Well, I took Saturday, Sunday and Monday to finish the big trip on the Peace River I started in July, from Peace River (the town) to Fort Vermilion. I started at Tompkins landing, just a few metres from where I had finished about 5 weeks before. One major difference this time was that I didn’t have to dodge (or be aware of the comings and goings of) the ferry. The water level is so low, the ferry is anchored on the east side and not running at all. This means that all vehicle traffic has to drive to La Crete and Fort Vermilion the long way, through High Level. I definitely noticed the increased road traffic across the Vermilion bridge… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The trip went really well! It’s about 136 km, and I didn’t push myself the first day, going only 34 km. Remember, my goal in the original trip was 50 km/day, which I held to, which would have meant a slightly shorter leg of only 43 km on the third day. This isn’t how it went, though! I did 34 on the first day, as I said, 49 on the second day, and 53 on the third. Whew!
I had nice weather on all days, and generally felt like I was really picking up from where I’d left off. Except that it was a bit cooler now. I had almost all the same equipment, except I added a collapsible bucket but forgot to bring a facecloth or towel, which meant I didn’t really need the bucket! I really missed the facecloth and towel, and I’m not sure how I forgot them. I was a little less strict about my list, since much of the stuff was still packed in dry bags and simply had to be reclosed. Obviously I had to pack clothes again, and I brought a few more items — a wool sweater for example, which I wore on the morning of the third day. I hadn’t packed warm gloves, which I also wished for, since it was a little breezy and cool on the evening of the second day.
I found some really unique spots to camp this time, so I was very happy about that. The first night, for example, I camped beside a dirt-quad trail, thinking it probably never got used. Nope. I had 5 horses and one quad pass by me, twice. Once on the way down to the water and again on the way back. I thought I might get trampled by one horse who was very skittish. It seemed she could smell me, but since I was in my tent (I went to bed early that night), she couldn’t see me, and instead only saw an odd blue cube (what would a tent look like to a horse?)! So I popped my head out and said “hi” but this didn’t calm her much! Now I was a disembodied head sticking out of an odd blue cube!
I knew this trip would be less remote than other sections I’d done, but this was more company that I’d expected!
The second night I had no visitors at all, as I was much farther from any roads or trails. I took a chance down a narrow channel between an island and the shore and found a great little spot, albeit a bit lacking in wind protection. I learned patience while I sat and held up a thick drybag as a windbreak for the cookstove — and yes, a watched pot will eventually boil! Supper was very tasty that night, perhaps because I was a little more tired. As I breezed by Atlas Landing on the second day, I think the people fishing and relaxing there must have wondered about me… I didn’t stop, just came very close, took a GPS point, said “hi…. yes, I’m on my way to Fort… I’ll arrive tomorrow. Have a nice day!”
The third day was the toughie. Not just because it was the farthest, and not even the slowest current, but somehow it was the toughest. I think my body was getting very tired and I was fighting a cold. I ate a Mars bar for energy at one point and immediately felt my throat get sore — not a good sign! I tried to stay hydrated, but I think I got a little dehydrated too. You really have to be very careful about this! Although I found Gatorade helpful in the first part of my trip, I think the sugar wasn’t helping my impending sore throat. I have found that sugary and fizzy drinks give me a sore throat even when I’m not overdoing it by paddling 53 km in one day! I was also surprised by how tired I was since I even paddled 60 km one day on the first trip (mind you, I was pretty toast after that).
The scenery along this reach is lovely as always. Many of the islands show more erosion than deposition, which was interesting. They had steep cliffs showing layers instead of the long, gradual slopes. The water level was so low, there were sand bars showing — really, it was the river bed — beside some of these steep cliffs. It was weird to see! I mean, a long, gradual slope just shows more when the water is low! But when it’s a cliff, it makes an “L” shape, and you can see the base of the “L!” So besides discovering all the shallow spots, sand bars, and gravel bars, I even got to see the actual river bed.
The BEST part about paddling at this time of year is the birds! I saw — no exaggerating — over 1000 sandhill cranes fly over me, and about 200 Canada geese migrating. I scared no less than 1000 Canada geese on the shores near Blumenort, but they didn’t start migrating. They just made a big ruckus, honking away, then flew around in circles or flew a little ways behind me and settled back again on the beach. I guess they weren’t quite ready for their Big Trip. :) Overall, I bet I scared 2000 geese from along the shores (even though I never got very close)! By the way, the photo at left is Sandhill cranes, who fly very high and make wonderful “cooo cooo” noises that sound like they are gargling at the same time. Sometimes you can only hear them and can’t find them, they’re so high and so small. They’re very large birds, and quite a sight to see in large numbers! A friend and I saw a few hundred in a field about 2 weeks ago, and that was amazing too!
At long last, I saw the bridge that crosses the river, a lovely sight indeed. And truck after truck crossing it (remember, the ferry’s not running). I hope more than a few drivers looked out their windows, saw me and thought “man, that looks relaxing! I need a vacation!” I like to work hard, but I’m very much in favour of vacations! Perhaps instead they thought “geez, that person looks tired! She’s hardly paddling at all!” Um, ya, well, you would be too! I got a little extra wind (so to speak) after the bridge and paddled the glassy water to the welcome sign. How many villages do you know that have a welcome sign on their river? Then just a couple more km to the dock and I was done!
That’s all to report for now! I am still planning on doing the upstream reach of the Peace, from Hudson’s Hope (or thereabouts) to the town of Peace River. That’s about 375 km, which I was going to do in 7 days, but I might stretch it out a bit. The days are getting noticeably shorter (the sun sets at 9:15 pm now) and I think I’d like to try a more moderate pace of 30 km/day, with more time for exploring and campfire building! So, that’ll add up to about 805 km on the Peace — not quite half its length, actually. In case you think I’m
b) nuts, or
let me explain that I’m not just doing this to
a) be able to brag about how far I went this summer on my arms (the geese have me beat!), or
b) to have the most incredible core muscles ever (you should see me twist)!
I actually have really good reasons! They are
a) to have first-hand knowledge of the river so that when you rent a boat from us, we can really tell you what to expect, where you might like to camp, and some neat spots to explore, and
b) to write a Paddling the Peace guide for GeoTourism Canada (which you’ll all be able to download for free next spring), and
c) to write another book about all that I’ve learned on these long solo trips. (here’s my first book)
So there you have it. I am not nuts. I eat nuts. Then again, you are what you eat… ;)
Just wanted to share this poem with you: :)
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
from Dream Work by Mary Oliver published by Atlantic Monthly Press
Roses don’t struggle to bloom.
Geese, as they fly,
Must work — but not in angst.
Together they go far.
May I be a rose,
Or a goose,
Working and blooming easily.
I made a trip to Grande Prairie this week for a blood test, which the lab in High Level couldn’t do, so off I went for a 900+ km trip, which is actually not bad, since a trip to Edmonton is more like 1600 km… and on my way, with my camera not only out of arm’s reach, but in its case in the trunk, I saw the most amazing thing!!
You see, it had been quite foggy in High Level that morning, and I had made the drive most of the way with various amounts of fog or very low cloud – that my-feet-would-be-in-the-clear-but-my-head-would-be-in-fog kind of cloud. So, as I was driving, I would look to either side and marvel at the cloud rising in wisps above the ground – very beautiful! As I crested a gradual hill, about a half-hour north of Grande Prairie, I saw what I thought at first was another layer of low cloud. But this cloud was darker than the misty layers I had been seeing, so I wondered briefly if it was smoke. Looking closer, and fully clearing the top of the hill, I saw the cloud move… and realized that it was no cloud at all! It was the largest flock of migrating geese I have ever seen! There were hundreds if not a thousand birds, all flying along at the same height, northbound, probably on their way to a particularly good field of grain to feast on! It was amazing! I have never seen that many living things in one place (not counting swarms of mosquitos!!) and the sight was truly awe-inspiring. I actually held my breath when I realized what it was and slowed down… and had my hand on my mouth and was exclaiming out loud to myself in the car… what a sight to see!
I made a few other interesting observations in Grande Prairie, but none as earth shattering. For example, I had not noticed on my previous trip that it’s quite multicultural. I went to 2 sushi restaurants, so I was in restaurant heaven (High Level is so limited)! I also discovered that “Prairie Sushi” is just not a good name for a sushi place… am I the only one who thought of prairie oysters?!?!? Yikes! The sushi there was amazing though, with some of the best I’ve ever had! It was conveniently located next to the Super 8 where I was staying – I couldn’t have planned it better if I had tried!
My last observation came when I returned to High Level. I guess you have to leave a place to see it anew! What I noticed? Ash. On all the cars. A thick layer. I really wish the mill in town would STOP burning off excess wood/shavings and coating the town in wood ash. It ruins the air quality (I could see the layer of brown in the air as I approached town), town cleanliness , the environment (anybody heard of climate change? Here they are burning wood for no good reason – not even for heat or electricity production! Ack!!) and significantly contributes to the amount of fog we get here! Extra particles in the air give the water something to condense on… anyways, I’ll get off my soap box now! As annoyed as it makes me, I have decided that there are more important issues that need addressing more than wood burning in High Level! And I’d rather spend my mental energy making a difference somewhere else and focusing on positive things like that awesome flock of geese I got to see! Wow.
Take care, everybody!