Since the York boat expedition ended, I’ve been having lots of adventures, although none as publicized as that one was! My honey and I went on a 4-day trip on the Hay River, which was awesome! Later, I went on a 2-day trip on the Chinchaga with a good friend of mine, and last week, I guided a 3-day trip on the Peace River. I taught my first introductory session for kayaks today too! So, I’ve been canoeing on overnight trips a total of 9 days, and sometimes, frankly, I just have to pinch myself. This is my job?!?! Man, I am the luckiest son-of-a- !
Today, we tried out our sailing canoe! Darren did all the rigging and took it out first, while I was kayaking, and figured out how to steer and turn and all that! When I was done, he took me across the lake, which was awesome! We actually had the boat tilting enough that I had to lean, which was exciting and a little scary, but in a good way. It was very cool. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any pictures of it, but I’ll leave you with a pic of the boat on land. Extra-special thanks to Uncle Keith for giving it to us! We love it!
And here’s a few from the Hay River and Chinchaga River trips!
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… 😉
Well, yesterday afternoon at about 3:00 pm, I finished my paddle. I kayaked by myself all the way from Peace River, AB to Tompkin’s Landing (where the ferry crosses highway 697). I sprinted the last hour (about 11 km) because I saw a thunderstorm approaching and didn’t want to get caught in it. Here are a few stats for ya!
- – My GPS says 305 km paddled, but it was tracking while I walked around a bit too, so it’s probably about 295 km paddled or so.
– My GPS says I spent about 40 hrs 49 min moving and 20 hrs 28 min stopped. But of course it doesn’t account for time it’s turned off (at night, and at some stopovers).
– My gear weighed 86 lbs (39 kg).
– My kayak (a Prijon Kodiak) weighs 62 lbs (28 kg).
– I weigh 130 lbs (59 kg).
– Therefore, my arms and core body transported 278 lbs (126 kg) approx 300 km! (The current did help!) And I also lugged that 148 lb (67 kg) kayak up the shore repeatedly!
– I spent 6.5 days and 6 nights on the river.
– My average was 46 km per day. I aimed to do 50.
– I sat on shore through 2 thunderstorms, with nothing but a raincoat for protection! (That’s also why I didn’t make 50 km every day.)
– I used 1 bear-proof container, 6 dry bags, 1 mesh bag, and about 30 ziplock bags!
– Of the 6 times I camped in the wilderness, 4 times were completely away from people (more than 20 km). The 2nd night I camped at Sunny Valley with a farm and cottages nearby, and the last night I camped on a new friend’s yard (wonderful Metis man I just met).
– I did all this with no rifle, only a can of bear spray, but I didn’t see any bears. I don’t think I could have kept a gun dry anyway….
– I didn’t lose or break a single item I brought along. I think I only had to hunt for something once (I wasn’t sure where my hair elastic was).
– I had 1 bath, 2 “washcloth baths,” and washed my hair 3 times.
– I saw deer, moose, elk, wolf, various bird and beaver tracks. I saw actual deer, including some fawns, elk (one calf), beavers, bald eagles, other eagles/hawks. No wolves or bears.
– I heard all sorts of interesting sounds and birds that I wish I could identify! I’m pretty sure I heard an elk calling — it’s like a moo with a question mark!
I’ll post pics soon — I haven’t downloaded them all yet, as I suspect I might not have enough memory left on my computer to handle them all. I’ll have to clean it up a bit and delete some old stuff! There was some truly unbelievable, beautiful scenery… and I hope my much-zoomed photos of the elk cow and calf turned out! You can check out the progress map Darren made for me here.
Tidbits of wisdom from the water:
– You can’t check if something is dry with wet hands!
– Don’t make fun of a small cumulonimbus cloud, saying it’s “cute.”
– One stroke at a time, you get there.
– Every stroke counts. If you can make a little thing you do over and over again more effective, it adds up fast!
– Wind does not have to stop you — it may slow you down, but progress is progress.
– If you’re passing somewhere you may never be again, stop and explore!
Some other revelations:
One day, I was hunting through my clothes to find my a shirt to wear. I came across my long-sleeved purple striped shirt and said “yay! I love my purple striped shirt! I’ll wear that!” And I realized that I don’t say “yay!” about many of my clothes. So, I am getting rid of the ones that I don’t absolutely love.
I have way too much STUFF! I lived great for a whole week on 3 pairs of pants, 4 shirts, 2 pairs of undies, 1 set of PJ’s, and minimal other stuff. Why do I have all that stuff at home!?!?
I spent 2 whole days in very meditative paddling, partly because my shoulder was sore so I had to pay close attention to make sure I wouldn’t hurt it or pull a muscle. It was so enlivening! Now, I find I am doing everything more meditatively. In fact, even just walking around making camp was meditative in a way, because I had to watch every step, make sure I wouldn’t twist an ankle on a rock, or put something down in such a way that would allow it to fall over and roll into the water. Or thinking about where to put each and every thing my hand touched — because if I put it down in a bad place, it could get muddy, wrecked, lost, or simply be too far for when I needed to reach for it. So my every action became a meditation.
Initially, I had an attitude of independence and exploration. Later on, I had a feeling of harmony with nature (not independence or separation or being apart from nature) and discovery. In this sense, discovery is more “let’s see what’s out there” and exploration is more “let’s find stuff and claim territory” (more ego).
There are so many more things I learned/realized…. some will be whole blog posts of their own! But it’s getting late and I was going to go to bed early, so I’d better get to it! And I plan to paddle the last 130 km soon (from Tompkin’s to Fort Vermilion)! It will take about 3 days — let me know if you want to join me! I wouldn’t mind company!
Today is a day of lasts. It’s the last day of 2009. It’s my last day working for Nav Canada. I cleaned out my locker about a week ago, and my mailbox today. Tomorrow, or early next week, my email account will be deleted. There will be no traces that I ever worked there, actually. I took my honey jar (for my tea, of course) and my special sea salt. It feels a little weird, knowing that I’m off the schedule, and all the work I went through 4 years ago is not paying off any more.
I decided to apply to Nav Canada for several reasons: to see if I could make it in, to move back to western Canada, and because I thought it would be something I’d enjoy. I was right on all counts! I scored high enough on the aptitude test to get a call back within about a week. When I finished the training in Cornwall, I got posted to High Level, Alberta — not exactly close to my family, but at least it was driving distance. And I have certainly enjoyed it! I have been challenged, stretched, and stimulated. I learned to listen quickly, processing information and forming a mental picture much quicker than I thought I ever could. I accomplished my goal! I was one of the elite, working for Nav Canada in the air traffic system. I got to talk to pilots and watch planes and helicopters land and take off every day! What better job could there be!?
And in spring, when I had a chance, I chose to get out. I took an early departure package. Part of me was afraid of being transferred somewhere I didn’t want to live — it sounded very seriously like High Level FSS would close — and part of me saw the opportunity to take control of my life in a new way. I sat and thought about what I would like to do, if I could do anything at all and be paid for it. The answer was paddle. I love to canoe and kayak. So, I decided to start a canoe and kayak outfitting company, to make it possible for people to get out on the water — to spread the love! The love I have of paddling. I named my company Flow North Paddling Company, at flownorth.ca.
So, it’s a slightly melancholy time, but also a happy time. There’s a little stress, and I think I’ve already experienced the last time I go to the grocery store and buy whatever the heck I want! Without looking at the prices! I will be on a budget now… but I’m not worried. Not oblivious to the money situation, but not worried.
So, I’m looking forward to a lot more adventures in 2010… may you have many happy adventures in the coming year, too!
Well, the trade show was this past weekend, and we survived! It was actually quite fun, although the rush and stress leading up to it wasn’t exactly. There were a bunch of little details that needed to be done (and several that were optional to be done) in order to have our booth ready, and I have been working many days in a row. I even got a headache, in part from all the work and not enough sleep. But, my chiropractor got me all into shape, so I am feeling better!
It was an interesting exercise in people-watching. I’m sure they were watching me, too… We had our big sign with the logo attached to a kayak paddle, and another one sitting on a small table, with large text saying what we are about. It seemed pretty straightforward to me! Some people, when they saw our booth, got a confused look on their faces, like they were thinking “I’ve never heard about this before!” So, I would say “if you haven’t heard of us, it’s because we’re new!” That seemed to clear it up. It’s such a small town, everyone kind of knows everyone, and certainly knows all the businesses around. So, that was one response.
Another one was a rapid “oh, you’ll never get me in a boat, I hate water” or “I’m terrified of water, so count me out.” Interesting. Now, kayaks have a reputation for being tippy, and many people are nervous about getting in them – or getting stuck in one! – but these people weren’t even open to the suggestion. If we had been talking about dinghys or flat-bottom boats, the response would have been the same. Too bad – they are letting their fear rule them and take away their fun! I wonder what other fears they are letting rule them…?
Another response was “I’m too old for that!” We didn’t hear that one a lot, mainly because High Level’s population is so young, and there weren’t many old people there!! And then we got to chatting with a white-haired fellow, who wanted to buy a kayak paddle just like the one we have. I said I could look into it and call him back. As we talked about other outdoor sports, he said he was passionate about cross-country skiing, which I also do. I confessed that I can’t “skate” ski – he said he just learned a little while ago, when he was 66! Wow! He was so funny, gesturing to Darren, saying “he’s too young to learn that!”
And the most common thing I noticed about people was how much they looked down. We had a few maps on our table, which was between us and the people visiting us, and people would invariably stare down at the table. Were our maps that interesting? They were nice, detailed topo maps of the rivers around here, but I think it was more about shyness or not knowing where to look…poor eye contact… did I have egg on my face? I don’t think so!
We met so many nice people, and saw many friends who said “I didn’t know you were doing this!!” It was a great time, and a nice relief to be done it! Still lots to do, to finish the business plan and work out many details! But, the website’s done – flownorth.ca – and at least some of the other stuff can wait!
We are having the most amazing indian summer here right now, and I hate to be stuck at the computer – or at work, and of course I am working 10 days in a row! – because all I want to do is be outside! The leaves are starting to change colours, and it’s been so nice and warm (reaching 25 degrees C the last few days), I just feel like it’s the last chance of the year to enjoy summer! Darren and I went paddling on Sunday morning, which was awesome, but I would love to go every day.
But no, I’m stuck at the keyboard, researching, writing, figuring, designing… And what have I been steadily working on for the last couple of weeks (hence not much blogging)? My paddling business! That’s right, I am starting my own business, which I’m naming Flow North Paddling Company. After deciding on the name, I designed the logo (see below) and I’m currently working on the webpage. My plan was to start this up next spring, but a couple of weeks ago I realized that it would be best to have a booth at the Trade Show to promote it now, even if everything’s not quite ready, just to let people know that I’ll be starting up in spring. But man, it’s been an accelerated path, trying to get everything done. Big sign ordered – check. Business cards being printed – check. Plan for the booth? Working on it…
So what made me want to start my own paddling company, you might be asking! I often hear people say that we have such nice rivers and great wilderness, but no one’s doing anything to promote it. Since I love paddling and think it would be awesome to be paid to do that, I decided to go for it. Through Flow North, you’ll be able to rent a canoe or kayak(s), go out on a river or lake for a day, or a week, and see the amazing scenery around here. Lots of wildlife, too, and not just bears! Everyone thinks of bears – usually in fear – but forgets the beavers, birds, geese, ducks, moose, deer, even elk and bison. I love paddling and just wanted to share that love and make it possible for people to get out there and enjoy the water. Local people can just rent the boat (and paddle, bailer, PFD if needed, and whistle) and put it on their own vehicle and go for the day, or I can meet tourists at a spot along a river with the boats and all the supplies they’ll need for a 2 week trip! I get so excited thinking about it! I’m researching dried foods that taste yummy and are filling. I’m looking at maps and calculating distances on rivers. I’ve been contemplating marketing and practical things, like where I’ll store the boats. And I decided early on that I wouldn’t get into guided trips, because a) I don’t feel like an uber-qualified paddle master, and b) none of the water around here is particularly tricky, as long as you’ve been in a canoe or kayak before. If not, you can come a day early and get a quick course and away you go. I want to review safety things with people, but don’t feel I need to physically go with every group. Especially if I give each overnight group a SPOT GPS device! They are so cool! All you do is press the “I’m ok” button and it transmits to a satellite which relays the message to whoever you set up as your contacts, so your friends or family can track where you are. If you need help, you press “help” and if you need 9-1-1 rescue, there’s a button for that too. So, that makes me feel a LOT better about paddling in the middle of nowhere (just south of it, actually) and sending boat renters out onto these great wilderness rivers.
So I had it all pretty much figured out. Renting, outfitting, no guiding. And then, one day driving home from work, I had a real brainwave! Why not offer a buddy service to single women who want to paddle! I remember being single and wanting to do things… and sometimes trying to find someone to go along, and sometimes just going by myself because there was no one to go with. Usually, I would have preferred to have someone to go with, and for people who are nervous about being in the bush (in bear country), I can go along and offer support! I will make it clear I’m no fancy qualified guide, although I will take wilderness first aid and some other courses, but I’m willing and able to offer my experience paddling and camping, and company in general. Being in the bush by oneself is a little spooky, I know. So now I’m uber-excited about this business and the adventures that will follow! You know me, I’m all about the adventures!
To summarize, through my company, you’ll be able to:
- rent a boat (for a day, or a few days, or a week or a few weeks)
- get dropped off at the beginning and picked up at the end of your trip (important for river paddling!)
- use a SPOT GPS to let others know where you are and, in the worst case scenario, if you need help
- rent supplies like cooking stoves or tents if you need them
- order meal supplies, packed and ready for your trip, with cooking instructions included! (And most of it will be homemade.)
- take me along on a trip if you’re all alone and nervous about wilderness paddling! (Women only, sorry guys.)
Isn’t that great?!? I am so excited about it (perhaps you can tell!), and I know I’m really going to enjoy doing this! I have a few crazy ideas for marketing, and hope to connect with Europeans who want to explore Canada. More on that another time. But anyways, I’ll announce my webpage when it’s ready (should have something by Friday, in time for the Trade Show). Ack! I have a lot of work to do!
Please, even if you’ve never done so before, leave a comment and let me know what you think of my idea! I’m looking for input, ideas, feedback, whatever! Thanks!
Darren and I paddled the Peace River this weekend! It’s a river we’ve been wanting to do for a while, and we finally did it. Well, at least a tiny part of it!
We spent an unusually long amount of time discussing how far we should go and other logistics. We had arranged for friends — we have such great friends! — to drop us off and pick us up, but were a little stuck on exactly where to be picked up. We knew we wanted to start from Tompkins Landing, where the ferry crosses the Peace, and then go downstream. What we didn’t know was what kind of flow rate, or drift rate, we’d encounter along the way. We were hoping for 5 km/hr or so, knowing that it’s late summer and the water levels are not as high or fast as in spring, and not really sure what the current would be like. There are web pages like this Alberta Gov’t one that give the water level (albeit not accurately right now) and the discharge, or cubic metres per second. So I had looked at all that, and read the Peace River chapter of Mark’s Guide for Alberta Paddlers and considered the anecdotal advice we had heard. An acquaintance who had canoed from Tompkins had said that it was one long day of paddling to La Crete or two easy days. But we were in kayaks — surely we’d go faster than that! So, we decided we’d camp at La Crete (about 50 km downstream), or farther, the first night and get up early and paddle to Fort Vermilion the second day (about another 75 km). Were we crazy? We didn’t think so (but what do we know)!
Well, maybe we just didn’t have the gusto, or maybe it was the slow current, but when we checked our progress at the one-hour mark, it wasn’t quite what we were hoping for, only 4.8 km! We needed to average at least 8 km/hr, or better yet, 10, to make our trip happen. So, we paddled and we paddled and we took a lunch break and paddled some more, rested, passed slowly through some shallow areas, and before we knew it, we’d been on the water for 4 hours and only gone 20 km or so. So, the plan changed, and we decided to go to Moose Island and try camp there. It was about 35 km from our starting point, nothing to scoff at! At times, the river was like a big lake, with almost no current — peaceful, but not helping us out at all!
I had the map and Darren had the GPS, but I think I prefer the map (although the GPS does give a speed reading). I knew what curves were coming up, where the islands were, what side we should pass on, and all that. It was always the longer side, that is, we never got to shorten our trip by going on the inside corner of the island; those were all sand bars or even grassy and attached to the shore — no way through. It looks like we would have made it through on the the “short” side of Moose Island, but we didn’t realize that until we were on the other side. >sigh<
But we enjoyed ourselves! It was very quiet, and we saw hardly any birds except Canada Geese. They were certainly on the move, and we saw several flocks of 80+ birds. On the shore of Moose Island, there was a small flock, and they started honking and ‘mooing’ — that’s the word I invented to describe the quiet, “mmm” sound they also make to each other. As we got closer, they got quite agitated. They’d probably never seen huge yellow geese before! (What would a goose think of a kayak?) But as we retreated, they quieted down and went on with their goosey lives.
We didn’t see any other wildlife, although we heard quite a crashing through the bush on one island. We paused and watched, hoping to see a bear or some moose, but nothing. It was probably a couple moose; I don’t think a bear would be that loud.
After 9 hours of paddling, we reached Moose Island (didn’t see any moose there either), but we went past the west shore, thinking we’d find a place to camp near the east end of the island. We pulled over to check it out, but the bank was too steep and the flat bits we saw weren’t big enough for our tent. We even crossed the river to check out a couple spots on the far shore, but again, when we got closer, they were not as flat as they looked. What to do?!? We were both getting so tired, and we really needed to find a spot. Well, I thought I had heard voices (Darren didn’t, so what does that mean?! and sure enough, we rounded the end of the island and there was a huge, wind-sculpted sand bar with about 10 kids and a few adults enjoying the summer evening. So, we’d found our camping spot and a little company too! They left before sundown, and we managed to get a tiny bit of crappy cel coverage — enough to call our friend to change our pick up spot from Fort to La Crete. There was no possible way we would make it to Fort by Sunday evening — and knowing that took the edge off, and we could relax, make camp, cook supper, build a fire and enjoy it.
We slept in and walked along the water and sand and simply enjoyed the morning! There was the most beautiful fog above the water, which gradually faded as the sun burned it off. Idyllic. My mind has been go-go-go lately, and this extra time was just what I needed to relax and stop thinking for once!
And what has my brain been go-go-going on about? That’ll have to be my next post. Enjoy the summer while it lasts!