Abort, Abort, Abort
Abort is plane speak for pulling a flight, and as my husband and I flew together for many years, this is the way I see pulling out of a kayaking trip last minute. I’ve had to do it three times already this spring. In late May three of us were set to paddle on the Columbia, when the temps in the mountains dropped to freezing and rain was forecast for all three days on the water. Last weekend, I cancelled a trip with another paddler, because of the heat, mosquitoes and rain, and not being able to pin down the stretch of water we would hit. So yesterday, aborting yet another long-time planned mission hit me hard.
I’ve been trying to do the last stage of Sask Landing to Elbow for a year. It seems you need the perfect equation consisting of your desire to paddle, health, an available person to ferry you, a free time frame and having all those things come together, the weather suddenly decides not to cooperate. I thought I had my equation just right, yesterday, and at 7:15 am headed for Riverhurst, with my husband, Den, willing to drop me in.
Experience has taught me that the biggest obstacle to a committed paddler is the weather. I’d planned to take my time, paddling a leisurely two days to complete this 35 kilometre strip, because of the big water I would be paddling on this area of Diefenbaker Lake. But yesterday my window closed to a single day as the changing forecast warned the wind would swing around sooner, and thundershowers hit within twelve hours. For that day, though, it looked like I’d have the weather I wanted, winds 15 to 20 k/h from the southwest, temp around 24 degrees. So, I changed my intention, dumped a load of gear, and determined to paddle the distance in one day. I figured with breaks to rest my arms, I’d need about five hours of paddling, plus two of down time. With the sun riding high in the sky as summer swells into longer days, this seemed quite doable.
Driving north, then east through Beachy, SK we arrived at the ferry launch at Riverhurst only to find rough water, really rough water. It seemed the weatherman once again got it wrong. Winds were 35 k/h gusting to fifty. I decided if we took the ferry across to the south side, I could paddle in the lee of the hills and get quieter water. On the ferry we went. We were parked next to a cattle liner, filled with very excitable cows. One of them shat her feces all over the side and top of my kayak, so my pale blues Perception looked like a sky filled with crows. Ugh.
Refusing to take that as a sign this trip was in the toilet, I asked the ferry master his take on the water to the east. He strongly suggested I reconsider kayaking it that day, and further advised we drive to Elbow and see how much wind there was on the big opening where the river splits, an arm leading right to the Qu’appelle dam, and another, left to the Outlook dam. Straight ahead across a usually intimidating stretch is the small town of Elbow.
We made the 45 minute drive down the south side of the river, past Central Butte. When we arrived, the expanse of water, in question, wasn’t nearly as daunting as I remembered from other trips by car, to this area, or from how it appeared on the map. With the water level so low, it would be easy to see across the lake to the Elbow Clubhouse and marina; and from Elbow, I could see an electrical line that marked when I emerged from the mouth of the river into the damned end of the lake. Love those landmarks. We had a tasty breakfast in the clubhouse (to appease my driver) and then headed back to Riverhurst. Even as we stopped at Douglas Park to take another look at the water, it seemed the 20 k/h winds, indicated while at Elbow, were increasing. By the time we got back to the south ramp of the Riverhurst ferry flags were snapping hard and flying straight out. The wind was fifty k/h gusting higher. The ferry was also out of order, due to a mechanical breakdown, closing down our north line of retreat.
What can a paddler do, when her husband’s anxiety level is now topping the gauge? While I didn’t fear the rough water, as he did, I was concerned that I would have to correct to port for over five kilometres of really pushy waves. My kayak has a skeg, so I couldn’t count on my legs and a rudder to make it easier. Though my arm strength is up there, this early in the year, I’m not in top condition. I figured I’d blow my arms for sure, and then be out there with no access roads to allow for a pick-up. I made the decision to abort and wait for a better day. I was extremely disappointed, as we drove home by the back roads. This was just more proof that the magic equation is difficult to work out.
However, I conclude it’s great to have the option to abort. I’d had a lovely day driving around with my husband, as the scenery of green rolling hills and many sloughs reflecting the clear blue sky was entrancing, his company relaxing. Best of all, I have reconnoitred and now have a clear visual of the Elbow end of the trip, which immediately reduced my stress level. Another day is out there, and I’m staying loose, so I can grab it.