Ticks, horse flies, deer flies, bulldogs, leeches, black fly, no-see-ums…all these things are trying gamely to suck us dry of our A-positive whilst we are here. Most with some success, I have to say. But none are more trying than the mosquitoes. These have become larger and more numerous the farther inland we have come, but the ones of the southernmost end of Lake Manitoba are, so far, the worst.
After a warm night’s rest at the local fishing spot, disturbed only by some friendly Russians wanting to take us fishing and the largest mosquitos we have seen thus far, we set out up the Assiniboine diversion. This waterway, built in 1967, provides an overspill for water coming down the Assiniboine River system that would otherwise flood Winnipeg. Instead it raises the level in Lake Manitoba. There are mixed feelings about this arrangement, as in 2011 it caused a significant flood, destroying both land and homes, and some folk still feel pretty bitter about it.
The diversion is pretty much straight south for 25km, before turning southeast to the river. It is shallow, silty, stuffed full of more large carp, and we thought would be an easy day out. Wrong. It has three dams to control the flow (not one, as I had thought…) which proved pretty gruelling to get around, or over. Dragging the boat up a spillway in 30 degree heat was a challenge. But at least the diversion had water in, as we have subsequently learnt that is by no means guaranteed. Nevertheless, we were glad to finally get to the top it and see the river itself, spending the night in a small park before heading downstream the next morning. The Assiniboine is a slow but interesting, meandering river that winds its way through farmland on its way to join the Red River in Winnipeg. Dodging sandbars proved the main entertainment, along with studying the map to work out by exactly how much we (…!?) had underestimated the distance and watching Cas’s surprise when a fish very nearly jumped into the boat. After 11 hours of paddling, and realising that we were still around 5 hours short of the campsite we thought we might make, we came across a beautifully kept river frontage with convenient small pontoon, and I was dispatched to see if the owners were friendly…
Indeed they were. We had landed at the home of Ken and Dianne Tranborg, who after some initial surprise at seeing a slightly unkempt ginger-bearded Englishman standing at the door were more than happy for us to put the tent up by the river. Moreover, they came down to share some stories of past travellers (we were not the first to think this looked like a great camp spot) and invited us up for a beer. We had a truly lovely evening with them, after which they offered to take us in to town for our resupply the next morning, saving a huge amount of time and hassle trying to do this from the boat. They really could not have done more for us and we can’t thank them enough. Having dropped the boat’s waterline by a few inches we said goodbye later in the afternoon, trying very hard not to accept their offer of another night with them. Once again, we have been blown away by the kindness of people we have met on this trip.
After a hard evening paddle to a campsite 40km downstream, a meal of steak after our supply stop followed by ice cream (!), and another day paddling into a headwind for 6 hours (for once we were glad of the meanders!), we finally arrived at The Forks in Winnipeg. This site is of great significance in the history of the Voyageurs and the fur trade, with the route up the Assiniboine heading west, north going towards Lake Winnipeg and Lake of the Woods (our path) and south up the Red River eventually linking with the Mississippi in the US. We were met there by Wayne, the brother in law of our friend Frenchie from Nipawin, who came down to see us pass through. After a lovely hour chatting, sadly turning down his offer of a place to stay and recharge (we later regretted refusing such generous hospitality), we set off into the headwind again down the Red River towards Lake Winnipeg. We managed a couple of hours into the wind and rain before finding a camp next to a boat launch on the edge of town and collapsing into the tent.
In the last week we have both, for the first time, been feeling the pressure of time. There are so many places we’d love to spend longer at and sights we would love to see, but we are not even halfway yet and still have a lot of paddling to do if we are to reach Quebec before the end of October.
- Ken and Dianne, for being such stars!
- Wayne for coming and meeting us at The Forks and offering a place to stay.
What we’ve learnt:
- After two years of planning and studying routes and maps, you can still be surprised that someone dumped several thousand tonnes of concrete in your way.