or, What’s the fuss?

15 July

The wind blows off the shore pretty strong all night. Now, in the morning light, it looks like a good sailing breeze. The lake makes a jog a few km ahead, and if we can get around the point we should have a mighty good downwind run, which is always hard to resist. We set out tentatively, hugging the shore. We struggle past a bay where a fish hatchery, earlier this spring, was damaged by ice and allowed half a million rainbow trout to escape. The shores are lined shoulder-to-shoulder with people fishing.

We come to the next bay — a wide one, and as far along this shore as we are going to get. Crossing the lake is the next trick, but it’s only a couple of km and the wind doesn’t seem too bad. We decide to try it.

Holy Dinah — we should have remembered about offshore winds! The farther from shore we get, the stronger the wind seems to become and the bigger the seas grow. Sylvia’s rowing, looking back at the building curlers, and Greg steers dead downwind to keep the waves from coming over the side. Neither of us have much to say, but we’re both thinking the same grim thoughts.

... ram her ashore, leap out, and drag her up the rocks.Ambrose Jane handles the seas admirably, but there’s no way we can fight this wind. We miss the point by a few hundred metres. There’s no shelter on this side so we pick what looks like a smooth section of beach, ram her ashore, leap out, and drag her up the rocks. We stand there in the blasting wind looking at an angry sea and wondering what the hell we were doing out there.

It gets worse. The wind blows straight onto this lee-est of lee shores and the only cover is two immature poplars and a tiny bump of a coulee, a long walk away. We lug our camping gear there, leaving the boat on her own. The wind continues to climb — according to the radio, it’s hitting 40-50 kph. We also hear about a tornado making mincemeat of an Alberta trailer park. We hunker down behind our shrubs and try to read. The wind shifts a bit, and we suddenly know that someone upwind has recently fertilized his fields with pig manure ? the stinkiest! Why oh why didn’t we just stay in the tent this morning?!

16 July

A long night in the flogging tent, but thanks to earplugs not too sleepless. Looks like we’re going nowhere today as well. To help with the boredom we explore the shore, looking especially for Saskatoon berries. But there are precious few ?it seems this is a bad year for them. Not much of interest around, except for a rusted-out water tank down the beach a ways with pretty interesting acoustics. The beaches are all stone, the uplands all grain farms. The winds are so strong even the birds are grounded. A few gulls rocketing by and a pair of Swainson’s hawks suspended on updrafts above us are the only wildlife we see all day. The really galling part is looking at a whole string of fabulous, sheltered campsites on the other side of the lake, a scant kilometre away.

Finally, to give at least an illusion of progress, we lug all our gear overland from the beached boat and then push, wade, and line her the couple of hundred metres to our campsite. How long will this go on?

17 July

The wind has changed direction so we’re no longer on a direct lee shore. Unfortunately it has changed to a slight headwind, so we’re not going to be sailing along today. Common sense suggests staying put, but we’re having none of that! Rather than face another day ashore going nowhere, Greg suggests we “line” the boat from shore.

"Lining" the boat upwind--harder work than rowing!
“Lining” the boat upwind–harder work than rowing!

We attach ropes bow and stern and physically drag the bucking, protesting Ambrose Jane up against the wind. It’s a chore born of desperation, stumbling on rocks, plowing through sand and mud that threatens to suck the Tevas off our feet, getting soaked keeping her off the rocks and bailing out the water that dumps in. Eight measley kilometres in six hard hours — we feel like beasts of burden!

18 July

Perhaps the foolhardy crossing of a few days ago made us over-cautious, but this morning we hesitate at the chop and hints of whitecaps on the lake. It can only get worse, our experience tells us. We lounge on shore for a few hours before realizing the wind has not increased, and decide to strike out for Elbow, the town at the bend in the lake. Its grain elevator has been beckoning to us for days, a distant grail shimmering on the horizon with promises of french fries and ice cream. Heart in throats, we cross the lake to the sheltered side and have a dead easy row the last 12 kilometres to a delightful little campspot. We can see the end of this cursed lake! (And we do get French fries and ice cream in Elbow).

Elbow, Saskatchewan. Dee-lighted to be here! Fries to go please....
Elbow, Saskatchewan. Dee-lighted to be here! Fries to go please….

19 July

A lovely morning’s sail, followed by a long, hot afternoon’s row, takes us down the last arm of Lake Diefenbaker. We are not sorry to see the end of the lake, and look forward to being back on the river where the wind is not such a problem. But the lake isn’t done with us yet: There’s still the portage around Gardiner Dam to deal with. We get the rough route from a lady at the Visitor Centre. The put-in is two and a half kilometres away, and we set out early afternoon. We each shuttle a backpack and as much gear as we can hold in our arms for a couple of hundred metres, dump it, and come back for more.

Just another four hours to go!
Just another four hours to go!

The second trip collects the rest of the loose gear and the boat, which we roll along on a crude set of wheels we have carried for just this purpose. (We can’t just put everything in the boat and trundle it along, for the axle — a broomstick — bends alarmingly enough under just the 65 kg of boat!) It’s a lot slower and a lot more tiring than we thought it would be.

Five hours later, in the falling dusk, we’re near the tailrace of the power dam, but the dirt road we’ve been following has petered out to nothing! Ten thousand curses! In desperation, dripping with sweat and pursued by growing clouds of mosquitoes, we highball the boat through the scrub and grass, straight to the mudbanks of the river. Dinner is sardines on crackers in mid-river (to avoid the mozzies) before we crash ashore and collapse in the tent.

At our next portage, we would find out that Sask Power, which built and administers the dams, is obliged by law to shuttle us around the dam by truck. All it would have taken is a phone call!

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