And On To Elbow
A little overview: In 2013 I decided paddling to Elbow from Sask Landing was a worthwhile accomplishment, and set it as a goal. I managed two legs that year: Sask Landing to Beaver Flats; and Beaver Flats to Prairie View. In 2014 I paddled the stretch from Prairie View Park (Beachy Yacht Club) to Riverhurst. In 2015 health issues kept me from completing the trip, so I was quite anxious to get in that last lap from Prairie View to Elbow.
It was with double determination I made the long drive back to Riverhurst on June 22 to paddle to Elbow, because I’d already made my first attempt and aborted. The forecast was for light winds from the north west swinging around by noon to southwest. As ever, when we arrived at the ferry launch the winds were gusting 25 and coming from the northeast I launched at 07:20 hours, paddling into a crosswind for the first five kilometres. I paddled point to ¾ point, using the calmer water from ¾ to the end of the point as a little break from the pushing wind. The call of a loon startled me, as these are a rare sighting on Diefenbaker. Either he flew ahead of me several times, or they were migrating through, because a lone loon laughed as I entered three more bays.
A coyote cub drank from the river, and gave me plenty of time to glass him through my binoculars before scooting up the bank to join his mother and another cub. They still had the fuzzy fur of the young. Around 09:30 hours I drew even with the fish farm on the north side of the river. I hadn’t realized it still existed, and the noise an industry surprised me. As I had to go mid river to get around some of their markers and buoys, I decided to cross to the south side at this time, and paddled a long diagonal that took forty-five minutes, getting me into some big waves mid river. A male and female coyote trotted across the shoreline of the south bank, as I drew near. We eyed each other suspiciously, both preserving our space. Their footprints marred the sandy beach downstream, where I landed at 10:20 hours for my first break. I found a shady spot protected from the sun by a high cut bank and leafy branches. This area of the river/Diefenbakeer Lake is much more treed than the western end. A family of mud hens entertained me.
Back on the water again, I paddled into a light cross wind for another two hours. At 12:10 I took my lunch break in another shady spot. I was quite hot, and feeling slightly nauseated by this time, so I dunked in the cold river water. It lowered my body temp enough, that a rest in the shade, and a peanut butter sandwich killed the nausea. I realized I was dehydrated and began pushing more liquids.
At this point I checked my GPS reading, established I was down river further than I expected and called Den. He was already in Riverhurst waiting for me. I cut my lunch break short and got back on the water. Now I was on a wide point in the lake, and the wind had gone down, leaving me paddling still water, with no help from a southwest wind, as had been forecast for this time of day. The monotony was broken by the amazing sight of over fifty pelicans riding the thermals in a huge circle above me. The sun caught their wings, flashing a brilliant whirling pattern.
The South Saskatchewan river is so low this year, huge stretches of sand alternate with rocky shorelines. Billowing cumulus stratus formed against the deep blue sky, laying shadows over my position intermittently. I enjoyed these brief reliefs from the sun. When I’d paddled another two hours, I kept going, instead of taking a break, having calculated I only had a few kilometres left. I’d be at Riverhurst at 16:00 hours. Ahead I could see the white elevator overlooking the town. It seemed so close. I paddled, and paddled as it lured me on. One hour, two, three, then four. I hit the marina launch at 17:55 hours.
All the way across the arm of the lake to Elbow I had a wind from the southeast, and rode big swells, coming from all directions because of the boat traffic. I’d paddled every inch of that water, with no help from wind or current. Did I pay? Yes, I was dehydrated despite sucking on my water bladder more often (down six pounds when I weighed in), my arms and shoulder muscles burned, I had several hot spots on my hands, and my left leg was cramping. Four hours without a break is something I will avoid another time. But as I reached the launch, saw Den and yelled, “we did it,” I felt nothing but jubilation. With his support, in reading the weather for two weeks, rallying me when he saw a clear spot, providing transportation and shuttling me twice, it was a dual victory. It felt great to sit beside him on the drive home and hear him say, “You’re my hero.”