Day 67: About two weeks ago we at last crossed into the province three of us call home (when we’re not living out of a 22-foot canoe), Best-case-Ontario, home of the towering white pine and of… heavy-handed bureaucracy? (In fact, it seems Pascal has at last cleared up any remaining issues re: a non-citizen camping on Crown land, though it was admittedly a bit jarring to be accosted by conservation officers not an hour into Ontario. Many thanks to MNR for their understanding.) Our three weeks spent in Manitoba were spent acquainting ourselves with the many eminently warm and generous Manitobans who do everything they can to ensure that the province’s licence plate slogan — “Friendly Manitoba” — remains a tremendous understatement. We were welcomed into people’s homes, offered meals, beers, beds, TVs (to catch the Cup final, bien sur); Manitoba Hydro has pulled out all the stops, bringing out a cavalry of trucks and trailers to help w/ portages (and in one case, had one gent wait all afternoon for us by the riverside to make sure we pulled out at a safe spot). Good grief: all we asked for was a patch of grass to pitch our tent and maybe a hand with a portage. Our deepest thanks to all the fine people we’ve been so fortunate to meet along the way. From a beer shared with a still-sprightly Bill Sharp in Pine Falls (who walked halfway across the country 25 years ago, at the age of 65, traveling from paper mill to paper mill, Manitoba to Newfoundland); to our serendipitous convergence upon Dave Church’s house (which incidentally sits upon ground known to be a traditional meeting place) along the Winnipeg River to share a big pot of coffee, and an equally large heap of stories from our respective voyages, with four Minnesotan fellows ambitiously paddling north to Norway House. From the staff housing Manitoba Hydro offered us in Grand Rapids (which was frankly psychedelic: beds, showers, laundry, satellite TV — heck, I don’t even have TV at home) to a late-into-the-night kitchen table conversation with Gerald (our guide to Grand Rapids) which was ultimately far more compelling than the hockey game still carrying on in the background. We’ve loved every minute of it, and it bears repeating (and repeating): thanks, Manitoba.
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I will not say I like danger, but I like life to be hazardous, and I want to demand at every moment the whole of my courage, my happiness, my health.
— Andre Gide
the avenue of too much coffee
meets the avenue of the perfect choice,
that blows without regret.
— Martin Tielli, “Winnipeg”
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Due to time constraints, and potential hazards (having seen how quickly an equally shallow, if much smaller, lake such as Cedar can whip up), we opted to skip the northern section of Lake Winnipeg. Our deepest thanks to Don for giving us a ride down to Hecla. The few days we did spend on Winnipeg were blessed with near-perfect weather, though we were glad to get off the lake when we did, as a storm was on its way in later that day.
[Nota bene, re: Cedar Lake: 1) a sail on a canoe does not a sailboat make: canoe w/ sail vs. sailboat = crucial distinction; 2) swells of hypothermic water licking at our gunnels does amount to a legitimate safety concern; 3) etc.]
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Brando knew what the Beats know and what the great tennis player knows, son: learn to do nothing, with your whole head and body, and everything will be done by what’s around you. I know you don’t understand. Yet.
— David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
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I should be bored-stiff of paddling by now. Somehow, I’m still damn grateful to be out on the water, clearing my mind and just sticking my paddle in the water, one stroke after another after another, day after day after day. I feel more limber, everybody does. The paddle feels lighter, the strokes (even upstream now) less burdensome. (Well: some of the upstream paddling feels a tad burdensome.) We’ve had some close calls roping the canoe up strong sets of rapids (the danger, of course, being that the boat will be broadsided, swamped, and lost), but we’ve pinpointed our mistakes and corrected them, and it all increasingly comes naturally.
* * *
Beware: leeches (strangely, I seem to be the only one attracting any); ticks (nightly tick checks are now in order); pollen (we were all rather sneezy along the Rainy River); left-right-itis (Dana continues to have a severe case of this — says left when he means right, etc. — and it’s been somewhat contagious; we have averted any related disasters thus far, e.g., “Don’t plough into that massive rock on the ____!”, or “Quick: get over to that all-you-can-eat poutine stand on the ____ before the current pulls us past!”).
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Re: the Rainy River:
— an afternoon at the legion in Rainy River sipping beer w/ a hyper-chatty Korean war vet (/town ambassador): can’t think of a better way to have spent Canada Day.
— thanks to Norm & Emily for the garden strawberries & ice cream: we’d been dreaming of strawberry-based dessert ever since we had to most unfortunately turn down strawb-rhubarb pie on Winnipeg River.
— thanks to Phil for his tremendous help here in Fort Frances, and to Reece for joining the voyage, however briefly (and for not telling anyone about the outboard motor…).