Saturday, April 6, 2013

October 8, 2008: All too helpful

The first boat ramp after Winnipeg is at Morris, almost two thirds of the way to the border.  After that, there are a couple more, at St Jean Baptiste and Letellier, before the border town of Emerson.  So much my map could tell me.  But it could not indicate the conditions or slopes of these ramps, which was increasingly important to me as I struggled upstream on the Red.  I wanted to get off the river and onto the road, if possible.

Early in the day I encountered the ramp at Morris.  It was clearly built for a higher river than what was present, a nice gradient down to to a point some three feet above the water, and then as an afterthought, an ad hoc thirty degree slab of concrete leaning into the water below.  It was unclear how this lower ramp was supported, since I could see a gap underneath; furthermore the precarious thing was covered with a foot or two of mud.

There were more ramps further on.  As I passed, a fisherman with outstretched arms was telling his girlfriend a story, and then shouted at me, "Whoah! You came out of nowhere!"  Fighting the current I had second thoughts.  This man seemed friendly enough, he may know what the later ramps would be like.

I parked the canoe and walked over to ask him.  He said, "I'm as new to this area as you are!" which was clearly untrue, since he knew something about the ramp at St Jean Baptiste: it extended down at a forty-five degree angle and he was clueless how anyone launched any boats at the thing.  I decided to make the attempt here.

As I struggled to drag my canoe up the muddy slope, having no firm hold on anything but my rope anchored forty feet away, the fisherman turned his rod away from me and locked his Bronco as a precaution against my continuing presence.  A procession of trucks had stopped at the top of the hill as I did this, their occupants staring or sleeping, until finally one old curmudgeon stepped out of his blue truck and demanded to help me.

I felt there was little he could do.  I already had the boat past the mud, the slope from then on was comparably gentle or dry, but he insisted to tow the canoe up, and then haul my baggage.  I was powerless to resist, and besides that thought it would be too proud of me to refuse to allow this man to help me.

He was 85 years old.  "Nice," I said, thinking that he did not look the octogenarian.

"Yeah," he said, " all of my friends are dead!"

"I hate canoes!" he said as I unloaded my things from his truck, which successfully carted them all of forty feet.  "They're just things the Indians used to drown themselves in!"

"I just had to tell you my opinion," he said.

I told him that I planned to haul the canoe about 200 miles to Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi River, or perhaps find someone to drive me there.  He said he'd drive me himself if I could get him the gas money, "about $500".  I thought that was a bit steep, especially since the gas would be a bit cheaper in Minnesota and I figured his truck made more than five miles to the gallon.  But on calculation, it was doubtful if I could pay for the gas given my currently available funds.  I had spent so much money in Winnipeg on bags, clothes, and board, I was down to about $150.  My American funds were all tied up until I could reach a Bank of America.

He left as I tried various configurations for hauling the canoe.  I could put the wheels far back on the boat and bungee the front down to the bike rack, but it was hardly possible to keep this stable enough in turns; the boat wanted to jump out of its cradle.  Balancing the load over centered wheels seemed to be most stable for the canoe.  After all, this is how I got it down from my house to the river in the first place.  But this was alwaysa bit tricky in the joint to the bicycle.  The boat wanted to heave up or down as I started and stopped, or escape to the right or left on turns.  When the bike went down bungees would come undone and need to be reconstructed to continue.

A smooth-faced man came by, his construction vest brightly visible over his four-wheeler.  He seemed quite impressed with my trip thus far, and thought he might be able to find something that would work as a hitch at his workplace.  He would certainly come back and check on my progress in any case.  "See you!" he said before driving off.

"See you later!" I said.

I found a forked branch on the ground and thought I might be able to screw it into the deck of the canoe, and secure bungees or ropes across the fork to secure it to the seatpost.  My screws weren't long enough and the thing tore out of the deck with little applied force.

Some kids came by on mopeds, driving around the park in circles.  I thought this was just their version of staring at strangers, learned from their grandfathers in the trucks on the hill, so I ignored them.

The curmudgeon came back and was not impressed by what I was doing.  He started throwing things out of his truck that he was sure would help me.  A huge rusty C-clamp, a giant vise-grip, heavy metal bolts, a fence post, a 1x6 board.  As he dropped things into and beside the canoe I could just imagine this thing growing massive without bound, until its inertia prevented me from getting started on even the flattest ground.

He noticed the kids, and yelled "Get off the grass!"  He got out his camera to take photo evidence of their transgressions of the park.  They eventually left after an interval timed to indicate that the curmudgeon was not their boss.

He was a blacksmith, but all his tools were 12 miles away, he said, so there was nothing he could do to build a proper hitch for me.  He measured the fence post on the board, and declared it "not long enough", though for no purpose clear to me.  He was partly deaf, and in particular deaf to my hints that he might not actually be helping me much.

Finally it was time for him to go home for the night.  He was leaving for BC in the morning, to celebrate the Thanksgiving weekend.  All day it had been growing overcast and bitterly cold.  "Winter is coming, young man!"

He offered his final judgment on my plans, after playing at help all day.  "If you ask me, it's a s----y outfit.  It's too small!"  And then he drove away.

I set up camp in the cold, dark "Scratching River Campground."  It was a waste of another day.

Day 109 ended: 49*21.138N, 097*21.053W

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