May 14th are first day past North Battleford is welcomed with a heavy fog which slowly dissipates with the sun. We receive a message on our inreach a certain cbrunet wanting to meet us at the river with some food. The timing and location seem to fit exactly with our average speed making us wonder if this person had been following our progression. We agree to the meeting and look forward to the mysterious meeting, thinking we will see from the boat who they are before getting off. We paddle with a light breeze in our face and notice how the river changes. Lots of islands and sand bars everywhere. Campsite are really abundant in this low water year. We arrive right on time to our rendez-vous and meet to great ladies Carole Brunet and Terry. They welcome us with a warm chili still in the crock pot with fresh buttered buns and other treats for Mali. Very nice ladies that were from a small village ----- just 5 miles north of the River. They had heard about our story and were very happy to meet us. Carole has been to Quebec before and was happy to speak to us in french. After this great supper in great company we have to wish them farewell just before sundown and quickly find a nice beach that we share with a beaver. Large trunk for mali to play on and lots of place to run on sand. We go to bed and are looking forward to the next day.
The next day we are welcomed by a nice warm sunny day so we take it easy in the morning letting Mali sleep in a bit. We enjoy a bit of morning sunshine after now being on the river for two weeks now. When Mali wakes up we play baseball and on his huge trunk until noon and we have lunch. My finger is only getting worst so we contact my father via our Inreach and ask for advice for which antibiotic to take and I start the antibiotics for my infection. We are very happy to have brought some with us during the trip and don’t hesitate to us them. We leave early in the afternoon and paddle slowly to rest our muscles which are starting to get tiered. In the evening we see the wildlife get our more with lots of beavers, geese families, deer’s and coyotes. We set our camp near a beavers house which once again will make sure to let us know all night long.
We spend a cold night and get up early to avoid the wind which will never come. Magali takes a nap in the morning in the canoe as she didn’t sleep very well in the cold and didn’t want to wake me up to warm her up. We spend a perfect blue sky day with no wind all day, wow what a change with the past few days. Later in the afternoon, we cross a ferry which seems in the middle of nowhere and we actually witness 3 cars cross the river. Mali takes a very long 3-4 hour nap in the canoe and we realise he is probably lacking some sleep which are likely the causes of some of his mood swings lately. Later that evening as we are looking for a campsite we witness a bald eagle trying to catch a baby geese and the mother puffing herself and charging the eagle!!! Wow, what a scene.
The next day we are hoping to reach Prince Albert not to late and hopefully take a shower at someone’s place. We receive offers from lots of different people making us realise how generous people are. We take up the offer of Debbie and Fred Rot who even went through the trouble of finding a closed trailer so we can put our canoe and all our gear and offers to drives us to their place near Christopher lake 30 min north of Prince Albert. We notice she seems like she has lots of kids as her facebook page has 6 on the profile picture and think Mali would enjoy having some friends. The kids on the picture end up being her grandchildren but daughter Megan and her husband Jo and their 3 kids Jessie, Kendal and James are there and Mali and James hit it off right away. We spend a great evening at their house exchanging canoeing, fishing and lots of other stories in great company. We also shower and do a bit of laundry and even take a hot tub by the lake, wow! These people are truly generous and genuinely kind people which whom we share lots of similar values. Our stay at their place seems to go by to quickly and we are sad to leave the next day, although happy we have had the chance to meet them during this trip. We try to make plan to meet up with Jo and Megan and their kids later during the trip as we would love to spend more time with this amazing family. We even start talking about future family canoe adventure on the Churchill River. We meet with some local media that Debie had contacted and we continue downstream hoping to reach the forks the next day. We stop early to take advantage of a nice site we found and Mali discovers lots of beautiful blue beetles eating the plants around the campsite. He spends most of the evenings observing the beetles and playing on big washed up logs.
We wake up the following morning and noticed that the water went up a bit… luckily for us not enough to reach the tent. We get the visit from a lady who manages a campground nearby who suprises us in her kayak. We chat for a bit and then we are on our way but this time with a steady headwind. I paddle hard as I’m paddling alone since we are trying to rest Magali’s shoulder a bit. We reach our first portage and find a nice road to get around our first dam. Unfortunately we reach a gate that is locked… I quickly call SaskPower and they were very helpful in getting someone down there to open the gate. They even offered to bring a trailer to carry our canoe around the dam but since our boat is already on the cart and ready to roll we kindly decline the help. Someone shows up within 40 minutes and we can get around the dam. After the dam we have just a short way before we reach the Nipawin regional park where there is a nice campground a nice Marina with a restaurant. We talk with Megan that we met in Prince Albert and they will meet us there the next day with the kids and we will take a day off so that we can spend time with our new friends as we rest. As we eat our supper at the Twin Marina in Nipawin a large cloud of smoke hides the sun and gets us worried a bit. We are quickly recognized by different people at the Marina and they are very curious about our trip. Lots of very friendly folks in Nipawin!!! After supper we get to our campsite with the help of Lyle Moffatt a paramedic from Nipawin who also paid our bill without telling us ;-) sneaky Lyle ;-). We set up camp and go the sleep quickly.
The next day we are happy it is the 2nd full day off of paddling (the first day off was because of the snow). Me and Mali take a shower while Magali sleeps in a bit. Mali is very excited to see his new friend james and is impatient for them to arrive. After the shower we visit the campground and grab a great breakfast at the Twin Marina. Megan and Jo and their kids James, Kendall and Jessie reach us and we spend a few hours just relaxing in the shade while the kids play. We eventually play at the park and play a game of miniature golf before walking around the suspended bridge and having super guess where at the Twin Marina (they serve very good food at a great location)! James is so tired that he falls asleep with fries in his mouth during supper. After supper Joe helps us rig Mali`s new fishing rod and gives us a few tips as I’m not an experience fisherman and Mali really wants us to catch some fish. Our friends eventually leave back home and we say goodbye but we have a feeling we are going to see them again. Such a great family that shares so many interest with us. Maybe a future trip on the Churchill River where Jo grew up.
Our next day is our first big lake (and its not even that big…), Lake Tobin. A very large Lake that we hope to cross in one day since the weather is supposed to be hostile for the next day. We leave on the water around 8h30 after a quick breakfast at the Marina. The Lake is mirror when we leave before some side wind later in the day. We fight a bit of head winds later in the after noon before the lake becomes a mirror again. This mirror lakes gives us hope that we can push late into the evening and reach the other side. We have a quick supper and we get back on the water. The wind slowly picks up in our back and we cruise with the sail. As we cruise the waves start to build up a bit and we start heading closer to shore. The shore are really marshy and there is no easy were we can stop. We push late into the evening in the big waves… not the best case scenario for sure and my Magali is not to happy… We finally reach the boat launch at the other end of the lake around 11pm and quickly set up the tent before we crash for bed. We have our first test on big water and learn from our experience that even a calm lake can quickly become a intense ride. However I’m really happy about how our canoe reacted in the waves and how our spray deck kept the few waves splashing in the boat out.
The next morning we wake up and our boat is fully on the beach… the water levels have dropped over night! We realise first hand the impact of the dam on the water levels and how it effect the daily flow downstream. My hands are starting to feel pretty sore every morning now, probably the Tobin Lake effect!!! The River is really pretty and calm today. We enjoy paddling and hope to reach the Delta of the Saskatchewan River later that day. We eventually reach the house of Solomon and Renee Carriere who live off the grid right on the Saskatchewan River. A beautiful place where Solomon guides hunting and adventure trips. Solomon has lived there his whole life and he is also a successful canoe racer that has won many races. He offers us to stay and even though we were hoping to get further that day we want to take advantage of this chance to spend some time with this man who seems very interesting. Indeed we will learn lots from him about the Delta we will be paddling, the history of this part of Canada as well as many different hunting and racing stories. Solomon is a truly a living legend and we feel blessed to have had the chance to meet and spend time with him. His wife Renee is actually on the River a day ahead of us with our student doing a canoe trip. Too bad we didn’t get the chance to meet her and her students that would have been great. Solomon invites us to stay in one of his cabins and invites us to take a sauna. Wow I was not expecting to take a sauna during this trip, especially not in the middle of nowhere on the Saskatchewan River!
The following day we wake up under the rain and decide to sleep in a bit later to let the rain slow down. We are happy to be in one of Solomon’s cabin under this rain. We have breakfast with Solomon and learn more from him. He gives me tips on how to prepare fish and we are on our way even though it is very cold. We paddle through the maze of channels that is the Saskatchewan River delta. A unique place in Canada and in the world that has changed lots since the dam was constructed… We paddle in the cold until 5-6pm an decide to call it a day as both our hands and feet are freezing. We fish another big northern pike and I put what Solomon taught me to practice. We have another great meal. Although we are cold, I keep reminding Magali that cold equal no bugs. We are very lucky as this spring is a very nice spring for bugs. After hearing horror stories about the bugs near Cumberland House we feel very lucky that there are so few, actually no bugs at all.
Another morning with great company! We make pancakes and eggs for breakfast. As we leave we notice a bear a couple hundred meters from our campsite sitting on the top of a beaver Dam waiting for his meal. Our objective of the day is to reach cell phone reception so we can warn Terry Hendrickson our contact in The Pas that we will not be reaching his house today but the following day. For most of the first half of the day we get steady back winds and we have sail canoe races. Geatan and Roger love our sail but their tarp is pretty efficient as well. The second part of the day however the river turns 180 degrees back towards the south and we have to fight strong head winds. I paddle extra hard and enjoy the workout. Roger and Geatan were impressed with my abilities to progress paddling without Magali in the wind but I have to give credit to Mali who is always happy to help me fight the winds especially when mom is injured and can’t paddle. After many hours of paddling against the wind we stop for super but still can’t have cell reception. We push a bit further after supper before meeting Ric Constant the chief of council of the Indian reserve in The Pas. His brother has a hunting cabin not to far downstream which has reception and he offers us to spend the night there. We paddle in calmer winds until the cabin and we are very happy to stay in his cabin as there is rain forecasted for the night and the morning. We call Terry to let him know we will arrive tomorrow and I go to bed really quickly as my whole body is exhausted from the day.
June 1st, almost a day has gone by before we left and we are about a week behind our original schedule. We don’t mind to much as we have plenty of food which is the main concern for being behind schedule. I wake up early to give a radio interview with Radio Canada and go back to bed for another hour. Roger and Geatan will be getting off at Terry Hendrickson place as well and they decide to paddle quickly to town. We realise how fast they can actually paddle when they put their minds into it and feel fortunate that they didn’t mind slowing their pace for the past few days to keep us company. We paddle in low head winds for most of the day until the last stretch before The Pas were we are blessed with a good tail wind that will bring us into The Pas. We get at Terry’s place maybe an hour after Geatan and Terry is very happy to meet us. He helps us to get all our stuff out and offers us a nice cold beer which we are very happy to accept. He would of offered us to stay with him at his house but his whole basement has been recently flooded and is under heavy construction. He helps us find a hotel room since all hotels are fully booked due to the shut down at the local mill which is under construction. He presents us to the Kikiwak hotel managers who gladly accepts to make room for us in their hotel. He lends us his pick up for the next couple of days to help us get around town. What a generous and kind man that we are very fortunate that Geoff Macdonald a previous cross Canada paddler (http://canoeacrosscanada.ca/) put us in contact with him. We have a nice shower, great meal, a hot tub at the hotel with Geatan and Roger who are also staying at the hotel and go to bed. Another big stretch of our trip is done. Tomorrow will be a rest day, but with lots of things to do, reorganize our food, clean our gear and canoe from the mud, find a massage therapist and chiropractor for Magali’s shoulder, update our blog, back-up our pictures and video, do groceries and laundry… not much of a rest after all…
We are sorry we havent been bloging much since we left. Who would of tought it would be so much work to paddle across the country with a 5 year old ;-) We decided that I, Benoit, would be bloging in english and that Magali will be bloging in French. Reduces the work load on each of us a bit. We will try and slowly catch up to our current position but here is some stories from the first couple of weeks of our trip.
The next few days go buy well as we revisit some of the sites we paddled last spring. We quickly realise the water is much lower than last year which we appreciate at first as it helps us finding campsites. On May 6th after 5 days of paddling however we are forced to take our first day off (which our body appreciate) due to the snow storm that hit us. We spend a whole day in the tent trying to stay warm and are happy to have brought our propane stove to cook on. We are also very happy to have our Exped mats as they have down in them and keep us insulated from the ground. I take a short walk outside in the afternoon only to realise how much it would have been cold on the water and that staying in the tent was a good idea. At that point we decide to let Mother Nature decide to some extend when our rest days will be.
On May 8th we paddle hard to reach Heinsburg Alberta our first stop in civilisation. We were surprised to see the amount of people there this spring as last spring it felt like a ghost town. We meet lots of great people who organized the 2nd chance trail ride an event to raise funds and promote awareness about organ and tissues donors. It makes us realise how lucky we are to be healthy and able to take on the adventure we are on. Mali also enjoys the bunch of kids that are there and plays until late at night with them. Mali is sad to leave his new friends but the next rapids we paddle the next day quickly make him happy again to be in the canoe. Mali loves rapids, it’s like a big roller coaster for him. I usually love them as well but at this time of year there are more of a concern for me and I always take the easiest and driest route through them (unfortunately for Mali who always wants us to take the biggest waves…). Our objective for the day was to reach Saskatchewan which we reach later that evening after another good day of paddling. That evening after setting up camp we get the visit from a hunter who surprised us by walking up to our camp from the bush!!! We didn’t expect to get visitors at all. He warns us that he has just place bear bait 500m away from our camp and that he knows of a least 6 bears in his sector one of which is a BIG males that might not want to share his snack. We eat our supper, pack all our stuff and at 9pm we get back on the water to find a new spot which we do on an island a bit downstream. We always felt safer on islands but a few days later after witnessing a bear swimming across the whole North Saskatchewan River, that feeling of safety on islands was gone.
A few days later we get some very cold night and thus we are a lot slower in the mornings. I often let magali and Mali sleep in in the warm tent heated by the sun but I have a lot of difficulty sleeping past 7am. I’m always to excited, so I get up prepare a fire and just appreciate the calm and quiet and sometimes see a few beaver that are curious to see what I’m up to. On May 10th our objective is to make it near North Battleford so we can call Elaine our contact there who has our box or resupplies. We manage to find a site with cell reception (so we can contact her) only as the sun was setting which means another long day of paddling. Being on the water late in the evening however has it up sides as we see a lot of wild life especially beavers who like to let us know we are near their house. Lucky for us there wasn’t too much wind that day which is always nice. The next day we reached North Battleford and thus completed the first part of our journey. We underestimated the time required to get there however and make it only after another 9 hours of paddling and arrive around 7pm. We decide to camp near the river in North Battleford and to reorganize everything the next day. Lucky for us the rain forecast has changed for a nice sunny day. That evening we also get the visit from a local journalist who brings some gifts for Mali, some books, sand toys and little boats. Mali is really happy and we thank her with all our heart for her kind gesture. The next day Elaine meets us again and gives me a ride to her house so we can get fresh water and then drops me into town to get fresh goods and some things at the pharmacy. I have a finger that has gotten infected and wanted the advice of a pharmacist. I take a taxi back to our camp and we reorganise all our food for the next section of our trip until The Pas Manitoba which we hope to reach in two weeks. We leave North Battleford late that evening and camp nearby. From this point on the adventure really begins for us as we had paddle up to North Battleford last sping but what is coming up is the unknown. We are really excited to discover new areas ahead.