Friday, November 15, 2019

Backposting

This last summer Erin and I successfully completed our expedition from New York to Hudson Bay.  I am currently back posting below daily, so be sure to come back often!

Check out some of the pictures here!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Day 66

We paddled west. A bear walked along a beach about a quarter mile from us. I started to paddle toward it and Erin said “no.” She was right of course. At the end of the lake, the river narrowed and the water fell. One set of rapids followed another. Where the river widened the water still moved fast, around one bend and then the next, through unbridled wilderness and beauty.

Then we came to big rapids. We scouted them, and found no portage trail. I thought we could paddle them. The river narrowed between a high shelf to the left and cliffs to the right. It poured with fury. But it looked deep, and I thought we would go in, and we would come out, hopefully still in one piece. No rocks was good. There was one rock at the bottom on the right. I couldn’t tell how deep it was, but the steep wave it threw up looked best avoided. We’d have to steer around it.

Erin wasn’t so sure, but finally agreed to try. She would go first, so that if something happened to her I could come from behind and try to help her. I took pictures as she went down, then followed.

I kept an eye on her, until she disappeared from view. I started to panic, and searched the fury for her, and could not find her. I did not focus on where my boat headed until the the big wave and rock on the bottom sucked me in. I sprinted to escape, with everything I could muster, and failed. The edge pulled me up and flipped me over.

My sprint had starved me of air, and as I tried to roll up one way, the hydrodynamic wildness pulled my boat the other, and I did not come up. I tried to get to the other side to roll, as wave train tossed me about, and I couldn’t make it. I wet exit, holding onto my boat and paddle. But I was downriver of my boat, the dangerous side. After a breath, I tried to duck underneath. But the currents underwater fought with my paddle and tried to keep me down. I let go of it and came up above my boat. Where was Erin? I watched my paddle just out of reach get tossed in the waves ahead of me.

And then I washed out. Erin, about 500 meters downriver of me, swam toward her boat. She looked fine. I reentered mine, rolled up with my spare paddle, and recovered my primary paddle from an eddy. Then I went for the girl. She hand rolled up in the water logged boat.

Erin was shaken up. She’d lost her paddle and her boat, and only recovered one. She worried that I’d be upset with her for losing my paddle, but I only felt joy that she was okay. She would never again listen to me when I told her that I think we can paddle big rapids, which was just as well. From there on, the river only got faster, and harder.

We looked for her paddle some, but it was lost. We now had two carbon Gearlab Greenland paddles and one Epic winged paddle. I took a Greenland and Erin the winged. The next rapids were not far ahead. We paddled up against the shore, and took out just above them. The portage would not be hard, and we’d make camp on the big flat rocks that looked over the river, singing a song of boat crushing majesty as it poured loudly, cascading down between rocks to flatter water below.

From this day on, the river was a new thing, a thing of constant portages, exploration, rapids, and fear. At least my back was better. Erin’s infection seemed to have completely subsided as well.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.4954, -77.76319

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Day 65, my birthday!

Today we would try to find the dirt road out. At the end of the day, based on the viability of our exit strategy, my back, and Erin’s mouth, we would decide to exit or continue.

First, we found a small hunting cabin on the east side of the river. Erin scouted the area while I lay on my back on the porch. She returned with raspberries. There was no road here. We got back on the water.

Our expedition route lead to the west. But the water got closest to the highway (11 miles to the north), on a sublake to the northeast. It would take us far out of our way to search the sublake for a dirt road. If Erin got a fever, and I remained cripled, we’d be lost.

We paddled to the northeast, and entered the lake. We crossed to the eastern most side with the ever present western wind at our backs, and slowly made our way around the edge back toward the entrance. We’d search the northern part of the lake until we found it.

But we didn’t find it. We got out a few times when a break in the trees might have been a road, but it never was. Erin trailed our fishing line behind her, but caught nothing in the cloudy water.

As we made our way to the western edge of this portion of the lake, the water grew shallow. Erin got out of her boat to take a break, I floated and waited. I noticed that I had needed much fewer back breaks, every hour, not every 20 minutes.

Erin got back in her boat and noticed she’d lost the fishing rod when she stood up. The rod had a carabiner on it, and I was always careful to clip it. But here on this flat water, Erin hadn’t. We walked around in water up to our knees. I heard a splash some 15 meters away. Perhaps a fish made off with the whole thing. The cloudiness of the water revealed nothing, and so we lost the fishing rod.

We paddled on. The water got so shallow we had to gorilla scoot away from the shore. And as the day ended and we left the sublake returning to our expedition route only slightly ahead of where we’d camped the night before, my back not feeling so bad, and Erin’s mouth improved with treatment, we found a beautiful beach with a dirt road leading away from it.

We made camp.

We hiked up the dirt road to a derelict cottage, windows broken, wood rotting. The road continued past the cottage, but I don’t think anything other than an all terrain vehicle could have traversed it. If we hiked out, we could try to hire someone to recover our gear.

Most importantly, my back was feeling better. Erin thought her mouth was getting better too. We would continue on. There would be no more options for take out until Waskaganish.

Beside the long beach, a rocky precipice overlooked the lake. Behind it we gorged ourselves on blueberries, and then ate dinner while watching the sun over an unforgiving, beautiful wilderness. I hoped we made the right decision.

Check out our pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.29707, -77.48218

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Day 64

Another late start for my back. We hoped the extra sleep and lying down helped. If my back didn’t get better, doom.

We launched our boats onto the waters gently flowing around the island and continued downstream. Every 20 minutes, we broke for ten minutes of me lying on my kayak deck. My muscle pain relaxed to agonizing happiness.

The river widened and zig zagged. Rather than stay with the current we cut straight to hopefully save time, and found ourselves in shallow water against a headwind. We gorilla scooted, much longer than we would have liked, until we turned the corner and were out of it.

We stopped to rest on a sandy spit far from the main shore. I don’t know how long I layed there. This was my fifth day of abject patheticness. Later, as we continued north on the lake, we could dig a paddle down to the bottom to hold our position against the wind when I rested.

Meanwhile, Erin had a problem of her own. An infection had grown in her mouth. Before the trip, I had tried to secure antibiotics from my doctor in case of wilderness emergency, but the doctor did not provide. And now Erin suffered. When I made her laugh, she winced with pain. She no longer spoke in more than a whisper as the infection that started in her cheek spread to her throat.

I stuck a thermometer in her mouth to see if maybe she was coming down with strep, but it showed her as dead. I cleaned it, and stuck it in my mouth. I too, was dead. I’d had the thing for years; it no longer worked.

From 2003 to 2005 I trained and served as an IDF combat medic, and we had an expression. “חובש טוב חובש מאלתר. [A good medic is a creative medic.]” So starting the evening before, I had Erin rub town the painful area of her mouth with alcohol gauze pads we’d brought in the first aid kit. So far, we didn’t know if they worked.

We had read, in our pre trip research, that an old dirt road came to the northern end of this lake. With both of our maladies, we needed to find it. We needed to think about aborting. But that was for tomorrow.

A large beach spread across a point on the western side of the lake. We had a campfire and pitched our tent on flat soft sands.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.22452, -77.46698

Monday, August 12, 2019

Day 63

Lake Matagami turned into the Nottaway as we continued north. Our late start and frequent breaks made for slow going. But the river picked up speed where it narrowed, and we cruised through one set of rapids, then portaged across an island at the second. Enorumouse flat boulders spread out along the edge of the island, and the river narrowed significantly to its left to make a combination of paddling, carrying, and lining a success.

I laid down on one of the great flat rocks to ease the pain in my back.

We launched back into the swift water, but a scant 8 miles into our day, we had to stop for the night. Low on water, we found a stream feeding the river just across from an island with a beautiful beach. We hiked up the marshy area at the mouth of the stream to where we finally found a thin rivulet of clear water.

I frequently had to lay down to rest my back on the short hike. Erin’s boat, not quite grounded, floated away and she had to run after it, but not too far. Shallow water extended a good distance out from the stream. Rather than help, I took a picture.

Where the water became clear we found bear and wolf tracks. A beaver had chucked a tree almost to falling. We pumped water filling our bags, but too much silt clogged the filter making it useless for the rest of the trip.

We paddled to the beach site and made camp. Erin found an old frying pan on the island, and once we looked, we found a few other signs that a regular campsite had been there many years ago.

Check out our pictures here.

GPS coordinates: 50.09088, -77.46577

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Day 62

On Sunday, we launched late, slow getting out of camp because of my back pain. But I intended to paddle through it, and I did for an hour. The tail wind scooted us across the lake and we were at the other side before I had to stop.

I found that lying down on the deck of my kayak while Erin held it secure leaning from hers, I could rest my back without getting off the water.

Across the water to the south we saw a last outcropping of houses which our map said had road access. We could stop here. If my back didn’t get better in a few days, we could run out of food and summer before hitting Waskaganish. We pushed on. My back would get better.

We paddled in 20 minute bouts with ten minute back rests.

The lake turned north and we lost our tail wind. We stuck to the west side of the lake up against the tree line to avoid the beam wind, until we got to a large bay pointing to the southeast. Crossing it was a fierce battle, at times we weren’t sure if we were making any progress at all. Erin fell behind, but I needed to get out of the wind, off the water, to rest my back. I pulled ahead, and second to none, she soon caught up. The closer we got to shore, the more the trees broke the wind and the calmer the water grew.

When finally we made it across the bay, we pulled up to a stone spit, I rolled out of my boat, and rested my back on a large flat rock. Gradually the pain subsided.

We continued northbound. Erin caught a walleye and a pike.

We camped on a beach with an abundance of driftwood. Our fire burned pleasantly when a fish jumped in the evening water. I caught it adding to the already abundant dinner. We feasted and slept under a clear star filled sky.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: ~50.00598, -77.45914

Friday, August 9, 2019

Day 61

We continued down the Bell for a short time, and then completed it as we paddled onto Lake Matagami. Woods quickly surrounded us and the few satellite cottages disappeared behind us. There would be almost none until Waskaganish.

The west wind that had slowed us two weeks earlier now pushed us on. As we paddled east onto the lake we made good time with a swell to surf.

But the time in the car, and on the planes, had done something to my back. Something bad. The pain quickly grew until I could barely paddle. I had experienced this once before on a paddling trip in Greece. If I didn’t stop soon I wouldn’t be able to get out of my boat without falling in.

Erin was sympathetic, and we pulled over at a beautiful beach stretching around a small bay. A stream from the woods cut through the sand. The water in the bay was flat and Erin helped me out of my boat. I lay on the beach on my back as Erin began making camp. Gradually, the pain subsided.

We’d paddled only about 5 miles. Hopefully I’d feel better by Sunday.

Here are some pictures of me and Erin in our tent from that day!

GPS coordinates: 49.83102, -77.63381