Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hitchhiking: The Best Ride.

August 17th, 2013

Coming home from Australia after 2 1/2 years away from home was a conscious act of timing.  I had been scraping the last little residue possible from my 1 year working holiday visa, & would be arriving home within days of my mom's 60th birthday (& renewing my licence before they make me redo my driver's test).  In the next few months would be my dad's 60th birthday, my brother's 30th birthday & finally a christmas with the family! It was time to come home.

But coming straight home is boring!  Let's make it more interesting!

I flew into Vancouver on a Wednesday.  It was a cool idea to come home from overseas & visit one of the more spectacular parts of Canada.  I'd never been through the mountains before.  Wednesday I took a bus to Squamish, in a crook of the mountains North of Vancouver.  Breathtaking.  I camped with some trainhoppers in the woods.

Thursday morning I realized I'd given myself 4 days (until Monday) to get halfway across Canada (~2300km).  (Who comes up with these things?)  And, to give myself a head start, I was taking the scenic route through Whistler off the Trans-Canada highway.

It was awesome.  The weather was good, the lake water was so cold, & I met some nice people with interesting stories.  I met an Aboriginal man, who told me the local history of the land.  I met a cartographer who worked with Google Maps.  He pointed out a glacier to me.

Thursday night was in Lillooet, a perfect little town that looked as a gold mining town ought to.  I met some Irish folk at the pub, which closed early.  When trying to take a shortcut down to the Fraser River from the railway line, I got completely topsy turvy tangled up in brambles.  The kind of stuck you only get when trying to methodically wrangle your way out.  My legs were above my head as I admired the state I was in.


In the morning I set off across the Bridge of the 23 Camels, named as such because of the 23 camels that were brought to help during the mining days, who turned out to frighten everyone & everything amongst other difficulties.  I had passed my ride while he was at the gas station, but he caught up with me before too long.  He was going to Cache Creek - my direction.

He asked me: "Are you in a hurry?"
I laughed.  I hadn't gone far in one day; there were still 3 long days ahead to cover 2,100kms.

He explained that he worked with the railway & had permission to drive his truck on the tracks.  He was heading towards Cache Creek, but if I could spare a couple hours, he would take the scenic route.  Since he worked in that particular area, he was familiar with the train schedule, which was twice a day.  So long as he got a permit from work & the timing was right...

Somewhere high above the Fraser Valley I decided this would be a great place to hide a body.

**I spent the night in Golden, BC.  The next morning a trucker drove me 21 hours to Winnipeg.**

No Road to Churchill: The (Last) Longest Day

September 4th, 2014.

We'd decided to make it to Churchill on September 4th.  We'd gotten tips about the landscape from previous expeditions on the Churchill River, & knew that if we'd paddled much further the night before, we would find no spots for camping.  When we stumbled upon a hunting cabin just outside the 50km zone, Matt screamed with joy!  Our cold & wet night the night before had dampened our spirits.  A man-made roof seemed like a mirage.

It was a simple shack - gritty, with plywood on hinges to protect the large picture window from bears.  Although it was a wet day for finding firewood, fortune favours that there's gas for the stove.  We were happy to sleep on the floor in between whiskey & hot chocolate, & instant pancakes for breakfast.  Our oasis.

We'd been encroaching on polar bear territory, & were finally on the cusp.  Our directions were "within 100km of Churchill, start being bear cautious; within 50km, be extremely cautious." We had 53km left - a long day of paddling/our last day of paddling!

The Churchill River became a lazy floodplain, expanding its waistline with juts of shallow islands throughout.  The river banks were less defined, instead becoming long muddy beaches that stretched into the shrubs & inland.  The current was fickle & hard to trail.  We were used to the Churchill's identity as an immense glacier fed river spanning the prairies, but now it seemed to reflect our tempers - tired after coming all this way, just going along, almost there.

After 60-odd days alone together, there is not much else to say.  We sing the songs we know again.  We make the same observations; discovering what's new is normal.  We came upon a sizable flock of swans, taking rest during their Southern migration.  They don't let us even think of getting close, and are far away in the marsh.  Moose don't surprise us; they wonder at us, while we keep heading North.  We know the drill, the routine we've perfected.  Our muscles don't flinch; all we are is to keep paddling.

The horizon is getting near.  When we turned a long corner, we could finally see what seemed like the biggest building in the world - the Port of Churchill on Hudson's Bay.   We could not comprehend the scale of it's largeness.  Physics defied us, & it seemed like we had stopped.  Our scale was distorted; what we originally thought was a house had an ocean freighter docked alongside it.  What we thought would be 2 hours, became 5 hours.

We could hear the distinctive sound of rapids ahead.  We had heard mention of a weir nearby, but still didn't know what that meant.  My last correspondence with our friends in Churchill had said to watch out for the weir, because seals hang out there & they attract bears.  We had to leave before any response to my subsequent questions were answered - where & what is the weir?  We knew it was likely impassable, because there is one near Gillam we had been told to portage around, but never encountered it.  We had also seen photos of it in a book about the Churchill River in a cabin we found.  It seemed to be a sort of underwater causeway.  We'd just found it.

It sounded very big, but the sound might not be from a large decline, but instead from the girth of all the water from the mighty Churchill River pushing through, or over.  We speculated.  If there's no obvious path through the rapids, we have always docked to check them out from land.  We had to decide before got too close; we could see the river ahead getting lower - a sure sign of a decline.  Matt's sharp eye noticed that along the left bank, there was a section we could run - the river had created an overflow between an island & land.  It looks like big water, but all water & no rocks.  Nothing we haven't done.  We'll get wet, but we'll take it!

(no pictures due to imminent danger)

Our last rapids before fighting our way against currents into Churchill.  A beautiful relief.  The freighter gets closer & we can see houses & a beach.  There's a friendly hitchhiker following us - a seal!  We are almost in the sea!

Cell reception!  We're cautiously texting, fully aware of the disastrous effects of salt water on electronics.  When we were finally close enough to make a call, our friends tell us to meet them on the Bay side of the Port - the Northern side, opposite side from the one we were approaching.  We stop paddling & ache.  It's catching up with us.  We're so close......

Matt is one of my dearest friends, so when he tells me there's a whale, my response is "shut the f@#$ up."

(underwater close up)

A pod of belugas escorted us towards the second beach.  Any exhaustion was instantly replaced with excitement.  BELUGAS!  They were curious about us, swimming around us & coming within a few feet.  One would dive & hang out right beneath us, almost the size of our canoe!  They were charming, playful & an excellent welcoming party to the end of our expedition.

**After docking, we were crazy grinning & met a kayaking guide heading out on the water with a client.  He asked us "how long have you been in town?"  "We literally just arrived."**

Monday, December 1, 2014

No Road to Churchill: Treaty Days in Cross Lake

July 30th, 2014

We woke up just outside of town.  A voice through a speaker system travelled over the water.  We knew about the festival, & I told Matt "if there is a canoe race, we have to race!" 

The voice was introducing the start of the race.  The canoes came towards us through the distance.  They were rowing, rather than paddling.  My enthusiasm is in jest; Matt & I are 'in the same boat' on this matter:
Who paddles for fun?  Paddling is currently our lives.
'Let's go 10km as fast as we can just to arrive where we began' (then 1000km more!)
No.  You've got to be kidding.

We'd arrived in Cross Lake just in time for Treaty Days, a week-long summer festival common to many aboriginal communities in Manitoba.  Our rogue canoe was quickly welcomed & invited to take part in the festivities.  There will be races, competitions, music, dancing, camaraderie, & food.  We're absurdly excited about the melody of communal feasts for breakfast, lunch & dinner.  4 days earlier we weighed in at Norway House: Matt less 10lbs, Jocelyn less 6lbs.  Although our diet had significantly improved after crossing Lake Winnipeg, our campfire skills are no match to a home cooked meal!

The Pimicikamak Cree Nation of Cross Lake were very warm & welcoming.  They immediately brought us in like family.  Our stomachs were elated at our good fortune, so we wanted to give back & helped them prepare the food for the evening's feast.  We talked about experiences, history, culture, & picked up a couple words in Cree while breading & filleting pickerel (okao).  Matt was being mentored at the task of carving part of a moose.  I was learning about local berries, their disappearance & the fragility of the local ecosystem (& how their culture has changed) based on the effects of hydroelectric development on the Nelson River.

I wandered off, curious about swimming races at the beach, & in less than 10 minutes I found myself registered in a triathlon.  I told them "I'll do it if I can find a bike.  How much time do I have?"
"20 minutes."

One of the male competitors was nice enough to lend me his bike.  It's my second time ever riding with drop handlebars, but it's my first ever triathlon anyway so what the heck.

Luckily Brant brought me a sports bra in Norway House, or I'd have nothing to race in.  Luckily the men raced first, so I had 45 minutes to prepare.  I hadn't eaten in many hours, or run in months.  Stretching & sunscreen are in order.

At the starting line, I'm joking with the other 6 women, & asking for real clarification in a light hearted manner.  "Where are we going" is a good start.
"We run down by the airport & back."
"Where is that?"
"You know the signs you see when you get into town?"
"No!  I have literally not been anywhere but the tent & the community centre."
"How did you get here?"
Luckily there's a lead truck to follow, for the only person who's never been to Cross Lake.

This is a good picture of my opinion on the whole matter:
(4th from the right)

"This is happening?"

It was called an Iron Maiden (as opposed to an Iron Man), but in this version the swimming/cycling/running were 50m/3km/3km respectively.  Luckily, I used to be a competitive swimmer, cycle regularly back home, but running is not my favourite so I wanted to take advantage of any lead I could muster up.

Absolutely demolished the swimming.  I was the only one who swam with my face in the water.  Cycling was no problem, except being very careful on the gravel turns for not wearing a helmet.  Matt rode alongside me & gave me support during the running.  He helped alot, & didn't take offense to my strong-headedness when I told him to shut up.

I lead 90% of the race, then was overtaken at the last turn.  I am just happy I didn't stop running.  I heaved back into the water to cool off.

I have to tell Matt we're not paddling the rest of the day.  Matt tells me I won 300$ for coming second.

We stayed for a feast of goose, moose stew, pickerel & bannock with our new friends.  They gave us good information about navigating Cross Lake & where there are hunting cabins to stay in.  They let us sleep inside the community center that night, & we were up early to fill the kettles & ready the fires for breakfast.  On our way out of town, we passed a York Boat training for the competition in a few days.

Matt was so touched by our time there he wants to get a tattoo of 'ekose' - the Cree word for 'thank you'.