Conquering the South Saskatchewan
Sask Landing to Elbow
The Odyssey Continues
Stage One Completed July 2012
Sask Landing to Beaver Flats
I headed out on a sunny day on flat water. This is a 22 kilometre paddle, my first long distance paddle on the south Saskatchewan river, now called Diefenbaker Lake. I planned to cover the 90 km length from where I lived in the Sask Landing Provincial Park, to the town of Elbow at the eastern most tip of the lake, created by the dam at Outlook.
I did the paddle easily in four hours and arrived at a dirt trail leading up from a small bay. I had arranged for my husband to drive over with the truck and load my kayak for the trip home. I waited, waited some more, with no sign of him. Finally, I hiked to the top of the hill and found two fishermen, who let me use their cell phone to call Den. He hadn’t even left the Landing, not believing I would be there at the 12 noon time I had given him. So I waited another forty minutes for him to arrive. I guess the experience gave him new insight into my paddling times and determination to make my extraction points.
Stage Two Completed August 2012
Beaver Flats to Beechy Riverside Park
I launched my 12 foot Pongo river kayak from the cement ramp on the east side of Beaver Flats. With only a back hatch and the cockpit, I’d poked gear into every available inch. A decent day hovered, somewhat overcast, with a 15 kph breeze. I planned to cover the thirty-five kilometres to Riverhurst and take two days to do it. By noon I was several kilometres short of the Riverside Park, where I would camp for the night. The increasing wind, gusting around 35 kph from the west, had pushed me ahead of schedule. I usually take a two hour break at noon, but as I stretched on shore, rain began to fall and the wind increased. Now gusting 50 kph it made for some big waves on the river. I loaded and set off and soon felt tremendous trepidation. I paddled east into the wind, with huge waves lifting the kayak and surfing it along, until its nose fell forward into a trough, at which point a two foot high wave would wash over my bow. With a loaded back and cockpit and empty bow, I did not have the buoyancy I needed to be safe. Through my rain glazed binoculars I could see the trailers and small cottages that circled the small marina and beach at the park. I paddled harder. By the time I propelled my kayak onto the sandy shore of the main beach, my arms screamed at me to halt.
I had over-used my muscles and inflamed them. I went looking for a phone. This late on a Sunday, most of the residents had returned to their homes. The place was almost deserted. Finally, I met up with a youngish couple driving a van. They directed me up the hill to the pay phone and explained were the campgrounds were. After a difficult uphill climb, I found the phone and called my husband. Loathe to abort, I told him I would hole up overnight, and hope my arms would be good enough to let me continue in the morning. I would call him then and let him know if I could go on. Once we’d communicated, I trudged my way back down the sandy trail, wondering how I would find the energy to carry all my equipment from the beach the considerable distance to the camp grounds. The wind was ferocious and I was not looking forward to erecting a tent against its considerable force. However, needs must. Again I passed the young couple, just leaving. She approached me and asked my plans. I explained, and mentioned my fibromyalgia was my main concern. Yes, there are good people everywhere. I will always maintain one shows up when most needed. “Use our trailer, if you’d like.” She offered. “My husband and I are leaving, and the door isn’t locked.” After giving me directions, she climbed back in the van and drove away. I didn’t even get their names.
Of course I took her up on that wonderful offer. I paddled my kayak from the beach and hefted it up a tumble of rocks and grass close to their trailer. Unloading my food, stove, sleeping bag and clothes bag, I turned my kayak upside down, and wedged it between rocks in a shallow gulley.
Inside the trailer, I heated up some dinner, swallowed as much painkiller as I could handle, and bundled into my sleeping bag on the couch. I spent the night with pain for company, and by first light knew another day of paddling was out of the question. I packed up, paddled around to the beach and phoned Den to come and rescue me. The next leg of my trip would be postponed. Cold weather moved in and I resigned myself to patiently waiting for the summer of 2013 to finish.
Beechy Riverside Park to Riverhurst Ferry
2013 came and went, with me not getting this leg of the trip done. Major health problems tied me to my bed a considerable amount of the summer. By the time I recouped, I did not have the strength to solo. So it was with great excitement that I went into 2014 in good enough shape to contemplate this next stage.
My departure was postponed twice, both times for weather. Disappointed, I waited for another window where my schedule and weather made it possible. Finally, three days before my August 21 birthday, I decided now or never. Den drove me to Beechy Regional Park, and helped carry all my supplies to an accessible bay on the east side. The wind had gone from a mild 10 kph to about 25 kph by the time I was loaded and ready to launch. Big waves came directly out of the west picking up steam as they moved through the 35 kilometres of water I’d paddled two years earlier.
This time I was using my new 14.5 foot touring Perception. It carried all my supplies easily, and handled ocean waves. When Den saw the rough water, he suggested I not go. Determined I would not give in and postpone again, I said I’d launch and paddle for fifteen minutes. If I didn’t feel safe, I’d turn back. He would wait for my decision. I stretched my spray skirt into place and set out. This time instead of following the shoreline, as I had on past stages, I paddled directly for mid river. Waves about forty-five centimetres high lifted me and surfed me down river at a speed of approximately seven kilometres an hour. I went for it! My new Expression and I just wanted to play. I had christened her Joy, and on this trip rediscovered what a wonderful companion she could be. A hard worker, she handles the big water as easily as the quiet. She’s fast and smooth, and the skeg provides excellent stability.
Later that day the wind went down and by mid afternoon I was paddling on quiet water, with river hills and coullees stretching on both sides. What a difference following a course point to point, instead of the shoreline. I shortened my paddling distance considerably. I expected to have reached a suitable campsite by 4:30 pm. But the heat had slowed my strokes, and the odd time I even snoozed and drifted. As I began seriously looking for a spot to pull out and set up my tent, the lack of shoreline became a challenge. Most consisted of high cut banks made of clay silt. Erosion had caused them to collapse and lay a base of wet clay which had the same effect as quicksand if you tried to walk in it. It was almost 6:30 pm and I believed I could just see the tip of the Riverhurst settlement in my binoculars, when I found a place on the north bank. A grassy meadow created a wide space between two of the cut banks, and where it met the water formed a narrow beach backed by bushes. Closer investigation proved the beach was wide enough and flat enough for me to set my tent up at the back. I settled in. By now the wind had whistled away over the hills. I faced a small bay, with water like glass. Dusk descended as I lit my stove and cooked pork chops and pasta for supper. The gentle night closed around me, stars pricking the heavens. Far away a coyote pack shared their news with the sickle moon. The whisper of water along the shore played a lullaby, as I settled into my sleeping bag and embraced sleep.
But nature, never predictable launched a surprise sally. I woke to find the floor of my tent two feet high around my prone body. A shrieking wind did its best to blow my tent off its little beach, and only my weight kept it in place. All the stakes had been torn out. I assessed my situation, and realized if I went out of the tent to re-stake the guidelines, I would lose the tent for sure. Opening both the front and back doors, I let the wind blow through. The battering on my nylon lessened. Thanking my habit of laying my shovel beside my front door, I reached out and snagged the bag I’d settled over my camp stove to keep the morning condensation from it. I shoveled rock and sand into the bag and dropped it into a corner of the tent. Then I scrounged up every bag, and container I could find inside my tent, emptying out my water pot, my clothes bag etc., and filled them with sand – using them to weigh down the other corners. Finally, my floor once more horizontal, I crawled back into my bag and slammed into sleep, with a sixty kph wind blowing through my front door, over me and out the back. A check of my watch told me it was midnight.
The next morning a light breeze and sunny skies beckoned me from my wind tossed tent. Breaking camp took a lot longer than I expected, so I didn’t get onto the water till 8:05 am. I’d calculated I’d be in Riverhurst by 11:00 am, and had told D to meet me there at noon, just to give myself a cushion.
I had to paddle hard, straight down the middle, point to point again. As I turned on my last line of sight, I was in quite high waves again, the wind having steadily increased as the morning waned. I could see the Riverhurst Ferry starting it’s crossing from north to south shores. I could see a black truck with my special kayak holder rigged on the back turn high above on the river hills and begin descending to the cement launch pad. What perfect timing. However, it was another half hour before we could both end up in the same place, as finding a landing spot where both the kayak and truck could reach was difficult, when we couldn’t communicate. There was a bit of back and forth maneuvering going on, until I got permission from the Ferry personnel to load my kayak from the ramp, after the ferry left for the south side again.
This trip, as any gave me some good lessons, and some great affirmation. I learned to lock down your take-out site, specifically before you start your trip, so truck and kayak get to the same spot. I learned to have extra empty bags in my tent.
I affirmed that I could handle anything that came at me, if I kept my head, and came up with a plan. I affirmed that my husband really cares about me. On my birthday the next day, he gave me a beautifully written letter telling me how he’d felt when I’d launched into those heavy waves, and how he’d thought all the way home about what his life would be like if he never saw me again. His love gave me the freedom to go, and enfolded me at the end of another kayak kick.