Saturday, September 13, 2008

Day 42: Labyrinths

It is like a labyrinth, I thought, the only thing it tests is your patience.

I was sitting in a boat in a ditch winding through a pasture. The banks were high enough to prevent seeing anything to my sides, but occasionally the opening before me was long enough that I could see out to the valley beyond. At the time I saw a house. A house I had already seen several times in the last couple hours, and sometimes from angles more advanced from that one.

The Qu'Appelle at times makes me despair of ever getting anywhere, and then I start plotting my campsites on my map just to prove that, yes, yes, I am making four or five miles a day, as the crow flies.

Distance, though, doesn't seem to be the right measure for the Qu'Appelle. The river sits in a valley carved by an ancient, powerful current fed by glacier runoff at the end of the last ice age. The tiny Qu'Appelle winds about in a space-filling curve to fill this wide valley, and so I start thinking about how many acres I have travelled, how many square miles I have left.

A cathedral labyrinth is designed to have no branches, only an area of twists and turns. The kneeling or crawling supplicant must lose sense of the distance travelled, as I do, and continue on in just the assurance that the trial must, eventually, end.

I don't know how many square miles I travelled before I came to a weir. A pelican and cormorant, illegally fishing in the turbulent waters below, fled at my approach. There was a good two or three feet drop on this weir, but plenty of current over it. I consulted my curmudgeon, who told me that waterfalls are usually quite safe if the flow is sufficient, but dams are often far more dangerous than they appear. I scouted alongside the river, and even though there was no great portage route with my wheels, decided that was the safest way to go. The dam did not look so bad itself, but there was a woodplank walkway going over it, which I would have to duck. Then, blind and powerless, my canoe would have to continue in a straight enough course to avoid hitting the sides of the chute, which would surely upend the boat if struck. The physics said it should work, there was a big pool below where I could retrieve anything that got dumped, but there just wasn't room for my head.

Past the weir, I looked at my map in shock. It actually showed two channels for the Qu'Appelle here, and by the map I had taken the wrong one. Is this a labyrinth or a maze? Did I miss a fork somewhere? Was the arduous portage around the weir so unnecessary? I imagined the southern channel a paradise of sandy beaches populated by nubile women hand-feeding pelicans, until I came to it. It was not wide enough for a canoe, and the mapmakers had misinterpreted a small creek.

It did get me thinking about the real fork at Lake Diefenbaker. There were two routes from there to Winnipeg, either the Qu'Appelle, or the South Saskatchewan. I had estimated the South Saskatchewan route to take two months, and the Qu'Appelle at one month, given what I knew about my rate of travel. But the Qu'Appelle turned out to be a muddy, twisting little devil, and I knew the Saskatchewan had sandbanks, islands, pelicans, and no doubt some lovely ladies as well. Did I go the wrong way? This path was going to take longer than I had hoped.

Day 42 ended: 50*48.994N, 104*29.879W


dalin said...

Back when you were at the Diefenbaker deciding which route to take a took a look on Google Maps and saw how twisty the Qu'Apelle appeared to be. However I've been along the Saskatchewan, and I can assure you that there are no more ladies there than elsewhere. I think you made the right choice though. Making your way down lake Winnipeg might've taken forever.

Kevin Saff said...

Murray in Brandon said that since Lake Winnipeg is so huge and so shallow, the wind whips it up really good during the day, so you pretty much have to start very early in the morning to get anywhere.