It was 4:30am Saturday Oct 17, 2009, as I drag myself out of bed. It is at this point that I regret not getting to sleep until 1:30am, should of brought that monster energy drink along, I think to myself as we cruise south down the highway in the darkness. We’re in the Suzuki XL-7, with a 16ft fiberglass canoe hastily strapped to the roof, heading southwest of Edmonton; upstream of the North Saskatchewan River. My friend Lucas and I had this last minute idea to paddle down the river on what looked to be one of the last good weather weekends of the year, although the snow and cold earlier in the week didn’t boost our confidence.
We push on down the secondary highway system, headed towards the Genesee Bridge, about an hour and a half drive away. When we get there it’s still dark, as we pull down the canoe from the roof and carry it down to the water’s edge, and begin loading the gear into it. Just as the sky begins to brighten, we’ve pushed off from the shore, floating through the fog, as a bright red dawn reflects off the water. It’s almost surreal as we paddle quietly past the riverbanks. “I sure hope we don’t tip” Lucas says. Thinking about how I’m wearing the only clothes I brought, and how cold the water is, I couldn’t agree more, falling in… would suck.
This was supposed to be an overnight trip, and both of us had things to do on Sunday, so we pushed hard the first day to cover some ground errr.. water. Fall is a beautiful time for a canoe trip down the river, the leaves are all turning color, and if you look carefully, you can spot bald eagles soaring above. Canadian and snow geese are all along the river. Flying in perfect V’s over the water, they are abruptly interrupted by Lucas’ attempt at a goose call, “uuuaahhhh!” he screams, as I burst out laughing, “That was terrible!”
The river is fairly easy to navigate in this section, but with a very dry year with little rain, the water level is very low. Occasionally Lucas yells “Rock!” as I steer hard to keep us from hitting the boulders patiently waiting to rip a hole in an unsuspecting canoe. At other times, you look down into the clear waters and find yourself in only a few inches of water as you glide over a rocky sandbar hoping you don’t bottom out. By the end of the day our shoulders and backs tell us it’s time to stop, as we begin to hunt for a good place to land and make camp for the night. We find a rocky beach and push ashore, dragging the canoe up out of the water. After setting up the tent and cooking a quick meal, it doesn’t take long before we’re both fast asleep. Three hours of sleep followed with nine hours of paddling down a river is the perfect recipe for a quick pass out.
My sleep is only interrupted at around 2am, by the sound of rain pouring down on the tent. Lucas is up too, as I peek out of my mummy bag, “Can you imagine packing up camp and paddling the rest of the way in a down pour tomorrow?” I say, before falling back asleep. When I open my eyes in the morning, I am glad to not here the sound of raindrops on the nylon tent. I get dressed and crawl outside, Lucas sticks his head out, “Aw man, I spent so much time thinking about how I’m going to wrap myself up in garbage bags to stay dry today, and now it’s not even raining!” I chuckle as I start to pack things up. It doesn’t take long before we’re back on the water pushing towards the city.
Bridge after bridge we paddle into the city, enjoying a very unique look of the city that we both grew up in. Our arms are burning, and sitting on a hard canoe seat for 2 days is not the most comfortable. But neither of us regrets it. We get back onto dry land near the low level bridge, as we strap the canoe in the back of the truck, all 10 feet sticking out the back, “It’ll be fine!” we say, as we drive off down the road. 2 paddles, 1 canoe, a different perspective, what better way to spend a weekend in October…