Tag Archives: Canoeing

Duck Mountain Provincial Park

Even just preparing this post has left me close to tears. It’s hard to contemplate how life might have gone and what a blessing it is that it didn’t. We decided in May that we would try camping as part of Dick’s recovery from the March stroke, one, three night trip, per summer month. Due to COVID-19 our options were limited. We were allowed to stay in a provincial campground but it had to be one close to our home. There were also a bunch of rules and regulations about reserving on line in advance, not going into the ranger station/campground office and very minimal services where people might end up getting too close. We were advised we had to bring all our own toiletries and have proper footwear if we wanted to use the showers. We were also not allowed to shop in any nonlocal stores along the way. We were supposed to bring everything we needed. Since we own a travel trailer, we were prepared to be entirely self sustained and we knew we would not need to use any of the park washrooms.

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We picked Wellman Lake in Duck Mountain Provincial Park for our June trip. One of the rules is you are not supposed to go so far that if you need a hospital, you are not going to one you would not normally attend. Since Dick was in the Dauphin Hospital after his stroke, Duck Mountain Provincial Park seemed like a good bet. Wellman Lake is one of three campgrounds in Duck Mountain. We had been there once years ago at Child’s Lake. We picked Wellman because we had never been there before and the campground is on two lakes Wellman and Glad Lake. Glad Lake is a small no power boat lake and looked especially promising for our first canoe ride in over a year and two major illnesses ago. Screen Shot 2020-06-25 at 8.50.43 PM

One thing I did not take into account is that from just north of Grandview to the campground is all gravel road. Most of it was well maintained but there were a few rough spots and it was gravel. This mean our maximum speed with the trailer was only about 70 km/hr (45m/hr). It was slow going and Duck Mountain is mostly heavy woods with lots of little lakes. This meant very little to see. Plus it is logged in certain parts in a controlled fashion and there is also a lot of gravel harvesting. This meant there was a lot of big truck traffic on those gravel roads. Fortunately the trip was uneventful. The first thing I noted on arrival on our huge campsite, was glorious boreal forest bluebells. I’ve seen a lot of bluebells but this particular variety was brand new to me. Wild onion and wood roses were also in bloom everywhere around our campsite.

The second thing I noticed was one of our underside access pipes for winterizing our fresh water system had been hit by gravel and cracked. This mean the water we added began pouring out on the ground as soon as we started the pump and no chance for it to pressurize. Fortunately, we’ve dealt with this one before so it took me only ten minutes to pull off the offending part and fix it with a spare cap. We are kind of fanatical about spares of everything. Whenever we have to fix something we always get spares. I now have ‘only’ four spare caps left for the water system. Dick did the rest of the trailer set up while I did the repairs. This included cleaning cat vomit. Klinger apparently got motion sick, as he sometimes does, I suspect due to the gravel. I figured I had the better deal of those jobs.

We were tired from the long drive so we decided to have dinner at the little lodge. We ate on the patio. It was a plain but very well prepared huge burger and real homemade fries. They even had a gluten free bun for me. We took a long hike along Glad Lake in the evening. Misty was beyond thrilled. Walks are her favourite thing to enjoy. That involved some steep up and down and a lot of rough terrain over roots and rocks. Dick managed it very well. He went slowly and carefully, picking his footing, and we all enjoyed the walk. He only began to fall backwards once at a very steep part but he caught himself and got upright again even as I put my hand on his back. In some ways it made me feel little sad because in familiar territory I can hardly tell he had a stroke. On this walk I was reminded that while he has recovered to a remarkable, near miraculous degree, he isn’t all the way back yet. I look forward to seeing how much he has improved again on our next trips.

The main impression of nature I got on the hike was stunning green, green ferns of all sorts many I had never seen before. The wildflowers were everywhere. There were surprisingly few birds. Boreal forest is not the habitat most birds like. Birds generally prefer open parkland with some gentler woods. We did hear the incessant screaming monkey cry of the pileated wood pecker. We saw grebes, ducks and ravens and as a special treat, the sight and long call of the common loon. We sat around a campfire and we talked and talked. We talked about how the stroke had felt from both our perspectives and we shared some more intimate feelings about it than we had to date. It was a good talk for both of us.

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We went to bed early. It was still light because it was the longest day of the year but we were both really tired. I checked my telephone and I was horrified to find there was no cell service out here. This gave me a sense of panic. If he had another stroke how would I call for help? I talked myself out of the panic by reminding myself he’s stable and there’s no reason for him to have another stroke. There is a nearby ranger station with a land line if I need it. I felt angry that had risked this but then reminded myself what the doctor in hospital said. He’s 76 and he’s had two strokes so we need to think about quality not quantity of life. There is not much quality to wrapping him in cotton and refusing to go anywhere out of fear of lack of cell phone service. The sense of panic faded and I was able to fall asleep. I think we were both far more tired than we realized because we both slept a solid ten hours. That is extremely unusual for us. It was a healing sleep.

We got up and took Misty for another walk and then we left her in the trailer with Klinger (the air conditioner set even though the trailer was sitting in shade) and we went to Glad lake. This was our first canoe ride in a very long time and first since the carotid artery dissection and the March stroke. I was a little nervous but Dick managed just fine. The boat launch had a nice shallow beach and a dock and he was able to get in and out with little effort. The darn left leg had to be lifted out with his two hands because it was a little too high but he did it. He sat down and stood up without help. We paddled about the lake for in a big circle for over an hour enjoying every precious of minute of the experience. We finished with ice cream at the lodge.IMG_8757

That evening we had another campfire and another long deep sleep. Dick got up once to look for northern lights but the sun is very quiet now going into its minimum so there weren’t any. The weather forecast was for hot (well by Manitoba standards hot at 26C (81F)) with no breeze. We decided to take the canoe out again early and this time take Misty along. We went to Wellman Lake which allows motor boats and sea-dos and things we generally try not to canoe around. It was midweek and early so we had the lake to ourselves except for some fishermen trolling far away. The view wasn’t as nice because Wellman Lake has lots of cottages but we enjoyed being out canoeing again so much. It felt like a miracle to be able to be doing this.

Misty was mostly well behaved but she kept giving us these looks of total disgust like she could not figure out why we would bother to do this crazy boring thing when there were walks and stuff to sniff instead. She started getting hot in the canoe and complaining so we turned around and headed back spending only about forty-five minutes on the water paddling. We returned to our camp site and spent a couple of hours planning our second book together. During the heat of the afternoon we napped. Even Klinger seemed to enjoy himself watching dragon flies outside the window. After that we went for a drive and sat on the shore watching the sea-doers race about and people on the beach. Misty had a swim at the dock which was nice for her in the heat. We had a quiet dinner in our trailer, with two more short hikes, before and after. This was much more to Misty’s satisfaction and we had another early bedtime. I can’t get over how much sleeping we did.

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The forecast on our return day was for thunderstorms and rain by noon. We were on the gravel road heading home by 8:00am. We made a brief stop on Dauphin for brunch, groceries and some odds and ends for the greenhouse and pool. Since we normally shop in Dauphin anyway it did not break the “no shopping in nonlocal stores on your trip” rule. We got home well ahead of the rain. At suppertime, a thunderstorm rolled in and dumped a perfectly lovely 18mm (7/10 inch) of warm summer rain in a long easy shower. That was a perfect end to a perfect summer break.

Riding the Tide into a Salt Marsh

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We did something I have wanted to do for a long time. We rode the incoming tide from Levy Bay to the big pool at the intersection of Chattahoochee St in Panacea and Highway 98. There is a channel that winds through marsh grass swamps, sinkholes with springs, and some forested areas. The land is privately owned so you can’t leave the water but you do get to see some forest along the trip. We started at the Levy Bay landing which is a public boat dock. The marsh turns into impassable mud flats at low tide so we arrived one and half hours before high tide. By the time we had the canoe down and everything set up, we had one hour until high tide.

The tide rushes into these narrow channels at a brisk pace. You have to pay careful attention to avoid getting stuck on sandbars or hitting oyster bars. There are also lots of obstacles like fallen trees, remnants of old docks, and debris. Additionally the channel itself has many deep pools over springs where you simply can’t see the bottom in the brownish water. So we rode the tide in. In places it was like mini rapids. Always a strong flowing current, fast moving, to ride. The water is topped with foam, full of all kinds of bits of debris and detritus and full of crab holes along along the muddy banks of the marsh grass. We saw mullet, smaller fish, a string ray in black about 18 inches across the wing tips and many birds, especially egrets, cranes and vultures.

We did not bring our camera. We have used the rice trick (putting the camera in a bag of rice to dry out) once already after a canoe trip. While the camera recovered, the calendar never worked again. My pictures always download marked as having occurred on 2013 date the camera got dunked. It was a good thing we didn’t try to take pictures. Riding the tide in those narrow channels at quite a good clip while avoiding all the potential places to spill was challenging enough. If you look at the satellite picture you can see near the end of the route one very large and very deep pool. It was a real pleasure to come charging in there at top speed and find ourselves in this huge relatively calm place. The volume of water there is so deep even the incoming tide makes only a small impression. Though the water was clear we could not see the bottom making me wonder if maybe there is a smaller version of the Wakulla springs in the deepest place.

We rested a bit and then took the final small channel to the egret pond next to the highway. That was our goal. We see that pool every time we drive to the beach and I really wanted to find out why it always has at least three white egrets in it. We arrived at top speed out of the channel to find ourselves on a flat mud basin. The egrets were intently feeding and barely looked up, as if canoes with humans arrive here all the time. They had certainly had no need to worry since we were firmly grounded on smelly mud.

We unstuck ourselves with much heave ho-ing and worked our way back up the channel to the deep pool. The tide was already ebbing. By the time we crossed the deep pool the rush of water had ended so we leisurely wended our way across the pool and then back up the channel. As we arrived in sight of our truck the tide began to turn and run back out. We rode the reversed current the last few hundred yards.

Being a prairie girl and not accustomed to the ocean, the tide fascinates me. The marsh breathes the water in and then breathes it out. The grass and creatures that live on the shore line have adapted to thrive in the rhythmic rise and fall. The marsh’s rich detritus is carried out of the marsh with the tide and feeds the wildlife at the bottom of the food chain. Farther and farther up the food chain, larger and larger creatures wait at the mouths of the channel and then at the mouths of the bay ready to eat. The marsh is the food source of many creatures in the bay.

The marsh also serves as a nursery for much of the sea life. Many fish swim into the bays and lay eggs and then swim out. The fry hatch and grow in the shelter of the marsh, feeding on insects and the like until they are finally big enough to ride the tide out. The endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles feast on blue crab in the bay for two years or so before continuing their slow migration back around the gulf to their breeding places. The mud flats, like the final place where we saw all those egrets, is its own feasting place for these and many other glorious birds..

One of the unfortunate things that has happened in Florida is that many of these nurseries and feeding places have been filled, levelled and now have shopping malls and hotels and houses. Wakulla has been blessed with acres and acres and acres of coastal wetlands that protect and nourish the Gulf. There is a tale of this area that says a very rich woman once asked naturalist and writer Jack Rudloe how to best help sea horses. He told her protect the marshes on the coast because the marshes feed the reefs just off shore where the sea horses live. And so she bought six miles of coastland marsh and she does nothing with it except protect it in order to protect the sea horses.

The world needs more such wise women.

Rushing River Ontario Provincial Park

Rushing River is arguably the loveliest and most popular of the many lovely and popular provincial parks in Ontario. I say that because for many local families camping and going to Rushing River are synonymous. Due to this, you simply can’t get in during summer without a reservation. The location is what makes the place so special. Dogtooth Lake is a lovely lake with deep clear cool water, perfect for water skiing, or tubing. Where the lake narrows and empties, it creates a river that goes over many small rapids and past many deep pools as it eventually finds its way to Lake of the Woods. Beyond that the water will enter the drainage system to Lake Winnipeg and from there to the Hudson Bay and the arctic ocean going north.

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My grandson Luke with part of the first rapids in the background at Rushing River. (Picture by Anne Marquez-Hunstad)

In several places small beaches with fine sand have formed in calm spots, perfect for a toddler to splash in, especially in late afternoon after the sun has warmed the otherwise briskly cool water in the little bay. There are also natural wild places which challenge the strongest swimmer with water reportedly 25 feet or more deep, sheer cliffs of 5 metres that you can run and jump off into very deep water and giant rock islands you can swim to and then crawl up and sit in the sun to warm up or use as diving towers. It’s also a perfect place to launch a canoe or kayak. Inflatables are practically required here. Big red booms crossing the top of the rapids in the swimming area keep the inflatables and their passengers on the proper side of the rapids.

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Dick and my son Alan and Luke and Noah help haul the canoe and the inflatables from the beach back to our campsite.

The river does indeed rush. It also gurgles, splashes, tinkles, roars and thunders depending on where you stand. The lake is set in granite rock of the Canadian shield and there is little in the way of soil. Scrubby pines and spruce cling to sheer drops and granite faces. Extensive woods on both sides mean abundant wildlife, especially birds and game fish. While out walking the dogs near the water’s edge I saw a trout that must have been four or five pounds lounging in a shallow pool. This is a place where when they say put your food away because of bears, they are not kidding.

 

The park encircles the area where the lake narrows and the includes the first two sets of rapids. The individual lots range from huge grassy pull-throughs to tiny little spots on granite where you can barely fit a two man tent. There are four campgrounds and they also vary. Two are right near the rapids and have showers and flush toilets, playgrounds, and all amenities. Two of the campgrounds are further away from the rapids wrapping around the lake. Lots of the roads are paved and there are steep hills and flat areas making it perfect for my 11 year old grandson to go biking with his BMX type trick bike. There are several trails to walk, from the easiest flat type a toddler or someone in a wheelchair can manage to long demanding trails of several kilometres. One day when my husband and I felt the need for a time out from the delightful constant demands of the children, we took the lower rapids trail which is partly stairs and wooden paths but it still a very wild and demanding to walk. Since it was late summer, hints of fall colour were already present. The wildflowers were spectacular and we saw a beaver munching in a pool. Dick did take a spill and got all muddy but he was unhurt. We traveled with one son, his wife and their two sons and one other grandson. We also made one afternoon trip into the city of Kenora which is about a half an hour away and is right on Lake of the Woods. Kenora has fancy hotels and lodges if camping is not your schtick.

We had such a wonderful time we want to go again every year and get the rest of the family to come as well.

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Visiting with the grandchildren means endless rounds of ball chasing, wrestling, lots of delicious normally off limits dropped (and occasionally snatched) food like hot dogs and bacon strips and marshmallows. Fred also loves swimming and at Rushing River there were lots of places he could swim without worrying about gators or sharks even though the official beaches are off limits to dogs. On our way home after the trip, Fred checks the air and sighs a big sigh. He had a wonderful time but we all arrived home simultaneously exhausted and refreshed.