Two days of wild capers followed by a smooth day of paddling in the sun (Entry by Scott and Matt)
(Jul 13th, 2005) We last wrote on the 10th from the Juhls house in northern North Dakota. We slept in a bit due to a storm and then sweated hard while packing up and assumed we were in for our 4th day of very hot temperatures. It turned out that the heat was trapped in the high dyke that surrounds the Juhls farm; once we were on the river a cool breeze was blowing and the sun hid behind low, many-shaded clouds.
Matt: From here, we’ll alternate commentary on our recent travel into Canada, starting with Pembina, ND and crossing the border. After leaving the Juhl’s, water was everywhere, even more than usual, as the Two Rivers River (a redundant name in and of itself) entered the Red. In Pembina, we met the swollen Pembina river and Gary and Diane, a horse-loving couple who let us use their cell phone to make our second call to customs. And third. And fourth.
Scott: Gary and Diane were on their way home from the Winnipeg Folk Festival. They had taken part in Riverkeepers’ Millenium Tour in 2000; paddling a few days with Jim Dale Huot-Vickery, who paddled the length of the Red. We thought we had everything all worked out with customs; they seemed to be impressed with the fact that we had a letter from the Canadian Consulate in Minneapolis (thanks everyone at the Consulate!) and promised to dispatch some border guards to meet us on the river, “a few thousand yards before the bridge in Emerson”. With those instructions, we paddled hyper-nervously across the border, looking for the clearing on the left and waiting for helicopters and laser beams to bust us. We over-reacted and stopped before we needed to, but didn’t figure it out until we had roamed through the weeds and clambered up an earthen dyke like fugitives from the movie ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’. Atop the dyke we got our satellite phone working again (it’s been working wonderfully ever since), called Customs and determined we needed to move bit more down the river.
M: So after making our fifth call to Customs and avoiding any confrontations with paratroopers, we kept paddling, and 100 feet upstream from the bridge was a boat landing and a large, white SUV parked at its end. Three guards, who looked impressive and gigantic in their uniforms and bullet-proof vests, ambled towards us, asked some ice-breaking questions, asked for I.D., to which we showed them our respective forms, and they let us go. No other questions asked. They didn’t ask us to open our spray-skirt, open a pack, unsheathe our lifejacket knives, ask us if we had bear spray or any of the required water craft equipment (bailer, two 25 foot lines on the bow and stern and whistles). Our theory is that they were too busy swatting mosquitoes to overly care about our gear.
S: Suddenly the banks were much more heavily forested. Wildlife seemed to be everywhere. We were super happy to be in Canada, the sun started shining and everything was beautiful. So relaxed were we that when we came upon a massive dead tree traveling downstream, I informed Matt that I simply must attempt to ride on it for a little bit. After some arguing I wore him down and he relented so long as I held onto my stern line. He got some great footage of me dancing merrily on top of the sturdy beast, using the ‘movie’ feature on our camera.
M: From there, one delayed decision, combined with heat and low blood sugar turned into our worst camp yet. Instead of stopping at a house and asking to stay on their land, we voted to continue down the river. In the flood plains, campsites come along only once or twice per mile. Being as tired as we were, we spied a clearing through some trees, paddled past that, went up a small drainage ditch, and onto a dirt road. Scott’s spirit was broken, and he laid down on the road when we were deciding where to put the tent on the mowed 4’ grass shoulder. Standing water was in every direction. Mosquitoes blanketed the air, and our bodies (or at least, our sleeves and pant legs). Since our dry-fly was setup in a sloppy mess, I had the brilliant (or foolish?) idea to cook outside on the road. Mosquito heaven. Scott retreated to the fly, but bugs had invaded. No place was sacred to the parasites. We dined, in much discomfort, and finally plopped in our tent. With his glucose levels returning to a manageable level, Scott got normal. Myself, who tends to act oppositely of those around, let go. I was strong long enough to stabilize Scott. Then I broke, and occupied the next 10 minutes or so in a paranoid frenzy, nearly panicking every time I heard an automobile in the distance. I thought they were going to take our canoe. I finally settled down after Scott held me down while I killed every single mosquito in the tent, lost in a surrealistic child-like state.
S: Yes, I think that was toughest day to date. The next morning we got the heck out of there and paddled up to the next bridge where we had a two hour interview with Casey Gartner of the Fargo NBC affiliate. Our heads swelled as she interviewed us, until we realized that our wilderness canoe on the bank of the river had become surrounded by a hot herd of cows that had come down to take a dip. Casey thought it was cool though so we decided we did too.
Also at the bridge we spoke with our first real Canadian family—the Houles. We poked at them to make sure they were real. We marveled upon discovering that Dad Denis and daughter Dawna spoke French fluently (Dawna actually goes to a French immersion school). Mom Kelly didn’t speak French, but we are happy to report that her English was really excellent. The Houles’ were very friendly and helped Matt fill our water jugs. They also explained to us that the French had settled the land along the Red River.
We proceeded to paddle way too far and too fast before lunch, wanting to make up for lost time. But on the way we saw another deer swimming across the river, and really got some great shots of this one. We also saw many Bald Eagles and some huge Eaglets in a nest. By the time we got to the bridge at St. Jean Baptiste (a French name for a town if there ever was one), Matt was suffering from heat and low blood sugar. We carefully maneuvered to the bank to getting swept under the low bridge—the water was right up to it. We decamped to a local café and I was delighted to discover that it was run by a woman who’d recently moved from Quebec and spoke no English. Her son translated for us and I ordered a veggie poutine, as the menu said they had the best poutine in all of Manitoba. Poutine, as I discovered, is a bunch of French Fries with cheese, veggies, and gravy piled on top of it. Truly amazing. Matt had a fully “outfitted” cheeseburger (It had coleslaw on it!) and was substantially revived.
I quaffed my Fruitopia in about 10 seconds. Fruitopia is a fruit flavored beverage from the Coca-Cola company that can be found in the U.S.A. However, Canadian Fruitopia is much superior and I have three reasons why. #1) I had a watermelon-blueberry flavor. You would never find this in the States, and yet it is completely delicious. #2) It was made with sugar, not corn syrup. Sugar tastes better. #3) It came in a glass bottle, which is more enjoyable to drink out of than plastic and easier on the environment. To all of our readers in Minnesota, I heartily recommend jumping in a vehicle and driving north to taste this joy.
M: After significantly recovering from my mid-afternoon meltdown, my legs were tight. To remedy this, I stood up in the canoe a few miles down river from St. Jean, and I felt the boat sway (we have been riding a little starboard-heavy lately) right, left and right again. It swayed too far. I made a split second decision. Either I get wet, or the boat, and everything we have does. I learned how to do a back dive very quickly when I bent my knees and thrust myself over the left gunwale into the Red to save our boat. Mom, I’ve been baptized again.
Camp that night was at a flooded park in Morris. Back in St Jean, one of the customers there had called a newspaper in Morris about us. Matthew came and met us at our camp and took some pictures. It was our second interview for the day. At the park, we cooked and ate supper and the following breakfast on a picnic table. With that breakfast began our best day of paddling—after two overly eventful days.
This morning was crystal clear. Clouds avoided the blue expanse. The current was fast, and our strokes were quick and clean. But what really topped off the morning was the radio. For the entire morning we listened to classical music, including one piece by Yoyo Ma. All totaled, the piece of work was fifty minutes long! And the station played the whole work, start to finish with no interruptions and no breaks or commercials. Amazing! Continuing paddling, we made 35 miles in 5 hours of paddling to St. Agathe, where we met Scott’s parents. They brought us our food drop. Tomorrow, with them, we’ll take a layover day before we make a push for Lake Winnipeg and the third chapter of our journey. We expect to be on the Red for Friday and Saturday and then on the big lake—into the great northern wilderness.
Also, we just saw that we were on WCCO news at the end of the broadcast. We only caught a few seconds, but it was unexpected and pretty neat.