Saturday, 31 December 2011


Day 8 
The Bay and Dymond Lake Lodge
24th August 1999

On the map our objectives each day for the most part were rather ill-defined. Basically, we would go until we were tired, had found an acceptable campsite by late afternoon, or were forced to stop by either an obstacle (falls) or by the weather. Today, however, was different. Our target was clear, the Hudson Bay, about 16 miles away through the delta.

We arose to more of the same, a steady cold drizzle. We quickly decided to eat a cold breakfast and press on as a fire would have taken too long and we were going to get wet anyway. Within one hour we were quickly back to the same situation as the previous day, cold wet and miserable. I was with Dexter and we eventually came upon another cabin which belonged to a Cree Indian who had absconded with government funds intended for his tribe. His cabin, in any case a complete dump, provided brief shelter before we decided en masse to go on. We ate some more of the cold beef stroganoff and some apricots and honey and headed for the delta.

At this point I was wearing my last long sleeve shirt (cotton again) which I decided to jettison in favour of the polartec vest and pullover under a goretex shell. Duh! I should have done it long ago. Suddenly I was warm and having stuffed the remnants of the honey pot into my pocket felt infinitely better.

Two miles later we were dodging rocks in the shallows of the delta. Dexter and I had a vague idea of which way to go having consulted the map in the cabin, but practically speaking , once in the delta we just followed the main flow of the water and hoped for the best. With the river as high as it was, it made no difference in any case and we could paddle almost out to the bay. On a previous trip, Dexter had been forced to portage a considerable distance, but as I told him on this occasion, it is better to be lucky than smart.
The Hudson Bay

The Hudson Bay! Few bodies of water are so well known relative to the number of people who have actually been there. From the perspective of the North Knife at low tide, it looked a mirage, a flat glassy pond with rocks dotted as far as the eye could see. They looked to me like nuts on peanut brittle, lumps jutting out of the surface and scattered haphazardly across the horizon.

The weather, as if on cue, suddenly changed. The clouds broke up and from the north rows upon rows of cumulus clouds marched passed us like ranks of soldiers on parade. We emerged from the river next to another cabin perched right on the edge of the bay one hundred yards inland.

This cabin was a rude reintroduction to society, filled with beer bottles, the carcasses of gun cartridges shot off for no purpose, and idiotic grafitti from morons who no doubt motored there from Churchill, whose grain elevators stood as our first real beacon of civilisation 15 miles across the bay to the east.
We Made It!

The tide prevented us from paddling south to Dymond Lake, where we were due to be picked up by Doug Webber, the bush pilot, hotelier, and entrepreneur in these parts (he even has a website) who was going to ferry us and our gear back to Churchill in his floatplane. We had a four hour wait until high tide, and spent it drying our clothes in the sun, looking at what we thought to be a polar bear way off in the distance on the bay. (We later agreed it was probably a rock).

We used our satellite phone for the first time to call Doug, getting his daughter who elliptically told us we would be picked up that evening from Dymond Lake. I climbed onto the roof of the cabin and off in the distance (seven miles away) saw a row of cabins lined up perpendicular to the shoreline about half a mile inland from the bay.

What happened in the next three hours I can only describe as magic, fully realising that this was a result of my perspective, of the rigours of the trip, of my state of mind, and of my reason for being there in the first place.
The Bay on the way home

The sun shone brightly and the wind died down completely. We paddled first north out into the Bay, away from our destination, and then rounded a point and headed south towards Dymond Lake.

I was with Dexter in the lead (a rare place for me) and as we rounded the corner off in the distance were the cabins, seven miles away.

The human psyche is strange. These tiny points of reference in front of me, the period at the end of our trip's sentence, represented a goal, and the goal transfixed me. Of course I was in better shape than I was seven days previously, but suddenly I felt a surge of power, a peace, and a rhythm unlike any of the previous days.

I would pick a rock as an interim way point, and calculate how many strokes it would take me to get there, and then count them off in my mind, a silent cadence of paired numbers that coincided with my strokes: 1,2…3,4…5,6…7,8…9,10…. The rhythm was an elixir. I was no longer tired or cold or unsure. My mind didn't wander. My muscles weren't complaining. The surface of the water was glassy, as if this were some pond, not a sea.

I removed the top layer leaving only the vest, and felt that perfect temperature on the cusp of hot and cold. Each rock shot by as a new target replaced it in the distance. I explained the game to Dexter who took to it with enthusiasm. We became more proficient, hitting two rocks 200 strokes away nearly on the money. We paddled for 75 minutes non-stop on the same side, stopping only when the next rock was actually the shoreline. The cabins got larger and larger as they came into focus, but even at the edge they were still out of reach a half mile away.

I am sure that objectively this was the same sort of work rate of previous days, the same foot pounds of pressure of muscles and paddle against water, the same boat speed, but it felt different.

It was the end of the trip, and I did not want it to end. There was still a half mile to portage, but this seemed a reward, not more work. No longer had we stopped than the wind picked up again, the tide continued to rush in with frightening speed, and the clouds reappeared.  As we lugged our gear and canoes towards the cabin, me bringing up the rear with the unwieldy food box, I smelled the fresh salt air and belted out the newly formed words to the North Knife song to an audience of no one, and felt profoundly, profoundly satisfied. It was a moment I shall remember as long as I live.
Instruction from the Master
Even though the paddling was over, the magic continued. The cabins which I had seen from afar were not some derelict cabins abused by drunkards and dopeheads but a thriving hunting lodge run by Doug Webber and his wife. We happened upon dinnertime, and when we found out by radiophone that he could not pick us up that evening as promised, he invited us to stay in a cabin and were also invited to have dinner. It was a delicious meal of goose boobs (we thought they said goose poops, but at that stage we would have eaten practically anything) stuffed with jalapenos, wild rice casserole, and Jeff's (the 21 year old cook) Chunky Mean Ass chili, fresh bread, iced tea, lemonade, apple crumble, and delicious, delicious coffee, followed by steaming hot showers, a game of poker, the writing of the rest of the song, the remnants of the Southern Comfort, and firm dry beds. NEED I SAY MORE!

This was a graph of the day.

State of Mind (from Despair to Ectasy)

                                               Cold         Dump1     Dump2     HudsonBay      DymondLake

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