Monday, February 16, 2009

September 25, Part 1: Enter Winnipeg

Winnipeg doesn't seem so big from the river.

If anything, I was surprised how many more places there were inside the official city limits that might have made good camping. Large wooded areas indicated isolated city parks. Islands formed in the river, around bridge pilings both current and past.

The houses and fenced yards gave way to apartment buildings. A man at river left threw a plastic bag into the river, and I saw where it accumulated with his other droppings. He had a tent made out of tarps there, living in the city. Not the first such rat I'd seen, but it seemed so much more wasteful, so blatantly predatory, compared to Calvin of Brandon.

Improvised dirt trails braided around the sides of the river, just missing the litterbug's tent, and grew into paved riverwalks and plazas filled with people, some out jogging, others out on lunch break.

I was in downtown Winnipeg, city founded at the meeting of the great rivers of southern Manitoba. Here the Assiniboine empties into the Red River of the North, which flows on into Lake Winnipeg and then the Hudson Bay.

My route, however, lay south. When I arrived in the city, as soon as practicable I had stopped to buy a map and try to figure out where I could store my canoe. I was interested in seeing the city, and also uncertain how I was going to get south to the Mississippi River. There was some possibility I could find a trucker to take me to Minneapolis, or I could get out of the water and try to bike some distance, or I could head upstream on the Red River.

I would start the upstream trip immediately. I found a listing for a Winnipeg canoe club about two miles south on the Red River, so it was time to press upstream for the first time during my trip.

The Red River is wide and powerful. A wind from out of the south did not help. I paddled hard. I had to cross the Transcanada Highway yet again. This time, the arches tunnelled the wind against me and it took all my strength to keep the boat under control and push through the bridge.

The two miles took 45 minutes of paddling, which isn't too bad, considering. When I got to the canoe club I parked my boat out on the dock, got out and walked up to the club. I walked all around the club building and checked out their dragon boats before deciding that they must be closed. So then it was back north on the Red to the canoe club neighbors, the Redboine Boating Club. There I received permission to leave my canoe out by their blue shed.

I would have to find someplace to spend the night in this city, so I filled my backpack with clothes and books, and was securing my food in front when I saw something crawling around in my oatmeal. It scurried into a plastic bag, which I tied up and pulled out of the boat, coming face to face with a giant rat.

I should have just stabbed it there but I took it out on the docks where a worker was repainting the white stripes. He said we should just try to drown it, and so he took the rat bag from me, and held it under the water, under the dock. The first try was no good so he pulled it out and retied it, then submerged the rat again. The creature went wild under the river, thrashing it around. When he pulled the bag back up there was nothing in it but holes.

We had just released a rat in this dock with all these expensive motorboats, my gift in exchange for letting me stay.

I wished String was there. She would have known what to do.

Day 96 continues.


John said...

Don't be too hard on yourself, she knows more rat cooking techniques and recipes than you do, and one can't blame for not being privy to the traditions of a different culinary culture. It's better to be an outsider who maintains all respects legible to them, allowing the occasional blunder, than the predator praying knowingly on the host's hospitality. It takes a lifetime to know the traditions of geology as it passes judgment in stony silence.

Kevin Saff said...


Maybe you should write this blog, John. I can just send you my notes.

John said...

No, I think most of the time you actually get better replies to me in than my initial comments, much less the posts. Having said that, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

It's worthwhile taking a step back and re-articulate what I'm doing. A while ago I said I'd try comment on every post. I think initially it was to partially give feedback into what you were writing, but now I think there's a dialog happening too, and even peeks into a mirror story of a man reading about his friend's adventures. I think that this could be both something new to a travel narrative (interactive comments in a private journal) and also very old (letters of correspondence). You've noted that many people have told journey stories, sometimes with a great deal of resemblance to the ones you are telling. I hope, in part, I'm helping you develop the material that makes the story different.

In some ways, I'll admit it's a selfish interest, as our commonalities cause me to interact most directly with the kinds of text I would most like to read (i.e. the cerebral, the metatextual, the textural, and the metaphorical), and away from a more straightforward adventure narrative, which may in fact be more commercially palatable. Even directly talking about it yields references to Borges and Calvino, while in fact there's not necessarily any problem with straightforward authorship of your journey without my notes in the margins.

Hopefully you'll forgive me; it's too much of a stage and I'm too much of a ham. I hope you can tell the story you want to tell anyway.

Kevin Saff said...

A dialogue of sorts takes place in a book like "Into the Wild" where Jon Krakauer has to reproduce McCandless's story from a photo album, a bullet-list of noun phrases, and notes in the margins of books. It would be interesting to see a book like that written about oneself without having to die for the trouble.