March 29, 2015 a new record for kayaking on the prairies, as my sister, Barbara, and I celebrated the early spring melt with a kayak down the Swift Current creek. Open water! Surreal for Saskatchewan in March.
Lifting down kayaks left hanging for five months gives me a thrill. Out come the paddles, and pumps, the PFLs and dry bags. Using the special rack my husband, Den, designed for the back of our truck, we loaded the kayaks side-by-side, stuffed the equipment into the back seat and headed for Swift Current and the creek I’d listed as a must paddle several years earlier. For once I was ready and able as the last of the snows filtered in a wild rush through its curving body. Earlier in the week, the creek’s open water grabbed and held my attention and intentions. I would paddle this water. That my sister Barbara could share the experience was a tremendous bonus. She paddled my 12’ red Pongo, while I took the 14.5’ blue Perception. (see photos)
Arriving in the city, we mapped out the course of the creek and began reading the water, driving from one approach to another. We checked out bridges and weirs, highs spots with fast running water, and low ones, where rocks were visible. With each interesting set of rapids, boils, eddies or hard flowing currents, our desire to ride the water grew.
Finally, we chose our launch site, just north of the large weir on the south side of the city. Here a park hosting tennis courts and parking lots gave us ready access along a bank waving high grasses and muddy flats. With Den helping, we lined our kayaks bow to stern along a piece of the bank, and launched in turn. Barbara paddled backwards into an eddy and held her place, while I launched, so we could stick together. Fresh from its victory over the weir, the creek ran fast and full of itself. We moved at a good pace without paddling. High banks rose protectively on either side, but a 50 k wind from the southwest breathed its interest over the proceedings whenever we hit a long stretch of creek running northeast.
The many loops in the river offered up every variety of water, from glassy smooth, to light ripples under a cross-wind, high waves, and rapids. So we moved through our repertoire of paddling for this first of the year experience. We drift, paddle strongly into wind, and fought to stay upright in the rapids formed by stones and weirs. At one point I tackled a stretch of rapids on the outer bank side, and found myself pushed hard at the shore. The force of the current was so strong I battled to keep the creek from pinning me to the bank like a bug on a bulletin board. Lesson learned. Another time I avoided a large rock at the top of a vigorous rapid by leaning away at the last second, and had to fight hard to get my weight and kayak back in balance before tipping over in the opposite direction. I quickly deduced running the rapids was fifty percent luck, fifty percent coordination.
Though we’d put in the advance time reading the river, of course it looked different once we were on the water. At times, Den, who continually drove ahead of us to the next access, would stand on the bank and point out the better track. Often what appeared a good channel would end up being clogged with long grasses reaching up from just below the surface, and he could warn us away. At other’s we would back-ferry. By paddling backward at an angle into a current, we could crab sideways across the current without being swept downstream. This allowed us a chance to pause and choose our down-current course. Mostly we took the perpendicular line through the roughest water, combatting the current’s bullying attempts, with our own show of aggression. In minutes we would feel its fury replaced by sulky stillness and the soft whisper of wind in dry grasses would replace the loud catcalls of rough water.
Passing under the many bridges Swift Current has erected to enable both commerce and community was an edifying part of the experience. We tallied old metal railroad bridges, cement overpasses for the highways, and dainty walking bridges joining the many pathways build for the enjoyment of all. In all we saw the underside of eight bridges, and know we missed two on the south end and one on the north end of the city. Surely, Swift Current should challenge Saskatoon for the title City of Bridges.
Though current rips warned of rocks beneath the surface, that within days would obstruct a kayak, we traversed the creek just a few days off high flood, making it a safe and effortless endeavour.
The feel of a paddle rotating in my hands, of shoulder and back muscles warming and moving like slick silk, of feet braced, and the vibration of the kayak around me, has little competition in my mind. However, add in the grumbling of Canada Geese as we came up on their nests, the quacking of ducks in the reeds, the brilliance of sunlight dancing on water, and warming my face, and I attain the ultimate high. Like the wild rice and redwood, the prairie wool and sage growing along the bank, my blood sang through my veins, quickening with the call of spring.