5–To the Forks

or, Civilization adieu!

25 July

We reluctantly return the rental car, pack Ambrose Jane up at the Rowing Club, and take to the river. It winds under bridge after bridge through the heart of the city, very picturesque. Getting past the weir portage is literally a stroll in the park, especially since Dorothy takes all our gear in her car and Grant helps Greg tow Ambrose Jane down the walking path. A painless launch and then, poof, we’re suddenly out of the city and back into treed, almost deserted valley. The river’s heading north at a good clip, bound eventually for boreal forest and the first real wilderness of the trip.

Relaunching Ambrose Jane below the infamous Saskatoon weir.
Relaunching Ambrose Jane below the infamous Saskatoon weir.

We stop at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a National Historic Site celebrating the culture and history of the Northern Plains First Nations. There are fascinating exhibits and interpretive displays; it is a highly recommended stop for anyone travelling in the area. After just two days off in the city we are not terribly enthusiastic rowers. Even the campsite, a rippling sandbar, is not inspiring.

26 July

There's no such thing as an unhappy ferry operator in Sask.Nothing like the small fury of a thunderstorm to start the day! But again it’s short-lived, and there’s nothing to be done but mop out the boat. We come to Clarkboro, the first of five active ferries on this stretch of river. We have to drop the mast to get under her drooping cable, and have a bit of fun shooting the rapids formed by the rock weir below the ferry. Another so-so camp spot; the good ones always seem to disappear in late afternoon.

27 July

Ugh, what are we are doing here? This morning the trip seems hard and pointless and we wonder why we didn’t just stop in Saskatoon. We hope it’s just a phase because there’s still a long way to go. To help, just a few kilometres downstream there are some great-looking campsites.

The day improves markedly after a four-hour stop at the National Historic Site at Batoche, where the infamous Riel Rebellion was fought. We wander over the battlefields, tour the exhibit hall, and scarf Saskatoon pie with ice cream. Sylvia adds a new bird to her growing list, a black tern. To our delight, evening brings us to a lovely, cow-mowed campsite with a light breeze and squadrons of dragonflies to keep the mosquitoes at bay. The northern lights flicker through the tent screen (we don’t dare venture outside after the dragonflies go off duty) and coyotes hold their nightly yodelling recital.

28 July

A sudden a plague of horseflies pursues us into a hot day of row, row, rowing. Farms all along the river, but about all we see of them is the occasional house or dirt road. Otherwise we might well be in the nineteenth century. We stop at St. Louis for ice cream and a water fill (the lady at the diner charges us for the water!), phone calls, and bread. It’s a still, blistering afternoon, but the river is again getting a bit gamey looking for swimming. We declare war on the irritating horseflies, slaughtering them by the dozen with a wet towel and lining their broken corpses along the gunwale for burial at sea.

Weldon ferry, the last of eight (or was it nine?).
Weldon ferry, the last of eight (or was it nine?).

At the Fenton ferry the operator stops the ferry midstream to point out the channel through the fairly nasty rockpile below. We find another splendid cow-manicured pasture to camp in. Beavers splash, pelicans patiently bob, the river burbles, the ferry clangs, and the mosquitoes hum. A disgruntled beaver slaps the water with his tail all night, and from the sound of it seems to be rummaging about in Ambrose Jane.

29 July

We wake to discover toothmarks on Ambrose Jane‘s gunwale, but luckily the beaver did not find cedar to his or her liking. We rise at 05:40 a.m. to beat the heat, but the mozzies are still out so we toss everything into the boat to sort out enroute, along with breakfast. We also have A Destination, some 73 kilometres ahead: The Forks, where the South and North Saskatchewan Rivers meet. It’s a place we’ve been looking forward to for weeks. We stop for a picture at the Weldon ferry, then charge on into a series of rapids that runs for 25 kilometres. How did we ever get the idea there were no rapids on this river? The score: Greg — one direct boulder hit, one glancing blow; Sylvia — one drag across a gravel bar, one bump-and-grind.

The Forks, where the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers meet.
The Forks, where the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers meet.

After 12 hours rowing shift and shift, switching off every half hour, we reach the Forks. Surprisingly for a place so rich in fur-trade history, there’s nothing there but a plaque and a picnic site way up on top of the steep, heavily-treed riverbank. But it’s still an impressive spot, where two mighty rivers that drain a good portion of North America meet. We pick a small sandy point on the north side of the confluence and treat ourselves to gnocchi and chocolate and biscuits. Osprey have made a comeback in this area and today we see several perching and fishing.

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