Saturday, August 30, 2008

Day 29: Little boy lost

"We don't have any designated sites on the lake," she said, emphasizing the word "designated".

I guess I can't take a hint and pressed the issue. "So, free-camping then?"

"Just don't get caught!" came a voice from the back of the registration booth, and I promised to find some secretive hiding space to spend the night.

But before that, I decided to enjoy the park: Douglas Provincial Park, embracing the Qu'Appelle arm of the lake. I had a cheeseburger and a shake from the concession stand, and bought some groceries from a woman I overheard saying the lake was as high as she's ever seen it. "It's terrible," she said.

But looking out over the broken down boat launch, the washed away beach, and the undercut lakesde walkway, I was quite pleased at hearing this. My mapbooks had warned that the Qu'Appelle was frequently too low to navigate, and best traveled during the spring melt-off. But if you look on a map, you will see that the Qu'Appelle cuts almost directly east to Winnipeg, whereas the Saskatchewan River first goes into the north before you can take the long lake Winnipeg back down. High water means the Qu'Appelle is runnable, which means I can get east quicker.

I visited the interpretive center, which like all the ones I've seen in Saskatchewan Provincial Parks exuded a feeling of abandon. I went in and briefly scanned the taxidermy, then decided to check out the trails that begin here. The trail runs to an area of active dunes, which sounded like an interesting thing to check out until I had biked for an hour in the hot, humid summer air to get near there.

I had no water, and the bike would not run on the mile of sandy path before the dunes. I decided to come back on the other side of the loop. I proceeded to get lost on those cactus-riddled trails, and wandered over game trails, led by my GPS, to get back to the center, where I quickly downed a liter of water.

Back in the canoe and down the shore I found a spot that seemed as secretive as any I was likely to find there, primarily by virtue of being further down the lake than most other boats would spend time to go.

It could not wait until morning, I had to go check out the portage over to the Qu'Appelle. I figured I might as well walk along the shore, since the evening was young and I didn't think my bike could handle it, anyway.

I climbed up to the top of the bank, and walked along a closed road until I found a path back down to the beach. I follow it. It becomes increasingly entangles in trees, and I am alternating between wading beside the trees and bushwacking along old game trails towards the dam. Finally, I reach it, and pull myself up the large boulders supporting it. At the top, I look east, and see no water. If the river's there, it's hiding down in the trees. So I climb down the far side of the dam, on the left side, where my map indicates the channel picks up. I see no water.

I look down at my feet. The Qu'Appelle is a drainage ditch, and empty.

I knew this was a possibility, but I honestly didn't think it would come to this. Back at my tent, I went over the alternative routes available to me.

First, I could put the canoe on the trailer, and bike down to the Missouri River, taking up the original plan I had. But after spoending a week on a dammed lake, the series of huge lakes that comprised the modern, modified Missouri didn't seem like fun.

Another option was to bike the canoe east until I found enough water to put in again. There are certainly lakes on the Qu'Appelle, which wouldn't be empty, and perhaps I would eventually reach one that the authorities were letting drain into the river, to be nevigable. But how far would that be?

The final possibility would be to turn around, take the northern arm of Lake Diefenbaker, and take the Saskatchewan/Winnipeg route. It would probably be quite interesting and scenic. I just didn't think it would give me enough time after Winnipeg to start heading south.

I constantly shifted between the different possibilities all night, becoming sure of one, and then losing assurance and moving on to the next. I figured there was no reason to worry, no reason to leave my site until I made a decision I could be happy with, even if it took a couple of days.

Day 29 ended: 51*00.083N, 106*26.715W

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