Paddle for the Portage!

After 5 days on the lake and an average daily distance a snail would be embarrassed by, we finally got a break. The winds lessened enough to get us off the shore, though the waves were still pretty uncomfortable and tacking was needed to avoid being broadside to the steepest ones. A lull in the wind signalled a forthcoming change in direction, but we enjoyed the respite. We’d done a quick inventory and knew we’d be on basic rations before long if we didn’t get moving, so some gastric motivation and sheer bloody mindedness saw us paddling into a headwind for the next 80km. The lake shore now changed noticeably from the marshy reed-lined misery of the northern reaches of our trip, to a more rocky and solid structure. We were hopeful for better camping options and so happy to push it late into the evening. This meant paddling through epic mayfly hatches, being mopped up by monster carp. The largest we saw was around 2 feet long and looked more like a beaver swimming under the boat. I was pretty excited, but I know these fish won’t chase a spinner and I was all out of bread and boilies.

Some of the places we’ve found on these lake shores have been quite amazing. Coming round a headland in search of camping, we found the Olsen’s place. No one here now, but freshly cut grass meant someone still tends it. Obviously once a farm, it now sits semi-derelict on a peninsular with no ongoing road access yet a graveyard of old Massy’s, combines and boats. It reminded me of Badbea, my grandparents place in the northwest of Scotland, and reminded Cas of The Walton’s! We asked permission to camp from the guardian in residence, a sleepy garter snake who didn’t seem to object, and pitched the tent on the flattest looking bit of land.

The rocky shoreline continued the following day, along with the headwind. But this does have its advantages – animals don’t smell you coming. Midway through the morning Cas was scanning the bank exclaiming how much some rocks and trees look like creatures. Turning to me, I told her the bear she was staring at might be offended. It didn’t seem to be, and stood watching us until it got a whiff, at which point it ran for cover as usual. We chuckled and started paddling again, only to be met by another black bear, then a larger cinnamon beast who looked as ancient as the landscape. This one definitely couldn’t see or smell too well, and though only 15 feet away tasted the air for some time before deciding that we were not to be trusted and heading for the bushes. They truly are beautiful creatures, and to see them up close is always a treat.

A long day later, with a brief break on shore sitting out yet more brutal wind, saw us paddling around 50km and collapsing into our cosiest camp yet. Cas cleared enough space for the tent whilst I made dinner, and a mental note of the size of the bear prints on the next little beach. We were too tired to care though as it was almost 9.30pm and we’d been going for over 13 hours. We were now less than 50km from the portage to Lake Manitoba.

Our final day on the lake started early, as the winds were already picking up at 6am. We battled through to mid-morning, at which point I got fed up with fighting the cross-winds and turned the air blue. Cas fed me coffee and wine gums, which fixed matters, and the lake finally decided to give us easier passage and the winds dropped. We paddled on to the end of the lake with sunshine and a light breeze and found a way through the reeds to the take out, 8 days after we started. This was clearly someone’s back garden, and Melford was kind enough to let us camp in it. It is typical of the friendliness of the folk here that on opening his front door to two weary and weather beaten paddlers, he had us in for tea and biscuits before we’d even explained what we were doing there. His dogs made a thorough investigation of the boat whilst we were inside, and it was only the next morning we realised why they were so friendly all night…they had made short work of our granola…

Thanks goes to:

  • Melford Saari, for tea, biscuits, company and camping.
  • The weather gods, for finally letting us off this wild, windy lake.
  • Our unsung hero: Big Bertha, our boat, for looking after us on the water, and standing up to all the scrapes and bashes we’ve inflicted thus far.

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