Friday, April 15, 2016

No Road to Churchill: Headwinds


It's a windy day in Winnipeg.  Being at home means work; work means saving for adventures.  I am between a double shift today, laying beside the Red River.  I'd love to be paddling into a headwind today; just get me on the water.

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The winds changed more often on Lake Winnipeg than I could have imagined.  Crossing large bays was always a gamble; there was always the chance shifting winds would churn up white caps within an hour offshore.  The predominant westerly winds of the prairies have no influence here.  We were shackled to land for weary stretches when headwinds made progress impossible. 

Matt & I had travelled together remotely before, and although this had been our first overnight canoe trip, it took us 20 days to notice we were doing anything out of the ordinary.

I remember very well the day we made it to the Nelson River.
There was a tension in the air we couldn't quite articulate.
"Did we just do what I think we did?" was as close as it was gonna get, but neither of us would say it.

The implications of this were huge.  We had paddled across Lake Winnipeg - the 12th biggest lake in the world.  We actually did it.  We had already gone a lot further than many people thought we would.  (I had even chatted with a few experienced kayakers who thought we were reckless to do it in a canoe.)
We had just decided to do it, and here we are. 

The Nelson River: The largest artery in Manitoba.
Approaching it gave me chills.  It felt cavernous, despite coming off the immensity of The Lake.  My mind was numbed at the thought of being in it; ecstatic but on high alert.  Voyageurs famously did not trust the Nelson with their precious cargo, and they paddled for a living!  This, as well as avoiding a few of the biggest dams in the province, was reason enough to avoid the Nelson & take the scenic route to Gillam via the Bigstone River.

Of course, we had to take the Nelson to get to the beginning of the Bigstone River.

We cheered when we made it to the head of the Nelson, but I had a hard time describing the innate danger I knew the river could bring us, since I had no personal experience with the river myself.
I told Matt "Let's never underestimate this river."

When we pushed off on the Red River, I knew about the drownings that happen every year.  I grew up on the banks of the Assiniboine, which must take from its blood brother with tales of disappearances & an extraordinary undertow.  That day had a particularly strong current, and the local police had closed the boat launches.  I had made evacuation plans in case the current tipped us, and we had our lifejackets on at all times.

As we entered the mouth of the Nelson River, we could feel the current pushing us forward.  Its grandeur was all the more obvious when we missed our landing spot 3 times in a row.

It was a smooth day of exploring abandoned towns & photographing eagles.  We made it to the straight into Norway House, so long as we didn't second guess ourselves or the deceivingly accurate directions of "just keep heading that way & you can't miss it."

We had camped within a stone's throw of Norway House; our first checkpoint & restocking location.  Far enough away that we wouldn't be camping in the municipality or bothered by stray dogs.

The next morning had gale force headwinds.  We were so close to our first goal.  I spent the morning sewing up gear we'd worn ragged.  I'd had a dream that my boyfriend Brant was there to meet us.  Matt was eager to upload some master level photos he'd taken, and we were both anxious to get there.  With no time to be comfortable, & a long way to go, we packed up & headed out.

After a brutal 30 minutes, we opted for not hurting ourselves & surrendered by pulling into the closest dock to phone our hosts to let them know we were on our way.  The kind family, whose house we dropped in on, towed us the rest of the way to our location.

It didn't seem like anything as we were paddling, but once we'd arrived, we were tired.
Luckily, Brant's cheesy grin was waiting for us on shore.
I think it took a weight off knowing he was there to help.
Only 1100kms to go!

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Working in Winnipeg is just saving up for the next adventure.    I'm not progressing if I'm not scheming.  I can't wait to feel that sense of accomplishment again.