Friday, September 12, 2008

Day 41: Last mountain portage

I woke up in my most audacious camping location yet. Over my head was a huge red danger sign, put there to satisfy your curiosity about what horrible things would happen if you were to swim through it. My stuff was scattered everywhere, with clothes and bags laid out to dry on my upside-down canoe. The front windows of a house lookeddown on me, not more than 150 yards away. And just across the walkway on top of the dam, and through a gate in a chain-link fence, there was a baby campground with cute little pines, only half full of camper trailers. I wasn't used to having so many neighbors, but I hoped the tree where I conducted business was inconspicuous enough.

Really though, I was just in the middle of a portage, and who should care if I took the occasion to cook and sleep, do my laundry and repair my boat?

When all was boat-shape, I started to take it all down on the back side of the dam, sliding the canoe because it was still too heavy for me to lift. I was sure to tie it up with two ropes so it wouldn't float away again. When my things were halfway packed, a nice senior couple came hiking over from the paid campground. We talked about my trip, the canoeing they've done, where they were headed, and the usual pleasantries. I wondered what they thought of me so blatantly free-camping there, and got an answer without prompting, "You sure were quiet! We didn't know anyone was over here." Well. I guess I need to try harder, the.

I have heard this before about me being "quiet", and I have a number of hypotheses suitable for further testing. Firstly, just that a canoe is completely silent, especially compared with a motor vehicle. That doesn't seem worth commenting on. A likely interpretation is simply that I am young, and look much younger than I am. When I told people I had dropped out of school for this trip, they often asked if it was high school or university. Well, actually it was a PhD, and I had about 3 years in industry as well. Anyway, I suppose the old expect the young to be loud and rowdy and are surprised to find out otherwise.

The final possibility is that they subconsciously expected such an ambitious trip to be announced by choirs of angels and trumpets.

In to the canoe, off with the leaches, and on with the journey. The trees disappeared from the banks, which themselves fell lower and lower. Before Lumsden some banks were easily ten feet high, but here the cutbanks were just high enough I couldn't see over them, sitting, although the heads and backs of cattle were easily seen. Through these featureless, overgrazed pastures saunters the Qu'Appelle, taking its time and making its way back to every point a dozen times, as though I needed to see it from every angle.

Too many cows, and too many people, I thought. There were houses every couple hundred yards up on the valley slopes, and I felt like an ant winding through a tunnel with glass sides. Stormclouds appeared on the horizon, and I had to camp somewhere. With the maturing of summer there was less wind and more rain, and although these clouds did not look overly wet, I had been fooled before.

I pulled my canoe up on the mudbank where the cattle came down to drink, and pitched my tent nearby: bright yellow rainfly visible to miles of houses down the valley.

Day 41 ended: 50*45.527N, 104*40.785W

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

I know how you feel about the age thing. I've had people guess that I was older or younger, but almost never right around my actual age. Only once they learn I'm newly married do they think I'm in my twenties. I think it's part of why I'm having trouble finding a job, because the very first look I get is "she's gotta be in high school" and then I'm asked "so how much experience do you have?" Guess I'll just have to start trying to look older?