Wk1 – Edmonton

The river to Roky Mountain House became more difficult than expected. Waves came crashing against Hugo and even Peter in the second position during a white water passage. We bailed out dozens of litres of water at more passages than we would have liked. On the whole we came out thrilled and only once was the situation close to a capsize situation. The canoe was going down river at 45° and a wave wanted to come in … but we regained heading and the tight canyon was passed with flying colors.

Islands of ice in the river

We arrived at Roky Mountain House at noon. Not easy with the ice banks to stop but thank goodness the ice holds while we cross over on ice underground gullies that look muddy. Peter heads for the gaz station’s

ice 3 meters high

head while hugo follows him and shops at the station’s store. Pascal with a heavy backpack full of the film & computer equipment goes to town, a cross road with no visible history of this incredible place. This is where the trappers brought their furs to the trade post to be put on the voyager canoes on their way to Montreal.

While talking to the man responsible for the water treatment plant, a new one they have just put in, he said the water up to Roky was ok to drink but that he recomends filtering further down to Edmonton. The local people eat the fish and he hadn’t heard of heavy metal deposits in the river. Possibly further beyond Edmonton. Up to now we observe very few signs of fish, maroon streams joining the river and litter from those who use the river. We possibly saw a couple of dump sites near the river but nothing much. The water however has lost it’s pristine crystaline quality and is now after only 3 days already dark green and brown.

Look at those snow banks, 3 meters tall and all along the river once again. We thought we’d lost them after Rocky Mountain House but they have reappeared. Apparently in winter there is 3 to 4ft of ice over the river and then sometime in March, this year April, from one day to the next all breaks and huge blocks of ice float down the river. Must be impressive ! It explains why the trees are scarred and mawled. At times we imagine ourselves in the northern ice seas, happily the hills and trees remind us that we in that heartland of Canada, Alberta, where one car out of two seems to be a truck. The ice hulks on the river banks take on shapes that appear to us as elephants, seals lying, groups of staged figures, faces and even remind us of scultures by Rodin, though it could also be grafiti of uncomprehensible drawings on white blocks.

Today we saw an eagle chasing a duck. As Dana remarked, we probably saved the duck’s life by being there which put him on the watch. The eagle did a mid air flip to dive on the duck, but the duck was already in the air and the eagle could not recuperate the required height to pursue once the duck was no longer under the eagle. We seem to see much that we cannot record, we would need a real time camera for us to share all we live and see, much of it would be boring to observe, it’s living it that matters.

Finding camps at around 5pm, required time to stop for the news these days with the elections, is very difficult. Imagine climbing either steep mud banks with all of the gear, or 3 meter ice banks … the ice makes landings quite difficult. Admirable the way the heavy 2 food barrels, the cooking gear with cast iron pans, the sleeping gear carrier bag and the remarkable Sealine bags in which we have our precious clothing, Hugo & Peter in one and Dana & Pascal in the other. The third is for our electronic gear even if they are themselves in water tight containers (manufacturer did not want to sponsor us! So I wont say their name).

 

We have begun to see Beaver evidence with trees cut down along the river banks. No Beaver yet though … possibly a head once but only Hugo saw it. Birds sing in the morning and we a awaken by the goose honking above our heads as they go to their mating or feeding grounds. Regularly we see three together, a female with two males and often we see agressive behaviours before a couple fly off and a lone one in another direction. We are tempted by goose eggs, as we begin to see females sitting on nests. However we feel that stealing eggs is not ethical, it would only be if we were shure they were only a day old and that the female would lay others … Hugo was saying genetics allow us now to know that in some species the new borns of the same nest are not of the genetic group of the « official » male. Nature likes diversity, why does the society insist on closed relationships ?

Oil dericks are appearing in the fields along the river bank. Here and there, no apparent grouping. We just heard on the new of a major oil spill in North Canada, interesting to see un supervised dericks and many times signs indicate a pipeline is traversing the river and the countryside.

Today we spent 8hrs on the river and covered over 50 km as the bird flies. We never know real river distances but the gps allows us to identify distance between camps. We can figure about 20% more since the river is turning and twisting through the land seeking lower ground and carving big hunks in the landscape. As the current carries us we make good time even if not paddling. Then Peter plays the hukelele, Pascal takes pictures and smokes a pipe, Hugo and Dana have long talks on some factual matter either of them brings up. We enjoy the rest and when the sun decides to show it’s even very nice. At times we hear thunder and possibly we’ll have some of that tonight.

As we come down the river the trees are changing to dessideous trees that look like they are still in winter. As we drop elevation we’ll probably see the trees progessively bud and take on leaves, the soft green ones of early spring, then the maturing greens as summer approaches. Last night our soaking chick peas were covered by a layer of ice. The ground is frozen up to several inches says Dana comming back from his morning defecation. We clean ourselves with the ice below the crust, it’ll be nice when we can bathe and play in the water. The ice is good for doing the dishes, it scrubs without scratching but it is cold on the hands.

 

Tonight, sleeping near a derrick humming in the background, it is raining and we are all taking refuge in the tent. Some reading, some writing and … each one both in his activity and yet in realtionship with the other. After only a few days the personalities are marked and we know what to expect from each other. With a full belly of Hugo’s cooking, a soup with a sharp taste of ginger and kenoa, rehidrated carrots, chick peas, … we are ready for the night as we get up early.

Dana has a mind much like that of Adrien, it takes a while to process but it’s always quite thought out. The deapth of the thinking is quite a challenge to follow, young minds go fast … sometimes. He proposes frameworks for activities such as get on the water without a hot breakfast to go faster. Then we speak up. It is really a joy to be daily with such a working mind. Dana takes on too many responsabilities, it’s hard on him but it is the fate of those who would lead.

The day is beautiful, first day since leaving when in the morning we could think we’ll be warm today. The ice is disapearing leaving monsters stranded on the sand and melting. The trees are begining to have buds and some even leaf sprouts. The river cuts the land and then opens on vast spaces that will later meet walls and cut again in endless repetition. However the scenery is changing every few minutes and each time it’s a new world.

We let the fast current carry us in regular pauses to lounge in the sun and appreciate this morning of warmth, then as each day it seems clouds and cold descended on us to the point of putting on sweaters and even our coats against the rain and the hail. Today it was only wind and cold. A bridge appeared and Dana proposed we stop and get water. While one got water the others would cook a warm lunch. At the bridge we stopped on a terrible mud bank occupied by a fisherman. We accosted, got very muddy and Pascal was designated to go hich hike to get water to a town suspected to be on the left. With expertise Dana and Pascal sweet talked so that the fishman, our friend Dano proposed to take Pascal to the town. Dano was really pleased to help and we were sincerely touched by his « help to friends in need » response. We hope you’ll read this Dano the sodering expert , we thank you and wish you well. The lunch of vegetarian hot dogs and chili were cooked and ready to serve by the time the drinking water from the gaz station arrived. This is a 2 in one proposition of Dana that really works.

Food is taking on importance as we are on a vegetalian diet (which we like) but the physical work is requesting bigger quantities … this leads to interesting discussions where little is said but much is revealed. I realize then that Dana, Peter & Hugo are friends of both university years and canoe trips with a long ingrained relationship. What they are discovering is that they each are evoluating towards lives and livelyhoods that will affirm their adult presence but possibly create new distances between them. Difficult passages in close friendships. In writing to share with you the reader, I also realize how my presence as a participant and blogger is creating an ‘observing presence’ that caractarizes the trip.

As we drift during our day we have time to share, a boat is always a restricted community. Sharing by proximity is different than sharing as neighbours let alone by people who live even in the same town. Share ideas, share stories but mostly share a space, a dimention of presence that each one feels keenly. The rythm of the paddling, the pauses, the actions in delicate situations, the laughs we share on a good passage through rapids or a good word in a conversation. The questionning, the letting the others know what you do know about it, this is a camaraderie that makes a group.

Meanwhile the trees are about to burst and the river flows wider. The channels multiply, our guesses today were really good we made 46km « as the crow flies » , Hugo chooses accurately to go in the current to go fast and he navigates for this … as long as he focusses on guiding the boat. Peter has a paddle rythm that is fast but steady. Pascal is getting used to it and Dana seems to follow. Peter is the long distance runner, little effort long times, Dana & Hugo are more into bursts of efforts. Pascal is trying to keep the rythm but is adapting more slowly.

We saw 2 Beavers today but no pictures it goes too fast. Even an couple of bald eagles chasing for a long time in front of our eyes, was not long enough to shoot, even just pictures. Appeared seaguls , the kind that stay inland says Hugo, but none the less seaguls in Alberta. ‘Them must’a got lost’ would have said the ancients, I’m a thinking the same thing (as a thinking) … well we are in Alberta you know.We camped on the river bed and a farmer on his 4wheel buggy came and talked to the guys for an hour or so. Apparently quite friendly and the exchange was good on fishing, hunting and the other sports of the region.

The new thermarests are really good. They must have changed materials since the inflating is fuller on these than my last one. But they isolate well on frozen ground and comfortable enough for a 60 year old man (well no my birthday is in 4 days). For those doing car camping take the 5inch, but those doing regular hiking camping this is perfect. This however does not prevent my akes as the body adjusts to paddling 8 hours a day. Age just makes this process longer.

Today, grey skies, cold wind, the morning wake up was ok so we could pack up dry, but the day is one of those grey days. It started raining before noon and didn’t stop until 3:30 pm. Well who’s complaining ? We got to set up camp without rain on a muddy bank. Since we’ve lost the Icebergs which have melted away on the river banks, we are left with this thick mud that clings to everything. Since it’s at the edge of the water we cannot even go wash up as we then get just a muddy going back to camp. Looks like we’ll have this for another couple of weeks … hopefully not more.Crossed a few power plants and derricks today. Less wildlife and more houses perched on the side of the river. Some which must have wonderful panoramas. Under the rain we dream of sleeping under a porch in a dry spot, … but the river passes by. Many thoughts like this we have, but the river flows and so we too flow by our thoughts, sometimes sharing them, sometimes keeping them to ourselves.

Today we ate the natural yeast bread we baked yesterday with cheeze and penut butter directly on the canoe while going slowly down river. The current has lessened today, probably from 4 to 5 km an hour to 3 or even 2, of course this is an average as each time the river makes a bend or goes through a narrower spot then the current picks up, while at times in wide areas it is practically null. Yet we made 46 Km today which means probably 55 Km of river paddling, no wonder we are all a bit weary. Only the 7th day of the trip but already we look forward both to the next week and to the end of the journey. For a getting in shape week, we’re probably at over 350 km and tomorrow when we reach Edmonton, we’ll be less than 3000km from Montreal ‘as the crow flies’ but still 143 days to go.

The radio is our link to the world. We listen to the news at 8am and 6pm religiously. But today on the boat we initiated a new radio sequence, the saturday special programs that the guys listen to regularly. One on science taugh us about a discovered star and nano technologies. As we paddle we can follow the program and forget the time while filling our eyes with ever changing scenery. More and more now, the embankments are carved into the valley floor and we can only see steep hills. We wonder what is beyond this restricted vision. Seeing a region by the river is quite different from seeing it from the road. You’d think it was a different country side. We saw our first farm with cows and another with huge silos for grain. From the mountains where wild life reigns, we are now clearly in the land that is worked by people.We have now been seeing beavers regularly. Sometimes they have their den in the side of the river bank, but we have yet to see their floating houses. Trees are seriously cut down by the beavers. Must be a natural means of clearing the forests along the waterways. They look so fat in their fur, and their tails are flapping when they swim or run away from us.

We stopped in DEVON to get water. Hugo was picked up by Sheila Aitken, city Councilor of Devon, who graciously took him to get water and brought him back. Nice to meet such people and once again, this is a woman who never takes hitch hikers but apparently exceptionally did so for a good cause.

After stopping at the initial Trading Post which has been restored and been transformed in tourist site, we only saw the back since it is sunday thus not open ; we continued on to Edmonton hoping to find a site to camp and dock easily. People along the way gave us various indications including one of a paddle boat dock right at the foot of down town. However we discovered upon arriving that the dock is being rebuilt and at present out of water. So we camped under the pontoon on shore, on ciment in a slope … but we are tired at night so we slept well.

Most interesting is while going to town we met with a group of young people and after saying hello I mentionned we were looking for ‘ electricity, wifi, and a shower’. One of the girls talked to her friend and they decided to offer us a shower. So we went the other way and very graciously these young people living in a shared house of Mormon believers (no drink, sunday no spending money … etc) took us to their home. We shared various discussions about their lives and our trip and showed them our web site. I updated the web site and Hugo & Peter went to eat a hearty meal. Poor Dana got stuck with the canoe and though the guys did as fast as they could it was 9 pm before Dana could go to diner. He is also the only one who did not shower. Too bad, a shower really felt good and I let the hot water drown me in pleasure while scrubbing twice the body which was starting to have the strong smell of MEN !

Since when I got out of my shower it was too late to eat out, Kathy, a lovely young woman and her house mate prepared two delicious tacos with lots of fresh vegetables which I tried to eat as cleanly as possible … . Finding human warmth and such open spirited young people really makes you touch the humanity we all have in us. Before leaving they made us gifts of wholesome food and a Mormon bible which is one of the bibles I have not read yet. I would have willingly stayed a week to discuss religion and faith, a subject that I happen to have clear views on and which I could have shared with them and provided them food for thought.

As the guys are out in town doing shopping and geting fed, I write to you in the sun, the first beautiful day with at dawn NO CLOUDS, sitting on the boardwalk of the Toronto River Boat where we are campted.

 

Je m’excuse auprès de mes lecteurs Francophone, mais il m’est difficile de décrire ce que nous vivons en Français vu que nous parlons tous ensemble en anglais. J’ai tenté de parler Français, de leur apprendre des chansons française tels que les voyagers les chantaient, mais pour l’instant ce n’est pas encore le temps pour l’influence Française. Pour moi cela ne change rien, donc je n’insiste pas.

Nous avons quitté les températures inférieures à zéro et sommes maintenant dans les 3 à 4° le matin avec des variations dans la journée qui peuvent aller de + 15 à 5 ou 6° selon que le soleil brille ou non. Aujourd’hui nous avions tous les sousvètements et les parkas et les pantalons imperméable, enfin tout l’attirail possible pour se tenir chaud alors que le vent et la pluie glaciale se jouaient de nous.

J’ai conduit le bateau ce jour. Il maneuvre bien mais n’ayant aucune quille et étant lourd (environ 130kg de bateau, 180kg de bonhommes et bien 150kg de baggages et nourritures soit 500kg avec l’eau que nous transportons qui dérivent sans quille) le canoé à tendance à se dérober de la trajectoire et il faut corriger par toute petite touches. Le conduire requiert une attention constante et à chaque fois que les pagayeurs s’arrètent ou recommencent ou changent de puissance, cela requiert un ré-équilibrage de la trajectoire. Fatiguant, donc un poste qui dans quelque temps sera le poste de corvé alors qu’à ce jour c’est le poste d’honneur.

Je propose à chacun que s’il voit lune ou deux photos qu’il aimerait avoir, qu’il les notent et je tenterais à partir d’octobre (difficile avant) de vous les faire parvenir. En échange, si vous avez la possibilité, ce serait sympa de nous faire parvenir 10 ou 20 ou … selon vos moyens quelques sous via Paypal pour nous aider à payer les frais qui continuent à s’accumuler au fil du voyage. Merci d’avance.

 

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