8–The big push

or, This is it!

12 August

After leaving The Pas, we have only 100 km of river left to navigate. After that it’s Cedar Lake — a treacherous body of water that we’d been nervous about right from the beginning — and then Lake Winnipeg, a whole new phase of the journey that we’ll deal with when we get there.

In the morning it’s blowing like stink, as it has been for the last two days. Despite our noble intentions for a crack-of-dawn departure, we leave late in the afternoon, hoping the wind will drop toward the end of the day. It doesn’t. We still manage to get a few kilometres downriver, to a mediocre campsite infested with willows and mosquitoes.

13 August

Commando pack-up and breakfast in the boat, where the mosquitoes don’t follow (much). We round a bend to see two cute bear cubs wrestling on the beach. They break to check us out and then hightail it into the high grass. No sign of mama, but we know she’s close so there’s no stopping here!

I think I found another sandbar...
I think I found another sandbar…

It’s a gray day with lowering clouds. Lots of wind too, enough to slow us down significantly, especially toward evening. What are we going to do out on the lakes, when we lose the shelter of the riverbanks?

The banks are either thickly overgrown with willows or low, grassy mudbar — no obvious campsites to be found. We do see some rare leopard frogs while looking. Finally we locate a spot at the junction of two branches of the river: waist-high grass to tromp down, and a small mudpit of a cooking area, but at least it’s level and shows no bear signs. We eat and hop into the tent just before it starts to rain — which it does off and on for the next 15 hours. All the prairie thunderstorms we missed by a hair during the last six weeks have caught up with us here on our last riverbank campsite.

14 August

Tentbound until noon. We’re reasonably dry, but the boat is half full of water. We set out
trepidatiously into still more wind on our last few kilometres of river.

Part way down we pause for a bite to eat, and when we resume rowing suddenly nothing makes sense: the river zigs when it should zag; the vegetation (willows one side and grass the other) has mysteriously swapped riverbanks; still worse, the river now appears to be flowing upstream! And most puzzling of all, our compass now seems to be pointing 180 degrees wrong! We spend half an hour trying to figure this conundrum out before sheepishly realizing that we have somehow turned ourselves around during the lunch break. We’ve been rowing upstream! Yikes! And we’re about to set out on a big boggy lake infamous for its navigational difficulties!

We turn around and row quietly back the other way, still weirdly disoriented. Soon we reach the edge of Cedar Lake — flocks of ducks and geese, shallow marshy bits that stretch far out into the lake. The wind is still honking, and whitecaps crawl into the haze as far as the eye can see. We hole up in the dubious shelter of some reeds and wait. This is definitely going to be a challenging stretch of the trip.

Greg thinks the animals are all bigger around here, particularly the eagles, which look huge. Sylvia’s theory is that the trees are smaller, so they just make the animals look bigger in comparison.

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