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ALL ABOUT CANOES
Saturday August 7, 1999 - DAY 8
Geoffrey Peake writes:
Last night our technology woes had cast a gloom over some of our good members, namely the Governor, who was both frustrated and discouraged at our inability to transmit any of the pictures he had been taking to our website. It was with considerable relish, then, that I strode into breakfast (I'm always the last one up) and announced that, during the magnificent showing of northern lights last night, I had also managed to unlock the secrets of the software and send all the backlogged pictures. There was much general rejoicing at this news, and this feeling of optimism pervaded the whole day right until bedtime.
Today our course took us through about 50 km. of mostly featureless shoreline. Clay and gravel banks are becoming more pronounced, many which have been wiped clean by the scouring action of the ice at spring break-up. Willows and alder have been stripped clean in places for several feet above the water level, creating for the first time actual beach areas. Tonight we are camped on such a place. Now you might think that a 50 km. day of paddling through featureless river sounds boring or monotonous, but today was actually one of the most interesting and enjoyable of the trip.
How could this be? After all, there were no rapids, no wildlife (beyond the ubiquitous Eagle and Osprey), no stunning scenery. The answer, my friends, lies in the one essential component of a trip that cannot be purchased from any catalogue or store. And this is the company you keep. While most of our equipment and clothing can be replaced with little difficulty, ask any experienced canoeist, and they'll say that finding compatible people to travel with is perhaps the most difficult thing to do. Oh, sure, there are lots of people interested in going on trips--they have all the gear and skills and desire. But the key question is this: Are they compatible?
I can't think of how many trips I've heard about that have fallen apart because the group, basically, just could not function as a unit. We have gone to great lengths to find good, solid people to canoe with us. The process of finding and training new paddlers is a long and difficult one. The HACC has been fortunate to have paddled with some excellent people over the years, and this years crew is no exception.
Anyway, my point is that, on a day like today, the compatibility of a group will make all the difference between a long, dull day, and a truly enjoyable one.
Normally I do not like to talk while I paddle. I find that I crave the time to pause and reflect upon my own thoughts while I'm on the water, and paddling is naturally conducive to this. A good day on the water can work wonders for those who feel they need some time for contemplation, or just a chance to clear their mind. There's nothing worse than being saddled with a partner who yaks his (or her) head off all day when all you want is a little silence. So, while silence is the general rule of paddling on our trips, there are some days when a little conversation is in order. Today was one of those days.
These conversations can take many different forms. Sometimes they are contests. Today we had our version of 'name that tune', where the quizmaster throws out lines of a song (the more obscure the better) until someone finally guesses it. We play a special hybrid version with Tom, who claims he knows ALL of Elton John's songs. The trick there is to stump him--definitely a difficult task. (I managed to do it once). Sometimes the contests have an educational nature. Tom, having a degree in Geology, was throwing out the following questions: what are three rock types?; what is the difference between a moraine and an esker?
More commonly, we end up 'discussing' issues of the day, although for all intensive purposes they are essentially loud heated arguments. Peter Scott and I have gained a certain amount of notoriety for engaging in these vociferous exchanges where each party essentially tries to prove his point by shouting the other down, a very time-honored and, if I might say, effective tradition. Today's topic was whether, by shopping at large chain stores like Chapters and Starbucks and Superstores, we were undermining the integrity of our society. Peter said that I was contributing to the decay of society by shopping at these stores (OK, I paraphrased what he said, but he's not writing this journal). My point was that if a store is GOOD, big or small, people will shop there, even if it means paying a premium for it. I think nearly everyone had an opinion on that one. The point here is that the gift of conversation turned what might have been a dull and monotonous day into an interesting one. This reflects favorable on the compatibility of our group.
One of the unique aspects of doing an online trip is the conversations we can have with those who are watching the trip online. This morning when I checked our email, I found a message from John Clement, who paddled the river with his family in early July, and is now following the trip on the web. This morning he had a response to my problems with the water that I will excerpt here:
"Geoffrey - Regarding the filtered water... we got most of our water from the springs on the side of the river. From where you are north to Peawanuck, there seems to be an abundance of them. It is cold and tastes great. We returned July 9th and have no ill effects. John Clement Toledo, Ohio"
One of the amazing things about our trip is that we can interact, albeit in a limited way, with others who are watching our trip. This morning I followed John's advice and tried some of the water out of those feeder creeks, and it was indeed a huge improvement. When you think about it, it is amazing that someone tapping away at their keyboard in Ohio can influence where a group of canoeists finds their water on a river in Northern Ontario. Of course John could have been writing from England, or China for that matter--distances do not really factor into it, provided you have the equipment and the access.
Anyway, enough navel-gazing! Tonight we are camped on the south end of a small island that has been relentlessly scoured by the spring ice, yielding several nice, level tent sites with an open view to the south and west. We had the most amazing sunset tonight. A few showers swept through after we made camp (still a daily occurrence), and just before the sun dipped below the horizon, it lit up the blue-grey clouds above with a brilliant tones of red and gold. The impending curtains of rain that were approaching caught this light, and were illuminated with the dazzling colours of the evening. The scene resembled a watercolor by Turner. And we enjoyed it all for free.
With the rain came a drop in temperature--to about 5 degrees celsius--a brisk northern evening that drove the mosquitoes away. We all remarked that the river has a much more northern feel to it; the sky, the air, the river. We are just approaching the big eastward bend in the river, and are now only 100 km from Hudson Bay as the Eagle flies. The combination of good company, good weather, great campsite and a gorgeous evening reminds us of why we do these trips in the first place.
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