Manitsover!

Apparently some folk are trying to guess from reading who wrote each post (before it becomes obvious) so I’ll try and keep this as neutral as possible…

We pulled into the Narrows slipway on Canada day weekend and immediately obstructed it – one of us went to investigate the Lodge whilst the other sat on the canoe eating wine gums. 

‘We’ve got a room with a king size bed! AND a double bed. AND a BATH!! Oh, and the restaurant smells soooo good!’

So we speedily unpacked the boat, loaded it onto the trolley and literally ran to our room. 


Our excitement was only slightly curbed by a sign on the wall saying ‘Strictly NO smoking and NO pets. Any evidence or smells resulting from breaking this rule will lead to a $150 cleaning fee’. We hoped they would believe that the smell was just 2 unbelievably grubby humans. 

One of us was despatched to buy some beers before taking up residence in the bath for 2 hours. Then we put on our cleanest clothes and headed to the restaurant, but before we left the room debated: really muddy shoes, sopping wet sandals or bare feet? We opted bare feet. 

‘I’m going to have to ask you to put some shoes on, please’ said the server as he greeted us. ‘For your own safety.’ We explained our predicament and ultimately agreed socks were acceptable, and would definitely enhance our safety. We ate steak and drank wine and chatted to James, our lovely server, and agreed we’d be back for breakfast and almost certainly dinner too the next day. 

The forecast winds arrived and we were thankful for the opportunity to do some laundry and blogging and sleeping and a little resupply stop. We also ate more steak. 

Setting off on Tuesday in good cheer and great weather we paddled to Margaret Bruce beach and camped on the sand under a tree. 


Once again battling head wind and tail swell but also blistering heat we set out hoping to get around Big Point – from where we thought we’d be able to get off the lake in one more day’s paddle. The water was thick with carp and in places we couldn’t put a paddle in without bonking one on the head, which did add interest to the day. But the weather broke us and we started looking for a camp spot 15km short of the point. And looking. And looking. A few Km later one of us may have (briefly) stopped paddling altogether and had a tantrum. ‘Well, we can try and make space here if you’d like?’ Said the other, in an effort to mollify, pointing at 2 square feet of sand in the middle of a reed bed. But then we glimpsed a big sandy stretch ahead of us: 

‘how far is that?’ 

‘2km’ 

‘*~€{} it, we’re going there’. 

So we did. It turned out to be called Hollywood beach, so we stripped off and went for a swim. 


The wind put paid to any plans to progress the next day which was frustrating but meant we got to eat pancakes with the remainder of Darlene’s rhubarb. 


We were also given some fish by an interesting fella in an RV who had plans to build a jackable/floating platform for it and haul it into the middle of the lake to live out his days…!

Rested up and with a good forecast we departed Hollywood beach on Friday not convinced, but hopeful, we might make it to the Assiniboine diversion. And we did!

Thanks go to:

Blair, James and the rest of the team at the narrows for making us (and our boat) very comfortable! And for the washing tablets!

Arnold for letting us camp under his tree.

Randy, for the fish and entertainment!

What we’ve learnt:

Headwind + wine gums = ok

Headwinds – wine gums = tantrum 

Lake Manitoba to the Narrows

We set off from Melford’s early on Thursday devoid of breakfast but with a gift of frozen fish, freshly picked lettuce and spring onions for our dinner and about 2 kilos of Saskatoon berries. It was only a few km portage across to Lake Manitoba along a range road to a gravel beach. We were so delighted to arrive at our second lake and see easy campsites all around we celebrated with pancakes, syrup and berries – thanks Melford! 

With low winds and a glassy lake we made our first crossing avoiding a hefty bay which would have added about 20km. The day was muggy and hot though and we were increasingly aware of distant and then not so distant thunder. As we approached the second headland we were faced with a sky of black, a wall of rain and the sound of the apocalypse. ‘I think we might want to sit this one out!’ Yelled Mike, and we did an abrupt divert to a thin, steep  rocky shore. We hauled the boat up a few feet, and then a few more, and then as far as we could as the wind built to storm force and the waves grew to over a metre – all within minutes. 

It was too windy to put up the tarp but we found some shelter behind the boat under the trees. We made a cup of tea. Then the wind started to drop and the rain really began – so we put the tarp up and made another cup of tea. Feeling suitably humbled and chastened we set off, keeping maybe a little closer to the shore. 

We found an awesome beach camp, made a fire and turned Melfords fish into fishcakes, using the fresh spring onions, instant mash and some bacon bits. Honestly I’m starting to think camp cooking is my culinary forte, and a hungry clientele are definitely the best recipients! We made some more granola for breakfast and a berry bannock too in an effort to use up some of the saskatoons. 


The tragic end of the whisky…

The next day dawned a little dreich and uninspiring and after a few slow km and with the wind building again we were anxious about a repeat of Lake Windy. Walking seemed like a more appealing option so we decided to avoid an exposed headland by heading into a bay and portaging across instead. Within minutes of setting out we watched a huge bear stroll across the road a hundred yards ahead and were reminded we ought to have our spray handy… queue a quick scrabble in our bags…  

Some of you may have seen our track from Crane River and whilst we’d like to say we are getting fitter and faster we can’t pretend we averaged 56km/hr on the crossing. George stopped by in his truck – he was just heading home to grab something but in 5 minutes time he’d be passing us again heading (wouldn’t you know!) to the beach on the other side of the headland where he was camped with his family. It was too good an offer to refuse!!! So we unpacked the boat and strapped it at an alarming diagonal across the bed of the truck and off we set. 


On arriving at the beach we met his wife and foster daughter and were welcomed into their trailer for coffee. In the hour that followed Rose taught us a little of the local history and language (Ojibwe), and some of her cultural lore ranging from medicinal plants to moral stories. We could have listened all day! We left with lavender oil, lightening stones and maybe just a little more wisdom. 

We paddled on down the lake passing endless shingle or sandy beaches (some surprised ATV riders waving enthusiastically from one) until I declared I was tired, whereupon there were none. Pushing on a bit further we found a beautiful patch of flat green grass. A lawn, in fact. Mike headed up towards the house and met Andy Thibert – the ranch owner and one of the ATVers from earlier on. He welcomed us to camp on the lawn, brought us a huge stack of wood and invited us up for beers. It was Canada day weekend and this was the 150th anniversary of the commonwealth so there were a whole host of people staying nearby, all of whom were not just friendly but really interested and excited for our trip. I’ve lost count of the number of people who wish they could do something similar. We promise we’re grateful! 

Narrowly avoiding losing another meal to dogs (ok, mostly just Angel – who was far from) we ate and headed up for our first cold beers in weeks. Andy’s wife caught us saying we were low on tasty food and swiftly produced a bag full of jars of pickles, chutneys, green tomatoes, beets and rhubarb. 

The next morning we were sad to depart, not least because they were having a pig roast and fireworks that evening, but felt we ought to press on whilst the weather allowed. Not before we both had the opportunity to weigh ourselves: this weeks super slimmers are us, achieving 10% body weight each which amounts to 16 kilos! 

We got about 10km before the wind put a stop to progress at another big exposed crossing. Once again, all the sandy beaches packed themselves off and we spent an hour hunting in reed beds for somewhere to camp. We found a good spot in the end from which we could watch the wind on the bay, ever hopeful it might drop enough for us to cross. We’d started listening to a Lord of the Rings audiobook on Windy (yep, 2 months married, already run out of things to say to each other) and it’s a good way to while away some otherwise frustrating waits. 

We had an early night in anticipation of an early start the next morning (5am!) and then nipped across the bay in a bit of an awkward swell. Heading around the surprisingly named Reykjavik point The Narrows came into view. This time we were overjoyed to hear the forecast for strong southerlies: the perfect excuse to stop for a day at the Narrows lodge which promised bed, bath, beer and beef. What more could we wish for?! 

Ice cream: that’s what

What we learnt:

Dogs are far more likely to take stuff than wild animals (we didn’t lose our dinner in the end but we do seem to have lost our mascot, Humphrey…)

Storms pick up pretty quick! 

Thanks to:

Rose and George for the perfectly timed  lift and kind hospitality

Andy, Dar and the extended family for such good cheer around the fire – we hope you had a great ride out on Saturday 

Favourite piece of kit: Mike’s bug shirt, which Cas covets daily… 

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.

Lake Windypegosis

The most frustrating week thus far. 

Having arrived on the first of our large lakes in bright sunshine, we sat still. For 2 days. A brisk 20 knot northwesterly turned the lake into a seething mass of churning water. It’s a bit like watching the sea, but super shallow so the waves kick up fast and stay short and steep, rather than mellowing out as they tend to on the ocean. A classic prairie thunderstorm ensured we didn’t miss out on a soaking on land either. But in its first proper storm test our Exped Orien tent kept us nice and dry, though the guys were attached to the boat to stop us being blown away. 


After the storm had passed we thought we’d try and get moving again. The wind had swung around to northerly which we hoped might help us, but the storm had left a sizeable swell. We managed a short crossing in sketchy conditions, with a wind/wave combination I’m not sure a canoe is meant to be out in, and thanked our lucky stars we were still the right way up on the other side. Lesson learnt, we hid in the lee of an island until the wind dropped enough for us to escape, and found an empty outfitters lodge to camp by for another 2 days whilst the wind ramped up for a second time. A bear wandered through camp on the first night, saw/smelled Cas and legged it. We expected it to be back to check out our food at some point, but it was obviously too shaken by the experience…



Finally we managed to get away again. We realised a tactical portage would save about 10km of rough water paddling and allow us some shelter to get going in, but it was short lived and we were soon making tea on a lee shore waiting out another rough squall. A third short day ensued, with another frustrating two night stop and the winds only dropping late in the evening before getting up again in the early morning. Still less than a quarter of the way down, we wondered how long it was going to take to get off this lake. 

The truth about the trip

Not a post for the faint hearted or those with delicate sensibilities…!

Anyone who still has any misconceptions about this being a honeymoon, or – ha! – romantic, let me set you straight:

For starters, we’ve packed for 5 months. I have 5 pairs of pants – and that’s 2 more than mike thought was necessary! (2 of them the comfiest pants in the world courtesy of Livs – thank you!) 

We brush our teeth, morning and night – just before we put the toothpaste in with the other ‘food’ stuffs and make it bear safe – but thats about as far as personal hygiene goes. Our single small shampoo and body wash has lasted, barely touched, for a full month. We ditched the deodorant – too attractive to bears.

In very beary areas we have to provide defensive ‘cover’ to each other (read: stand nearby with bear spray) whilst we poo. There’s no other way to say it. This is less of an issue now we’re out of grizzly country, apparently black bears are more bashful. 

In very mosquito-y areas Mike has had to ‘defend the realm’ whilst it is exposed, and even apply DEET to my derrière. It still looks like a polka dot Tour jersey. 

As places to land become more difficult and more of a hassle to find we have taken to doing many things ‘on the float’ – making coffee, having lunch… peeing. I bought a US equivalent of a shepee for this trip. Annoyingly called a ‘Go girl!’ it is made of squishy silicone in an offensive baby pink colour.  Not only does it not work (I won’t go into details but know that they are tragic when you consider we can’t easily wash things) but I’d like to ask the manufacturers: why make it in a pink that could never come close to matching anyone’s skin tone but still manages to make it look absolutely obscene? And why is the only alternative camo khaki?! So I can easily hide it in the bush (…) or am I supposed to be sporting a camoflage rear? 

However, I would like to announce that I am now quite accomplished at peeing into a Nalgene bottle whilst standing up in a moving canoe. Thank you. 

Finally, 2 short weeks after our wedding I was standing in our bedroom, proud new owner of a mooncup, trying to explain to mike how and… no, just how it was going to work. Well, there are no mysteries left in our relationship now. 

It is worth saying that this particular piece of kit is genius. Think of the alternatives. Then think of the disposal. And the bears. Anyone who hasn’t a clue should google it. Especially, but by no means exclusively, if they’re female. 

The long not winding road…

Cedar Lake marks the end of the Saskatchewan river. It is a man-made lake about 90km downstream from The Pas, dammed at Grand Rapids where it falls into Lake Winnipeg. It has a rather unfriendly reputation for paddlers owing to the large amount of deadwood choking the edges making landing and camping very difficult. To cross directly from the river mouth is around 50km of open water and island hopping. Not something for us in our little canoe, so we were planning on taking two days to get around the edge.


On our second day out from The Pas we reached the lake. It was clear that the higher than usual water levels extended here also, with all the potential island campsites at the entrance completely water logged. Fortunately the day was stunning with bright skies and mirror calm water giving a feeling of paddling in the sky. After marvelling at the sheer size of the place (this is still a small lake by Canadian standards…) we set out across the first 4km of open water to an attractive patch of green opposite where we thought we might camp. Not a log in site along the lush green shoreline…that turned out to be reeds. Miles of them. So not only can you not get onto the bank due to wood, it seems you can’t actually get to the bank at all due to the reeds. After another 15km, three hours, a cup of tea and much motivational talking we found a way through the barricades onto a thin spit of land covered in trees. Hacking through the undergrowth like a Tasmanian devil with a machete, Cas fought her way into the brush and pronounced it fit for a camp, with a little work. After a few minutes work we had a space large enough for a tent, the beginnings of a fire, and moose ready to fry. Thanks again to Chris, it was amazing. We hoped the local population didn’t recognise the smell, as there was plenty of evidence of its brethren around us. 


After a latish start whilst waiting for the overnight wind to drop we set out for the portage track, around 45km round the shore on the south side of the lake. We didn’t really know how this would go but knew a long day was coming – we move at around 6 kmh on flat water. All started well, with light winds and easy nav, only interrupted by the presence of a causeway across an expected piece of open water. A corrugated tunnel provided a way through for Mike and the boat, almost canalboat style, but we both forgot about the GoPro, which was filming the escapade. We now have some rather gaulling footage of the camera first losing it’s lens cover, then getting badly scratched, then being snapped off its mount and taking a swim. Fortunately it was clipped on elsewhere and still actually works, but we’re both feeling pretty stupid. 


The final 10km of the day were some of the toughest so far. Cedar Lake is, like many of the lakes in this area, very shallow. A light breeze can kick up some steep waves in very little time, which can make for an unpleasant ride in a canoe. We surfed, spun and sweated our way to the portage across a series of bays and headlands, allowing us to really get to grips with how the boat handles in rougher water. We’re pretty impressed. 

Our reward was to arrive absolutely shattered but elated on an open, sandy beach with an empty cabin and a clear view of a very smooth, flat and straight track leading into the woods – the portage! 


We camped in the tent in the cabin just because we could, and because it kept the mossies and mice away. The tent really has become our little house, and staying anywhere else feels rather weird. 

With the canoe loaded on the trolley we set off up the track the next morning. Rather than follow the rest of Cedar Lake to Lake Winnipeg we’re heading south to Lake Winnepegosis. It has a less fearsome reputation than its bigger brother, though we suspect it’s going to be no pussycat. It is also over a watershed, which means the portage track is uphill. Predictable, obviously. But not something that had entered our minds until we were hauling 150kg of kit up it. 

The track was good however, and provided a nice assortment of black bear tracks and scat to remind us they do exist (we saw no evidence of them at all in Saskatchewan). We reached the highway in around 2 hours excited about seeing the next lake. We remained excited about it for the next two hours as we hauled along the highway trying to find a way through the narrow but completely impenetrable band of brush separating it from the road. The following two hours were less exciting, as I gently melted in the afternoon heat and Cas topped up her tan. But, once again, we met some great folk. 

First to stop was Roy, returning from Winnipeg to The Pas. A more enthusiastic, jovial and encouraging man you could not hope to meet whilst hauling a canoe along a highway in Manitoba. And he gave us oranges. A whole bag of them. Possibly the best present ever at that point in time, he clearly knew what was needed. And he gave us hope, telling us of some gravel tracks a few kilometres down the road. 

Next to stop was Felix, a provincial worker on his way to Winnepeg. He stopped to check we were ok, gave us a cereal bar and went on his way. Then he came back, with a plan to tow the canoe behind his hire car and save us a bit of walking. This we tried, though the simple bearing-less trolley couldn’t stand the speed and we soon bailed for fear of melting the wheels. So on he went. Only to return again with a series of directions and distances to the first track he had found for us that went to the lake! What a star. 

Finally, local man Dave stopped for a chat. He lived in Easterville on Cedar Lake, and so knew the area well. He told us of another track just down the road that we could take. And so, after around 6 hours of towing and pushing our boat, we stumbled and fell down a steep and overgrown forestry path to reach the shore of Lake Winnepegosis. 

What we’ve learnt:

  • Portaging isn’t so bad on a good surface. 
  • If we run out of food we should head to a road. 

Favourite piece of kit:

  • Western Canoe and Kayak expedition portage cart. Amazing trolley. 

The Cold and the Miserable

Wednesday morning at Big Eddy Camp started early. Very early, because no curtains means I’m up with the dawn. Cas wasn’t impressed when I went to make tea at 4.30…but was happier when I came back with it. 



We had a big day planned anyway, as Solomon and Renee had offered to put us up at their place in Cumberland House. An offer we couldn’t refuse, but we knew meant a long day, with 8km of upstream paddling at the end, on a forecast of wind and rain. And boy did it rain. With wind. Without wind. After a pleasant initial couple of hours it just poured. The river passes through the Saskatchewan River Delta, one of the largest inland deltas in the world. Which means miles of flat, marshy land with side-streams leaving and re-joining the main river, making navigation more challenging than usual and limiting stopping points. We eventually did find some cabins to stop at and dry out, after around eight hours of constant soaking. 

After chasing off an over-inquisitive mink who was after our lunch we continued on to Cumberland House to meet Renee, but first Solomon’s 93 year old mother, Josephine. The granddaughter of a Scottish immigrant from the islands, she was keen to chat and passed on some of the sort of advice you can only acquire after that many years. She was justifiably proud of her family, whose achievements include Solomon’s canoeing (4x world C2 champion), along with world champion dog-sledders and an Olympic boxer. Renee then threw us in the shower, fed us, washed our clothes and provided pyjamas. Cas’s picture of me in the Rudolph ones is not going on here… Huge thanks to the Carrieres for their hospitality, it made a memorable and relaxing end to a pretty tough day. 

The river after Cumberland House really gets wild. This is the most remote we have felt so far, with no sign of human habitation for miles. The lack of campsites continues with thick bush right up to the banks, and flooded islands in this unusually high water. The odd unoccupied cabin in the woods provided the only cleared space to pitch a tent, and we celebrated two months of married life on the lawn of one of these under a Canadian flag. A long day from here (11 hours straight in the boat), crossing into Manitoba en route, had us just short of The Pas. A second province crossed! Saskatchewan was pretty, peaceful and unbelievably friendly, and we have many fond memories both on and off the river. 


The Pas is our last re-supply point before the lakes, and Cas is despatched to the supermarket the next morning whilst I look after the boat at the town boat launch. Now we were told back in Alberta that Manitoba folk like a chat, but I barely stopped chatting for two hours straight. I guess the site of a fully loaded canoe on the bank turns heads. First a friendly cabbie, then a chap waiting for a hospital appointment. Of particular note were Chris and Percy who were filleting their catch of walleye from the morning, who not only gave us half their fish for dinner that night but went away to buy us coffee and returned with a cut of moose from Chris’s freezer! We now know that moose is delicious. Huge thanks also to Sharon, who kept me entertained with stories of her early life in South Africa and time living in Melrose whilst her partner was working at the BGH!! Small world. She gave us two rolls of toilet roll, which is like giving us gold. Buying anything less than a years supply doesn’t seem possible in supermarkets here and we were about to donate the surplus to the local community. 

From here we head to the lakes. Cedar first, about two days downstream, then the larger challenges of Winnipegosis and Manitoba. We’re definitely ready for a change from the river, we’ve been on it a month after all, but I think we might change our tune when we’ve spent some time on the lakes. 

What we’ve learnt:

  • Mike’s jacket is not as waterproof as he would like. 
  • Paddling upstream into a headwind is only possible with Haribo. 

Favourite piece of kit:

  • MSR Windburner stove. Has saved us now on numerous occasions. 

Phew

Days since departure = 29 

(25 days of paddling; 2 days lost due to bad weather; 2 proper days off)

Km paddled = 1400 (ish)

(Km paddled upstream into a headwind: 9. 9 quiet, grumpy, haribo fuelled km…all of which totally worth it)


Items lost overboard by Carrie: 3 

Items retrieved by Mike: 2 (I know, I know, how did he miss that last one?)

Bear attacks: 0

Mosquito attacks: a bazillion 

Fish caught by ourselves from the boat without direct help from a local: 1


Favourite food item: chorizo

Favourite piece of kit: carbon bent shaft  paddles 

Piece of kit we don’t have that Mike just found out about and now wants: wood burning stove phone charger

Most memorable thing about Saskatchewan: friendliness of the people

(closely followed by)

Second most memorable thing about Saskatchewan: biblical rain

Weight loss thus far: significant

Freckles gained: countless

Attempted dog abductions: possibly 2