Saturday, 31 December 2011


Day 6 
Pain, Bannock Bread, & Red Currant Jam
22nd August 1999

By far the hardest day yet though there were no rapids to speak of. The weather turned colder with a brisk 10-15 knot wind directly in our faces. Our objective was Teepee Falls, about 20 miles away. We should have done it easily, but a late start and a constant headwind made it hard work every stroke of the way. I was with Randy. We started out in high spirits, following on the previous night's singing. We began to pen a song, tentatively called The North Knife. Mainly about wanting to head home. For the first time, I really felt a longing to see Christina and Toby. Of course I think of them often, but this was a physical longing which started deep in my throat and drove me on with every stroke.


We paddled five and a half hours with few breaks. After four hours and a rapid, Dexter, whose ability, persistence, and strength is phenomenal told us that the falls were "just around the corner on the left." One hour and a half later, we were still not there and every stroke was a dull ache.

Eventually we arrived at one o'clock, exhausted and ill-tempered. There is an interesting interplay between Dexter and Randy. When Randy's blood sugar runs low, he gets wobbly, and yet when we arrived, portaged our stuff to the bottom (literally staggering along the rocks down the falls) he went off fishing with Dexter instead of eating immediately.

I cooked some chicken barley soup which I had in my pack which the rest of us demolished. Dexter caught ten fish and said we would have fish for lunch. When I indiscreetly suggested the salami/cheese I had been dreaming about on the paddle, he showed displeasure as only a taciturn fellow would, dumping all the salami, cheese, crackers, mustard etc. in a pile at my feet and saying "I guess I alone am thinking if we have enough food at the end."

Of course he was right. I quickly repacked all the fixings, and after a spell we had delicious fried fish (northern pike…supposedly you can catch trout but we haven't seen any.)

We all then retreated for a long nap, in my case two hours, Randy for three, and Gary for four.

On portaging down I happened upon some red currant bushes, drumming up the courage to have a taste (you can never be sure out here and there are no ingredients on the package), and then decided to make some red currant jam. I got some brown sugar and a tin can and began boiling away. Dexter(no hard feelings about the salami, I am sure) cooked some delicious bread in a Dutch oven--one pan inside another--and after our chicken, peas and rice, we had bannock bread and jam for dessert. Aside from the pips, not bad and the first time apparently he had ever had them on a trip.
Bannock Bread and RedCurrant Jam

Physical: My body is being abused by a factor of ten from what I normally put it through. Wearing shorts on the first day was a huge mistake. My legs were beaten up by the rapids, bushes etc. but more to the point they are a mogul field of mosquito and black fly bites which itch like crazy at night, waking me up and forcing me to rummage around for some antihistamine. Let me be crystal clear here. I hate the f******, and no death can be painful enough for them. I kill them with glee at every occasion, flicking them off the tent walls in my no-fly zone. And the black flies (tiny miniatures) suck your blood like no one's business, leaving little tracks that look like smallpox.

Despite my huge inventory of repellents, they have done little good whatsoever against the onslaught of the little buggers. How they figure out that I am such fresh meat I'll never know, but they do.

Paddling: The experience of paddling five and a half hours made me think of the slave galleys. You rely on many different strategies to get your mind off the pain: mindlessness, concentration, closing your eyes and feeling the stroke, chit chat, singing, complaining and grousing, dousing your neighbour, water breaks. After a certain point without the rapids to break the monotony, the stroking becomes a bodily function like breathing or blinking, just another programmable task added to your body's list. The only difference is, your body wasn't designed for this and it hurts, a numbing constant pain.

The word I would use to describe it, as indeed any experience here in the wilderness, is relentless. To get out you must not stop, and all tasks--paddling, portaging, getting firewood, setting up tents, cooking, cleaning, repacking--must become second nature and done without complaining to yourself or anyone else, or indeed without even noticing that you have done them.

Sleeping:  An assortment of sounds greet us in the night. Dexter's snoring is truly world class.  Randy talks in his sleep, his quotes worth recounting. "The question is: do we work or do we play?", and "Someone born later is part of this change in society."  Whaa?

Weather:  Nice but getting progressively colder. 40-50 degrees.

Mileage: Just the 20 to the falls.

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