Friday, October 31, 2008

Day 81: The Devil's Punch Bowl

The banks bled; mineral springs dyed their gravel beds crimson. A sandy delta gaped from the left after a trackless bank of spent logs. Shrubs guarded the entrance to the sacred place and I had to climb like Zaccheus to witness the spectacle.

Deer had once tracked up this sandy slope, but what strange enchantments they found here I could not read. Not so nimble I lost my footing once or twice on the ordeal to the summit, which is not the summit but the edge of a wide sandy crater, but not a crater. For it was born not from some falling visitor from heaven but from the unholy depths of the earth where the unwanted critters make their homes.

Two pairs of springs burst forth (but more, for I abstract out the smaller minor things) to coalesce in two yawning Y's, themselves meeting in a pitchfork that just escapes the bank through a tiny brush-lined crevasse to the delta and river beyond. All elements mix in their colors but not their places, with yellow clothing sand, grey the dirt and the darkest black takes mud. Green weeds grow near red rocks to complete the inhuman rainbow below.

It is a conspicuous place meant not for habitation but for marvel. In awe I set camp outside its twisted gates. I would stay a while. Perhaps forever.

Day 81 ended: 49*38.726N, 099*18.364W

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Day 80: The birth of sand

I saw a snapping turtle sitting high on some island bar, and unlike the turtles I had been seeing on the river he didn't flee at my approach - didn't jump into the water and trade precious solar heat for increased safety.

I supposed he was dead, like the motionless beaver I had photographed on the Qu'Appelle. Out of perhaps a morbid curiousity I paddled over to take a closer look at him.

He had an enormous shell, larger around than my pith helmet, and extending from it were those fearsome, armored, bear-like claws. His tail had plates sticking up like a stegosaurus, and his little yellow eyes were motionless over the monstrous beak.

I reached in front of him with my paddle, luring him to snap, but got nothing. When I tapped the top of his shell the head retracted an inch and the tail flinched. He was fearless. His armor had gotten him through so many years, it would be a worthwhile surprise to him if there was any predator capable of finishing him off.

He was sitting high on a patch of sand a couple feet triangular. It was the first sand I'd seen on the Assiniboine since that misleading initial island at the Qu'Appelle confluence.

Not much further the river cut out into a sandstone bank, a nearly vertical cliff sixty feet high. Atop the cliff were spruce, a pleasant change from the still green deciduous trees dominating the river. Of course, most of the spruce were green as well, but one in twenty were grey, corpses standing among the living before being laid out over the river.

I was becoming an island snob. I dismissed many nice gravel islands for the usual trivial reasons: it's too early, too small, too noisy, too grassy. The sun made a blessed appearance, early, giving a warmth that lasted the day. The sun draped itself in clouds as it fell towards the horizon, reminding me it would not light my night as well.

That is when the islands gave out. I thought it was going to be another "Casey-at-the-canoe" story, where I'd reject several decent sites only to end up camping on mud. I saw a bank that looked gravelly, but the approach was predictably shallow and muddy. I would have needed to drag the canoe through twenty feet of mud to get to the cramped dirty shore. I relieved myself and moved on.

The wind temporarily with me, I let it push me backwards over the water. I looked up from my book and saw a long gravel bar. I had to paddle hard against the wind, against the current to get back to it. The filling between the gravel rocks was brown. I dreaded the thought of another of these muddy gravel campsites. It may be better than pure mud, but it disappoints when I was expecting gravel's cleanliness.

I dug my paddle into it and it was sand. I stepped my foot out and it was real sand. Real real, real sand.

Day 80 ended: 49*36.824N, 099*22.492W (?)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Day 79: A very special day

Not much happened.

Day 79 ended: 49*39.152N, 099*32.251W

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

[LIVE Day 129] Grand Rapids, still

Hi, everyone,

No decision need be final at this point. It is a warm day here in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, a place that I do not wish to last out the winter. By the time all my American readers are voting, I should be in Brainerd, where I should have the opportunity to try fixing the boat if my banking letter goes through okay. If it does not, or I cannot repair the canoe satisfactorily, I'll call it quits for the season and think about where I should stay.

By Thanksgiving I ought to be in Minneapolis. This Thanksgiving I am going to attend the Saff and Rupp dinners (in Indiana) which I have missed for the last three years, living in Canada. This is another opportunity to stop for the season.

By Christmas I should be in the St Louis area, where my parents live. This is a conceivable resting point.

After that, continuing south should bring noticeable improvements in heat and light, and only a busted canoe would stop me.

For various reasons, I would like to learn how to camp effectively in the winter, and how to enjoy it. One day I might like to try the Iditasport, which is essentially biking the Iditarod dogsled trail in winter.

So I am continuing for now, although there are still many opportunities to stop in the future if it is necessary. When I have the chance, I will probably continue with more detailed "LIVE" posts as the dated ones become increasingly irrelevant. I am aware I have had few chances to call or email anyone individually for a while, and this is frustrating to me.

Thank you for reading, and for the advice!

Monday, October 27, 2008

[LIVE Day 128] Grand Rapids

Hello everyone.

The weather is getting cold, I can't get my socks dry, and yesterday I lost the flashlight I was using to find campsites the previous two nights.

And one thing I don't think I've mentioned here is I've been operating on a shoestring since my arrival in the US because I had no bank cards and my savings is locked up in a certificate of deposit in Bank of America - which has no branches in Minnesota.

But worse than that, a large crack has been developing down the center of the hull.

I am trying to decide what to do. Many an adventurer has in the past over-wintered with the natives, from Lewis and Clark to Peter Jenkins of "Walk across America" fame. On the other hand, when the Thief River Falls newspaper posts a front page story saying I face obstacles that others haven't - "darkness and colder weather", it sounds like a challenge.

It may take at least a day or two to make this decision, and certainly that long to make any repairs, if possible. Buying a replacement canoe is perhaps a possibility, although it makes the bicycle portage look even more ridiculous. I hope my friends and family here can offer advice on how best to proceed and honor the help that I have already received.

One thing is certain: these nine days on the Mississippi have convinced me more than ever that I must float the entire river. The question is "When, and in what boat?"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

[LIVE Day 122] Bemidji

I am taking the frost as a warning to HURRY UP.

When it strikes two mornings in a row I read that as

The theme music speeds up and I will have to be quick to avoid being eaten by Baron von Blubba. I have some posts from day 79 through 85 ready, but can't take the time to post them right now.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Day 78: Ghost at grey cabin

There were two kayakers about a mile up stream, a young couple. I think they were just taking a day trip out from Brandon, and were probably enjoying seeing Waggle Springs on their way. In that area they couldn't go more than a few feet before seeing another stream of water burbling out from the bank into the river. They were lovely people, and had matching yellow kayaks.

I, on the other hand, was exploring an abandoned house on the side of the river. There was not much left there; it had not been inhabited since 2000. The living room had a sofa torn up by wild animals. On the wall were planks with paper wasp nests on them, and it was not obvious if the nests had been put up as art or habitation.

I had climbed in through the back porch, which had large tubs of cleaning supplies, but I saw that a screen door was wide open at front; that explained the sofa. In the bed room there was no bed, but there was an envelope on the floor. It contained two pieces of paper, filled on both sides. One handwritten, the other typewritten. Both seemed to be pulled from the middle of longer letters, and I was having trouble picking up the narrative. The handwritten one said someone had called her a "NATURAL BORN WRITER", like that, the upper case giving emphasis. The typewritten one gave me an idea of the author's age. She said when she was married she was still a young bride, although she had teenagers. So, her marriage must have been in her thirties, and her age at writing must have been at least fifty.

Another section had her "singing and dancing at the grey cabin". That was where I was. I tried to imagine an older woman singing and dancing in this decrepid building, but the image I got was one of insanity, whether I placed her in the trashed living room or this barren bed room.

I heard a popping noise, and then a voice. The door in the living room was not at the angle I remembered it. "I don't believe in ghosts," I thought, "Is someone here?"

Two lovely kayakers paddled down the river and saw an old cabin on the left hand side. Suddenly, a man jumped off the back porch and ran towards the canoe that was parked nearby. The canoe had "CALGARY TO WINNEPEG?" written on the side in large letters, with "Winnipeg" misspelled just like that.

This apparition was a strange interruption to their day. The girl said "Hi" to the man, who replied "Hello". They paddled hard and the specter disappeared behind them.

Alone again, they slowed down. The river was peaceful and they had each other and their matching yellow kayaks.

Day 78 ended: 49*45.583N, 099*43.084W

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Day 77: If we don't release the past

A fisherman helped me drag the canoe past the broken Brandon dam. It was late afternoon, and at last I was leaving town.

White insects drifted over the river against the current. They drifted like snow at first, but when I saw their round wings and double tails they looked more like shining fairies. Many of them were not alone. There was a flightless sex, and when one of these fairies found one they allow it to grasp onto their tails, and then fly back out over the waters with their partners in tow. These were not weighed down more than the others, but floated as effortlessly as the others. Many would tire and hit the water, or hit my canoe, and be unable to recover, slowly dissolving.

I saw a tent and a bicycle on the left side of the river. A man was waving. I slowed down and drew near the shore.

"Are you traveling?" I asked.

He said, "No -- waiting."

"It gives me time to work on my beattitudes," he said.

This was his second summer occupying that location on the riverbank. He spent 121 days his first time out, and had already gone longer this year. It must be a good place to stay. Some wooden steps had been built from the water up the bank.

I asked him if he minded me spending the night there, that we could talk tonight and then tomorrow morning before I left. He hesitated for a moment before inviting me up. We found a deer bed that seemed to be just the place for my tent. When I was done setting up I walked over to his firepit, which was a ring of small cinderblocks around a discarded computer tower. There were two log benches there, but he insisted I sit in one of two canvas lawn chairs.

His name was Calvin. As he stoked the fire I got a closer look at him. He was missing his right front tooth and had wrinkles radiating from his eyes. His eyes were always smiling, and without those wrinkles I might not have known he was middle-aged. He talked in circles around what he wanted to say. I was talked out in Brandon and spoke little. How can I relate our conversation to you? I must straighten it out into a story, by cutting out all the wandering meanders he placed in the way.

He was divorced. He had a son and a daughter. He had not seen them in a decade.

He asked me what inspired my trip. After Crooked Lake I had written a story in my journal that purported to explain why I had decided to go to school in Calagary, and why I didn't find what I hoped there; why I had to leave.

"My friend died in a car accident," I said. That was only part of the story; I didn't want to go into details. I was growing unhappy with this as an explanation, however.

"Was she your girlfriend?" he asked.

"No." That was another part of my story, and I felt guilty. Her parents had told me after her death how already people were beginning to mythologize her life. It is too tmepting to burden our memories of the dead, and because I didn't want to go into my entire story I was hanging too much on one important part.

"It's harder when they're closer to you," he said. After his marriage he was dating a woman who had some sickness; she was hooked to some medical bag and a couple of times had to be driven to the hospital.

Once he did not get her there fast enough. That was shortly before he began living by the river.

"You've just got to believe that they aren't gone forever," he said. "You go to sleep, you wake up. Look, all these insects around here, they are born and live for just a short time, but they lay their little eggs or seeds, whatever you want to call them, and next year they hatch!"

Calvin had gone without any money for more than a year. Whenever he finds a coin or two on the ground, he just picks it up and drops it in a donation cup somewhere. At night he bikes into town, sometimes taking his trailer, and picks up supplies to live with. He had a fishing pole, and a tent covered with tarps. A couple of nylon lawn chairs he found in the trash, and I think he got bread and fruit from the trash as well.

He told me he was waiting for people to do what "they're supposed to do." Since he hadn't paid alimony in two years I gathered he was waiting to be taken to prison, which would somehow fulfill the theology of suffering he had developed.

Day 77 ended: 49*51.384N, 099*43.084W

Friday, October 17, 2008

[LIVE Day 118] Itasca State Park

Hello everyone.

I have finally typed up "Day 79: A very special day", and it was a very freeing experience for me, as I hope it will be for you. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to copy the latest set of posts to my blog the way things are currently set up.

Tomorrow, which is both day 119 and October 18, I will set out on the Mississippi River, starting at its headwaters in Lake Itasca. The Mississippi meanders north for a couple of days to the first city, Bemidji, where I expect to be able to upload a number of posts.

It hasn't been my custom to talk much about the trip itself in these live posts, but given how the others are becoming increasingly post-dated I thought I would give you a heads-up. The last couple of weeks have been extraordinarily difficult. I spent several days paddling south, upstream on the Red River, and then more than a week towing my canoe behind my bicycle to Lake Itasca. The canoe trailer broke down many times. There was plenty of rain, but also plenty of helpful people along the way.

It is expected to reach more than 60 degrees (F) tomorrow, and the sky, which has been mostly overcast since Winnipeg, should be clear and blue.

In the first half of the trip, I was often quite limited when and where I could upload blogs and contact people. As you know, it was not unusual for me to go two weeks or more, only having an hour to try to catch up on the net before moving on. The Mississippi River is more commercial, and more heavily populated, so there is a potential for me to stay in more contact -- but I don't know for sure. It is always hard to achieve balance.

Thank you for reading.

Day 76: Two services

The Southwestern Manitoba art gallery is located in downtown Brandon, in the second floor of a mall that also houses the public library. In the morning, I walked in and immediately threw $5 in the donations box, only to be told that the main exhibit didn't open until the evening.

When I returned, the stores of the mall were chained off, and the elevator marked with the logo of the art gallery wasn't operational. There was an adjacent stairwell which I stepped into, and started walking up. Another woman was walking up and found the door locked at top. We tried a lower door, and realized we were locked in the stairwell. Some knocking at the top attracted attention and we entered into the gallery.

The exhibit was featuring the art of aboriginal women. I looked around and I was the only nonnative male there. I helped myself to cheese and crackers, and punch, to have something to do while I waited for the exhibit to open.

I thought to myself if this were a church there would already have been half a dozen people greeting me, introducing me to the fold. And why not? It all comes down to what kind of community you are trying to create.

There was a table littered with reading material: magazines and pamphlets. I picked up one advertising the "Winnipeg garbage museum", which was full of digital images of people viewing refuse placed on pedestals. It was a creative idea, but the text was a kind of review of the exhibit, tying it into other current trends in art. I had the feeling the reviewer was more interested in drawing ties to other work, to demonstrate their knowledge of current art, than in the work itself. The text changed a clever concept to something foreign, elitist.

I wandered around the exhibit hall, and while most of the work was not especially gripping, it was at least reaching, grasping at that thing that art is, that visual experience that can take your breath away. That is the thing you can take down to the masses, if you wanted to. Have greeters, nurseries, and children's services and you can bring art down from the mountain.

A few more white and male people showed up, and we watched and took pictures of a large group of aboriginal women singing. It was a participatory art, with call and response, but we drew an imaginary line around that group of women to exclude ourselves from the art, and so failed to experience it in the way it was meant.

A young woman stood up to give a speech about about the exhibit, and introduced one of thephotographers whose work hung there on the walls. These speeches were very formal and congratulatory, until painter Helen Madeleine was invited up. She offered an unprepared sermon, where she talked about there could be many kinds of salvation in the world; how when she paints she feels the same as how she prays; that art was a salvation of the world.

Across the street was a different denomination. The art in the first room was largely political, and utterly irrelevant. Sometimes a painting is only worth three words: "Bush is bad", and this is the kind of thing which says nothing when hung in an alternative Canadian art gallery in an election year.

The art was worse, but the communion was better. Perhaps because there was real wine. Everyone was talking to each other and were not too thrown off when I mentioned I had been invited by smoe random guy on the street. I guess the art community is fairly ecumenical, though, because people drifted to and fro across the street all night.

I began to feel sick. Before going to the art galleries I had enjoyed a meal at Lady of the Lake. It had been ages since I experienced a sit-in restaurant, and I felt as though I had tasted food for the first time as I savored every bite. But after having a huge meal there and nibbling at the galleries, my stomach was turning and I was worried it would create an unplanned piece of performance art.

I excused myself from my conversation partner, and seeing Helen Madeleine, thanked A young woman stood up to give a speech about about the exhibit, and introduced one of thephotographers whose work hung there on the walls. These speeches were very formal and congratulatory, until painter Helen Madeleine was invited up. She offered an unprepared sermon, where she talked about there could be many kinds of salvation in the world; how when she paints she feels the same as how she prays; that art was a salvation of the world.

Across the street was a different denomination. The art in the first room was largely political, and utterly irrelevant. Sometimes a painting is only worth three words: "Bush is bad", and this is the kind of thing which says nothing when hung in an alternative Canadian art gallery in an election year.

The art was worse, but the communion was better. Perhaps because there was real wine. Everyone was talking to each other and were not too thrown off when I mentioned I had been invited by smoe random guy on the street. I guess the art community is fairly ecumenical, though, because people drifted to and fro across the street all night.

I began to feel sick. Before going to the art galleries I had enjoyed a meal at Lady of the Lake. It had been ages since I experienced a sit-in restaurant, and I felt as though I had tasted food for the first time as I savored every bite. But after having a huge meal there and nibbling at the galleries, my stomach was turning and I was worried it would create an unplanned piece of performance art.

I excused myself from my conversation partner, and seeing Helen Madeleine, thanked her for her speech before I left.

Day 76 ended: 49*51.427N, 099*56.705W

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Day 75: Cool bike!

I was heading into the city of Brandon. My mapbook had at least two things to say about Brandon. First, that it is the second largest city in Manitoba. Second, that it has a population of 42,000 people.

I thought it must be like my hometown of St Peters, Missouri, which boasted a population of 42,747 when I was growing up there. St Peters is a suburb of St Louis, with probably a forty-five minute drive downtown on average. But downtown St Louis is mostly dead, so most people don't have to get that far. They commute about half an hour into town where their jobs are.

St Peters is subdivisions and subdivisions of boxy houses, with the population spanning from the dizzy depths of the lower middle class to the giddy heights of the upper middle.

I had an epiphany during my last visit there for my sister's wedding. Mentally overlaying the St Peters city map onto Calgary, I realized that even the longest drive in St Peters was only a middling bike ride in Calgary. When I was offered a ride to the church service the day after the wedding, I said no, I'll bike.

There is a clumsy asphalt trail that stretches most of the distance from my parents' house to their church. It probably takes a third of the distance and a quarter of the traffic lights as the driving route. Still, by St Peters standards this simple bike ride qualified as a major creative act.

Bounding over the cracks in the asphalt with my shirt whipping around me, I wondered how many drivers might see me and be inspired to go without their wheeled cages for a day or two. It was such a freeing experience to realize that St Peters life does not require a car, and besides that it was a beautiful, warm spring day.

In church I think the sermon was titled "God's view of the environment". The pastor said this would be the first in a series on political topics so people would be ready for the November vote.

I do not remember anything about reducing waste or energy usage, conserving habitats or species. I do remember a video parody of a famous computer advertisement. Intelligent Design was a cool guy in a black t-shirt. Evolution was shorter, and took a ribbing from Intelligent Design for being so fat. The sermon concluded with a call to send money to a certain organization; just $25 would help the children in Africa.

Maybe it wasn't the Environment sermon, and that was the next week.

After the sermon a group of people did notice me unfolding the bike, so I gave a full demonstration of how quick it was to open and close.

"Yeah! Now just add a motor, heater and air conditioning and I'm there!" one of them chortled, and the entire group broke into laughter.

So much for my attempts at evangelism.

I parked my canoe at a public boat launch in Brandon, and biked into town. My first order of business would be to get myself looking respectable. I found a route into downtown, and I was surprised there was a downtown, with actual people in it, and that the street was wide and one-way.

Wow! I found an actual public transit booth and helped myself to a free map of the city which was an actual city and not just an adjunct to some other city. A couple of guys sitting on the sidewalk saw my bike.

"Hey, how'd you get such a tall seatpost!" one said.

I explained that it was a custom part, because this was a folding bicycle.

"So you can fit it behind your carseat?"

"Actually, my canoe. I'm canoeing so this was the only bike that would fold down small enough to fit."

I took my dirty laundry bag off the back and demonstrated how quickly I could fold it down to a small size.

"Cool," he said, "you can fit it behind your carseat!"

I unfolded the bike and asked him if there was some place nearby I could get a shower, because he looked like he would know. He pointed out a public health services building just a block away. I signed up for a shower there and asked if I could leave my bike somewhere, because I did not have a lock. The woman on-duty said I couldn't leave it inside, but she could lock it up until I was done. I told her it was a folding bike, that I had dropped out of a PhD program in math to canoe down the river.

I was sure she did not believe me.

I took a ridiculously long shower and shaved my beard. They had a computer in the building, and although they blocked email I was able to write down all the addresses I thought I would need. A different, younger woman was on-duty when I needed to retrieve my bicycle. She said she was told that it was strange sort of bike. I said yes, and when it was unlocked I gave her the demonstration. She asked me about my trip and flashed a healthy smile as she went back to her job.

There was a sports store nearby, so I thought I should pick up my own bike lock, to have more flexible options for leaving my bike around town. When I found out they were as much of a bike shop as anything else, I asked if they had any 16 x 1 3/8 inner tubes. The tubes I had brought with me on the trip were 16 x 1 3/4, which could be stretched to fit, but was probably one reason I had so much trouble fixing the tire back at Echo Lake. This is a very strange size of tube, and the tubes they gave me were nearly collectable due to age. The clerk asked me all about my bike and my trip, and came out to see it.

Zip, zip, I folded and unfolded it all over again for the clerk. An insurance agent, Russ, had seen the bike from across the street and came over to talk to me about it and my trip. When he heard I was canoeing, he invited me over to his office. He called up his friend Murray who had canoed Brandon to Winnipeg before.

We talked for awhile and it sounded like he made a good living for himself, largely dealing with farmers, he opened his office only by appointment and so kept whatever hours he liked.

Murray came in, and we talked shop while Russ checked his phone messages. He had canoed to Winnipeg in the spring, and said it only took 6 days. I was expecting to take three weeks in the fall, and he found that difficult to believe. Murray was disappointed I dropped out of my PhD program, but he himself had left a professorship to try to save a group working on fair trade goods. He had convinced Russ to join the boar of directors.

Murray did not have time to talk long, and headed out. Russ and I talked about getting together for lunch, but unfortunately, this never happened.

I went to a local laundromat and washed my clothes, and then headed back to the canoe. The main street was now full of people milling about checking out souped up cars, so I was forced to walk my bike through the crowd. Suddenly, I heard some boy shout out "Cool bike!" and found myself surrounded by people demanding to see it,

I gave my folding and unfolding demonstration for the last time that day.

As I rode back to the canoe I thought how different Brandon was from what I had expected. My first day I saw a real, live downtown area, and talked to everyone from loafers and service workers to insurance agents and professors. I was happy, it wasn't raining, I was in love with the city.

Day 75 ended: 49*51.246N, 099*58.663W

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Day 74: Worries for another day

My tent was high on the east bank under the trees, sheltered from both rain and morning sun. I was woken by some light, and read there in the tent. My naked feet weren't going anywhere until I knew they'd be safe, and I could wait all day if need be.

Leaves threw shadows on the tent, and I looked out. The sky was partly bright and partly blue. The sky was still chill under the canopy of trees. The sun shone on the water but the bank was still in shade while I cooked breakfast.

It was a slow start to a beautiful day. The sun was candy to my eyes starved by three days of clouds. The river was wide and slow under the windless air. Low slopes led up to trees which ruled the banks until they were done in by beavers or the widening river.

There was little in the way of wildlife. A few ducks, which are not so annoying on the wide river, a couple of heron. Many white-tailed deer thought themselves hidden near the river, and did not consider a canoeist especially threatening. There were many flies congregating about the canoe, my floating island, and I could not blame them. I had a bag and a half of garbage. The garbage had been soaked in rain for two days and now the sun was cooking it up. It smelled really good. I did swat several flies, though; I consider death a mercy to them.

The river made a series of sharp loops under a crop-duster which did the same. The sky started accumulating clouds and the river straightened.

I saw a ramp leading up from the river to a nice private campsite. It had a picnic table and a firepit, and tracks leading up to the road. There was a dirt patch that would have been great for a tent if it were a little higher. A canoe was there, and a motorboat, both turned upside down so they didn't fill with water or snow. The motorboat had a gas can on top. It would have made a good spot to co-opt for a night, but I pressed on.

A bit further I saw something like a roofless shanty. Loose boards defined an area, and used house doors, once painted burgundy, provided access. Inside there was a firepit, a chest of drawers, and some tables and chairs.

The exterior was festooned with signs. One identified the place as "Willy's fishing hole". Others seemed to be random warning signs: a large exclamation point on a yellow triangle, and a rectangle which read, "VORSICHT GRUBE".

I was feeling uncomfortable, I mean I really had to go, so I found the nearest tree and let loose. As I began to feel better, I looked up and saw a metal sign. The sign's letters were faded, but I could just make out "NO TRESPASSING OR HUNTING". I zipped up and continued on, highly amused.

I came to the confluence with the Little Saskatchewan River. I had seen this on the map,and hoped it would make good camping. The Little Saskatchewan has a gravel bed, and laid a huge gravel bank at the confluence. It was the best site I had since the Large Saskatchewan.

I set up my mesh tent as far from trees as possible to get an early waking. I left the rain fly off for the same reason, but kept it nearby. The sky had clouded up considerably during the day.

This was a well-used but not well-loved campsite. There is too much trash on the river for me to bother cleaning up all of it, but when it shows up on my campsite I take it personally. I could not be comfortable until I picked up every beer can, water bottle, bait container, and plastic bag. There was some strange paper wrappers which I determined to be fireworks; they also had to go, as well as the occasional cigarette butt laying around.

I was out of water, and although I should reach Brandon the next day, the Little Saskatchewan was clear and fast, so I pumped two liters of water through my filter. For each liter, I count "1... 1, 2... 1, 2, 3..." and so on, to prove to myself I am making progress. I guess on average I get to about 20, which comes to 5mL per pump.

With my chores accomplished, I was comfortable and my site was very beautiful. I sat down to write this very entry.

Day 74 ended: 49*52.313N, 100*07.169W

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

[LIVE - Day 115] Thief River Falls

Hello all, from Thief River Falls, Minnesota. The journey has been getting strange, and I still haven't written anything up for Day 79 yet. There is likely to be a lapse, then, after day 78 goes up as I try to make my way to Bemidji. I hope that this delay is not excessively long.

Thank you for reading.

Day 73: Bootless

It was still raining. I unzipped my tent to stick my head out, and the sky was just beginning to lighten in the dark, diffuse way of an overcast morning. I stayed warm inside, reading a gory story about a bullfighter.

There was a fence outside my tent, say six feet away. On the other side of the fence were cattle, still distressed about the presence of my tent. Imagining some farmer beyond the cattle also distressed about the presence of my tent, I could not stay. I believed by now anyone would forgive a tent one night anywhere, but I couldn't be sure about two.

The gloves and socks I had worn the previous day were still soaked and it was pointless to put them on. I made three barefoot trips over logs and mud, and over slippery rocks to the canoe.

I pushed off without breakfast. There was no visible break in the cloud-cover, and the rain was still coming down. I thought about the river adventure books I had read, and their descriptions of the miseries of wind and rain left no impression on me. Was it all there, and I, lying on my comfortable sofa inside, simply unimpressed?

No. I am just such a whiner! Always complaining about the weather, never accepting anything less than perfection. I whined about the Calgary winter each year, although I always knew it was there and that I was part of the bargain in moving up. And now I whine about a bit of wind, a bit of rain. I dreamed of drifting down a warm, sunny river with perhaps a light breeze, and any deviation from this was viewed as calamitous.

I forced my mind to form the thought "This is just the day I'm wanting." What is good to do in a canoe, in a rain that will not let up soon? Perhaps poetry. I couldn't write, but Calvin had impressed upon me that poems are written in the mind; you can write it at your leisure. I had never been good at this, but there I couldn't even hold two rhymes in my head. If my mind is too small, I must expand it.

My friend Cameron had been trying to encourage people to meditate, to hold your mind in a blank state for a period of time as a practice of self-discipline. The only time I tried this with him I laid back on the sofa and kept my mind clear for a second or two before flitting around among all my hopes, worries, and math problems. I finally achieved about twenty minutes -- in slumber.

But sitting on a canoe in the rain may be a good place to try this, to achieve peace with the weather.

It was a spectacular failure.

This won't do at all, I thought. I unfolded my feet; they were cold and numb.

I had had enough of the rain. Spiritual well-being can wait until my physical needs were cared for. I decided I would stop at the first place I could reasonably weather out the day.

The river ran nearly straight east and what wind there was supported this direction. The rain sometimes fell to a sprinkle, sometimes intensified, but averaged a strong drizzle. All that rain fell in the river, in the canoe, on me, and on the mudbanks I was watching. I drifted slowly through 3 1/2 miles of river, and that's 7 miles of mudbanks. The river needed a lake or two to flush out its system.

My hands were cold on the paddle, so I limited my paddling to what was necessary. After drifting for a couple of hours I crossed under a bridge, too high to offer any relief from the rain.

After the bridge my map showed a series of three meanders. I made a prediction about where I might see a rocky bank, on the outside of the first meander, and possibly the second.

The first meander had a good 20 feet or so of stones. Most of it was beside a docked pontoon boat, under a looming camper-van. On the top of the hill a huge house stood sentry, next to a significant warehouse. Pitching a tent there would have been an intrusion.

The second meander had only mud, as did the third. The river made a sharp kink about a mile later. If there was no good camping there, I knew there would be none until the end of the day.

The overcast sky was not static but fooled me with many false hopes of sun and blue skies. It was constructed of many layers. I did not notice when a low, dark cloud came between me and the higher layer of clouds blocking the sun, but when it went past the sky would brighten suddenly, and I would look about in wild expectation, only to see the same gray everywhere.

Just after the kink was a good bank of stones and boulders. I smashed into it, and then stumbled out of the canoe. My bare feet were too numb to feel the ground, so I watched my steps very carefully.

I carried my tent further up. There was a good shelter under the trees, and I pitched my rainfly, stowing the other gear I would need underneath it. I went back to cook my afternoon dinner, and only meal of the day. I needed to do this before warming up in my tent because I knew once comfortable I wouldn't want to leave. But still, I had to eat.

My windproof, waterproof matches were proving fireproof as well. My hands, grubby with rain, wind, and stew, messed up the friction surface of the matchbox, preventing lighting. Finally, I got one lit, and threw it in the stove, which sputtered to life. I put my pot on and waited a bit. It seemed to be taking a while.

I took the pot off and the stove was dead. I guess the fire didn't take. I had to get another match lit, and finally soup was on.

I made myself comfortable in the tent and read more Hemingway -- a prize-fighter who bet against himself.

The tent became quite bright. There was a clear shadow of a leaf on the wall. Clouds don't cast shadows, even if they are very bright. I stuck my head out. "Hello old friend! Sun, you might not have risen on the third day, but I hope you stick around to set!"

I was wrong about the shadow; it was not clear. A lucky coincidence placed a distant bunch of leaves between me and the sun, and the gaps between them formed a natural pinhole camera. As the wind blew, multiple layers of diffracted shadows turned about on my tent fly, like a kaleidoscope.

Day 73 ended: 49*53.622N, 100*14.832W

Monday, October 13, 2008

Day 72: The rain begins

It rained.

All day, from before I got up until after I pulled over for the night.

I'd gone through this before so I had tried to be prepared. All my rain clothes were there in the tent, ready to wear in the morning so I wouldn't have to sit the day out in my tent any more. But there were still some things I lacked.

The journey was miserable without boots. As I drifted along, I saw a bridge over the river and decided to stop there to put on more layers of clothing. It was dry under there, so I could put on another jacket, a pair of gloves, and socks on my otherwise bare feet. Socks alone may not do much when you are sitting in a boat that is slowly filling with water, but the wet material is somewhat better than nothing at all.

As I changed two fishermen appeared, one on either side of the bridge. I struck up a brief conversation and continued on. If the rain really brings up more fish, I didn't notice, but sometimes I think sportsmen just love the misery as much as anything else.

I did notice that they were wearing boots.

Dark and light patches shifted about on the water as I floated on - some chemical or organism makes different areas of the water reflect differently in the rain. I studied these for quite a while, ascertaining that they really did move with the current, and were not mere reflections of objects on shore.

At the end of the day, a few "raindrops" drifted down slowly and erratically. If I wasn't ready for rain, I was surely not ready for the cold stuff.

Day 72 ended: 49*53.479N, 100*22.666W

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Day 71: Murphy's wind

The Assiniboine initially flows southward near the Manitoba border, but after Virden it takes a swing to the east, towards Winnipeg. The wind had been trying to push me in that direction for a week, ever since I got on to the river, and I knew that couldn't last.

The wind blew east that first day after Virden. There was violent rushing during the night as the four winds clashed for dominance, and in the morning I discovered my enemy had come out on top.

The river continued to meander, giving periods where paddling was necessary for progress, and others where I could take a more relaxed attitude, pull out a book and float along. The book that day would be the Oedipus plays by Sophocles.

I won't claim that the wind was fated to fight me, nor can I think did it desire to. Nature is not malicious, merely indifferent, and for each person inconvenienced by a westward wind another found it helpful.

There were few breaks in the day. I briefly surveyed the equipment gathered around a half dismantled bridge, I was scared off of a landing by some trailer campers, and criticized myself for not at least knocking before continuing on.

Meanwhile the sun stayed hidden behind the dense cloud cover, foreboding worse suffering yet to come.

Day 71 ended: 49*48.833N, 100*29.338W

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Day 70: Quantum Adventure Theory

How does an adventure change if it is being watched by otside observers?

I saw a gutted van parked high on a bank. There were multiple trails leading down the ten foot drop to a rocky bank below. People seemed to like my photos of abandoned cars on the side of the river, and there is certainly no lack of these. Dumping beats the towing fee, I guess. The geography here would mean a convenient little side adventure to take some closer photos.

It was an old Ford Econoline, and its windows had been shot away long ago. Whatever had been left of the engine was gone, and much of the dashboard torn out, but the stereo remained. I doubted it would work, and had no battery to test it. In the passenger seat I found a newspaper from March 22, 2005, and I easily believed that was the last time anyone had been there.

Part of one side had been spraypainted white, and then the words "THE HUT" painted over that in black. Some fun must have been had here. A large pit had been dugout nearby, and a bathtub placed inside. This bathtub had clearly been used to contain fires.

Another bathtub had fallen down the bank, being undercut by the river.

I considered spending the night there to live out whatever pent-up "Into the Wild" fantasies I might have, remembering how Chris finished his life in that "magic bus" in Alaska. But I remained a bit irked that when I started telling people about my plans for this trip, several people asked me if it was inspired by "Into the Wild". At first I was offended at the thought I was trying to reenact someone else's life, when the trip had been envisioned long before I read that book. Later, I was more offended at the thought I was trying to reenact someone else's /death/. I eventually got over that reaction. I've seen the movie, and read the book. They're cool, but it was still early and I decided I wanted to make a bit more distance before calling it a day.

Not too far afterwards, I stopped so I would have some time to write up some entries for [this] electronic journal. I felt guilty because I was three weeks behind, and further that this was obvious because I had just uploaded some things in Virden.

The documentation was having an effect on the trip itself. First, I got a bit closer to one of those abandoned cars than usual, next I was stopping earlier than usual to document some more.

Perhaps time is the greatest effect this documentation has had. It takes considerable time to type everything up, to upload it, to keep my computer charged and happy. But it also means that much of the time spent drifting in the canoe focuses on what things I want to write.

I wonder if my feelings, my actions, have changed as well? My boasting about past explorations has made me bolder in exploring the abandoned detritus about the river, that is a fact. The undercut house where I nearly lost my canoe? I probably would have left it alone otherwise.

All the talk about reserves and the mishaps I have there, and my ill understanding of the situation led me to pick up a book "The Unjust Society" in Virden. It's about the political situation of Indian in Canada in 1969. So, I now have an understanding 40 years out of date. The situation has improved a bit since then, or at least I hope so. This book could serve as a major piece of evidence in the devil's case against mankind.

Day 70 ended: 49*49.558N, 100*43.250W

Friday, October 10, 2008

Day 69: Missed confluence

I biked into Virden because it had been more than two weeks since I had called anyone.

It had also been more than two weeks since I had bothered to clean myself up at all. I decided I would stop at the first sand or gravel bank to bathe myself, shave, and make sure the bike was operational. But no clean shores ever came; all I saw was mud. So as I drifted along I soaped myself down and stuck my limbs into the water to rinse. I clipped my nails, tried to shampoo my hair, shave the edges of my beard, and even trimmed my nose hair. That last bit is tricky when you are floating backwards down a river and apt to hit a log at any time.

When I reached the bridge that was to be my connection to the road, I had to walk through mud to secure the canoe, and bushwack through weeds up to the road. By the time I got there, my legs were muddy, my hands were dirty, even my beard and nose hair had regrown.

While there, I decided to check out the electronics store, hoping they would have XD cards for my camera, or extra plugs for my computer. A red sign said closed, and a hand-written notice on the front door announced they would be closed for the long weekend, August 30 through September 1. But there was light coming through the window, and it was August 29.

I called in to see if they were open, and a girl flipped the sign and let me in. I immediately asked if they had any XD cards, and she almost ran back to the memory section to check. It was only then I noticed how shockingly beautiful she was, and this was not from bush goggles but from a lifetime of admiring this kind of beauty.

She must have had a nice sandy beach to lay on at night, and fine gravel from which she could wade into the river to bathe herself. Her river must not be as muddy either -- certainly it smelled nicer. There must not be too much rain, I supposed she hung her clothes from the branches of a tree. And not much wind either, because her light hair curled evenly down to her shoulders. She must have a proper boat launch, with wooden staris down to the shore.

She had no XD cards. I had to leave the store, alone.

I went to the Ice Cream Island and ordered myself a bitter burger and sour shake; my stomach was growling. Must not be any sun on her beach, if her face is so white, I thought.

Day 69 ended: 49*51.155N, 100*49.389W

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Day 68: What are you going to do about... dragonflies?

Most insects live horrid little lives, and their deaths can't come soon enough. At every stage of their existence there are angels yearning to extend this mercy to them: frogs, swallows, even other insects. Dragonflies.

Dragonflies are different. So wise, so caring, and every once in a while they get caught on the surface of the water. When this happens I always try to scoop them up and give them a chance to dry off.

I saw one struggling hard, and it was so large I thought I might need a larger paddle to scoop him up. Somehow he held on to it without breaking it, and I flopped him down on the solar panel, he flapping those soaked wings like he was crazy. That's right, man, rage, rage against the dying of the light.

He analyzed the situation and realized he was no longer in immediate danger. Out of the water, and I had no appetite for insects. He stopped flopping around and looked at me with his face, all eyes. I looked back and saw the four worst wings ever. One was frayed nearly in half, another open in a hole. The third was crinkled horribly, and the last one shared all the problems of the other four.

He groomed himself with a foreleg. I knew nothing in my medical kit was likely to help. To every thing there is a season, friend. A time to live, a time to die. It almost seemed better to cast him back into the water, but I thought I would let him taste a few last minutes of life.

Besides, it is a nice and strange thing to float down the river with company, even if they are incapable of speaking back. The Assiniboine was filling out nicely, growing in width, growing in trees.

The dragonfly launched himself off the boat. He wobbledup and down but made a sure line to shore. I was shocked. He had only dried for a couple of minutes and I couldn't imagine those four wings keeping anything in the air, especially one as large as he was. I guess the control systems are more important than the surfaces.

Later that night I watched a female go down on the surface of the water, to fetch food or drink, but she was drawn in and thrashed on the surface. She wouldn't let herself be scooped by the paddle and so I had to grab her by hand. She was smaller, brown and yellow compared to the flashy blue and black coloring of the males. Her wings were intricate, like new.

She never calmed down in my presence and took off far too soon, for she immediately hit the water again. I paddled back, let her climb up on my hand, and this time she made it to shore.

Day 68 ended: 49*54.327N, 100*50.848W

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Day 67: Reckless abandon

I saw a house being undercut by the river; its foundation extended several feet over the cutbank, over air and over domestic garbage cluttering the bank: broken dishes and a lawnmower, treasures to some future archaeologist. I was feeling guilty for neglecting the exploration of the various abandoned buildings that populate the riverbanks, and especially so after boasting of my feats of exploration in my journal. I could not just go by this old house without letting myself down.

I pulled over to river right. There was about ten feet of shallow, sloping mud before the eight foot cliff of the cut. I left my canoe in the water, anchoring it by tethering a bungee about my paddle, which I stuck upright in the mud.

There was no easy place to climb the cliff just there. My sandals were slippery, filled with mud. My feet slipped all around in them so that mere walking threatened to twist my ankle. I took them off and spent the rest of the excursion barefoot, carrying them in hand if they would be necessary to cross broken glass or nails.

I found a slope up and walked to the building. I did not even have to touch the door, since some screen had been torn out. I just stepped over and in.

The floor was thick in dust, and the area around the stove was black, as if a fire had gotten a bit out of control there. I always imagine teen parties or reckless campers using these abandoned buildings. There were a couple of aluminum lawn chairs, their nylon webbing torn and twisted in this room, but nothing else was recognizable.

The next room had a sink with drawers on either side, a kitchenette. I opened a drawer and imagined what I saw were old dishrags, but it was hard to say. On the floor was an overturned chest of drawers, empty. Some floorboards had been taken up to reveal a large wooden box in the dirt beneath. This box was now empty. There was a couch lying there, and its foam was shredded into a layer of debris all over the floor.

There was a cheap grandmother clock on the floor, which might have worked if I wound it up. The only thing I thought unusual was an open roll of aluminum foil, surprisingly new.

I walked back to the door I entered and had a look in the washroom before I left. The toilet was at back of the house and now empties onto the bank below. I didn't need to go.

There were two shed not far away. One was full of rusted steel, likely old farm equipment, but it was hard to say, it was so far gone. The other shed was empty.

There wasn't anything terribly unique as far as abandoned buildings go.

As I walked back to the house, a gust of wind struck the canoe, and my paddle leaned over, allowing the bungee cord to slip off. The canoe was free, and moving.

I jumped down to the lower bank and grabbed my paddle. The wind and current pushed the canoe about as fast as I could walk alongshore, but overturned trees and piles of branches slowed my progress, and the mud was no help, either. I hoped the canoe would get caught in the stumps of old trees in the bend up ahead. These were on river right, so I would just be able to scramble across the branch piles and into the boat.

The wind had other plans. The canoe found some muddy shallows at river left, and was stuck on shore. There was no bridge or ford nearby, and I knew what I must do.

I stripped down to my underwear, leaving my clothes in a heap on the grass. I took some deep breaths and prepared myself. I am a weak swimmer and holding the paddle in my hand made me even worse. Halfway out I thought I should have left the paddle and used the spare when I got to the canoe.

I was fortunate the river was not wide at this point, maybe fifty to sixty feet across. My feet touched the muddy bed, I waded over to the boat, and I paddled back to my clothes. I felt surprisingly clean after my swim.

Day 67 ended: 50*04.113N, 100*54.407W

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Day 66: The Assiniboine

The first thing I saw when I got to the Assiniboine was an island, that ended in a sandy point. I was enraptured; I thought this new river would relieve all the Qu'Appelle's troubles. I even noted that on one section there was wind against me, but the current was still strong enough to push me forward through it.

These ideas were soon to be corrected. When the wind has it out for me, it can easily throw up foot high waves to impede my progress. I felt like I had hardly gotten anywhere when the rain started, just a sprinkle.

I found a rocky shore, but there was still an inch or two of soft mud through the rocks. It didn't seem meaningful to stop there; the mere presence of rocks could not be taken as a promise of cleanliness. I continued.

The rain continued as well, it was growing in strength. A bridge crossed the river, aloiw bridge like those early on the Qu'Appelle. It was just high enough to be ducked. If the water were a couple inches higher I might have needed to get out and guide the canoe under. If it were a foot higher I would have needed to portage.

The rain was coming down and I saw no rocks, no sand, no islands to stop on. I turned my attention towards finding good tree cover to shelter me from the rain. Some cow-stomped mudbank would have to service, but when I stepped out I was up to my knees in mud.
There wasn't any point in going anywhere else. I ferried my things up under the trees and established camp. I removed as much mud as possible by rubbing some sweet-smelling weeds against my skin. There was nowhere to drag the canoe aground so I had to simply tie it to a tree, leaving it sitting in the water.

The wind roared impressively during the night, and even my well-sheltered tent shuddered in it. I had a mental image of my canoe drifting out to the middle of the water, and sinking end first, like the Titanic, but sans orchestra. The clouds covered the moonless sky so I could not check on it until morning.

Day 66 ended: 50*08.281N, 101*03.633W

Monday, October 6, 2008

Day 65: First night on the Assiniboine

The moon was on its way out.

I had been sore at the waning moon for some time. The waxing moon gives light when I want it most, at the end of the day. I can push disembarking just a little bit longer, knowing i can set up my tent or cook by its white light.

The waning moon gives a false sunrise, waking me and dogs early. I don't want to get up before the sun dries the world again, so I suffer the howling, roll over and cover my head until the real sunrise comes.

I heard the beaver playing in the water and was concerned about my canoe, filled to the gunwhales with snacks and food. I left my tent to guard my territory and forgot all about the beavers. All the stars and constellations were hung out brightly. It was a gift of the waning moon.
When that dying moon did rise, two coyotes did as well, and they were near. One howled, while the other sniffed and grunted, menacingly. Further there were more howls. I remembered Eddy Harris's violent confrontation with wild dogs in the South, and wondered what I would do if a pack of them did try attacking the tent. I unsheathed my axe. I rustled my tent and through my helmet in the direction I heard them. These antics only created seconds of silence before Grunter and Howler began again in earnest.

When I could no longer abide the thought of a grown man afraid of such small dogs, I grabbed my axe and stood up outside the tent. The world went silent, waiting to see what man would do.
All was dark grey as the diffuse light of the wan moon competed with the stars. The moon uselessly pointed to where the sun would rise in a few hours. I stumbled over stones and cattle tracks to my canoe, and grabbed two flashlights.

I pointed my lights where I had heard the voices, and saw nothing. What could I do, hunt them in the night? They were behind the trees, and I wouldn't know how to get there. I laid down in the tent, and as soon as I did, the coyotes started again, but further. They were sauntering away. I imagined Howler was saying, "Soory about that. My bad."

Silence reclaimed the area, except for the distant lowing of a cow. I returned to my dreams.

Day 65 ended: 50*14.336N, 101*08.589W

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Day 64: The two best guys in St Lazare

Based on my deteriorating breakfast experiences, I was becoming concerned about having enough food to reach Virden or Brandon safely. There was a small town, St Lazare, near the confluence. I tied up the canoe under a highway bridge and hiked the mile or so into town.
The highway was main street and as I walked I saw Decorby Family Foods, a grocery store, closed Sundays. Since it was Sunday, I kept walking. There were a couple of restaraunts, a repair shop, and a small convenience store. In front of the convenience store were gas pumps, but I didn't see the prices advertised. There were also three men talking.

The nearest one was almost sixty, and wore a black jacket over his white shirt. I interrupted the conversation.

"Is that the only grocery store around here?" I said, indicating Decorby's.

"Yes", said the nearest, "but he just drove past here. He drives a silver pickup, oh, quarter-ton... half-ton?"

We could wait for him to drive by, or walk over to his house. This seemed like a lot of trouble to me, certainly rude, to track down the owner of a closed store, but I let the man lead me to "Benny".

I bluntly asked him his name: "Robert LaClare". And mine? "Kevin". But a single name, appropriate for a large city where who you are is defined by what you, and only you, do and say, is incomplete in a small town. You are not just yourself, but a representative of a family, a representative of a nationality.

"Oh, Saff, what is that? English, Scottish maybe?" he said.

"Swedish, actually, but it doesn't mean anything in Swedish."

He apologized on behalf of the other two men he had been talking to. I noticed how they had turned away when we started talking, to exclude me and him from their ongoing conversation. I had interpreted more as personal quirks than rudeness.

"It's okay, everyone's different," I said.

"Sometimes in these small towns," he said, "people aren't comfortable talking to strangers, but they're good guys. I can just meet someone and its like I've known them ten, twenty years!"
We tracked down Benny while avoiding two "drunks" Robert didn't want to run into. "But they're good people."

Robert introduced me to Benny and said I now knew the best two guys in town.

"Well, one of them anyway," Benny said.

Benny was Ben Decorby, the owner of the grocery store. He drove me the block back there in his silver pickup of uncertain tonnage, while a pop country song played on the radio. He got the hook stuck in his head and hummed it while he opened the store up for me and I picked out my groceries.

"Do you need a receipt?" he said.


"I'll just do it this way, then. It will be faster anyway." He started totaling up the groceries by hand, rounding to dollars.

I worked out the sum more exactly in my head to keep him honest, until I noticed he was giving me a healthy discount, which shamed me to stop. The total came to $50, which I paid with a single bill. He started asking if I needed anything else.

"Need some water?" indicating the bottles, stacked in 24-packs by the door.

"No that's alright. I've got water." I was running a bit low but I had my water filter and didn't want to deal with a lot of empty bottles.

"Spitz?" Sunflower seeds.

"No, I'm okay."

He got the idea that I was going to refuse everything if he asked, and went over to a dark corner of the store, just taking things off the shelves. Meanwhile a thin, weathered man in a red flannel shirt took advantage of the unusual store hours to buy groceries, or just a block of cheese. He waited at the register.

"Hello," I said.

No response.

Ben came by and added a box of Wagon Wheels and snack bars to my pile, and went back into the store.

"Hello," I tried again to the waiting man, again to no response.
Benny brought over a couple Powerades, crackers, and a water bottle. We packed it all up in two cardboard boxes, and he rang up the man's cheese. As the weathered man walked out he turned to me.

"Good evening," he said.

"You too!" I said, surprised.

Ben drove me out to the bridge, and we took the groceries down to the canoe. He watched as I unpacked everything into my canoe. The boat was piled high with gear because my tent and bag were too wet to pack up in the morning, so were stacked on top of everything else to dry off.

"No alcohol?" Ben asked.

"I've heard too many stories about how boating and alcohol don't mix. You know, there's a big weir in Calgary and every year a couple guys get drunk and go over it."

I arranged everything in the canoe to make room for myself, and recovered the rope.

"You ever thought about just getting away from it all?" I said.

He shrugged. "Well."

I scooted off and he climbed back up to his truck.

I suppose Robert is right about people being different in small towns and big cities. I have been a suburbanite, a student in a University town, and lived a short walk from the downtown of a city of a million people. Each one of these environments has shaped my values, my actions, my identity.

Now I am a river traveller, and I can see developing in myself similar qualities to others I've read; even qualities I thought myself wise in criticizing in them.

I especially disliked how at the end of every book, the author seems desperate to get off the river, to get it all over and done, as if the river is some terrible thing that must be escaped. Yet, I found myself hurried to get off of both Lake Diefenbaker and the Qu'Appelle. Maybe this feeling of moving on, making progress, getting to the next thing, is too essential of a human characteristic to overcome.

Then there is the "efflusive praise for minor acts of kindness" which I had mocked. Well,it really is surprising how much smoe people want to help. A math PhD is much more difficult than floating down the river, but I got hardly any help with that. A river journey is a story people want to be part of, and can. If you want to be a bum, it's best to be a tramp; tramp by bike, scooter or boat and you'll always find people wanting to help.

Floating down the river, there is sometimes little to think about but these small kindnesses I cannot repay.

It is frightened to be changed, and changed into what?

"You sound like Kathy!" my Calgary roommates remarked when I first called back, after only a couple of weeks. Kathy is a calm but passionate, carefree explorer in the backwoods of Alberta. She encouraged me in this trip; she gave me her water filter.

If floating down the river makes me more like Kathy then this "efflusive praise" seems like a small price to pay.

Thank you, Robert LaClare, for welcoming me to St Lazare and leading me to "Benny". Your easy-going, friendly manner is an inspiration.

And thank you, Ben Decorby, for your generosity of time and food, which kept me going a long way. Your kindness will never be forgotten.

Okay, that is laying it on a bit thick. Still, they're good guys. The two best in St Lazare, I'm sure.

Day 64 ended: 50*23.404N, 101*15.805W

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Day 63: Scrambled pancakes

The sun was unslowed by clouds and cut its way through the tree cover. There was no evidence of the previous day. Everything was already dry. The ground was dry to my feet, the trees were dry and not even dripping, the sky was dry, and some clothes I hung out to wash in the night were dry as well. The day of rain could have been a dream if my rumbling stomach didn't remind me I'd only had one meal.

My breakfasts have not changed much since I started out. Sometimes I cook up oatmeal, and sometimes I just launch the boat and munch on snackfood. I did, however, add scrambled eggs to my diet. I have verified that eggs can go at least a week unrefrigerated. I just crack open three or four of them into my pot and stir as it cooks; just eggs with no oil or milk. Since I don't much clean the pot after meals anymore, last night's supper adds its seasoning, and then I also have salt, pepper, and dill available.

The morning sun found me without oatmeal, without snacks, and without eggs. As an experiment I had picked up some Aunt Jemima pancake mix at the last store. I wasn't sure what I could do in a small pot, but I thought maybe I could dump a bunch in there, mix in water, and stir it as it cooks, just like for scrambled eggs. Except this would be "scrambled pancakes".
Well, I stirred and stirred, and it started bubbling, but nothing seemed to be hardening. I turned up the heat a bit, and got a couple corners of the pot to start making pancake. I mixed these lumps in with the rest of the goop, and the stove stopped; it ran out of fuel.

My little fuel bottle was dry and so to get more I'd have to fix the large jug out of the canoe. This wouldn't be fun with only mud to stand in. I decided I would have to eat my creation, which was really just warm, wet pancake mix.

I did start eating it, and I was able to keep it down. It was essentially just flour water, right? It had the effect of filling my stomach and possibly giving me some calories as well. Still, there was no denying it. I managed to eat most of the pot before pouring the rest into the river.

It was the worst breakfast ever.

Day 63 ended: 50*26.273N, 101*21.503W

Friday, October 3, 2008

Day 62: Rainbound

It was raining when I woke up.

There was a barbed wire running on the ground just outside my tent, and beyond it the drop-off to the river below. On the other side were a series of well-worn trails. If humans hadnot made them, they had certainly used them. It was raining, and the rain was either loud enough to mask the noise of the mining operation a mile over the trails, or the rain was persistent enough to prevent those mines from working.

There had been numerous evening showers on my trip so far, but this was the first time it was raining when I woke up. My rain pants were stowed in the canoe, soaked as it would turn out. It would be uncomfortable to canoe with soaked legs.

I was quite busy in that little shelter of mine. The previous night I had been thinking that the two-person tent was overkill. If I had brought a one-person tent, I could have been more flexible, able to pitch on smaller patches of flat land.

Now it was wonderful. I typed up four journal entries and almost completed my latest reading of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia in spacious comfort. Worried I would be cooped up all day, I slid down the muddy slope to my canoe to see what I could.

The sky was overcast with no sign the rain might let up. The canoe was a bit swamped and I imagined the river creeping higher and higher to swallow it. I checked the GPS, and it said it was only 8:30. I could wait before setting out.

I felt fortunate to have a sheltered campsite in a high location. And it was surprisingly warm inside the tent where I read and wrote as I waited. When I checked the GPS again, it read 10:30, and then -- brzzzzp -- flashed forward three hours. It was suddenly afternoon.

I found a decent walking stick and carefully slid down the slope to my canoe. I had a quick dinner in the rain, and bailed the boat a liter at a time. The path I had been taking was now far too slippery to climb, so I had to find a different way, climbing up the weeds to the top.

I walked the trail to my tent and got in. I wasn't going anywhere that day.

It was raining when I went to sleep.

Day 62 ended: 50*29.566N, 101*31.446W

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Day 61: Twisted metaphors

The Qu'Appelle is so blessed with meanders that I have seen a number of cut-throughs as well, in all stages of development. When I have the opportunity to cut through a meander I feel great, like I have saved considerable time and distance over my map. This feeling even even outlasts the remembrance that all the other meanders have grown longer to make up the difference.
My happiest memory of one of these cut-throughs was from earlier on the Qu'Appelle. I had acquired about three families of mallards in the course of an hour, and had been unable to shake them, they continued to lead me raising bedlam as they went. I came to a short meander and saw that it had a narrow cut-through, just wide enough for my canoe. It was still immature enough that the main current, and the ducks, continued around the bend. When I got through to the other side, there were the ducks still on the outside of the meander. When they saw me they turned around and swam upstream. It was a joyous occasion.

In the previous couple of days I had seen a few channels that may have been cut-throughs, but had not taken them. I couldn't see to the end, and was worried they would become too narrow or shallow for my boat to pass. At least once this was fortuitous, as I saw a moosess and her two calves I wouldn't have seen otherwise. I have not seen many moose this trip, and I'm very happy when I do.

I finally came to one that seemed to have some flow, and reasoned that it was narrow, but traight. The main channel was wide but twisted. Heaven demands that I take the cut-through.
I went thirty feet before the canoe just stopped in the channel. There was mud all around, everywhere, and my boat was big and stuck. I had to get out to help it along. I stepped out in the pool ahead to try pulling it along. Splash! That was deeper than I expected and I was soaked to the armpits. I took off my wet clothes and climbed the mud beside the boat. I rocked the boat to widen the channel. After some effort I was able to get it free, although there were still a couple more places I had to yank it through the channel.

It took far longer than just floating the meander. Sometimes, I guess you should just go with the flow.

Further down, there was a terribly thin meander with just a strip of land holding it together. There was a beaver lodge on the point of this meander. I noticed that the water must have been higher earlier in the year, and had begun to cut through the strip of land in a couple of places, down to about a foot or two higher than the river itself. The beavers must have been intent on protecting their investment, and had filled these gaps with sticks to put off the inevitable.
With all this erosion going on the river became quite muddy again. Since Round Lake I had grown accustomed to sleeping on decent rock bars, but now the banks were all layered in mud. After looking all evening for a clean campsite, I had to leave the canoe on a mudbank and climb my stuff up an eight foot slope to a lat, dry spot under some trees.

This proved to be a fortuitous location.

Day 61 ended: 50*29.566N, 101*31.446W

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

[LIVE 102] Winnipeg!

Hello everyone,

I have been in Winnipeg for almost a week. I am going to try to leave it tomorrow, around noon.

I haven't gotten anything uploaded yet this time, due to restrictions on the library computers. I have to around post 78 ready if I can figure out how.

Thank you for reading.

Day 60: Get it over with

The Qu'Appelle was making its last effort to win me over. Moose walked by my tent in the morning, as I lay camped out on a gravel bar. It would have been incredible if this was not the Qu'Appelle.

I just wanted to get it over with. I couldn't take it any more.

At the beginning of the trip I was so sure of how an adventure must be handled. If I was ever bored, or got tired of it, why I'd just load the canoe up on the trailer, get on my bike and go. At the very least I would call for help, to be taken away. If I couldn't enjoy it, what was the point? In that way I hoped to safeguard against this feeling.

That had become so foreign. Reality had completely changed. Those thoughts were theoretical, not grounded in this new reality. What do I do? What is life if not packing in the morning, paddling at mid-day, and scrambling for camp at night? Breaking such a routine in the middle of the trip would be as psychologically difficult as starting the trip in the first place. It was doable, surely, but a change seemed even worse than struggling through the last few miles on this never-ending river.

Even small changes are difficult. Early on in the trip, my knots were atrocious. I was quite comfortable using improvised knots, grannies and shoelaces. I knew these knots were bad for some reason, and certainly it sometimes took me awhile to make enough loops that the thing would hold -- and then there was the time to get it all loose again. I knew my curmudgeon was waiting to teach me his knots, but I wasn't ready yet. It would be a major change in procedure. Of course, when I finally did learn the proper knots I couldn't imagine going back. So much quicker to tie and untie, and more secure as well. It's just the change that is hard.
I knew I would eventually have to leave the river, but all I needed to do to get off the Qu'Appelle would be to suffer out these last couple of days. As bad as it migh be, trying to bike out was too inconceivable.

In these thoughts I quit the day early. I rejuvenated myself reviewing my maps, reading, and writing. That freed me from worries of time, space, and distance.

This is a constant struggle that can never be fully resolved. I exist in both present and future, and must care for myself in both these places. The more I tend to myself in the present, the more the season will advance and the harder the future becomes. But if I live only for the future I might never get there.

Day 60 ended: 50*31.252N, 101*40.816W