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The guys with Sophie went to get the canoe at Dan’s house on the beach where we had left them (see my last post) while I tried to update Bill’s computer. The dowloads to update the computer take an eternity in this country where most people are linked to the internet via 3G or Sattelite … and sometimes landlines that seem to have little bandwidth to offer. Interuptions of lines are common with data error something I’m not used to in France, even in the country where 8meg speeds are rare. In this immense country with little physical connection to remote places it must be difficult to finance sufficient transmissions to the home. This, however, is a trade off with the ‘remote’ behaviour characteristics which includes human warmth, a good substitute for this electronic driven ‘knowledge world’ (information saturated) we now live in.
In the blazing sun the team arrives around 11am (we had been offered a sumptuous breakfast) and with the loading of the canoes with our gear, the taking pictures and of course the giving of multiple huggs we left around noon. Rocks, more rocks of all hues from grey granite to ochres that were like rainbows when the rock happened to be twisted and tortured by the elements. Trees defying all laws stood proudly alone in the middle of huge masses of rock. Once in a while we would see a multiple century old bonzai white pine or spruce toppled leaving indecently it’s massive roots system exposed to the sky. The rock face where the roots had been, clean as if some conciencious housekeeper had polished it. Little cosy coves call us in with small sandy beaches and their promesses of intimacy … but we must paddle on. We camp that night on a beach thick with tons of over polished rocks. Here they are jewelry sized, there they are big and look like those they put to stop people from parking illegally. The remarkable thing is that they are all flat (would make great hot plates!). Superior
when it storms must create an immense rock polishing factory with roaring sounds to accompany the 20ft waves.
Superior is a true presonality. No wonder people talk of it and fear it so much! When nature speaks to you so loudly, just as do mountains or rivers or even trees sometimes (when you are listening … ) without talking about the animal world; you MUST listen. With all of your senses, the eyes, the ears, the touch and the smell. On Superior, look at the transparent water revealing an underwater world of rocks. Some surging at you as you paddle, others threatening you as you attempt to land. The depth is deceiving, it is like a window pane that flutters with the wind. When you can’t see the bottom, it is deep and usually cold; the type of cold that chills the bones if you come to think that you are 600 or more meters away from shore and could have to swim in this cold water to survive (probably would not due to hypothermia).
The geese have disapearred with the pellicans and most ducks. The many variety of gulls have replaced them with the cormorans becoming more present. As for fish, we did not catch a single one though we tried and even dragged a weighted line while canoeing (weights I cut off a rotten fishing net washed ashore). The rocky shores are bare without any sign of wild life even if we suspect chipmunks and other rodents.
The next morning we wake at 5 wanting to be at the locks by 4pm. Sault Ste Marie is our destination. It’s a coffee, gorp* and go morning, one of many on this trip. I keep insisting for hot something to drink and thus get up earlier and have a fire and coffee, sometimes Herba Mate and if we have bread then toasts for jam or peanut butter or nuttella.
We paddle through islands that are
marvelous little jewels and in the early morning somewhat fantasmagoric. One with a rope hanging from the top over a sheer faced rock makes us wonder if someone is mountain climbing. In such a beautiful spot … nothing is impossible. Then we paddle through a 17km crossing of a bay to reach the open mouth of the river. Here begins the journey of lake Superior’s water to the ocean. Apparently it would take 350 years to empty lake Superior. The day has turned into a cauldron as we paddle from point to point on the river. Behind us, DANA in the other boat is hailed on the shore. A man, Susan’s brother, is waiving so we head towards him. ‘name?’ is a Berkeley University GIS specialist and with his wife ‘name?’ they have
undertaken to rehabilitate a fabulous log wood gigantic house. As they say, a work in progress, but what a wonderful place! They very simply bring out what they have for lunch and we do the same sharing a meal and talking. The sound is a bit like the background noise of the waves grinding of rocks on Superior. A very pleaseant moment and perhaps we’ll meet again in the Bay Area in december if they send me their electronic and street addresses.
An hour later we’re on the way and meandering through sand bars, shallow areas where we have to walk the canoes, we finally reach the large channel and the locks of both the US and Canada. We head carefully for the pleasure boat locks on the canadian side while huge grain barges and freight carriers pass by. We feel small next to such an imposing sea going vessel.
On the quai of the locks we see Dee waving, she’s been expecting us since Dana had called her at lunch. The lock’s master is a young guy, he too was expecting us though as just part of his job. A friendly serious man who insured we passed safely and that we did. You feel tiny once again at the bottom of the lock after it has lowered you to Huron’s level 33feet. People passing by watch these two canoes disapearring in the abyss of the locks. Then the massive doors open, we have left Superior and are entering Huron. A momentuous event once you understand the impact this lake has had on you.
The lockmaster has accepted that we camp at the locks, usually not allowed but Bruce Fountain was convincing and Ray, the nightwatchman, gave us quite a welcome. He brought us coffee at the fall of night and when I returned at 3am from posting the last blog, he invited me to share a moment before he got off his night shift. That night I got 3hrs of sleep but the toughest part was
to wake Adrien up at 6 after he had gone to bed at 5:30. He had met a group of young people and partied all night with them. Thankfully the team let him sleep in the boat and he emerged around noon.
After a hearty breakfast in an excellent place called the Western Cafe we load up and go. The Western Cafe, open 24hrs, here the waitresses taking shifts of 8 hrs around the clock and welcome you as a brother coming home. The ‘no bullshit’ attitude is accompanied with a smile and delicate attentions … “… honey, I first brought the coffee, now let me know what you want …”. These women have been there, done it, seen it and know what it’s all about. You have to love this job to do it (or you don’t), and that’s what they do.
We paddle onto the river with a very noticeable current without Dana who the night before went to the hospital to have a “thing” removed from his foot. He hadn’t told us anything but it looked imflamed and I asked Dee to insure he went home with her to rest after getting it removed. We did not want his foot to get infected and make it so Dana could be immobilized. In fact apparently the “thing” which was never identified, was found, removed and no further adoo was done about it either at the hospital or by Dana.
Meanwhile we followed the chanel, hesitated at the pass, then at the time of turning for the shore of Dee’s cabin, suddenly behind us appeared a violent typical august storm. A crack of thunder seemed to snap right behind us and we all bent over our paddles to try to reach the neares shore. The red canoe, 200 meters behind seemed like swallowed up by a curtain of rain as we paddled maddly in the white canoe towards a figure emerging from a house urging us on. As we hit the shore so did the rain,
drenched bodies leaped from the boat towards the house after we insured both canoes were safe. There the door to a big room at the entrance was held open by Tom and Prudence who waved us in despite our dripping clothes. What timing! Tom said the magic word as we stripped to half dry, ‘would you like a beer?’ At that time, life could hardly be better. Tom & Prudence (called Pru) Sherril, read about them on the internet kermitchair.com make chairs distributed all over the world and as a couple live and work together. Wonderful people … a rich experience for our team of voyagers (Adam thinks he left his knife at your house).
Onwards fierce paddlers, the rain has stopped so we bid goodbye with thanks, but no longer had we started that another evil cloud came over the horizon to make us rush to shore and there, once again a kind woman who lives in Montreal but was visiting her father called out to us from under the rain to the overhang of her house where we had taken refuge, while outside buckets of water pourred, and invited us to her garage. But storms pass and we regained the canoes to paddle the remainder half kilometer to Dee’s place.
Dee’s house is an unusual construction made of planks interwoven giving both an interior and exterior look of soft wood which, remarkably over the years, has not aged. Not fancy but comfortable and practical with a delightful fireplace to dry our wet clothes and heat our souls. Dee is an efficient and pragmatic host who had prepared her home to welcome us and we surrendered to her care. Suddenly we passed from brushwacking canoers to living comfortably with an aunt who provided us with beds with sheets, good food for well provisionned diners and showers. We melted into this comfort with glee and in the evening retired early to our berths. Dana having insured the booze was replenished, we had beer and drinks to help us sleep.
Waking up late, late for us is 8am, we drank coffee and each enjoyed a day of rest after a copious breakfast. Then we dispersed, some of us going to town for internet and purchases, others reading and just relaxing about the house. Dee puttering about without finding her usual rhythm but apparently enjoying our presence. The diner turned into a really nice evening of discussions and midnight came without warning so we hit the sack hearing the call of the next day’s trip. We left at noon … a relaxed departure. Dee accompanied us in her motor boat taking pictures and helping me make some film footage of the departure and meandering around islands on the way out. One significant event is the departure of Adam who left us for his overnight bus to Toronto. His music, cooking abilities, talent for communications and spirit are already missed by all.
Heron is a lake of another style, we can sense that it is more civilized, inhabitted and polluted but more than that, each lake we have experienced on this expedition has impressed us with it’s personality. Winipeg was a capricious child able to change moods, demonstrating it’s ability to uproot and yet one we could travel on with caution but in confidence. Lake of the woods was all meanderings, the land of the ‘hobbit’, the maze of inland canadian cottages where summer leisures and fishing are the rule. We paddled safely and assured that despite the apparent solid wall of greenery, somewhere ahead lay a water route to our destination. I’ll mention Quetico but only as an immense land of multiple lakes each with it’s own spirit creating the impression that we travelled very far. The portages between the lakes leave on us the strong impression of a difficult land. Then Superior, the majestic, the supreme, the imposing … adjectives of grandeur are called for. Here at 600 meters from shore you are DEAD (I’m repeating myself, I know). The water is 3° and by the time you fall in, find your marks and try to make it to shore … the longest swim I made in this water was 10 minutes and I’m a cold water swimmer. Yet we did 17 km crossings and though we treated the lake with immense respect, we felt by the end that we had met a presence, Lake Superior. One that will stay with us and has brought us close to the spirit of life. Clear water to over 20 meters, rocks of all types that line the shore, often rolled and churned on the water’s edge to round soft shapes, colors … and then the impressive sounds when the wind picks up and the water speaks to you as it leaps along the shore. Superior is a spirit to have met in one’s life.
We’re heading east, the wind from the south west has allowed us in the last few days to sail. Remakably, even at 45° angle, we manage to sail without much effort from the steersman the two canoes linked together and a tarp tied to two tall poles. One pole in each canoe and we have a 4m square sail that propulses us from 4 to 7km per hour depending on the wind. Some might say it’s not paddling, but remember the Voyagers sailed when they could and no one will reproach us to have sailed a couple hundred kilometers over the whole trip of over 4500km. A day might be composed of a few hours of paddling and a few hours of sailing followed by a few hours of paddling once again as the wind changes, the trajectory is favorable or not and the mood of the canoers goes (not always in agreement, some are pure paddlers, others into performance … sailing is another mind set). What pleases me is that our long preliminary discussions before the trip on the validity of sailing have proven that we were right to assume we could sail, even if at times we don’t due to those who prefer paddling.
We find the swells too high, so we stop for lunch and decide to stay and camp. I take a walk up a long ridge of rocks and find a road below as a backbone to the island. Taking it I come up to a light house with next to it a banquet hall (I recommend for a special event) and a cylindric workshed for equipment. Beautiful New England type view, and as I turn around an RCMP car pulls up. We say hello, apparently they are there because some vandals bothered the owners and destroyed some equipment. I explain our story and they propose to inform the owners of our presence just so they are informed. As I’m walking back, a truck comes up with Larry Peterson the owner and his workhand. His smile and open gesture are heart warming and as we exchange greetings he welcomes us and proposes we camp at his sheltered campsite rather than on the rocks. Larry inherited these two islands, French Island and McKay Island famous historically for hosting voyagers, which his sibblings did not want and has over the years transformed it into a mini resort with multiple activities. He has developped a shoreline walk with “kissing rock” and ‘lover’s point’ which he incourages local folks from the village and his guests to enjoy. From hearing him talk about it you quickly understand that this is his passion and that his legal firm, also inherited but which has forced him to live a ‘social’ life, is a means of financing his life’s passion (www.brucebaycottages.com ). He takes me to meet Pat and immediately I get this feeling that it is really too bad we can’t stay and share more of our lives. An evident kinship which will not have the chance (this time) to flourish into a friendship. We are both people who have made a life and are now focussing on the essentials of living knowing we either live now or never will since our age begins to let us know about the return into the eternal cycle of live.
The beach side camp was calm and confortable, yet at 5am I got up, made breakfast and we were off by 8am. With a double boiler system I am now able to cook poridge without burning the pan. This day we make good time, sail a bit and camp. But next morning the wind is considered up and too strong by some while others would have gone on knowing the weather was predicted to rather calm down and by afternoon become calm.We are heading to Killarny where maps of The French River area are awaiting us. But due to a late start at 11am, we can only make it along the coast to a bay with a 6km crossing before we have to camp at 7pm. I am against crossing this bay at night, especially when the weather is menacing, and I generally insist that we should camp at least 2hrs before dark so we can see where we camp, we can fix diner and do dishes … after all we are up by 5am, one hour before light, and that already makes for a long day.
The next morning the ‘protocol’ calls for me to wake all at 6am if the weather is ok, to consult with Dana & Hugo & Peter if I have a doubt and to let people sleep is conditions do not allow for departure. I get up and wait t’ill 6:30 as the clouds and wind are not understandable before then. Then I wake the guys up for a collective decision. My recommendation, having heard the news which confirms my reading of the weather, is to go since the wind is acceptable the waves small and the weather proposes a window of opportunity for 4 hrs before it changes again and eventurally turns into storms that next night. But Peter & Hugo do not want to go so Dana & I decide to go to Little Current, make calls, consult internet and get water & supplies. We are a bit discouraged by what we consider the too precautionous and contradictory attitudes of the guys & Sophie while they urge us on to arrive at destination. It seems to me as if Adam’s departure and the end of Lake Superior has changed the journey for half the team. Arrival at destination seems the main objective and all motivations focus on this single objective (Peter wants to see a concert in Toronto the 17th of September) forgetting that we still have beautiful regions to cross and more than a month of traveling. The trip for them has not become a ‘way of life’, it has remained a trip, just as what you do on a vacation.
At 7 am the next day we paddle across and spend 2 hrs in Killarny (Hugo mentions that Schwartzeneger made a diplomatic scandal and asked the community to change it’s name, for Arny Schwartzeneger, KillArny is an attempt to murder him … we love Hugo’s humour, especially when he tries to convince Adrien that it’s the ABSOLUTE truth). I manage to get internet by dining at the lodge of Killarny. I met the owner and his stonishingly beautiful wife, a couple in their 70’s who spent their lives building this resort lodge and were interested by our journey. Via Skype I call Canoe Odyssey who are in Little Current having lunch. We agree to meet the next night at Moose Bay, just outside of French River. What I did not know is that there are 2 Moose bays within 20km of each other … and I did not record the North & West coordinates correctly …
But Moose Bay we found and so did they! What a meeting, we have been followed by this team since we started the journey and knew we would meet one day. Since initially they were 20 days behind us, these atheletes with sophisticated and extra performing gear caught up with us on our 118th day (budget $80K but half through sponsoring & grants). But they did everything the hard way. They portaged their own canoes, they bicycled and shnowshoed over the mountains … a remarkable team.
That night we started with one bottle of wisky and then another and by the end of the evening two had disapeared and a small left over remained in the 1750ml bottle. Adrien & I had caught a Pike and two beautiful Bass which we poached, debonned and mixed into a potatoe batter that Dana had prepared. Deep fried they helped soak up the alcool and each team cooking their style we managed to be unable to eat all that was prepared (kept for lunch of course!). The stories of each team’s adventures, meetings, difficulties and big laughs were told and repeated. Of course each wanted to hear how people had met, decided on the venture and how it’s organization had gone. Nathalie Brunet like champagne bubles sprinkled laughter while Stehanie Robertson always earnest reminded me of Dana with her intensity, Abby Lewis has that gentle melow streak but beware she really has it together and often surprised me, Whitney Vanderleest is solid as a rock but so gentle when you get to know her as for the guys, Shane Ringham is the outdoors man per excellence with a tangible leadership natural quality while Ross Philipps will insure you are always well despite the circumstances and though often silent fills those silences with a generous presence… a wonderful team who plays together, share huggs when needed and yet are focussed on the essentials of this demanding journey. The dynamics of our teams are very different yet I found a common essential component, the solidarity between the members. Our core teams have devellopped such a strong bond that no one or nothing can deter us from our fundamental values: solidarity, security, tolerance and acceptance. In other words a team which profits from each one’s strengths and compensates without limit for the very limits of each individual. We went to bed late that evening and waking up at dawn was a bit difficult for all.
I personally was wobbly going to bed and was reminded all morning next day that I had drunk a bit too much last night. Adrien was clearly out of the picture all morning but valiantly paddled while throwing up regularly. The first half day was relatively poor paddling for all. Yet we inovated, each team switched half of it’s members and I had the pleasure of paddling in Stephanie’s canoe with a carbon bent paddle that felt like a feather in my hands after our traditional paddles. The troke in D shape is quite different with these paddles and the ‘HUT!’ (to indicate the switch of sides to paddle, left or right which is the way they keep the canoe in the right direction) new to me. We entered French River to discover narrow passages betweeen the rock ledges that seemed to drive us into the heart of a totally new wonderland. This Georgian Bay is truly another wonder place in Canada, and the mouth of the French River a surprising rock bound phenomena. I’m told that this area is very dangerous in the winter for the snowmobiles as these rock gullies tend to stay unfrozen and when the snowmobile enters one of these narrow passages, it cannot turn around or climb the sides when it begins to perceive the melting ice. Dozens of people, mostly teens, drown each year.
Past the mouth the French River, even though a park, is bordered by numerous cottages. Fishing is apparently good (I caught nothing) and motor boats roar by even though they are supposed to slow to avoid capsizing canoes. It would seem many Americans have cottages in this area. The landscape is beautiful, reminds me of Quetico but of a different nature and look. Probably the dessiduous trees that are now numerous and we are starting to see maples and poplars that have leaves in the yellows and oranges. Not yet the colorful fall we expect to see at the end of the trip … if even since we are starting to think in terms of mid September arrival.
That night we camp once again as two teams. Odyssey has slowed down enough to allow us to stay with them and we share a diner (they have wonderful burritos) and all go to bed early. Next day we paddle together to the park center which is surprizingly not on the river with no easy access from the river. A nice information center tailored for car tourists but certainly not canoes even though the region is one of the preferred canoe destinations. I would recommend that all top managers of Canadian Parks be required to cross the territory they manage in canoe and live as canoers for at least 10 days. I’m sure they would then put garbage collection facilities, have their staff visit camping sites more regularly to insure maintenance and provide docking facilities in key access points. This approach is true for any professional activity, get to know by living it the real life of the “clients” you are trying to serve and insure your staff serving them does it also, you’ll find simple things make a huge difference and the delivery of those services vastly improved.
Then each team takes it’s own rhythm and we paddle through delicious country. We see the other team slowly creaping ahead and at one of our breaks we loose contact. That night we camp each on different campsites (ours on a fall was grandiose!) not far from each other and the next night they camp on an island on Nipissing only 7km away from us … but the teams are on different trips. The French River is now a real upstream battle with at times narrow passages that require either strong paddling or even at times for us to pull the canoes through the rapids. If the water was higher we would have to portage more often, still we find ourselves doing up to 5 portages a day. Before arriving at Nipissing we have a last portage of 600meters through the bush, a well worn path but it has been a while, since Quetico, we had done such a portage. Eager to go on, we left the two fishing rods behind … I hope someone can use them and enjoy … we have lost quite a few items on portages even though we try to “sweep”.
Our last camp on the French, possibly I should say arriving on the Nipissing is on an island formed by a rock formation smoothed by the glaciers. We have a spectacular view of the lake and can see the next day’s target, the radio tower of North Bay. Even though it rained heavily that night, the morning announces a good day and we head directly across the lake for the 3 islands that will lead us to North Bay. This is a 25 km crossing with islands making it a series of 12, 8 and 5 km hops. After paddling about an hour and a half, the wind comes up to a gentle 10 to 15km per hour, just about to make white caps, so Adrien & I in the red boat begin to sail. We managed to sail almost all of the way to North Bay while the big boat preferred to paddle. At the last island we decided to take a break, swim and eat a bit. There we found a young couple, delicious young people who were spending alone on their sail boat a couple of days. He asked us if a cold beer would be of interest and so we shared stories and a delicious beer with them. I was glad to see us take the time to make this impromptu stop a shared event with this bright young man and his intelligent companion. Meeting once again of importance for all.
Arriving in North Bay, we found a good docking space in a secure environment. The keepers of the boating area even gave us a key and we had access to the municipal showers.
Dana informed us that we could camp at his friend’s place rather than as we had planned on the beach. Anne came to pick us up and she & Mark welcomed us as if we were family. Anne had been Dana’s camp supervisor when he grew up and they have maintained contact. I won’t describe the sumptuous diner, the motherly assistance from Anne to care for my foot which probably was developping an infection … or the quality and quantity of Mark’s wine. Alex 6 and Cameron 3 are joyous young pranksters who impressed me by their size, awareness of life and openess to strangers. The shower and access to internet made it possible to organize much of our trip down the Ottawa and arrival in Montreal.
Unhappily all present plans seem to fall through so we may have to have a “small” friendly arrival with those who can join us, of course all are welcome … but I never loose the hope that someone will understand their interest in accompanying us on this last phase of our journey. Anyhow we plan to arrive now the 11th or at worst the 12th even if we have to rush through some of the final kilometers of the journey.
If you plan to meet us at arrival, know that I’ll post the 6th the final and definitive arrangements we are able to make. Our target sites for now are Lachine Canoe club or Pointe Claire Canoe Club, I’m awaiting for a positive response as they have the facilities to welcome us.
For your information we are selling the “Belluga” 22ft Mariner Canoe upon arrival. It is a really worthy craft and in good condition. With a gel coat (due to small scratches) it would be as new. If you know of someone who could be interested in such a canoe, please have them send us an Email and I will call them to discuss. If you have the possibility of finding a place where we could store the canoe until we do effectively sell it in the Montreal area (need to get it to the site) please let me know. Outside is ok, it mostly needs to be in a secure place. Inside is best of course.
PS Blog not reread by Peter
Here are Adam Popper’s top 10 memories in no particular order.
- Floatplane ride – After a flight to Thunder Bay and a bus ride to Atikokan, I boarded a 4-seat Beaver float plane (built circa 1950) for Cache Bay Station in Quetico Provincial Park. It was the first time I had been on such a flight. It was wonderful to see Quetico from the sky. The park is about a 50/50 mix of water and land, blue and green. The plane flies at about one-third the height of a jet, so you can see much more detail: small waves, forests that had burned and regenerated, bogs, rivers, and endless clear, untouched lakes. Within 45 minutes we were make a sharp turn to land on lake Saganaca and meet the team. An unforgettable arrival.
- Berries – We ate so many berries. Blueberries, raspberries, saskatoon berries, currants, thimbleberries and even wild cherries. I would gorge myself whenever possible, not because I was hungry, but because it was so enjoyable. Those quiet moments, squatting, shoveling food in bear-like, were quite contemplative. I was directly working for my food, and it tasted fresh and sour-sweet. One day in late July, we arrive at a 400m portage along the Pigeon River, and after the first few steps I could tell this was a special portage, not only for its beautiful outcroppings of Canadian Shield, but for its abundance of blueberries. After finishing the portage each of us took a magical 30-minutes to sit by ourselves in the late afternoon sun and fill bowls of blueberries. It was too easy! Every step we took, we were surrounded by 1000 berries. We ate and collected so many we had full bellies, as well as blueberry pancakes, blueberry syrup and blueberry jam for the next few days.
- The northern night sky – The weather was amazing on my section of the trip. Over the span of a month, we had only one or two days of rain accumulatively. We were also blessed with many clear nights. Though we often curled up at 10pm due to exhaustion, on occasion we stayed up long enough to enjoy the gorgeous stars, the bright moon, and on once the most spectacular northern lights I have ever seen. It was at the Red Rock Folk Festival in Red Rock, Ontario on the north shore of Lake Superior. That night, after the last performers left the stage, most of the festival-goers walked past the marina to a giant campfire where bleachers had been set up around the fire so 100 or more people could participate in an acoustic sing-along jam. Above us were dashes of green, yellow and white light, dashing, streaking and receding. Neil Young would have sung Pocahontas: “Aurora Borealis. / The icy sky at night. / Paddles cut the water. / In a long and hurried flight.”
- Paddling – If you don’t really love paddling, then don’t go on a trip that’s crossing most of Canada. This team is not dip-dip-and-swinging for three hours each day; it was closer to eight or 10 hours per day. We did several 50+ km days on Lake Superior. But no complaints; paddling is an enjoyable way to pass the time. It’s easy to have conversations with fellow crew, listen to the solar/wind-up radio or revel in the light labour. It can be tiring, but that’s the challenge. We switched positions in the boats several times a day, taking turns in the small boat and “the beluga,” our 22-foot whale. In the canoes, we would often recount history and think back to the days when the French-Canadian voyageurs ruled the lakes and trails. I would often ask myself what the voyageurs would do in any situation we encountered. After 27-paddling days, I had a mean case of paddlers claw: even a week later, I wake up with my fingers swollen and clenched as though they are gripping a paddle.
- Portaging – Once we got to Superior it was all paddling, but from Quetico to the Grand Portage, my first 10 days, the effort was mostly on our backs. There were plenty of beautiful lakes and some rivers, but it was the portaging that was most memorable from this section. The beluga weighs in excess of 250 pounds, requiring the effort of 4 people at any-one time, and 5 people to take it from end to end with frequent switch-outs. The portages in this section, right along the Canada-US border were, generally speaking, very poorly maintained. Fallen trees, large mud sections, steep terrain, narrow paths and slippery rocks were among the most challenging obstacles. Some of these portages lasted for more than three kilometers. But there are few moments in life that are so immediately satisfying as at the end of a long portage.
- Swimming – When I’m all bundled in my winter jacket, I will think back to the many times each day I jumped in the clean and clear waters of northwestern Ontario. There’s no feeling quite like swimming on a sunny summer day. Building up heat from paddling and portaging meant that being refreshed was just a jump away. Between Quetico and the Grand Portage were some spectacular lakes, but nothing compared to the beaches and rocky shores of Lake Superior.
- Lake Superior – “The Big Lake” as many locals called it. Its beauty is only matched by its danger. Every local knows that the lake can “whip up” from flat and calm to 10-foot waves in an hour. We paddled it in many conditions. When it was glass we made great headway. We took on some water in the bigger waves, and faced the rollers that must have started as tiny ripples 100km away and built up over the many hours. The highest, deepest, and biggest Great Lake, Superior is also the coldest and clearest. It’s roughly 7°C year-round, which means you have about five minutes before you get hypothermia. It can be much warmer in the bays, but nothing like the lakes and rivers I am used to on southeastern Ontario. It’s clarity means you can paddle over huge boulders 20-feet under you and see them perfectly. The coastline made for some spectacular views: huge cliffs, a variety of trees and wildlife, beaches of boulders, pebbles and sand every few kilometers. I know why they call it Superior. I have to go back!
- Sunsets – Our great fortune with weather meant that sunsets were always a true pleasure to watch, often with a bowl of warm food in hand. The best ones were when we were on the eastern shore of Lake Superior, the horizon was long and almost completely flat. Watching the sun sink into the inland sea, first slowly, and then noticeably fast – plop! – right into the water. It’s unforgettable.Sunset on Superior
- Teamwork – Carrying the canoe, paddling together, setting up camp, and overcoming group issues. I will never forget my teammates: the courage with which they face each day, the joy and laughter of living in the moment – modern voyageurs. There were challenges too: challenges of leadership, communication and fairness, but all in all, the varied team built strong routines and understandings with each other that keep them on course to the impressive finish.
- Hospitality – As the article in the Sault Star makes clear, we have been met with the most wonderful hospitality. People opened their arms and hearts to us. Everyone from distant family to complete strangers shared with us their stories, their boats, cars, and homes. They fed us, towed us, drove us places and carried our gear. They chatted with us, and wished us well. Mark Shimota from Minnesota met us on a lake close to the border and reconnected with us two-days later, this time with a full cooler of beers and food at the beginning of the Grand Portage. In Thunder Bay, we kept our boats in the marina and received advice from trippers and sailors who knew the lake best. To camp, we set up our tents in the municipal park next to the marina. One night, the cops pulled the cruiser up on the grass and shone their lights into the tent. After explaining our trip, the cops we reassured that we weren’t a public nuisance. One said, “as long as you take your tent down by daybreak,” while the other said, “they’re paddling across Canada, that’s impressive.”
I wish I could have done the whole trip, but I am equally happy to be back in Toronto, fulfilling my responsibilities and spending time with my friends and family. I look forward to welcoming the team in Montreal and in Toronto.