Paddle and Cycle Fort Frances to New Lowell.

May 1/17 to June 28/17Paddle and Cycle Saskatoon to Fort Frances
July 2/17 to Oct 5/17Paddle and Cycle Fort Frances to New Lowell
May 13/18 to June 1/18Paddle New Lowell to Peterborough

A map of my tracker points through the Boundary Waters. During the fur trade era, this route was part of ‘Highway One’ for getting across the country by canoe, but it was along an international boundary that had not been legally defined. For that reason, in a treaty of 1842, between Great Britain and the United States, it was agreed that all the water and portages along this route shall be “free and open to the use of the citizens and subjects of both countries.” When it came to defining the actual legal route the established lake, creek, and portage routes between the numerous lakes became the boundary. Hence it is a very convoluted line.

‘Free and open’ in 1842 but not free anymore! When I checked with US Customs, about the possibility of setting foot on American soil, they issued me a $16 US permit and advised me to check with Canada Customs. Canada took $30 for their permit, necessary for crossing back if I set foot stateside. Crossing the line did not include paddling south of the line dividing the lakes. A permit would not have been required except for actually setting foot stateside.

I arrived in Fort Francis on June 28th and decided I would stay until after the July 1st, Canada Day, celebrations. I was enjoying a restaurant dinner on the 30th and noticed the Canadian flags adorning the windows of the restaurant. One window had two flags, and I boldly asked the waitress if I might steal one of those and told her why. She agreed and that flag still adorns my canoe. I didn’t know it, at the time, but I would be seeing only one other Canadian paddler in the Boundary Waters, while possibly as many as one hundred American paddlers.

Rainy Lake. Like Lake of the Woods a very rocky shoreline but only a couple thousand islands on Rainy. It was July 4th, the American Independence Day holiday, when I noticed a houseboat in a bay on the American side. I paddled over and uttered ‘I come in peace!’ That got some laughs, followed by an offer of a cold beer, followed by a bag of baked goodies. Shortly after I exited Rainy Lake, and camped at Kettle Falls. No shortage of fireworks that night. I watched from inside my tent as Mother Nature let loose with a deluge of intense thundershowers that lasted for more than an hour.

Rock and more rock. It is the Canadian Shield. Not usually this grand or so coloured.

Canada on the left, USA right, and border down the middle of all the narrow channels. In some places, where the waters make a sharp turn west, the US is north of Canada.

Tannin in the water turns it brown. The lakes didn’t look blue they looked black but I don’t know if that is related to the tannins.

Between a rock and a hard place – again.

Had to sleep on the how-to for this one. Left it at the bottom at night hoping that extra hands might arrive in the morning. There is a cleft through the rock but too narrow except for a shouldered canoe. This is the only time I had to empty the canoe completely. I tightly strung a rope between a well-anchored boundary survey marker and a tree. I looped the bowline around that line and used it to maintain the gains made with each lift. My water noodle ‘beach ladders’ served well, both protecting the hull and allowing it to slide easier.

Bumpity bump bump bump. But with care so as not to damage the hull.

The twenty-four portages were a lot of extra work. Long day paddles don’t wear me down but I found the portages tiring. For the most part, the other paddlers I met (usually numbering two per canoe, sometimes three) all had rented aluminum canoes. Most of them could complete the portage with just one trip. One person would carry the canoe and a smaller backpack, with the other taking a larger pack and items in each hand. Most times it would take me three trips. Two of the trails weren’t too rocky and I could leave more in the canoe. I often needed pieces of wood to protect the hull from the boulders. It was tedious and being July, some warm days as well.

Pascal Bredin was attempting to solo paddle from Quebec City to Inuvik. We could have been like ships that pass in the night, on opposite sides of a big lake, but we met in the narrowest of channels. When he suddenly came into view from around a bend in the stream it was like I was meeting myself – our canoes being very similar. He is the only Canuck paddler I met of the hundred-plus that passed by. Pascal had to turn around at Cumberland House, Saskatchewan and was unable to complete his trip. The higher than normal runoff made solo upstream travel beyond there too difficult.

Curtain Falls. The largest on my route.

Avoiding the need to attach the cart wheels. The next lake was only a stone’s throw distant so I unloaded enough to allow me to pull the canoe up the intervening creek. Moving rocks in the channel probably took more time than portaging would have but the diversion from the routine was nice.

I left finding a camp spot too late this night and had to settle for a place just big enough for the air mattress. No room to pitch the tent but I used it as a bivy bag to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Not a place to roll out of bed in the morning! The mozzies here were thicker than I’ve encountered anywhere but they don’t have an itchy bite. They come out at night and aren’t much of a bother during the day. At times though the blackflies, deerflies and horseflies have been. Such that I’d wear long pants and sleeves in the boat and a head net when they were really bad on the portages.

I was able to avoid another portage starting from here in the morning. This time I was able to wade up the creek pulling the canoe. I did that carefully though, first going ahead with a long light line that I’d tie off upstream, just in case I slipped and lost my grip.

Laying it on the line. I was on ‘my side’ here but not always – and yes I was supposed to be registered to camp stateside. This was one of, I think, only two places where there was no flow between consecutive lakes and the boundary followed the portage route.

The steepest ascent. On the steeper hills, I would always tie a rope ahead to prevent a train wreck if I were to slip. Using a cart to transport a canoe in Quetico Provincial Park, the Canadian half of the Boundary Waters, is prohibited. I don’t know the reasoning but I had no choice.

At Prairie Portage, there is a Ranger Station for Quetico Park. I camped there for two nights due to some wet weather. On the off day, I walked the portage trail to the start of the next lake, just as a party of three canoes, of high school-aged girls, who had come all the way from Texas, were about to get underway. In chatting with them, one of them mentioned that I had just fulfilled one of her hopes about this trip. Her two hopes were, that she’d meet a Canadian, and she’d see a moose! I couldn’t resist giving them full value for their money and as they paddled off I sang them this voyageur ditty en français. (Dragged out of the long-ago canoeing video archives to include here. Somebody should tell this fellow he needs to seriously up his stroke count.)

Two ‘height of land’ portages. When I crossed into Alberta from B.C. I was crossing the continental divide that separates water flowing to the Pacific and water flowing into Hudson Bay. At the time I wondered where was the eastern boundary to that divide. Here it be! Between North and South Lake, on the Height of Land Portage, about 100 kilometres southeast of Thunder Bay. I was finally into the drainage that flowed to the Atlantic.

Beyond here I had only two more short portages along the Boundary Waters route. A short river paddle from Rose Lake brought me into Arrow Lake. For me, this was the direct route to Thunder Bay but would require 80 kilometres of cycling. (The fur trade, canoe route continued down to Lake Superior at Grand Portage, Minnesota.) At a campground, at the east end of Arrow Lake, I was able to find a ride into Thunder Bay where I retrieved the bicycle that I had shipped from Fort Francis. By this time the bicycle was in the hands of host Allen, who kindly agreed to retrieve the items I’d shipped and store them at his place.

I was a few days at Allen’s and that gave me time to do some necessary repairs. That included having a shop sew up a new piece of ripstop nylon to replace the old rain cover that UV was causing to deteriorate. I also wanted to refinish the hull. In the picture, I have just finished applying a coat of West system epoxy. It is looking good and I am feeling good about having this, much needed, and much overdue, job completed. My joy was short-lived, however. This epoxy system requires exact measurement of the two components to achieve a hard durable coat. I should have measured out the hardener and not trusted the cans finger pump to deliver the correct amount. The salesman assured me the supplied pump system was accurate. My feel-good ended when, during clean-up, I discovered the hardener to still be a third full. It should have been all but empty. My efforts to brush on a mixture of resin with extra hardener weren’t successful at producing a consistent hard coat either. I had to use acetone and remove the soft areas as best I could. I have yet to redo the job properly.

I’m arriving at the Fort William Historical Park living museum. I camped for a few days here, taking in all that such a museum has to offer, with its displays and staff depicting day-to-day life as it was in the 1816 fur trade era. It was at Fort William where the Northwest Company voyageurs from Montreal met with their counterparts who paddled only the waters west of here. They met at Rendezvous in the fall and furs heading east were exchanged for more trade goods heading west. (Getting here from Allen’s required a very short river paddle, hence the bike just dumped onto the spray skirt.

Dave Brown has been building birch bark canoes at Fort William since 1984. Here he is putting in the final white cedar ribs into this, 24 foot beauty, that will weigh about 250 pounds. They are authentically made, including spruce roots for the stitching, but they no longer use spruce gum on the seams as it is too messy. This was a north canoe. It would have been paddled by a crew of six and could carry a ton and a half of freight. The voyageurs arriving from Montreal paddled 36 foot canoes that could carry as much as four tons of freight and held up to twelve paddlers. I spent a couple of hours chatting with Dave as he worked and he let me install a rib as well.

I liked the fur bale display too. Every interior fort had a press to compact the furs into tight 90 pound bales. I had always found it remarkable that the voyageurs portaged carrying 90 pound bales with just a headband ‘tump’ line. Discovered here, that often they carried two such bales. The voyageurs were not big men either. Smaller crew were preferred as that allowed more room for cargo.

One of my layover days in Thunder Bay was used to cycle 20 km east to visit the memorial where Terry Fox, was forced, by the cancer that would take his life, to stop his Marathon of Hope, cross country run. I arrived on what would have been his 59th birthday.

A little fish just entered a big pond. Here I have just entered Lake Superior. It is a very big pond. It holds 10% of all the fresh water in the world. It’s said that it holds enough water to cover all of North and South America to a foot in depth. (Could I see the math on that one please?) Another stat says it has claimed more than 10,000 lives. I wonder how many voyageur freighter canoe crews never finished their journey along her shores.

My route leaving Thunder Bay. No thanks to trying the seven and then ten kilometre open water crossings going via Pie Island. Pascal Bredin, who I met in the Boundary Waters, did make those crossings though.

A scenic plus to taking the long route around the bay. This is Caribou Island. On this day I would row 27 kilometres and paddle 20 more.

A map of my tracker points paddling the north shore of Lake Superior from August 4 to September 5th, 2017. I intended to paddle to Sault Ste. Marie, but after a month I was feeling that I had used up all my good paddling luck. That had me saying, thanks Superior but I’m quitting while I’m ahead, and I cycled the remaining distance.

Nice to get the hiking poles out for the first time. Atop ‘The Sleeping Giant’ rock formation on a ten of a day.

It’s a very pretty shoreline but if the waves, from the possible metre high swell, were crashing onto it and you needed a landing spot, it would become a darn ugly shoreline.

I spent an enjoyable weekend at the Live From the Rock Folk Festival in Red Rock near Nipigon.

Very few sandy beaches to be found. Here I am looking back on the way I have just walked. The canoe is around the corner in the bay at the top of the picture. Ahead of me is a point of land protecting this bay from the headwinds that had me windbound for a few hours.

Like the Pacific Coast, the lake is usually quiet at first light with the winds increasing as the day heats up. That has me getting up at four and on the water by six.

This is halfway across a foggy six kilometre bay crossing. Calm water except for the residual swell that made the paddle like being on a waterbed. By residual I mean the waves were not rolling nor were they from the one direction only. Assume they had bounced off a few shores and what was left truly did remind me of an unsettled waterbed.

I met Eric and his troop of Outward Bound paddlers first on the Boundary Waters. He mentioned that another part of their training course would have them kayaking west on Lake Superior and we’d possibly meet again. Didn’t think there was much chance of that, and had forgotten all about them, until I saw paddlers approaching directly towards me. They recognized me right away from a distance.

The lighthouse on Otter Island, Lake Superior. When I first came upon Otter Island I intended to pass it by. Once I reached the point sheltering the bay from the south-east winds I decided it was too rough and I turned back. I thought I’d find a camp spot on the northeast side of Otter but nothing was suitable. I continued to the north end where there was not only good shelter but also an unlocked coast guard accommodation no longer in use. A great spot to spend two windy days- except for the fishing. No luck with trying that. The island did provide some blueberries though.

My tracker position points in the vicinity of Otter Island. I should have spent another day windbound. When I did set out from the north end I first intended to return along the northeast side of the island but decided it was too rough. That had me having a look on the open lakeside and it was OK – but not for long. That four kilometre paddle, until I again reached sheltered water is memorable. It was as rough as I could handle and once I committed to it I had no choice but to keep going. I couldn’t risk turning around and there were no safe landing sites on that side of the island.

Cutting it too fine on Lake Superior. This point has another abandoned light station and it was my destination this evening. I was rowing and conditions had been good. They quickly changed though when a south wind started stirring things up. Hooray for the breakwater at the top of the photo. Not at all fun to be rowing in too rough water but oh so nice to make it behind a breakwater not a minute too soon. Definitely the icing on the cake re my decision to leave Superior and cycle to Lake Huron instead. The next morning I paddled a few kilometres across a bay and I took out near Wawa.

107 pounds of unneeded weight, including the rowing unit, packed up for shipping to the town of Spanish, on Lake Huron where I would commence paddling again.

If you thought my bike was small! I’m at a Sault St. Marie bike shop (Velorution) that provides cycle tourists with a freebie little campsite, complete with a shower. For BMXers, they have a small dirt track that this little lover of the sport was trying out.

Back to paddling again on Lake Huron, Manitoulin Island. I’m camped on somebody’s beach. I had no choice, as darkness approached, it’s all private property. It was a summer cottage though and nobody was home. When I noticed the neighbour next door and told her of my plight, and why I was camped where I was, she kindly offered her beach cabana as a better shelter for my second night.

Leaving Manitoulin Island to go visit Sudbury! Oh boy, you say, Sudbury – right up there with Winnipeg on your shortlist of gotta see places. Well, I’m being lured by a fifty-year reunion of sorts and it’s only a 100 k away. In 1967, after high school graduation, a school chum and I travelled to Montreal to visit Expo 67. Our travel plans included heading south on a big jaunt across the southern states and back up the west coast. That took money and that money was earned, in a couple of months, as underground miners in Sudbury. I worked at the 6600 foot level and now at the 6800 foot level that same mine, at Creighton, houses the SNO Lab. It’s about neutrinos and supernovas and a whole lot of Canadian Shield shielding. In 1967, thanks to the smelter, Sudbury was a rocky moonscape. Now I’m told there are trees with birds in them. Anyway can’t pass it by. And besides, the weather is perfect (hot even) and it’s nice to pedal sans canoe in tow.

Riding every cyclist’s dream – with a tailwind! It’s the Trans Canada, but one side has been closed for repaving. I have it all to myself for about 20 km, same for the return too.

The MS Chi-Cheemaun. In Ojibwa, the name means Big Canoe. Rather than wait for better conditions to paddle to the mainland I decided that Big Canoe would instead haul me and little canoe to the mainland. With that, I wisely avoided a five mile crossing.

I should show a bigger smile. The GPS is showing an elevation of 530 metres. I’m at the summit of the Niagara Escarpment on the Bruce Peninsula – and I wasn’t expecting any summits! I’m hauling the full load and have been since the ferry. The extra hundred plus pounds I usually ship by bus is aboard. That’s a lot of extra ugg, and I would have said pulling it up 1100 feet of elevation gain wasn’t possible. Obviously, all systems are go. The ATP is firing as it should and the synapses are synapsing! Looking forward to the descent!

My 2017 paddling season has come to an end. I stowed the canoe and all my gear at my cousin’s in New Lowell and then used the bike to ride north 70 km to Washago where I took Via Rail back to Vancouver. The train didn’t arrive until well past midnight and I was the only one there. Waiting For A Train as posted to Facebook.