Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Day 59: Good... or evil?

The Qu'Appelle River. Good... or evil? Is it a good river suffering from human indifference, or is it primarily an evil river bent to seduce the unwary? Shall we spend time and money to save the river, or is it best put down? I don't know. Let's talk about herons.

Good... or evil? Undeniably good. Even a lousy day float can be saved by a heron sighting, because they are shy, graceful birds rarely seen outside the river. I have seen a number of great blue heron on the lower Qu'Appelle. Their territory does not have much overlap with pelicans, or strangely enough, great horned owls. They are only blue in flight. Standing on the bank they are thin and grey, like a large stick.

Unlike pelicans, it is unusual to see more than one heron at a time. I suppose they areas shy around others as they are around humans. It seems to be motion that sets them flying more than anything else. They don't seem to actually hear my approach before I round the bend. I have made some sad conclusions from this, which I hope prove to be false. Birds don't have visible ears; surely their hearing is not as good as ours. If the heron doesn't hear me what else might birds not hear? I have a terrible fear that the rich melodies of songbirds are not fully appreciated by their mates, but only by us.

If it's motion that scares them, I imagine that staying still I must resemble a log floating through the river. If you think that's silly, maybe you haven't spent enough time on the river. Certain ducks will lay low and still to mask themselves as logs. I thought this was silly at first -- clearly, it's a duck. However, I have now seen actual, bona fide logs that look like that. I have seen logs that look like muskrats, stereos, dishwashers, fishermen, and canoes. Trees grow queerly and water gnarls them until any shape can be obtained. Now anything floating slowly in the water, or sitting motionless on the bank, is at considerable suspicion of being a log.

I once thought I saw a heron standing on the bank. However, the object made no motion, and I was paddling, so I knew it must be a log. A surprisingly heron-shaped log, but a log nonetheless. I continued paddling toward the next bend. The log bent down, ate a fish, unpacked two huge wings, and flew around the corner.

When I came around the corner there were two herons standing there, and my log still in flight over them. The herons were spooked by my appearance, and they launched into the sky as well. I had never seen three herons at once before, and I don't think they knew how to act in such large company, either. A couple of them settled into the tops of trees, and it is very funny to watch these large birds perch on the high branches. The tree bows considerably under the weight. I suppose herons are too large to fit onto the lower branches.

There, friends, is my case that herons are good. Make of it what you will, and ask yourself, is a river more than the sum of its birds and twists?

Day 59 ended: 50*28.947N, 101*47.859W

Monday, September 29, 2008

Day 58: Crossings and fences

I cooled down significantly by the day after the private causeway. The truth is, most of the people in this area were very respectful of paddlers. Many fences were just a single electric wire, high enough on one side to underpass without ducking.

Other farmers had solved the problem of crossing the river by piling up boulders for equipment to roll over. They put up signs saying "CROSSING" on either side to warn of this kind of structure. I am not sure a sign is really necessary, but it shows they were thinking of me, and helped explain the mystery that I had thought of as man-made weirs. The purpose is not in stopping the water, but in crossing it.

I don't mind these kinds of crossings. They are usually fun to paddle over, or at least easy to push the canoe through, and I imagine the fish have a better time navigating them, too.

And the river after Round Lake is often beautiful, well-treed, well-moosed. The water is clearer and there are frequent shale banks to stop on.

While happy in these thoughts I came across one of the worst fences I had seen. Three barbed wires straight across with frequent posts. I was fortunate to be just able to squeeze the canoe under on the side, while ducking through the fence on shore.

Maybe it is a good river, worth saving in places, and where else but the section after Round Lake? It's too bad that just a couple inconsiderate people can ruin so much of the river.

Day 58 ended: 50*31.395N, 101*55.356W

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Day 57: The last voyageur?

To imagine yourself the first person at the scene of a virginal land, the first to reach some destination and take in its bounty of promise. That is the great white wilderness myth. If it had any great value to me I suppose I ought to have studied the history of the rivers I travel. I gather from conversation and asides in books that I am accidentally retracing an old fur-trading route between the west and Montreal, by French voyageurs. I suppose I could have packed a couple pelts from the Indian trading post in Banff and amazed myself around every bend in the river, exclaiming that surely this must be what those men first saw so long ago.

The reality of the river makes this myth inaccessible to me. The Qu'Appelle is a drainage ditch between pastures, with faint memories of wild glory scattered about. It is choked by dams and fences, and now a driveway as well! I was shocked to see the river just end abruptly, before my eyes, with no channel continuing anywhere. I thought I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, but no, as I drew near I saw that someone had simply laid a concrete road straight across the river, with nothing more than 6 inch pipes at intervals to allow current through.

I am forced to make new myths. I am not the first man, but the last, to make this particular voyage. The voyageur route was made possible by a certain political situation that lasted for a finite period of history. I have heard that the United Arab Emirates, being the descendents of nomadic peoples, have enshrined the right to travel and make camp in their constitution. Here, the law will soon protect only highway travelers and landowners will fence, gate, and dam every river in their backyards. As I understand it, and I hope I do not, the law in Florida allows landowners to shoot anyone on their property without first ascertaining if they be burglars or wayfarers. Who will take this route if every mile brings a new wall across the river, and setting foot on land to pee or sleep risks death without vengeance? It will never be possible to obtain advance permission from the hundreds or thousands of people who claim some toehold on the banks of the river, especially when risk and weather make a schedule unaffordable.

There continue to be people who push themselves to set new records, to be the first to do wonderful new things. The first to go around the world on human power. The first to unicycle across the United States. Perhaps when we run out of interesting firsts, people will begin competing to be the last ones to perform feats made impossible due to changes in political and atmospheric climates.

Being last carries with it a certain responsibility, so I will respect the life and history of the river by keeping clean camp and recording its last words, whatever they may be. And there may yet be hope, so I can lean over the patient Qu'Appelle and beg it to fight for life. I recorded the coordinates of this river-strangling driveway and took photographs. I can take these to the authorities, or paddlers, or fishermen, and ask if this is what is to become of the river. If so, I hope that day comes quickly, so I can be not only the last to paddle the entire river, but also the first to drive the entire length.

I put the canoe up on its wheels and rolled it over the road. Getting back in, I noticed thin blood dripping from my left foot; two leaches had attached themselves and drunk their fill as I made portage.

Day 57 ended: 50*31.469N, 102*09.210W

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Day 56: On Round Lake

Oh, Round Lake isn't round; they just call it that. Out of hope, maybe, or spite. It pocks with points and bulges with bays, and looks rather more like a smashed ant than a round. Its shape must be forgiven because it is politics which mars it most.

Round Lake shares the happy circumstance of most lakes on the Qu'Appelle, with the south side in reserve land and the north an economic free zone. So these lakes grow grand cottages on one shore looking across to wooded hills on the other. The value of these cottages does not depend solely on view but also the water level, so the pleasure craft can be readily launched from lakeside garages.

Thus these lakes are dammed. To dam a lake, though, you need the permission of every flooded one, and only one side has cottages. The Canadian government, in respect of the treaties, must obtain Indian permission to flood the land. Arrangements have apparently been made on all but Round Lake, where the old dam stands open.

I do not know the reasons for this, but the white people I've met have all but accused the natives of extortion. "There were some nasty things that happened in the residential schools," said one, "but they need to understand that these treaties aren't written in stone."

Another told me, "They say it was flooding their pastures, but there's no cows on those pastures!" I certainly hadn't seen any. "It's better for them, too."

I can sympathize with these people. A lakeside cottage is a significant investment, and they hadn't considered the risk that the lake retreat. So what can they do?

Their arguments, however, are very unconvincing to me. Abrogating the treaties breaks the only semblance of legal ownership they have to the land, anyway. It simply says, yes, we will just take the land because you are powerless to stop us. And I do not trust someone who claims to know what is best for the natives; that is how this whole mess started.

In lieu of the Indian side of this disagreement, which is unavailable to me, let me offer my opinion as a self-interested river traveler. The lake was low, but not shockingly so, not enough to make a round lake crooked or vice versa, just enough to expose some nice sand and boulders for me to pull my canoe up on. No dam meant no portage and no risky dam shoot.

I imagine that the more natural ebb and flow of the water creates a healthier ecology as well. I never saw water on the Qu'Appelle so clear as after Round Lake. If I had a spear I could easily have killed a dozen fish a day, just looking down out of my canoe. I could nearly catch them on my paddle.

I guess all the mud and silt empties out into the lake. The clear river is alive with ferns and weeds, an entire world under the water, a world that is inaccessible to those of us just skimming the surface. The green weeds swaying back and forth are like the hairs of sirens, luring hapless river rats to break that surface once and for all.

Day 56 ended: 50*31.737N, 102*20.369W

Friday, September 26, 2008

Day 55: What are you going to do about... your head?

There was no wind so I made straight for the dam, using a mixture of J and C strokes to maintain a constant direction without changing sides. I hoped my wake, a perfect "V", would impress Svein and Maryanne, who kindly saw me off with a cup of coffee and helpful gifts: pens, a knife, and a tiny multitool.

There were five people standing on the dam's pathway as I approached, a man with his two sisters and two sisters-in-law. I briefly explained what I was doing, and one of the women asked me if I at least had a hat and sunscreen.

She wanted to see me try to shoot the dam, if I thought I could. They offered to help me portage otherwise. With this group of people waiting and willing to help, the risks of the dam were multiplied. The two foot drop looked like four, the healthy, voluminous flowof water looked like a deadly whirlpool ready to swallow me in. I only understood that later; sitting alone in the water past the dam I would see that it was easier than the one I shot in Fort Qu'Appelle. But now I deemed the dam too "scary" to run and accepted the extended family's offer to portage, so they came down to my canoe.

"That's no hat, that's a pith helmet!"

Oh no. That brings us to the continuing saga of the hats.

I am a forgetful person, so it is necessary that I put this down despite the heartbreaking effects it may have on some readers. In a year I will remember just the names and certain features of some rivers. In two years, a vague recollection of some kind of kayak or perhaps canoe trip I took. In three years, if anyone asks me about making this trip I will respond with disbelief about the entire thing.

My friend Calvin has used this to his advantage in the past. He has said that to convince me of anything it is only necessary to claim that I once said that very thing in the past. I know he has done this several times to make me believe things that seemed quite doubtful at the time, which I have now forgotten. But I know that I can become easily excited about some concept, discuss it at length, and forget it by the next day when I taste the next piece of mind candy.

That diversion is necessary because I will criticize Calvin further down, but he may forgive me if I mock myself first. Only time will reveal who will have the last hurrah in this story which I am now finally going to tell.

Two nights before my departure Dave and Sarah, father and daughter, asked me if I had a hat yet. I said no, so they decided to pick me up in the morning and we would go hat shopping together.

Calvin could not believe it when they pulled up. It was not mere skepticism, it was a frontal assault on everything he believed, as though someone had just produced evidence to him showing up is down or the world is a simulation.

"What? They wouldn't drive up here just to get you a hat. Tell me the real reason!"

Calvin had, sometime before, considered offering me his grandfather's helmet, used in some important conflict which totally escapes me. He may even have used fairly certain language about giving me this hat. I cannot know, because I am skeptical about Calvin's predictions of future events, even those within his control.

This has gotten me in some trouble at least twice.

My friend Karen came up to Calgary one week, and one evening we called "Music Night", inviting people to come over with instruments and we made strange sounds, had some laughs, and maybe even got some music out of it. Calvin was excited about doing this again while Karne and her violin were still there, and talked about having another one Friday afternoon.

I knew, because I knew Calvin, that this was the type of thing he would talk about but would never actually happen. Karen did not, and when Friday afternoon drew near she tried to impress upon me the importance of returning home, that I was insulting my friends by running late. Now, I remember giving a lengthy explanation that the event was impossible, no phone calls had been made, no emails sent, that this was all Calvin's fancy. She remembers this explanation as a shrug and a sigh, and was upset with me for some time later, even though the house was entirely abandoned when we arrived.

Calvin did get me once, because the correspondance was in email. Calvin, Clement, and I had talked for awhile about making a trip to Vancouver to see sights and friends. Calvin seemed quite excited about it, talking at length about how the real way to go was to take the bus because it was such a beautiful drive. As the dates approached, I was trying to get firm information from Calvin about booking the bus tickets, but his attitude had suddenly shifted. He didn't want to go all of a sudden, and why take the bus when you can just fly? I was pretty shocked. Maybe I missed the tone in the email, the underlying belief that this just wasn't going to happen. Clement had already booked flights. I managed to get the same plane out with him, and a later one back. Sometime during the week Calvin had even said that maybe he would still meet us out there, but I don't think Clement or I took that possibility very seriously.

That is all to say that while Calvin may have a firmer grip on the past than I, I was not going to believe he would lend me the hat until I had it in hand.

Dave, Sarah, and I drove all around Calgary looking for Tilley hats. This is a Canadian brand designed for marine use, and Dave is quite fond of his. We went to the store that used to sell him, and the proprietor suggested three places. The first one didn't exist, and he had the second one confused with a gay cruise line. After driving all over the city in humor and confusion I finally had my two hats: the Tilley and the pith helmet.

I said I might wear the hats on alternate days, but early on in the trip I found the Tilley too comfortable to give up. Moreover, it had a chin strap that held it firmly in place those very windy days. The strap on the helmet was too long, and it wasn't adjustable, so it didn't feel as secure.

But I think we made a strategic mistake when purchasing that hat. I have a preference for growing my curly hair out long and wild, but my trip began soon after my sister's wedding. My hair was shorn to show respect for that day, and still near its nadir on that silly day we bought the hat.

After nearly two months on the river, my hair was inching towards its more natural state. I do admit to using an off-brand shampoo on those few occasions when a shower has been available. This shampoo promises it is ideal for "Richness and Volume" or "R&V" by the label. This claim is highly doubtful, but certainly unnecessary for my hair which is naturally resplendent in "V". The Tilley hat was becoming too small for my head.

So I had just switched to using the pith helmet. It did fly off the first day in the wind, but I recovered it. I have worn it since then but gone hatless when the wind threatens to tear it off or strangle me with the chin strap.

Calvin, you have won a minor victory after your initial setback, but do not think the saga has ended.

It has only just begun.

Day 55 ended: 50*32.413N, 102*32.317W

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Day 54: For love or money

It was a day of rest at Crooked Lake, spent in the usual way. I showered, washed my clothes in the sink, recharged my batteries, read and wrote.

In my writing I reflected on a dream I had in the night. I was magically transported to Calgary, which promised me everything a city might offer. I could rent a large dilapidated iron foundry for $29 a month. It might lack some domestic conveniences at first, but the extra cash on hand would go a long way to relieve that. Women would fall at my feet, the air would be always clean and never too cold.

I turned this down for some vague feeling I should really be on the river instead. Who can say if I turned down a devilish temptation or providence's call out to a wayward son?

The $29, though. Dreams about money bother me. They usually come in a particular form. I will see at first some unusual, large coin on the ground, and pick it up, finding it to be valuable. Then there is another, and another, and the dream turns to greedy coin-collecting until it all vanishes at my waking.

It ruins the dream. The pleasant memory of a dream comes from visiting strange places with exotic rules of physics, saving people with your magical powers, fighting or running from terrifying monsters, falling in love with impossibly perfect women, or making love in impossibly public places. There is no pleasure in acquiring a wealth that is never spent.

The worst dream along these lines I had long ago, and I hope I do not bore you too much in relating it. Two lines of dejected people were filing into a stadium, and long-hooded men carried out caskets as the lines slowly advanced. I was told that the heads of the lines fought to the death in the stadium; the winner earned their heart's desire, and the loser was carried out like this. I chose one of the lines and waited my turn.

But when I reached the front, heading the other line was my heart's desire Herself, and I Hers. We did not fight but walked out together to the confusion of those evil monks. We enjoyed each other's company until some man stole the bag of coins I carried. I had to get it back, although She said this was not important. I defeated the thief and took back what was mine, but when I returned She was gone and I could not find Her.

I feel revulsion when I have these dreams. As in dreams, so in waking life I must waste time chasing such worthless valuable. When I was a child and had these dreams I could not believe the effort of acquisition was wasted, and I would actually search my room for the missing coins when I woke up, offended that they were not there.

This trip has been encumbered with money. I need it, I feel, to buy food, repair kits, and the occasional designated campsite. Oh sure, I could have done a lot of fishing, but even fishing has heavy costs if you do it legally; $100 per province by one estimate. The mythological stature of Christopher McCandless, of "Into the Wild", was that he began his trip by giving his bank balance to charity, and burning his cash. My savings give me a sense of security, knowing I could fail many times and still get back up. I worry this security has its costs in freedom.

I remember reading a story in English class about a boy, lost in the wilderness, using the $100 in his pocket to start a fire, to survive. The class balked at this waste of money; it was a symbol we were not ready for.

As I fed the flames of my cooking fire that night, the tender in my wallet itched. I felt like I had to turn just so, keep the right angle to protect it from the flames.

Day 54 ended: 50*36.218N, 102*40.335W

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Day 53, part 2: A little caution

The wind on Crooked Lake was going due east, my purposed direction. I saw cottages all along the northern shore, gulls everywhere, and pelicans on the sandy points. One pelican did not settle for the black skull cap worn by the others. He seemed to have a long black wig, down to his shoulders. Queer bird.

I began to see campers and boats on the shore and knew I was near the Provincial Park. Large storm clouds were building behind me. The wind picked up, throwing decent waves at me and making it difficult to steer. I put on my life vest. The waves washed me ashore at a beach between the park's two campgrounds.

I walked up to the registration booth. It was self-registration during the week. I went back to the canoe and paddled to the first water site beyond the beach.

A man hailed me as I approached the campsite. He was wearing blue coveralls unzipped a few inches revealing white hair on his chest. White hair spilled out from under his blue cap as well. The cap read "Svein Bryeide Construction Ltd", but I did not notice that yet.

"So are you into wild parties and loud music?" I said.

He answered without irony. "No, I never really got into that."

"Me neither." This was going to be a quiet campsite, which made me happy.

We talked about my trip. Svein Bryeide had run a construction company for 30 years, working for the oil industry. He had no thought of retiring yet. He and his wife Mariann had graduated from tent camping, to a tent trailer, to a camper top, to a trailer camper. He claimed the current model had a living room with "a chesterfield and a fireplace", and that might have been true. It seems like a luxurious way to travel. They were taking a week's vacation at Crooked Lake, visiting friends in the area.

I was canoeing through southern Canada, and I was traveling alone. I was exposed to all the dangers of the waters.

"But a little caution goes a long way," Svein said.

"What's that?" I didn't hear.

"A little caution."

"Oh, yeah."

"Still, probably safer out there than on the highways."

Svein's comment stirred far more latent emotions in me than he could have expected. Every time someone had tried to point out the risks involved in the trip I was making, I wanted to tell them to look at the risks they accepted everyday. Driving is not safe for being common. There was more.

My friend Melissa had been a constant companion in Calgary. I was not there long before she invited me to go hiking with her, which became something we did any time the weather was warm. The Canadian Rockies are beautiful in the summer. You will never run out of places to walk, no matter what your skill level. Clement often came hiking too. Sarah also frequently joined us.

The winter is often hard on me, and the 2007 Canadian winter was no exception. I felt uneasy, the things I took pride in were valueless, everything I did was wrong, I had no value as a man to women. It is a difficult state of mind. When you don't care for what you can do, you try all those you can't and that only confirms your ineffectiveness.

I began to lean on my friend Melissa. It is strange how friendships can evolve. Sometimes they can become deep quite suddenly, sometimes they can totter on that edge and then back off. One night I called her in an almost manic state and she calmed me down. She did not doubt I had value. She was patient as I wavered in spilling myself out to her. She was going to Australia in the summer but there was time enough to talk before and after that.

I decided to stay in Calgary for my PhD.

I also decided to build a boat. Some year of undergrad I built one out of cardboard and duct tape. It was easy and it was hard and it took my mind off of some things. It was a success and a failure; it died on its maiden voyage. I was floating under the engineering building when a pipe opened overhead, and the inside was all wet cardboard.

I decided to build a better boat. A wooden canoe, and I looked until I found the easiest plans to build a decent canoe. It would be a JEM Merrimac, and the plans cost about $50. I ordered the wood on June 14, 2007.

The next day was very bad.

"My friend died about a year ago. She never got to go to Australia, and she'd been planning that trip for years." I was speaking wildly.

"It happens to everyone," Svein said.

I hadn't explained anything. He looked away.

"It's always hard," he said.

Day 53 ended: 50*36.218N, 102*40.335W

Day 53, part 1: Wounded pelican

I was worried because once again I would be passing through an Indian Reserve. While it's true that I often passed beside reserves, my interpretation is that when the river passes through a reserve, on both sides, the river must actually fall under the laws of that people rather than being Crown land as I assumed elsewhere. I, doubly a foreigner, felt like an intruder unprotected by law, and so I hurried through the reserves and avoided setting foot on land.

As you've seen, this has only caused trouble for me. In the Siksika I became stranded, trying to sleep in the canoe rather than going to land and hoping for forgiveness. In the Piapot I cut the fence that stood in my way. I knew I should just start thinking of the reserves the same as any other land, within reason, to prevent myself from turning minor mishaps into major ones. Still, by now I had an expectation that Something Bad always happens on the reserves. Since there had been fences of varying difficulty since Lake Ketepwa, I imagined a river simply clogged with fences or even walls.

Just as I entered the reserve, a pelican sitting on a gravel bank was spooked by my appearance, and swam out into the river ahead of me. This was unusual behavior for a pelican, which rarely precede their flight ith swimming, unless they were already on the water. I drew close enough to see that its wing looked wrong, and I knew it was injured.

Although I count pelicans as friendsI don't think this relationship is symmetric. I use their presence as a sign of pleasant camping, but before I reach the site they all fly away in caution. I am sure they view with annoyance this man who goes around stealing all their favorite basking locations. And here I was chasing a wounded pelican down the river.

My logical side sees it so, but my romantic side, given to building mythologies, was in control that day. Here was my spirit guide, come to lead me through the dangerous territory! And so I followed at a respectful distance, while the pelican turned its head from sideto side, looking back to make sure I was still following.

My guide was powerful and benevolent. There were no fences, there were no troubles. Just before the bridge that marks the end of the river, the river split into two channels. One, shallow and gravelly, continued straight forward under the bridge. The other meandered around to the right, rejoining just before the bridge.

Because I knew the pelican was wounded and I was thankful for its faithful guidance thus far, I knew what I should do. I took the right hand channel as the pelican took to the gravel on the straight one. When I meandered around the pelican saw me and swam back upstream whence it had come.

I proceeded on alone.

Day 53 continues.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Day 52: Changing minds

The drugs did something to my brain.

I guess our brains really are made of chemicals. I don't know rightly how to describe the effect other than what I felt initially, that I had lost a certain "edge" or "sharpness". My thoughts became not hazier, but blunter. I wonder if there is actually any discernible difference; say, if I took different standardized tests on and off medication, if there might be any difference.

My journal records "Little memorable happened today", which can perhaps be taken as evidence that I was not seeing or experiencing things as intensely as I had been. However, it also contains shocking proof that the medication did have a severe effect on my cognitive powers:

"Today, I felt sorry for a mallard."

I suppose I must have become at least somewhat accustomed to my new chemical state because reading that sends shudders down my spine.

I do remember the bird. She was sitting on a log, as still as possible while keeping an eye on me. Her only defense was if I did not see her. She truly had a broken wing. While birds mocking that state make a huge commotion of yelling and flopping all around to get your attention, the actual, real thing must paralyze the bird in fear.

I had mercy on her, giving as much distance as possible while I passed.

I'm sorry folks. If it wasn't for these allergies and the drugs they make me take, I might have rid the earth of a member of its third worst species. My only consolation is she probably did not live long anyway with that broken wing.

Day 52 ended: 50*38.666N, 102*54.245W

Monday, September 22, 2008

Day 51: What are you going to do about... your nose?

I felt like I was leaving the plains. Wetter, surely, there were more trees, and even raccoons running about on the shore. I must be entering the midwest, or whatever its Canadian equivalent is. Even the air felt more humid, more like back in -

-- ACHOO --

- Missouri. I guess there is some ragweed about, and that's something to sneeze at.

Now this is going to be a sticky post.

I have always run in the fall; I mean, runny nose, runny eyes. It isn't the nice thick snot of a good head cold, but the continual running of a sticky faucet. My wastebasket and its environment would fill up with tissues, which had to be purchased in those economy packs of twelve or twenty-four boxes.

It became nearly impossible to sleep on my side because the mucous would accumulate in my nose so I couldn't breathe. Sleeping facedown just made my pillow wet and disgusting. If I slept on my back, the stuff fell back into my lungs, keeping my nose clear, but I would develop a hacking cough that lasted through the rest of the year, until the allergens returned and my nose started up again.

It's probably these allergies that made me fairly uninterested in athletics and physical activity when I was young. It wasn't until I was 22 that I discovered Claritin (Loratadine) helped considerably. The next spring I moved to an apartment on a statelong bike trail, and was soon doing century rides.

I quickly noticed that I had no significant allergies in Calgary. The dry, cooler climes were like heaven to my nose. But working east I finally found them again, and here in Canada they come a month early. I had hoped to chase summer down south on the Mississippi, but now I'm worried I'm going to be chasing allergy season, instead.

Now with my eyes blinded by run and sun, any plant with leaves looks like the despised ragweed, and some of the fences too. I didn't see the nasty fence in time to slow down. The post unexpectedly swung up when I hit the lower strands which cut up my left elbow enough to bleed.

I was a complete wreck by the time I stopped that evening. I knew I had brought some Loratadine with me, because at the beginning of the trip the bottle had spilled little tablets all over the place. That wasn't encouraging, though. Did I still have the bottle, and was there still anything left? I searched all through my first aid bag, my backpack where I had seen it last, before finally finding it with my personal hygiene supplies.

There were plenty of pills. Since I hadn't needed any in Calgary they were two years expired, but what could I do? It took effect surprisingly rapidly so I was able to sleep that night.

Day 51 ended: 50*35.319N, 103*00.361W

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Day 50: Convenient new inventions

When I am not making much apparent progress on the map and the river gyres in the pasture, I have to invent ways to convince myself I am moving on. I need not go crazy here, there is some place a little further on for that.

I start marking my endpoints on my map. The distance between two points is disappointingly short, but put down three, four of them and it suggests I might be getting somewhere.

Bridges are major landmarks anytime, but especially so when I'm feeling slow. Cliff swallows happily make summer homes on the underside. Their flying meals are surprised by the birds swooping out of the downward-facing holes, built that way so they don't need an extra room for the loo. I looked up under one bridge and the entirety was covered with mud stain in an intricate web, the memory of forgotten houses. I wondered if the bridge was entirely covered in nests one year, or if they vary their places each time, to eventually generate this honeycomb pattern.

I was quite proud to cross under three bridges, all arched affairs built from the same concrete moulds, and in roughly the same crumbling state, showing the underlying rebar in the structure and supports.

I was also quite happy to see several raccoons, and their courage surprised me. Four cubs hid in the bushes while their mother climbed a tree and growled at me as I slid past. They are like small bears; omnivores and generalists with little hands. If the red panda and great panda are closely related that suggests to me a bear really is a kind of giant raccoon.

The biology teachers at my high school, Mr. and Mrs. Ulmer, were some of the most peaceful, nature-loving people I know. But Mr. Ulmer's raccoons were my mallards. They built their house in the woods and were constantly dealing with raccons raiding their garbage and garage.

Now the improvised weapons of the nonviolent are often horrific compared to the worn tools of the seasoned killer. Such was the case when Mr. Ulmer suddenly found violent cause. His first attempt was a kind of spear which I think was made by taping a garden trowel to a broom handle. This was difficult to aim or throw with sufficient power.

One day, Mr. Ulmer heard some raccoons foraging in his garage, which was paneled with those old boards with holes drilled every inch, meant for hanging tools. From which apparently Mr. Ulmer took his electric drill, and attached a bit the same diameter as the holes. He pulled the trigger and kept jamming that thing into the board wherever he thought he saw fur. We were not told if any raccoons died that day, only that the bit did need to be frequently cleaned of fur and blood.

Day 50 ended: 50*31.815N, 103*09.125W

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Day 49: Pasture goggles

It was morning because I was wet and alone. The wetness came from setting up just my mesh tent on the hooved pasture, and a fog rose over all the waters in the night. My bag was soaked, and my clothes were cold. The loneliness came from being out on the river for almost two months. Most of the time I am okay, but a couple days after passing through any town the loneliness strikes, and there is nothing that can be done about it. There are no phones on the river and its only other inhabitants make poor conversation.

Moo's about it. I can sometimes hear it as warning or longing but if there is any subtlety to the calls it is lost on me. I may one day break that code. Certainly at first the cattle all looked the same to me, but now their individual characteristics were clear.

There is the shoulder of some bull proud in youth, there is the wise face of grandma cow, her sagging teats feeding her last calf. An aged bull seems somehow forgiving and kind. The supple skin of a young heifer carries a universal sensual appeal. There she is, glistening black with freckled sides, so beautiful it was disturbing.

I shook my tired head; this is too much. I spent too much time in park, in town, writing, thinking, and not enough calling people, meeting people. I told myself, next town I really need to hit the bars, have some drinks, make some friends for the night.

The next town of any decent size on the river, where I could spend the night, was Brandon. I didn't realize it was about a month away.

Day 49 ended: 50*32.936N, 103*19.264W

Friday, September 19, 2008

Day 48: John Updike is an ostrich

I lost it.

I lost not only the plot but the book as well.

I lost Self-Consciousness.

This is a work by John Updike that I picked up from the Fort Qu'Appelle library. There was a book sale on, and the librarian very kindly suggested I take a couple books, waiving the nominal charge. I've never read any Updike before but he was one of the few regarded authors left, and seeing this book of memoirs I hoped to find something in it worth stealing.

The first chapter seemed interminable as I got used to Updike's indulgent writing. It concerns some remembrances of his childhood, which he spices up by incorporating into a story of how he waited an hour for his lost luggage to arrive.

I frankly became angry with Updike. "He doesn't respect that the connotations of words have an explanatory power that doesn't need expansion! His constant attempts to display cleveerness leave no room for the reader's own cleverness!" I do not know nowif these criticisms are valid, no longer having the book. Certainly worse could be said of my writing. But the one example I remember is when he related a story of how as a very young child he was hit by a car, and how very apologetic he was to the officer, and how he was worried of spending time in jail. This is a cute story about the foolishness of young children.

But then Updike feels the need to explain it, explicitly saying that when he was older he realized that the cop was more worried about an irresponsible child ipossibly being injured than his culpability. I felt Updike must think I am very stupid not to have understood that, or possibly never been a child myself. My feeling was that most readers of his book have been children, and later adults, and could not possibly need this explanation. My feeling, furthermore, was exasperation.

I turned to a later chapter, hoping it would be an improvement over the lost luggage iof the first. This one took the form of a defense of his stance apparently supporting the Vietnam war, although if it actually contained such a defense, I am none the wiser for it.

I have with me, from the beginning of the trip, the book "Travels with Charlie", by John Steinbeck. In this book, Steinbeck tours the States with his dog, Charlie. It seems he is constantly getting into situations, making essentially the correct judgments, and then criticising himself for getting involved in what are other peoples' problems. And that may be a correct judgment, too. I am constantly impressed as I review the multiple booklets this text has dissolved into on the trip, by Steinbeck's moral courage and honesty.

And that is what I suppose I was expecting from Updike in this chapter. Instead, I saw him voting for Democratic presidents while hoping they lost. The doves were wrong because the ones he knew were just as decadent as him in those days. Sending young men to war to bring back honor for the country is just like sending the butcher to the countryside to bring back meat for the table. While Updike feels some guilt at never having been shot at or threatened with bombing, he has had a lot of dental work done, which is much the same thing. And, impossibly, he makes too many protestations that he is not, literally, an ostrich.

The complete disregard for any moral or ethic whatsoever came as a complete shock to me after Steinbeck. Later, I would discover that reading the chapter in context, he must regard hawkishness as just an embarrassing personal condition like psoriasis or stuttering. I didn't know what to make of it.

But there was that ostrich business...

Is it possible that John Updike, the celebrated American author, is actually and literally an ostrich? At one point he says there is an entire category of things that would fall under the heading of "I am not an ostrich". If this seems far-fetched to you, consider for a moment. I believe it was Aristotle who argued that the primary reason for man's sentience was that he walked upright on two legs, bringing his head closer to the heavens. Surely, the same is true for any ostrich.

Not an ordinary ostrich, surely. A very intelligent ostrich, hunting and pecking at his tiypewriter, having achieved some part of the measure of a man through his literary success. But an ostrich nonetheless. How could he have hid this for so many years? On the bookstands, nobody knows you are an ostrich. And his skin and speaking conditions give him excuses to rarely appear in public, on which occasions he may hire an actor, or merely wear a builkier sportcoat.

In presenting this information I am definitely not trying to demean Updike, his work, or other ostriches. Indeed, some of my best friends are birds. But I am hoping that this fact will help some of his readers better understand his works.

Certainly, when I discovered this, I went back to the beginning of the book, and read it as though written by an ostrich. The result was a far superior book, a kind of avian Notes From Underground. The first scattered reading indicated a poor life, half-lived. He goes nowhere, does nothing, and attends church only to spite his wife. However, I wouldn't expect even an extraordinarily intelligent ostrich to imagine the life of a man with his head out of the sand.

Speaking of which, the psoriasis serves not only as a metaphor for an ostrich's wrinkly skin, but as an excuse for his having spent so much time in desert and sandy conditions, for it appears expsoure to the sun is a treatment to that skin disorder.

It is quite unfortunate that I lost this book, because I had very carefully dog-eared every page which presented some evidence of his ostrichness. For instance, in the introduction Updike claims another was planning a biography, and he felt he had to get there first. Why so, if not to control the story and hide his ostrichness?

Once we can accept that John Updike is an ostrich, other questions arise. Is it possible that Updike, who presents as a conservative Democratic man, is actually a liberal Republican ostrich - but female? I have no clues as to the question of politics, but when it comes to gender I have some idea.

Another book I got from the book fair I believed at first to be the memoirs of a local woman growing up in the depression, only to later discover it was actually a work of fiction written by a man. Because this book is a self-published labor of love, and because I am about to criticize it, I will spare both its name and the author's. In the preface the author claims he wrote it as a challenge to the idea that a man cannot write about the life of a woman. Indeed, the book lends evidence to one or the other side of this argument, allowing me to conclude that John Updike is probably the same gender he tells us he is.

We eventually come to the title of his Vietnam chapter, which was actually "Why I am not a dove", which is clearly a double-entendre. We have Updike, the ugly duckling, growing up not into one of the more beautiful birds but into the ugliest one of all, even uglier than a duck, if that were possible.

And recall that much of Hans Christian Andersen's obsession with physical beauty in his work was the fact that he possessed so little of it, himself. He overcame this handicap by literature, in the same way as Updike would later overcome minor speech and skin disorders, the Vietnam war, and being raised in Pennsylvania. That Andersen's ugliness was the more profound is clear; while Updike spends much of this book in fear of homosexual overtures, Andersen never got a favorable response to his love letters, neither from women nor men. Which may be why people will still know the Ugly Duckling and the Emperor's New Clothes long after Updike again becomes only a humorous name given to minor film characters.

Enough of this, I believe the case is clear, and it is perhaps fortunate that I will never be able to read the last two chapters to bore you with further details. The penultimate one appeared to a hundred page letter to his grandsons, improbably sent by way of mass publication. The last, I'm sure, speculates on the effect on the world of literature if he turns out to be an ostrich, after all.

The time for such speculation is ending; we need merely sit back and watch.

Day 48 ended: 50*34.854N, 103*27.366W

[LIVE 90] Portage la Prairie!

Hello, everyone. I have uploaded through "Day 66: The Assiniboine". I am having a bit of writer's block, and so I suppose it is a good thing this blog trails my journey by so much.

I seem to be forming a fairly large book collection in my canoe, which is a rather hazardous place for them. Books either get destroyed by rain, or being stuffed into my dry bags. I do wish now, however, that I had asked for gifts of small books at the beginning of the trip, so I'd have people to share all my reading with. I have been reading books by Blake, Byron (Don Juan (the first use of doubled parentheses in epic poetry?)), Sinclair Lewis, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Tom Stoppard, and John Updike. I also have picked up a book by Marquand, and am considering paying $1 for the privilege of seeing if I can finish Roth's "Zuckerman Bound" before it is eaten by the canoe.

The order of reading books is important. Going from Hemingway to Updike is excruciating. Steinbeck seems a bit lame after Updike, his descriptions, anyway. But I can go back and forth between Hemingway and Steinbeck with no significant pain. It is strange how that works.

I was wondering if you, my readers, wanted to suggest books or authors to look out for. These should be relatively cheap, small, and good. Cheap usually means used, but I have no prejudice against new books -- in fact I would prefer it. If they are cheap. And do suggest a proper order for reading the books.

Or just name any book.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Day 47: You've lost that sinking feeling

I was camped on a sandy point just before Mission Lake, and just as I headed off I decided to make my first backtrack of the trip, heading back into Fort Qu'Appelle. Merv had told me Home Hardware would have a bicycle technician who could fix my wheel. I still couldn't pop the bead of the 16" tire back in place, and the loss of mobility made me feel less capable of handling surprises the river my throw at me. The technician charged me $2 to get it back together, and said it was "extraordinarily difficult" to make me feel better about my failure as repairman.

While he was fixing the wheel I noticed a pair of automatic locking pliers that could serve in place of an adjustable wrench. These employ a very clever mechanism I still don't understand to lock onto bolts of any size up to half an inch. I had to have them, as well as a fair portion of their camping supply aisle: repair kits, mesh bags, windproof matches. I managed to stop myself before picking up the plastic egg container, though. My eggs have survived quite well in cardboard or styrofoam, keeping good at least five days unrefrigerated.

The wind was going against me on the lakes, so I wouldn't make it far after backtracking to the city. I quickly stopped at a nice spot on Katepwa Lake where I could read, write, and repair to my heart's content.

My chief repair would be my air mattress. This Thermarest, as long as I could remember, quickly lost air as soon as I lay on it. This was actually a major factor in my February fiasco. We were having an Indian summer during a week school was off, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to bike up to Banff. This is about 100 miles, which is a long ride, but I figured I would break it down, take two days of 50 miles each to get up there, and two days back. I filled my bags with canned food and a white gas stove that should have been
good for winter operation, in addition to my tiny one person tent, sleeping pad, and bag.

Things started to go wrong when I got a late start out of Calgary, taking time to fix my handlebar tape in the morning. So I had to push it if I was to make it to some camping area. On the highway I took, the lands are all fenced and posted "no camping" until Kananaskis Country.

In the mountains, the sun sets early and even if it has been warm all day it gets cold very quickly at night. I was already bundled up in warm jacket and gloves when I got to K-Country. As soon as the fences ended, I started looking for a place to set camp, but I thought I saw bear tracks in the snow, which was disheartening. I got back on my bike, and my weary legs took me another mile, two. I simply had to make camp before the sun set, so I pushed my bike through the snow bank on the left hand side as soon as I found a flat place to make camp.

Th sun was down, but I remembered there was a full moon tonight, shining its white light through the tree cover. But not fot long. This lucky light began to retreat, and I remembered that the reason I knew the moon would be full was there was actually a lunar eclipse that night. As the shadow of the Earth engulfed the moon, I set up my tent and tried desperately to prepare a meal.

The stove did not work. I had never gotten the stove to work well, and it was foolish traveling out with a bag full of canned goods and a stove that didn't work.

I ate as much jerky as I dared and went to bed. The air mattress released its air as usual, and so there was no air protecting my bum from the frozen ground.

The next day, cold, tired, hungry, and worn out, I had to call for help from the Kananaskis Country visitor center. About everything went wrong that could have. I figured if I could have at least been able to cook food, I could have taken another day, regained my strength, and continued on. I might still have needed help getting back, but hey, it would have been the weekend, and I would have been in Banff.

There was a woman I once knew who had done historical research in Sudan. While she was out there, her Thermarest mattress developed a leak. Her boyfriend, kept in contact via her satellite phone, suggested that she put the mattress in a bathtub full of water to find out where the leak was. She said, "There are so many things wrong with that, I don't know where to start."

But there I was on the shore of a lake, so I could easily find the leak. The mattress hissed when I put it in the water and I quickly saw a gash most of an inch long at the back of the foot. It was astonishing I had never noticed it before.

I applied the glue, and waited for it to dry, according to the instructions, before putting the patch in place. That night I inflated the mattress, as usual, and found to my delight that it kept its air completely. Oh yes, I remembered, this is how an air mattress is supposed to work.

After an hour of turning on the mattress, I had to release some air to return it to a level I was used to.

Still, this would come in handy on later nights. A site of rough stones or dirt trampled by cattle doesn't matter if I have an inch of air below me, and so I am able to make better use of poorer campsites.

Day 47 ended: 50*43.889N, 103*40.588W

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Day 46: The descent

Pat and Dave had warned me that there was a dam at Fort Qu'Appelle, but also thought it would be open, and so it was. However, when I heard open I had assumed open like a channel, open like a door, not open like a two foot sheer drop. I wondered if this is what they meant, and how many times they had canoed over this dam. A large metal sign warned "This structure not designed for public use," which was not encouraging, but there weren't the bright orange barriers I was used to seeing before dams, so a descent was perhaps possible.

I climbed up the bank and stood on the dam walkway, looking down through the perforated metal to the raging waters below. It did not look safe. The water poured through several open channels, and each channel had large metal screws sticking out on either side. There was enough room to go between them but accumulated plant debris on them showed not everything did.

I walked over onto the wooded "Trans Canada Trail" to grab a stick, and then dropped it in the water. The stick fell through the dam, under the water, and didn't reappear for several seconds. Maybe they had shot it many times before, but they probably didn't do it on fully loaded open canoes. I had no experience with this kind of obstacle. I decided not to risk it.

I climbed back down in the canoe, put my life vest back on, and paddled out, took one last look, and completely changed my mind. I was never going to be here again, a portage would be a huge pain. The worse that happens is I take a spill and have to recover all my stuff in the pool below.

So I chose the channel with the least white water below it, paddled as hard as I could toward it, my bow crosses the dam, my hull scrapes the bottom, and I stop. The water below it wasn't white because there wasn't enough flow, and then there I am, the first six feet of a fifteen foot canoe just sticking out over the dam. The water wasn't shallow enough for me to get out and pull it back, so I had to straddle the boat, and push my feet against the dam while holding on to push the canoe back. The low flow there meant, with some effort, I was able to get the boat out of trouble, and free again.

For my second attempt, I chose the channel with the most white water beneath it. I suppose this is the Goldilocks method of shooting a dam. I took a breath, paddled as hard as I could toward it, my bow crosses the dam, falls rather more than I liked into the water below, and is followed by the rest of the boat, upright and in one piece. There was half an inch of water sloshing inside at my feet, and my heart was pumping hard in my chest.

It felt amazing.

I parked the boat and wandered over to the "fort". This is clearly a modern reconstruction, festooned with the flags of Saskatchewan and Canada. There were no signs on the outside, and inside, I saw only "Washrooms only inside" and "Smile, you are on camera!" It was less welcoming than I thought a fort should be. I got out of there, fast.

I took the Trans Canada Trail through the woods, over the dam, and into the Fort Qu'Appelle museum. Merv showed me around, and he was old, and incredible. He knew everything about every artifact, where it was found, who brought it in, how much it was worth. There were models of the historical fort, xray machines and piercers, fur coats, guns, and fossils. The frames and display cases were as interesting to him as the objects they contained. I thought someone better videotape Merv's tour before the museum becomes just another collection of "pretty cool" things.

He showed me one thing that struck me significantly, although it will take me some time to explain why. It was a simple metal sign, black sticker letters pressed on to a white background. There were several paragraph on it, explaining the geology of an area, "the formations were carved at the end of the last ice age 11000 years ago" etc etc. Merv said there used to be a geological trail that ran all through and around the city, with about a dozen of these signs placed up. There was a lot of trouble with vandals, shooting, and the like, but he and others did their best to keep it going. And Merv gave me an explanation for so much I had seen in Saskatchewan when he said, "the new government isn't interested in this kind of thing."

I gathered that the Trans Canada Trail I had been walking on had taken the place of this geological trail. Well, simple tradeoff, right? A local limited interest trail, versus a hiking trail spanning the length of the country. Perhaps, but what I haven't told you yet is that this Trans Canada Trail won't even get you out of the city of Fort Qu'Appelle.

The idea for a Trans Canada Trail was conceived some time ago, and in many provinces a long distance portion of the trail actually does exist, but in Alberta and Saskatchewan it consists only of some relabeled municipal park trails, so you can't cross the country, and not even the province.

The descent from thinking to feeling. So much made sense to me then. In all the provincial parks I had been, the interpretive centers were closed or unpopulated, spooky, abandoned buildings. And in Missouri State Parks, if there is a camp store there are sure to be books about the area, its geology, flora, fauna. But the privatized camp stores in Saskatchewan were devoid of these things. Being ever in want of a bird book, I had to invent names for the ones that interested me: "bowtie", "fearless", "kentucky".

Before I left, Cameron had given me a copy of Tom Stoppard's play "Arcadia" to read along the way. The book uses English gardens as an analogy to the change in values from the ordered, truth-seeking Enlightenment, to the irregular, emotional Romantics. There it was simply a change in fashion, but in Saskatchewan I imagined it now as some political cataclysm that closed the interpretive parks, privatized the camp stores, and transformed the geological trails to cross country trails that do not actually cross the country. Who has time for all those useless facts anyway, or actually hiking trans Canada, if you can drive into a place and feel as though you might? Centers of learning and exploration fall to campers who never leave the tended lawns: Et in Arcadia ego!

Here I show even I am unable to resist the spirit of the age. I do not know if the above interpretation is true, only that it feels right to me at this time.

Day 46 ended: 50*45.962N, 103*46.350W

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Day 45: The horror

Warning: This is a morbid post, but I hope you will understand what I am trying to say.

I was camped down on the lake, but the showers and laundry were all on top of the valley. My bicycle still broken, I trudged up the hill in the heat with my things until I reached the building. There, I discovered I had nothing that I needed. There was no laundry detergent for sale there, and besides that, I had brought my bag of clean clothes, not the dirty ones. I thought to at least shower but the bag I thought contained my soap and shampoo was actually my minor electronics bag: it had the cords and chargers for my camera and other things of that sort.

So, it was back down the hill to get what I needed. Drudgery is the birthplace of thought, and I couldn't help thinking about a story Dave had told the previous day.

I had remarked how out there on the river I have no river, no contact with the news. If there is anything significant happening in the world I would never know, but that doesn't necessarily mean it would be significant to me. One Mississippi River kayaker was treated in terrible suspicion as he tried to lock through. Unknown to him, nineteen highjackers had just crashed four planes in the days before, and anything unusual was taken as a major threat.

Dave said there was one story in the news about a boy, who I think was traveling by bus from Edmonton to perhaps Toronto. Somewhere in Saskatchewan the man who sat next to him killed him, in a quite brutal and shocking manner. I heard just enough of the story and just little enough detail that my mind went crazy imagining the event, and I could see it quite clearly; the blood and guts, the horrified crowd stampeding off the bus.

I think as children the emotional horror of violence must be quite overwhelming, quite terrifying. As we grow up we are exposed to it in stories and film, and we become desensitized. Society needs to desensitize us because it wants its wars and executions, so it isn't long before the headshot, the killing fields, become mere facts of life.

Still, there are certain acts or events so unusual, so outside the bounds of what we might even imagine, that it renews the horror all over again. And maybe worse, too, because the emotional realization comes with an adult's understanding of how the blood and organs work, how tenuous life is, and how miserable it can be for those people left behind. The killing, which I will not describe, fell into this category. His neighbors said he was a nice guy, maybe quiet. Nothing unusual about him.

Of course we want reasons for these things to happen. Since the perpetrators are often young men, video games and loud music often get the blame. Perhaps instead something in their childhood caused them to act this way, or if we are in a certain mindset, something is wrong with their race or religion. If there is nothing that seems violent or strange about the person, maybe the real problem is their life was too boring. The monotony of the post office or government bureau drove them to murder. It doesn't matter what the reason is, as long as we can find one.

Later, my ritual cleansing finally complete, I was hiking in the trails by my campsite. Some group had very kindly placed large signs, metal maps, at every intersection, but as far as I could tell had neglected to mark your current location. I soon became completely lost in the maze of trails, as dark clouds flew overhead, releasing just a sprinkle of water on me.

So what if there is no reason? The mind is made of meat, as murder shows. What if the killer really was as ordinary as you or me. In one minute, blood, following its random course through his skull, favored this region, and not that one, and as a result he acted out in this way. Nothing special about him. It could happen to anyone.

I think acceptance of mortality is one of the defining traits of maturity, so I don't think the horror of this kind of action comes from the idea that I might be randomly killed by some other person. I already know there are many ways I could die, and most of them random. I could be struck by a car or by lightning. I heard of a girl who died in her sleep. Why, the doctors never could tell, and she was no older than I. You must simply expect that death may come at any time, so use your life wisely and with that understanding until then.

We also have this understanding of our friends and acquaintances, that we cannot know how long they will be around, so we must enjoy what time we will be together.

If I can accept the idea of my death, the idea that I, an ordinary person, might be driven to kill by some random occurrence in the brain seems too revolting to contemplate. I hope that such a thing is impossible, but my knowledge of how the brain works is not too comforting in this regard. So I think part of the horror is the concept that we might do such things, randomly, for no reason, this blood cell went this way instead of that. I hope I am wrong but cannot know. A man shoots up his office, a mother drowns her children. They never conceived of it until that moment. Horrible.

It doesn't seem possible to come to peace with this idea. If such demons live in the soul of every person, it is as though the mass of the brain must lend its cooperation to hold them at bay, and no peace can be made with the physics on which thought rests. So I have no choice but to believe the man was weird and twisted, and trust no proof can be produced to show otherwise. If you search his computer maybe you will find images of terrifying violence. Listen carefully to hi conversation and you will hear only the ugly, dark side of things and not the light, not happiness. At the very least I hope he had some prior contemplation, some fantasy of using his knife in that way.

A strange thing to hope, but it would be some reason that I, and you, harboring no evil thought, cannot be like him.

Day 45 ended: 50*46.429N, 103*47.659W
(Again, these coordinates, being the same as day 44's, are uncertain.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Day 44: Kevin Rex

My servant the wind blew me into Echo Valley Provincial Park. At the first entry gate I met Mackenzie and Trevor, friends from the University of Regina. She was putting off the completion of her pychology degree, and he had wrapped up a geography bachelor's there. Both of them had led float trip on the Qu'Appelle, and were interested in my trip. Mackenzie wanted to give me a certain lakeside campsite, but couldn't do it there, so she directed me over to Pat's booth further up.

Pat thought my trip was incredible, and asked so many questions about how I handled portages, and what I did about maps. She and her son had been dreaming about taking a long trip as well, the Milk River to the Missouri! I told her how that was an early plan of mine, and why I didn't take it: too many dams and too large lakes for my taste. The day must have been a minor holiday, Saskatchewan Day or something, because many cars were driving by as we talked. When a line had formed, Pat waved me on, and I promised to come back with my maps.

The campsite I got was actually meant for large groups. I had seen it from the water, but it looked occupied. As I pulled my canoe up on shore I could see the family that was there frantically packing everything up; I suppose they were just putting off leaving, and why not? It was a beautiful day, and great fishing, I'm sure. I took my time, even left for a while to visit the store in the reserve, so they wouldn't feel rushed.

When I returned I pitched my tent and surveyed my domain. This was a large lawn ringed by trees, with multiple firepits and a water tap right there. The beach, sand and gravel, extended down to the lake. I was assured by everyone that the lake was very low, but it must have been higher in the past, because a picnic table was sitting in the lake, just beyond the beach. A mallard decided this was a wise place to raise her family. She could sit on the table to keep lookout as her chicks sat on the bench below.

I returned to Pat with my maps, and met Dave the conservation officer. Both of them had canoed or kayaked the Qu'Appelle, and knew tons about fences, cattle, and how tediously mendering it could be. The last time Pat had kayaked there, she had been attacked by a bull. Dave had once been struck by lightning; it burned right through his foot and he woke up thinking he was in hell.

My bike had developed a gimpy rear tire, and because the Brompton does not have quick release I needed a tool to get the wheel off. Dave got a tool from maintenance and drove me back to the campsite.

Honestly, I felt like royalty. They would erect some sign when I left, saying Kevin was here August 4, 2008, and then below that a smaller plaque would say the sign was dedicated May 5, 2010 by the Earl of Croom, or something like that. Nowhere had so many of the park staff been so interested in my trip or treated me so kindly, and what a huge change from Buffalo Pound where I had felt so unwanted. Saskatchewan Provincial Parks was winning me back.

A family boated into the other side of the group site to have dinner, and I failed to start conversation with them. Apparently my kingdom was only so large.

Day 44 ended: 50*46.429N, 103*47.659W

(Those coordinates may not be correct. I stayed at the "Hole in Wall - Water" campsite and forgot to take a GPS reading while I was there. These are simply the coordinates I saw when I turned the unit back on after leaving the campsite, and may not be correct.)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Day 43: The Gordian fence

This is a tough entry to write, because it details the first time I sinned during this trip.

"Sin" has some really powerful connotations, so I am reserving it for powerful meanings. There were surely many times before this that I did the wrong thing in error or ignorance, while trying to do right, but here there was little reason for me to believe I was doing right.

Now I have been an explorer for many years, in the city and in the country, and have a well-developed explorer's ethic. Don't break anything, don't steal anythin, leave only footprints, take only photographs, leave no trace. In the wilderness that about sums it up, but in the city, one tends to start taking signs like "Keep out" or "Danger" more as invitations, than warnings. Should I ever own a house I should probably get a mat for the front door with "KEEP OUT" printed in red and white. That way I will both feel welcome and be able to scrape my boots on it every time I enter.

I would never go into any private, personal property, but if a hospital was awaiting demolition, some house abandoned for months, or some new building going up, why not take a peek? But the ethic is still clear. I never took anything or broke anything, and fences and locked doors were not problems to be solved by force, but challenges to be overcome by wit and logic. One night I was down in the steam tunnels below the University of Illinois campus, and was aghast when two people I had brought with actually just took sodas from a lounge. Later, in a hospital, some friends found some old x-rays but I convinced them to leave them for the next explorers to see.

I am relating this not so you will be impressed with me, but just so you can see that this is a very well-defined, if peculiar, ethic.

Coming down the river so far there had been essentially no fences blocking my path, and indeed I believed it was illegal to block a public waterway like this. The closest to a fence were two strands of barbed wire, on either side of a low bridge early on the Qu'Appelle, that were easily ducked or pushed out of the way.

I was all set to hurry through the Piapot Indian Reserve in the morning. Being unclear on the rules pertain to the river through the reserves, I had adopted certain additional principles: I won't set foot on the land, and I will try to get through as quickly as I can. It is probably dangerous to adopt new rules for special circumstances, because they get blown out of proportion, masking the old rules you live by.

Soon after entering the reserve territory, I saw a fence across the water. Two barbed wires, from side to side, supported by posts; but the fence was erected when the river was lower, and the post or two that were here had been uprooted, collecting debris along the left side. Since the left seemed blocked, and the wires were relatively low on the right, I hoped to accelerate the canoe, that if I went fast enough, my boat would push these wires down under it, and scrape just over the top.

I was going pretty fast when I hit the fence, but the wires were too high to go down under it. Instead, they became tangled up in my front canoe cover, in the ropes and hooks I used to secure it. Besides that, the current was strong and pinned me to the fence. I wanted to get through the reserve quick, but there I was, caught like a fish in a net.

I knew the fences were meant for cattle, not people, and that the river certainly seemed high enough to stop the cattle from crossing here. I felt a solution to my problem at my right breast, reached into the pocket of my lifejacket there and pulled out my Leatherman. With two quick snips the top wire was free, but the canoe still wouldn't go over the bottom one, so two more snips and the current pushed my canoe through the broken fence, free.

Free in physics, but not in spirit. I immediately realized that cutting the fence had violated all my explorer's ethics, and on the Indian Reserve, to boot. I had broken the obstacle, cheated at the puzzle. I had let a trace, and in rather a violent way, too, by actually severing a piece of someone else's property.

There was another fence a little ways on. Two sets of three strands each, which I was able, with difficulty, to squeeze my canoe through. I wondered if I had calmed down and looked more carefully at my problem earlier, I might have found a better solution.

It is amazing what rationalizations the mind can dream up! I felt horrible about this travesty all day, but by nightfall, I had many excuses. I was angry because I believed there should be no fences across the water, and there had been none before. The river was high enough anyway, would I even have cared if it hadn't been on the reserve? And surely fences have problems all the time; this one was already in trouble with those fallen posts and accumulated debris. Anyway, if I neer tell anyone...

I would later be able to prove to myself that these excuses did not assuage my guilt. apparently these fences were not as singular as I believed them to be; in the next section of the river there would be many more fences, some of them electrified, and not on the reserves. Later I was asked how I got around fences, and I said by going over or under them, neglecting to mention I wasn't above cutting them.

It is surprising how quickly guilt can turn to anger, even hatred. I did not forgive the native teen I saw walking down the street for looking haughtily at me, as many teens do. When I saw two native men and children fishing off of a dam right in front of the "no fishing" sign, I boiled inside. If they are above our laws, why should what I did matter? And there were plenty of grievances, young and old, available locally to fuel my anger. A report that some reserve further on was using its location to extort millions of dollars from the government. A story that some natives up north had massacred a herd of animals, taking only their hinds in a refigerator truck, leaving the rest to rot. Hardly a traditional style of hunting, and this from a people mythologized by our culture for living in harmony with nature, using every part of the buffalo.

So fast, so fast, so fast. One day, two days, three. There is nothing more to say, for peace I would need to somehow make contact with the Piapot, set things right with that anonymous rancher I may have harmed, and hoped my act was of as little harm as I imagined. But I resolved this too late, and there would be no Internet until Brandon, and likely no peace until later, for no sin is too small to devour one who has not offered apology.

Day 43 ended: 50*36.218N, 102*40.335W

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

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

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Day 40: Dear Rubber Ducky

Dear Rubber Ducky,

Who knew that the day we met would be the day we parted? I was floating down the river, evading fallen trees in my dashing Tilley hat. You were lost among the river trash of Lumsden, waiting for someone who would take you from that place. You, with your yellow plumage and rubber skin.

Things proceeded quickly. You showed me the tattoo on your bottom, "CM 2008". I took a photo of my new mascot, happy to show the world.

You did not want me to see Lumsden. You said the library is closed on Thursdays, there would be nowhere to leave a boat to bike to Regina. I still wanted to look around and was shocked by your insistence.

I climbed up that steep bank and after looking for some time, did find the library, and was amused by its sign "The Library". Along the way I had seen ads for a drugstore. These ads were ducklike characters, but I thought nothing of it.

I then hiked along the tops of the steep river banks looking for a place to park a canoe. It was odd, having trails along that channelized section of river, as if to form a kind of amphitheatre. I noticed a painting of a duck on the road, labeled "21st, September 1, 2008". I still did not unerstand.

But when I went to get groceries, there was a rack of shirts. Most of these shirts bore embroidery or printing that said "Lumsden 20th annual duck derby, 2007." And that is when I understood. You knew if I went into town I'd find out that in exactly a month, there would be hundreds, thousands of rubber ducks floating down the river. And maybe then you wouldn't be special. Maybe you wouldn't be the one.

I took three trips to carry the groceries back down to the canoe, and then got out my pliers to remove the leaches from my feet. Neither of us said anything. You were afraid I'd dump you there, but I was merely saddened by your lack of confidence and candor.

The river became high and slow. Approaching a fork, with no current to guide me, and not enough detail on my map, I was lost. But you helped, you really did, you said "Follow the arrows, they'll show you where to go." I looked and I saw bright orange arrows posted on either side of the right channel. Having no other clues, what could I do but follow?

We continued on until another fork, again with one channel marked with arrows. I did not want to follow this time. My map clearly showed that the left one went to Last Mountain Lake, whereas the right went to the dam, and beyond that, back to the flowing river. You were insistent, "Just follow, don't say no!"

But I was going to portage the dam. The banks were steep, so I had to take everything out of my canoe, and there was a lot of stuff. I don't remember how many loads I had taken when I returned to find my canoe missing. You were trying to run off with my boat! I saw you making your way out on the orange barriers before the dam. Fortunately I had my life vest, and doggy paddled out to the boat, recovering it.

I had too much stuff and could not bear the thought of more portages like this one. I had to get rid of anything unnecessary, superfluous.

I'm sorry, Rubber Ducky. You made bath time lots of fun, but I'm awfuly through with you.

Doop doop dee doo,
Kevin

Day 40 ended: 50*42.402N, 104*47.987W

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Day 39: Some things I did or did not see.

I found a tiny patch of rocks, just big enough for my canoe, and dragged it up there. The flavor of the river was changing. Where it had been ranchland for miles, it was now becoming forested, and here was this little patch of rocks. This is an improvement. It is starting to get on in the day, so I could either stop here, or go on and hope the river gets even better.

I usually scope out this sort of situation on foot - barefoot, if no cactus are about. I want to feel the ground, to stretch my legs out after a full day of sitting in the boat. And so I climb up onto the bank to look ahead, to see if there are nice gravelbanks or even sand just around the corner.

It is about minimizing regret, I suppose. I can stand not having the greatest campsite in the world, but I will be quite frustrated with myself if I come around the corner in the morning, and see the greatest campsite right there. Sometimes I have looked on ahead and found nothing. But sometimes, I have gone on ahead and discovered that the river really is just getting better and better in that stretch, and I go on for miles until I come to a sandy beach with pelicans basking in the sunset, and dragonflies darting to and fro in front of a great double rainbow.

It has happened.

On this day, I was walking up on the high bank and saw the beginnings of some shoddy log cabin a couple of guys must have been trying to hack together in the woods. A couple of black lawn chairs sat nearby, and they were covered in empty beer cans and bottles. I watched my feet carefully to make sure I didn't step in any broken glass. There was a big blue tarp just lying out there, and several blackened patches where bonfires had been. These campers had left a trace or two. The biggest bonfire was held around a living tree, which sickened me. Approaching it, I saw on the ground

A HUMAN CORPSE.

There was its blue jacket, and here was its red and black patterned flannel, scorched in the flames. What was I going to do? I guess go back, get the GPS and contact the police in the next town, where I'd say, yes, officer, this is the exact spot where I saw the -- oh, wait. I lift the blue"jacket" and examine it more closely. It is just a sleeping bag, and empty. I am quite relieved, and imagine what I would have to do if I did find a body. Such things do happen, I suppose. Just not that day.

I continue on, climbing over trees, brushing away shrubs, wading in mud, until I come to a point that looks out over the next turn. Well, it doesn't look any better there, so I begin to turn back. When I see that all around, all the plants I have been stepping through barefoot are

POISON IVY.

I had seen a sign at a recent park warning of it, though I hadn't yet encountered any in Canada. Now I believe I have walked through poison ivy before and not been affected, but I have seen ivy rashes and they do not look fun. At least a month of itching and treatment and scratching. So, it is a good rule to follow: "Leaves of three, leave them be." And suer enough, there they are: one, two, three... four, five. It isn't poison ivy at all.

I return to my canoe quite relieved that this is a decent campsite, and that I saw neither a human corpse, nor poison ivy. I may have been a bit fooled by the river. The increasing forest cover made me feel increasingly like being back home in Missouri, where such things are more common. At least, the poison ivy is more common.

So I calmly got my stove and cooking supplies out of the boat and began to make dinner. But sitting down and looking at the stove, I saw on my feet a number of

LEACHES.

Right there, on my feet. Three huge ones on my right foot, and one on my left. Just stiking there, sucking my blood. I yanked them off one by one with my pliers. After the big ones were gone, I noticed many smaller ones. I killed them with alcohol and salt. They respond the same way slugs do. Shrivel up and die.

I am not kidding this time. Though I have never had leaches before, I know bloodsuckers when I see them.

Now I have no major gripes with leaches. They are quite professional in what they do. It is true, thier bites neither hurt nor sting; as far as I know they don't transmit any horrible disease; they have great uses in alternative medicine, for people who don't think conventional medicine is freaky enough already; in two generations teenagers will probably adorn themselves with them as a form of rebellion. But it is important to set personal boundaries and one of mine is that nobody sucks my blood without obtaining permission first. And so I must add them to my enemies list, which now reads, in order of decreasing hatred:

1. Ticks
2. Biting flies
3. Mallards
4. Leaches
5. Mosquitoes

And so there you have it. Another animal I had no experience with before beginning this trip, now added to the enemies list. Oh, Canada, you are a silly country.

Day 39 ended: 50*38.721N, 104*54.798W

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Day 38: Five hundred meters over the sea

I had a monologue worked out in my head about there being no rapids or even obstacles on any of the river I had yet traveled. If you fell asleep on the river the worst that would happen is you'd wake up beached somewhere further on.

I am happy to report that this is not true. Let me start in the middle, scoping out a rapid dropping two feet over fifteen. This is not especially large, but it was a significant change from what I was used to. Until the previous day I had seen only the barest hint of riffles, and no trees since early on the Bow. But now there were many trees that had been undercut by the current, now nearly blocking the river, but always leaving some three foot gap for me to dodge through. Some brief rapids flowed over stones, and these are wonderful because they are preceded by gravel banks that make for good landings.

Some of the stone rapids, like this one, look like they are kept up by human hands. There are gravel roads to either side, and boulders there which I suppose are rolled into place as the need arises. A higher, slower river provides water for irrigation and a natural boundary for the cattle.

Even the beavers have gotten into the act. They want to maintain a water level so their lodge doors are only accessible underwater.

Fortunately, there is enough flow in the river that I can go through or over all of these obstacles. However, I hadn't yet done anything quite as large as this rapid, so I was a bit concerned. Walking alongside and beneath it, I saw a rockfree channel of sufficient flow; all I would need to do was keep the canoe straight as I passed through.

I considered the principle of least regret. Would I be more likely to regret running, or not running the rapid? If I ran it, I could imagine myself capsizing, which would be a fair disaster. It would at least take time to clean out my stuff. But these rapids had injected interest into the trip. If I bypassed the rapid, I would miss out on the rush of excitement, and who could say if I would come across another one like this?

I decided to limit my risk. I had never lined a canoe down a rapid before, and this would make a good exercise for this procedure. Then, I at least learned something. I moved the boat over to the channel I had seen, and grabbed the rope attached to the bow. I slowly unreeled the rope, allowing the canoe to slide down the rapid under my control. The deed done, I was then on my way, and didn't feel bad about my decision, just about losing my third and last pair of sunglasses while examining the situation.

It's appropriate that on this day of such visible change in elevation, I fell to 500 meters over sea level. To put that in perspective, here are the day numbers for every 100 meters of elevation:

1000m: 1
900m: 3
800m: 5
700m: 9
600m: 17
500m: 38

If the progression continues, I might reach sea level in about eight years.

Day 38 ended: 50*36.791N, 105*02.588W

Monday, September 8, 2008

Day 37: Julyflies

I thought of them as mayflies, even though that's one thing I'm sure they're not. My sister, after my crude description of them, thought they might be craneflies, so I'll call them that. They looked something like mosquitoes, without the bloodsucking mouthparts that earn those insects a place on the enemies list.

I seemed to watch the entire life-cycle of these craneflies over the course of a week. At first, they were only an irritating buzzing. A couple of days later I actually saw them; vast clouds of insects that filled the sky. Their buzzing was not rhythmic, but did follow a certain dynamics, perhaps diminishing at a gust of wind, and then crescendoing to one of many climaxes during the night. There were billions of them. The population of earth became flies buzzing over Buffalo Pound Lake.

When I returned from Moose Jaw they were no longer omnipresent, but formed distinct vortices, tornadoes of activity in the sky.

My last day on the lake, I woke up to a constellation of craneflies on the tent fly. Outside, their carcases were dissolving on the water, their purpose complete. The wind was going my way, and I knew it was my time to go.

I threw my stuff into the canoe. Nothing was dry enough to pack correctly, and I had to portage the dam at the end of the lake.

It was a difficult portage.

But the next section of the Qu'Appelle was beautiful. Gone were the mud steps that had been so frustrating on the upper Qu'Appelle, and in their place were trees desperately holding the bank against the river. There were great horned owls, coyotes, mule deer, kingfishers, turtles, blue heron, and, well, mallards. A thunderstorm came up and so I pulled over to stop. I found a great place, well sheltered by trees, and assembled my tent there.

When the rain stopped, I decided to spend the day. My computer needed fixing. I had heard that some OLPC's had developed a malady known as "sticky keys", and now mine had, too. First it would add an "A" every time I hit the shift key. Then, after almost every letter. I hit erase so often, the erase key started sticking, too.

The computer is held together by tiny, phillips-headed screws. They are too small for my leatherman tool to unscrew, but I had a bike multitool whose screwdriver just fit. I took apart the entire keyboard section, saw little that seemed wrong to me. There was some sand in the neck between the keyboard and the monitor, but that was all. I just brushed off the back of the keypad and reassembled the computer, without most of the screws. The parts mostly snap together, anyway, and besides, I had lost some of the screws already under the trees.

That fixed the problem for the time being, but I have continuing problems with sticky keys and so my cute little computer is sadly, often in pieces.

Day 37 ended: 50*35.732N, 105*14.350W

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Day 36: Back on the lake

I do not know at what age children learn that objects continue exist even if they are out of sight, but this seems to be a lesson I have had to relearn in regards to the canoe. I spend nearly all day attached to it, and then set up my tent right beside it at night. Sometimes I wake up during the night, worrying about whether my canoe has been washed away, blown away, or somehow blinked out of existence in quantum fluctuation that I try to set up my tent so the canoe is easily visible out one door. Somehow pulling it completely out of the water and tying it to a tree isn't as good as really seeing it.

So I was glad when I got back from Moose Jaw to see that the canoe still existed, completely unmolested. I didn't know how long I was going to be out at Moose Jaw, so I had written on the side of the canoe the places I had been so far, and how long I had been out on this adventure so far. I was disappointed I couldn't spend another night in Moose Jaw, but by the time I started looking there were no rooms available anywhere. So I had to stash my things in the library until six, see everything, pick up groceries, bike back to the park, and canoe across the lake to find my camping spot. By the time I got there it was quite dark and so the spot was merely serviceable.

The next day was a lazy one, a recovery day. I slept in, to start. The wind was going the wrong day to get off the lake in a hurry, and I wasn't sure how hard the portage at the end would be. A thunderstorm picked up, so I got off the water to get out of the lightning. Then it began raining, so I set up my tent. Too slowly! It was soaked through by the time I got it up, and I found better shelter under the trees.

The rain ended quickly. I stayed there the rest of the day, a nice sandy beach with plenty of space for reading and writing while I waited for my tent to dry out.

Day 36 ended: 50*34.971N, 105*21.485W