Saturday, July 5, 2008

Day 1: Off Without a Hitch

There I was at the put-in. A crowd of Canadian friends had come to see me off early in the morning and had already waited more than an hour for me to show up, pulling my homebuilt canoe behind my folding bicycle. The hitch that was to be the centerpiece of my plan had broke as soon as it had been asked to pull the fully-loaded canoe, so the canoe was held in place by a makeshift system of ropes and bungees that continuously came undone as it went over bumps and holes in the pathway.

Right in front of me is a series of compression waves generated by the Calgary weir. They weren't the largest waves, but they looked utterly terrifying as a proving ground for my canoe, which had only previously been tested in a kind of glorified bathtub, a duck pond at Prince's Island Park.

And then Shawnti came, holding the most afraid little cat I have ever seen.

This cat, String, was under threat of eradication from our landlords, for the crime of coming around to the house and visiting us every day. At one point it was decided that the best thing to do would be to send her with me on my journey, and we ould adventure together. I even bought a life-jacket for her, having some trouble with the sizing because I couldn't find anything between a terrier and a pug.

The cat did not seem thrilled about the adventure, so I had to set off without her. I had already had enough trouble without a terrified cat adding to it.

Those initial waves were indeed the worst I would see all day, but I had never canoed on a river this big before. I constantly found myself getting turned every which way, and it wasn't until I saw a group of experienced paddlers "peeling out" of an eddy that I realized my mistake. The current in an eddy is still or backwards compared to the main current, so hug the inside of a corner too closely, and you'll get turned around, pulled into it. Fortunately the process reverses as well -- just aim your canoe upstream out of the eddy and the current will catch you, turn you right side around and hurtle you on your way.

One of those paddlers asked me about my trip. I told him that I was a math student who was dropping out of school to go basically as far as I could.

"Well," he said, "if you keep going you'll eventually reach the Hudson's Bay."

This really wasn't part of my plan, but the way things were going, instead of mentioning St. Louis or New Orleans, I simply said, "I had an idea to pull the canoe on the back of my bike, but that isn't going so well."

He nodded, looked at the scratches in the bow from the bike rack rubbing the boat, the broken inwhale duct taped into place, and the haphazard collection of objects thrown into the boat, and said, "Well, I'm sure I'll see you again on the river!"

He neglected to say what state he expected to find me in.

It was only later, as I began looking for a campsite, that I began to relax and take stock of everything. No one would say this was going well, but should it, in a real adventure? I read many of these books written by men who paddled big rivers like the Missouri and the Mississippi, and the most interesting ones, the only true "adventures" were those written by folks with nearly no clue what they were doing as they started out. This gave them the opportunity to grow, to learn new skills, and see and experience new things as they went. They may have "bumbled their way from one disaster to the next" as one of their more prepared comrades put it, but their stories were interesting and the experience clearly added to their lives.

Not so the ones who started out well-prepared, with a full skillset. These people seemingly sleepwaked from one location to the next, never learning, never seeing, never feeling anything. Their true stories are not on the river in those books, but earlier, when picking up their skills, when dreaming their big dreams. But having already developed their skills to perfection, the actual river tour is a bore to them, as they try to beat down the miles as fast as they can to get back to what they really cared about. In my mind, it is these guys who wasted their summers. One's highlight was his "invention" of a meal consisting entirley of uncooked oatmeal in cold water. But I guess at the end he was able to check a box off his list of things to do in life, so good for him.

With such a start, I was pretty sure I wasn't just wasting the summer, mine will be a true adventure, bumbling and all. I could honestly say I had no idea where I would get, when I would get there, and how.

I found a beautiful little campsite before the Carseland weir and thought, ah yes, this is it, whatever happens, I will figure it out.

And by the morning nothing bad had happened other than some creature with invisible footprints had broken into one of my waterproof bags and taken some oats and my best ramen.

Day 1 ended: 50*48.449N, 113*28.584W


PsySal said...

Hey everybody I made a gmap thingie on my website. If you want to see a map of where Kevin is go to here:

Kevin maybe you can post this on your site?

Woodsy said...

I totally agree with your idea of adventure, Kevin. My friend bought 2 motorbikes on eBay, travelled to the States (I live in England) and toured coast to coast and back again! Personally I think that's fantastic!

I love this stuff and I'll be reading your blog...well done!

Cheers, Mark (Nottingham,UK).

Kevin Saff said...

Thanks, Woodsy.