for a few days. Incredible to see the power of the wind in 60 to 80 km gusts just sweep us upwater when we are not careful. This will keep us paddling at night when the wind dies down, still present but not too strong even if it takes 2 to 3km away from our efforts. If only it could blow from the west, then we would just put up a sail and relax going down river. People around here say it is an exceptional occurrence, and this wind is drying up the land creating fire hazards even prior to the summer. At daytime we get over the 20° celcius and each of us is getting sun tanned … a bit too quickly. Over 20 fires were being controlled in Alberta … the ban on fires in the bush is effective and we have to be very careful with our campfires which we dig into the river bank and then water and cover up when we leave for ‘no trace camping’ leaving a little ash to fertilize the soil and reduce the fire hazard where we picked up the wood.
At last a night paddling. Out of French Butte we took the river around 9 pm and went all night to sleep 4 hours and gon on … we did over 100 km in 24 hours! The guys were happy at the achievement, I was tired … says a lot about different perspectives. The night came on slowly, difficult to make pictures but the moon was full and the river seemed lit almost as if by day.
This did not stop us from hitting hidden sand banks … the river is beginning to have important sand banks with very little to let us know they are there. Great views of eagles and various apparently rare ducks and woodpeckers … Hugo is the reference and he often says ‘Oh see this’ and we’re supposed to stop paddling and look. We just see a black blob in the sky and he announces this is a rare woodpecker … we just believe EVERYTHING he says. After a while his “Oh see …” is not getting the attention it deserves …
Another 35 km and we’re at North Battleford a major community on the maps, a sort of cross roads with houses as you can see. I met Eagle Rock, a pillar of the community who kindly took me to his friends (probably the only gay couple in town) but they seemed reluctant to lend me their internet access and so I went on to the librairy. There I found electricity and internet … and little by little one of the staff came to see me and as a meeting was ending with a meal, she kindly invited me to partake in the left overs (excellent for a man who hadn’t eaten all day except for the sweet cakes I made for all last night and that we almost did not finish this morning).
I got food for the team as well as she prepared sandwitches and a salad with cakes (the north american fluff stuff). Even had a cup of coffee! What a treat. I posted the blog but did not get all the picture uploaded prior to 9 pm when they closed the library.
So I went to a bar in town and am writing after the end of the hokey game where the Vancouver team beat the US team 7 to 3 in the 2nd of the 7 game play offs. Around me about 35 yound souls who are drinking and the noise level is rising to the level of their seeking meaning out of their lives.
A girl apparently turned 21, a good pretext for all the pretty ladies of the town to come out and drink. I relish in seeing the young men making themselves as well as the young girls noticed. In fact a pretty blond guy seems to have the consensus of the female legion and the other are either drinking in teams or mixing up with girls that are already ‘convinced’.
Interesting to visit a town a few hours and see the style of living. French Butte which I visited was empty. I went throughout the whole town without meeting ANY soul. This is an interesting observation of this back country, even when you meet people, they are rarely curious about what you are doing, and when you mention the trip, they say it’s “exiting” but rarely question you on the experience. It’s like the ‘foreign’ or ‘other’ is of no interest. When I tried to hitch hike into town I found the same type of reaction, the drivers almost changed lanes to avoid having to be close to this person asking for a ride. So I walked into North Battleford.
I must be in the bar of the meeting place of the young people. Guys are making their come-on and the girls are displaying as much of their charms as they dare. Quite good looking ladies in their late 20s. One of the girls came to see me to find out what I was doing typing this blog information and asked me to send her the link to our web site. First sign of curiosity, Nadine comes from the east.
I sat next to Bob, an Iron working man. He works for an american firm implemented here and says it’s a family outfit which seems to treat the workers well … according to him. His wife left him after the kids grew up and at 52 he finds himself alone working in a far out place and enjoying the work relationship while feeling quite alone. Again I find men here as all over the world, dislocated from their family environments and working their way into the grave. In Africa and Asia … and so many places you find these men alone and making the best of it while they can’t maintain a relationship. I’m sure if I was a woman I would get the same mirror picture from women. Sad that we can’t teach our children to have wholesome and constructive satisfying relationships with the opposite sex. One of the failure of our educational system … and our home family relationships.
Jenna came to say hello, told me her story and says the North Saskatchewan is beautiful. Lovely blond girl renovating houses with her boyfriend, what a pleasure to see young people curious and open. They all have their messaging phones and especially the girls are continuously looking to see if someone sent something or responding to a message. The latest game at another table is to propose a bucket to the girl who is 21 to puke, a joyous occasion. Obviously some of the girls dressed up for the night, and the most carefully prepared are it seems often those who are ‘out of luck’ with the boys. What a shame that these kids can’t understand that the world belongs to them and that they are the gems of our society. The bar girls cover the tables and insure that they are keeping the drinks flowing. My third beer is difficult to drink but I persevere to enjoy the voyeurism it allows me.
The birth day girl came over to aks me if I was writing about her, the first concern. I hugged her and congratulated her and she turned to her friends to make sure this strange bearded ‘old’ man was seen to be hugging her by all.
Robin, the ‘joint owner’, working since 10years here and bought it 5 years ago, came to see me. Nice guy, offered me a beer (my fourth, by now I’m part of the crowd). He hires good looking women and then keeps an eye on them to insure they are ‘milking’ the crowd (my interpretation). Obviously he has understood the mechanics of having a lively place. The noise is almost deafning but we know this is what youth likes. This way you don’t really have to ‘face the person’ in front of you. I have by now become an integrated part of the evening’s events. The young are drinking ‘to get drunk’ and it seems to work as they ingurgitate beer followed by hard alcool in juice drinks to soften the taste. Like my children in France … the world is getting smaller.
A night in North Battleford, hopefully tomorrow I can post this and talk with my family at home 9000 miles away.
Went back to the bridge walking along the highway. The police RCMP, ‘the mounties’ came up to me and asked me what I was doing. Once I stated our trip, they mentionned they were looking for a guy out of a medical facility and that I had too much face hair to be the person. Very correct encounter and a basically friendly approach while totally professional. Got in a 1pm and was back up at 6 with Dana who accompanied me. He had negotiated a shower in a Canada Inn Motel so I went there and they had not heard about it. As I insisted and seemed of good faith, they called the person at work the night before and learned that she has taken the $20 but forgotten to note the names of the participants … and not left an IOU note in the till … You get revealed when you dont cover your tracks.
A shower, what a wonderful event, I stayed under at least 1/2hr and must have scrubbed and re-washed myself over 3 times. The feet are those who appreciated most! Feet are those things we walk on and get badly treated when you canoe. You have to be able to get out in water, thus often you dont wear shoes, and if you do then the feet soak in wet shoes all day … I keep a pair of dry socks in the canoe and put them on hoping that I dont have to get out fast.
Kept the room an hour and got some internet communcations done, but not enough time to post the pictures I had started to upload (please accept my excuses). Had an excellent bacon & eggs breakfast with brown toast, an americas classic, for $7. Then I went to recuperate our battery pack, a car starter we carry which allows us to store enough energy to double our total capacity for the computer and the cameras.
On the way I stopped by Dan’s Meat treatment shop. I had met him the day before and he invited me to come to the shop so he could give me some Jerky. So I stopped by and after being introduced in his office we spoke for a while about life, difficult times with our wives, the value of doing work … an open direct encounter as I often have with total strangers while traveling. We generally ‘meet’ people who have the same level of understanding of life as we do, our attitude, openeness and awareness are the keys others read and then relate to you in the at the same level. This at times brings others to discover their own capacities as they stretch their universe. How many times I have for example had people pick me up and say ‘ I never pick up hitch hickers …’, obviously rejoiced by the fact that they were able to do it and that the encounter pleased them. Well while I’m on Dan and his son who is taking over the business that I met roasting over 300 meat paddies for a lunch delivery, Dan gave us 4 sacks of award winning beef jerky, 8 sausages and a pack of smoked top notch bacon. The team, those who are not vegetarian, joins me to confirm this is the best Jerky we have EVER eaten. We say a big THANK YOU to Dan and will insure to keep in touch. You can order directly with Dan and he’ll ship to you ( I recommend that you should buy 2 times what you think you need, you won’t regret it).
Arrived at camp, back from town at 2pm after recuperating the battery and learned that Hugo had met two charming nurses who took him home, helped him do our laundry (his mission) and agreed to fill up our 56ltres of water. Meanwhile Dana & Peter had done the shopping. Val, not Kelly who had things to do brought not only the water but unctuous donuts that were really appreciated.
Details, but to say that each stop is an adventure with experiences that confirm the open kind state of mind of “the other” … just like that night when Greg, the farmer who’se land we camped, not only graciously allowed us to camp in a lovely spot on his property 20 km out of North Battleford, but came to sit with us and brought beer and fresh eggs (thanks to his mother apparently). We had a night of learning about farming conditions (only industrial famers make money, Greg barely scrapes by with his 400 Hectars and cannot replace the material on his father’s homestead), and played some music.
The land is flattening out, creating large islands and little pathways throughout the land that allow us to feel like we’re on a small river. The Eagle river has joined the Saskatchewan and the river continues to run at a good speed. We do 5km an hour with just keeping the canoe pointed in the right direction, 7 with 2 paddlers and and average of 9.1km/hr when all 5 are paddling. Njal has integrated well into the team and today we feel really well coordinated. The day is the first day that looks like a summer day, we paddle in Tshirts, covering our heads and putting on sunscreen. At 11am we stopped on a sand back and had our first swim. Well swim might be exagerating, I only saw Pascal swimming the others dunked and possibly went under … the water is right cold still. Lunch in the canoe, fresh baked bread with cheeze and for those who want the eternal peanut butter with jelly. Dana bought jelly in which the corn startch is superior to the volume of fruits … happily there is artificial flavoring! But the 2lbs pot was in plastic, thus good for the trip. After lunch siesta on the boat for some, Ukelele for Peter and Pascal was in the stern keeping the boat on course. It was so hot that another bath was decreed, we found a lovely sand bank with curves and pools. Then it became time to stop after another 60km by the river and the knowledge that we need not get into Prince Albert before Tuesday since Monday is the birth day of the queen, a Canadian holliday. I hadn’t realized the queen was a gemini, interesting. Mail should be awaiting the guys with apparently a mistery ‘care package’ from Toronto.
The spring is now turning into greens and flowers. Little ones like the violets and in a hurry, the pissenlit, dandilions in English, barely grow and then send out a flower … frustrating when you want to make a salad or cooked dandilion greens. I’m used to full 10” leaves on my dandilions; not the scrawny 2.5” they are here. The nettles are just starting, in a few days we can have nettle soup, added to our basic startch & protein these will be welcome. We ate raw cauliflower dipped in spiced olive oil and raw carrots as an appetizer before diner. Things are evolving, progressively my urgings for vegetables, distinct tastes, … are being integrated into our daily lives.
It is night, the stars are out and the French tent is up now that Njal is here and we need 5
sleeping places. I have migrated to my tent and am writing in it this note while the door is fully open on the crickets chirping and the river flowing. A distant glow announces the moon and frogs let us know this is their time for living. Already 20 days, we begin to realize that we are now almost acclimated and have become those travelers we were expecting to become without really realizing fully what a trip like this meant. As usual, if you knew what you were getting into, you’d probably never do it. Like kids and marriage, you dont regret it but wow! What a journey!
Sitting in my tent a couple of days later, the wind is howling and they announce frost on the radio at Prince Albert, the next town we intended to get to this pm. Since the wind is once again against us, we are going to stay put until it calms down, hopefully before noon. We need to live with the weather and Mike in Revelstoke had told us that another final confrontation with winter would happen to us before the end of the Queen’s birthday holliday, May 22nd. Here it is in full force.
What is most surprising, is that in the last 5 days we have felt as if we had passed from winter to summer with almost no spring. We were paddling in Tshirts and protecting ourselves from the sun. Each day I’d been out swimming around 11am and the water felt as if it had warmed up to almost 10° centigrade from our initial melted ice.
As we progress in Saskatchewan, after the rolling hills and steep banks of Alberta, we find the country flattening out. I’m told that south the land is made of immense plains that stretch all the way to the US where the mountains start again. The trees we see on the river banks are apparently some of the oldest trees known since they are made of a root system that meshes under the ground and sprouts up little twigs that can become full blown trees. Food for the Beavers, but we are seeing less of them. These fat looking creatures we see scuttling from the river bank are no longer as frequent and thus the signs of their activity with the cut trees neetly chopped off about 1inch from the ground that hide enough so that you easily step on them and pierce your shoe … are less present. However we keep seeing wild life, particularly Elk and Moose either via their prints in the mud or as yesterday we saw 3 of them swimming in the river trying desperatly to reach the far bank before we reached them. We slowed down the canoe and tried to lessen the stress they were obviously under so they could reach the island in the river in which they disapeared. But often we catch a glimpse of a white tail or brown head on a river bank or an island. Several times we saw cayottes calmly looking at us from the river bank or running on an island away from us, or even jumping in the water from an island to reach the river bank prior to our reaching them, and of course we hear their lamentations or hunting barking cries at night. The white eagles sitting on their nests or on a branch near the water surveying either fish or fowl they could hunt are regular companions of our trip. We see small birds attacking eagles as they protect their nests. Courageous and efficient, the eagles fly away and avoid being pecked at from these furious extremely rapid black birds, magpies or numerous other birds that Hugo declines from seeing how they fly. We are starting to see minoes, signs that there are fish in the river, yet we very rarely see any fish jumping from being hunted either at dawn or fall of night. Seems that the predators like Pike or Trout are either not so prevalent or that they are not hunting in that maner.
These days the rhythm has been Pascal get up around 6, gets breakfast going, then all emerge around 7am, we have breakfast of french toast or potatoes with eggs … and of course the meat eaters (Hugo, Peter & Pascal) thank Dan for the spiced bacon he has given us and that we eat sparingly but with great delight. Really well prepared meats are truly great tasting and satisfying! I recommend to any reading this that they try the spiced bacons, the sausages, and for sure the beef jerky … you can order it by mail from Dan.
After breakfast the organization is getting good to bring down the tents, pack up the bags and load up the canoe, all within about an hour. As Dana would say, if we didn’t loose time drinking that wonderful extra cup of coffee standing around, we’d be most efficient. The turns with the toilet paper and Polaski is another slowing down factor but we’re finaly getting that to work as Hugo, Peter & Njal negociate their turns.
In the boat by 8am then we paddle with morning vigour t’ill 11 covering about 30 km in 3hrs. Since Njal has joined us it seems that 9.1 km per hour is easily attained with our average paddling above 10km per hour and with the breaks, pauses, … picture taking we manage the 9+ km per hour.
Elevensies (11am) has become a traditional pause when we share a drink, something to eat or … and take 15 minutes of down river by the current pause. The helm’s man keeps us flowing down stream. Then we take up the paddles again and for another hour or two paddle t’ill lunch time. Lunch on the canoe keeps us moving while the middle men fix sandwitches that too often are associated to Peanut Butter and Jam, with an apple per man (APM) and a cheeze sandwitch. The dried bananas and other fruits are almost like candy that we relish at lunch. Pascal has a stock of Toffee or Caramel bonbons that do well to close the end of the meal. We listen to the news, possibly some program or other and then begin paddling again. The afternoon paddling is less efficient, yet we manage to get in another 2 to 4 hrs before declaring that it is “camp hour”. Camp Hour means we all see manageable camping sites and seem to almost always choose one where the mud is high, or the bank difficult … but we are getting better at this.
We are getting to see some spruce once again. These had totally disapeared for a while, but we sense we are changing landscapes and nearing the shield country. The rocks are not yet apparent but the thick soil of sand and residue from the glacial age are now imbedded with small rocks we had not seen since entering the oil and coal bearing embankements of Alberta. I keep hoping that in looking at the small stones along the river I’ll find semi precious stones … but no luck yet, no gold nuggets or diamond hulls, or … even Agates that I’m told we’ll find on the great lakes and that I’d like to bring back as a souvenir for my daughter Agate. I probably mentionned that in Alberta we saw embankments with clearly defined coal veins up to almost a meter thickness. One of the things that surprised me was that one of the veins was smoking. Dana mentionned that it was often the case that veins would catch on fire and smolder away consuming the coal progressively. Meanwhile, outside the wind is still strong and the atmosphere though probably above 0 is extremely cold due to the wind chill. We are all covered in 5 layers of clothing and have retreated to the tents to read or … and still quite cold. Even with the tent flaps all closed the wind manages to pass under the rain cover and through the meshed inner layer. Down sleeping bag wrapped around me, I sit with only my face and fingers exposed, already too much not to feel the cold. My little bit of transparent window to the outside world tells me I’ts still hide in the tent and wait time … hopefully not too long. As I mentionned to Dana, we’ve been making good time, if we loose a day it’s not a major concern and we can use the rest from our paddling efforts. Hugo talks about night paddling, or splitting the day into morning and evening paddling while the winds die down and the moskitos are vicious … I keep reminding them that we are on a long term journey, a time will come for us to re-organize our schedule to accommodate the weather conditions. We are here to enjoy, not to make a performance out of this. Unlike our friends in the Cross Canada Canoe Odeyssey, who are making impressive time and now certainly have reached our starting point, our particularity is to make music, take our time, enjoy the scenery, meet people … no real point in trying to make a feat of something we would like to suggest to you who read this as being a trip you could (possibly should) do.
On the ecological side of things, we see Rbars in the river banks, various vacationner trash, and without measuring the real composition of the water we can tell you it is not the greatest. Still swimmable which is good, but certainly NOT DRINKABLE! Thank you the polluters. What seems strange is that each person we meet, and we try to ask the question as often as possible, all say to us that the river is polluted and that it’s really a shame … but it seems no one does anything about it. It is just a fact of life and no one seems to think they can do anything about it. Seems to me that just a little law inforcement, penalties to polluters and education to vacationners would be rather easy to do and make a big difference. On the radio we hear that the Saskatchewans will go out to the parks on this long weekend of the Queen’s birthday, but they talk about huge campfires, drinking beer and having a good time without a single word about not leaving any trash behind, or respecting the environment. Bear scares are the main concern. What are politicians for ? Obviously not there to upset the profiteers who rape our land and condemn futur generations.
I’m quite interested in the radio programs the guys listen to. Particularly the political radio interviews, analysis and talks that let me slowly understand the Canadian vision of their country and place in the world. The empty talks of politicians are so similar to those we hear on French or US talk shows, demonstrates that we are in a world of false pretense, where people can say one thing one day and yet act the opposite the next day. Under it all, there seems to still be an honesty of some of the Canadians interviewed that remind us that human values and true concern about our society are still prevalent in Canada, like in all countries there are still thinking minorities … but they are minorities. Aside from national broadcasts from Public radio (CBC – Canadian Broadcast Corporation) the local information is rather poor, with “squished dog news” being the prevalent content and manipulative commercial communications funding it all.
Life is good on the river. When the sun is out, the birds singing, the guys in a joyous rambankious mood, … our days seem so distant from the hustle bussle of present day modern living. Enjoying life is an art that seems forgotten by many. When the Spanish youths have 45% unemployment we can understand that life is not good for them. Is it not the role of our governments to manage our society to produce time and conditions for human “good life”? I keep thinking that those who manage our society are totally overwhelmed by the complexity and systemic behaviour of our modern society. As an old boss of mine, Michel, would say “it’s not because we embrace and electronic paced and processed society that any of the fundamental principles of good living and behaviour change. Fundamental principles are essential and allow us to drive our world even when we are not yet fully understanding the implications of new technologies”. But I’ve often observed that people cannot seem to anticipate what seems obvious to others. My father used to say that dunderstanding history was the required foundation to enable us to understand the present and have ideas about the future. When we see the revisionists rewrite history and the politicians rewrite the present using words that mean something but distorting their meaning to follow their ideology, no wonder people are confused and lost.
Well this is not getting us down river, but in a tent isolated from the hostile cold wind, it is time for those thoughts that make up life’s meaning to come out. We are just sharing the experience. The rain has started up again, time to put things under the tarp.
Woke up to strong winds so we decided to stay put and let them die down. Hopefully by noon, but in fact we only got going around 2 pm. This means we have to camp outside of Prince Albert as the night is coming, so we stop on a small island which seems to be sandy rather than the muddy quagmires we have been stopping at. Peter or Njal often have mud up to their knees and a hard time to get their leg out once we unload the canoe. This time it’s muddy sand but enough sand so we dont sink. On the way we saw one of those canadian ferrys, blue barge on cable crossing the river with cars loaded. They seem common and run most of the day. It is a hollyday so we see folks along the river on a weekend outing, however the weather being really COLD, not too many are around. Last night it froze so the tent surface was icy when I got up at 5am to a thick fog. So I went back to bed and my warm sleeping bag and heard others doing the same. At 7 the sun was out and announcing a splendid day. Dana was up and reading … when I suggested getting hot water for coffee I was told we would get it in town and all started packing. In fact we got to town, the boys went for breakfast and I still have not had my coffee. Next time, not wistanding Dana’s orders, I’ll make my coffee.
The paddling is getting more intense, we are working ourselves up to more vigourous and longer stretches without breaks. Though we are all quite tired at the end of the day, the age makes a difference in the recuperation cycle. My arms and hands are stiffening and need to stop a minute every 15 minutes to get the blood circulating. I expect to suffer another 10 days or so and then to be seasonned. Meanwhile we are all improving our stroke, leaning into the paddle as it attacks the water to get our weight behind the initial push of the water and using the contrary wind to lift our paddle out to the next stroke. The group is adopting a rhythm that we can now maintain over a certain period of time. The guys keep talking about Cross Canada Canoe Odeyssey as a model of performance, while I keep reminding them that there is no competition, that our trip is based on having a good time etc… but young men will be young men, no other way about it. Yesterday they discovered the dead bones of a cow and with string tied the thorax and head onto the canoe. Makes us look like a pirate canoe which they love.
As we progress through Saskatchewan the land changes from the Alberta deep river banks to almost no banks, and we are starting to see spruce again. Quite interesting to see the variety of possible landscapes and transitions. Yesterday was freezing, today is sunny like a summer type day. The bugs were scarce, they are now hatching in front of our eyes and quite present even if not yet stinging. We will have the priviledge of going throughout almost all the seasons on this trip. Our travel brings us near the wilderness but within the inhabited regions of Canada. Soon we will have the national parks.