Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Waiting on Winnipeg for wind and weather to clear

Transcribed by phone on Wednesday, July 20 at 3 p.m.

It’s Day 49 of our trip and we are waiting out the weather in Gull Harbour on the west side of Lake Winnipeg. This is a big body of water (10th or 11th largest in the world) and there is still a lot of lake to go. We have four maps for Lake Winnipeg and we are on the first quarter of the second map. The north basin is still ahead of us and that’s where it’s the most dangerous because of so much big water.

View from Gull Harbour on Wednesday evening. Gale warnings are still posted on the lake
What’s the weather? It’s very windy right now. There was a thunderstorm watch for all of Lake Winnipeg this morning and we had a big thunderstorm go through that actually struck a tree only 20 feet from our tent was staked out. The lightning split through the tree and sent pieces of wood flying all over. None of the big boats that are normally on the lake are out there today so we aren’t going out either. The forecast calls for more of the same tomorrow but maybe it will be a little better and then maybe we’ll go.

The red dot is Gull Harbour

Here’s how we got this far.

After we left the city of Winnipeg, it took a day paddling down the river to get to Breezy Point at the Netley marsh near the beginning of Lake Winnipeg. The next day it was perfectly calm and the sky blended with the water it was so perfectly calm. We paddled all the way to the Beaconia and there we met a woman named Penny Johnston and her husband Brian. They are outdoors enthusiasts and have a cool house on the lake. They e-mailed us earlier and invited us to stop by when we were in the area. We went to their house and hung out with them and their neighbors. Then we napped in preparation for a night paddle. At 10 p.m. we left and paddled up to Grand Beach on the east side of the lake.

As we took the turn around the peninsula that is Grand Beach, the wind picked up and it became very rocky. We had the bright moonlight to guide us so we avoided the rocks and landed at the beach. Two security officers allowed us to sleep on the beach which we did, hoping to wake up at 3 a.m. and continue paddling.

Wind conditions became calm again so we paddled up to Victoria Beach. The sky was smoky from the wildfires in Ontario and visibility was super low. It took two hours to paddle across Traverse Bay and it was really spooky because we couldn’t see any land.  As we paddled north, we ran into a kayker named Terry Bolland who is a world famous paddler and runs a website called He was in his kayak paddling from Saskatchewan to Montreal when we ran across him.

For our second night on Lake Winnipeg we camped on the eastern side just north of the Little Black River. We got a call from a Menogyn group saying that they were going to be on Lake Winnipeg and so we wanted to connect with them and see them. The plan was to paddle through the night to meet them but we paddled along and waited until sunset. Around midnight, the wind picked up again and the moon wasn’t out so it was completely dark. We went to this beach and as we got closer, we saw hordes of fish flies.  They were swarming above the trees making a black cloud. We pitched the tent anyways and went inside to get away from them. The wind continued to build through the night and we got up to reposition the canoe away from the water.

An hour later, something hit the top of our tent. Natalie woke up right away and yelled, “Get the bear spray.” Sure enough, all our commotion caused it to run off into the woods. We figured it was just checking us out, but it pawed at our tent and we found some scat nearby later on confirming our suspicions. We put fuel cans on our food so that it would make noise if it returned. Just to be safe, we whistled, banged pots and pans and blew an air horn to create enough noise to drive it further away. We went back to sleep only to be woken up a little while later at 5 a.m. by this huge storm that blew up.

The beach that we were camping on was right next to the lake and across the lake it was covered in lightning. We could see a gale force wind and waves coming right at us so we went into the woods to get into lightning position. The wind blew over the tent and so we brought the poles into the woods with us and stayed in lightning position until the storm blew over. Thirty minutes later it was over so we set up the tent again. A few hours later, another storm came in from the north and we witnessed a total shift in conditions. Within 30 seconds, the winds shifted from southwest to northwest and it was the coolest thing to see. That second storm only lasted a few minutes but it stayed windy afterwards and made us windbound so we stomped out a spot in the woods and camped there.

After lunch that day, the conditions improved again and went to flat water. We packed up and got into the canoe. Our location was just south of Observation Point and near the point by Black Island and Hecla Island. As we paddled closer to Black Island point, we picked up a current and a west wind making the water conditions change rapidly. It was choppy in the channel and the wind then shifted straight south bringing four-foot waves with it. The wind and current was pushing it into Hecla Island and we ended up not being able to cross so we pulled up on it and ended up portaging in the harbor rather than going back on the water around the peninsula.

We spent two hours in the area looking for our friends and found out they were wind bound at the Berens River and were flying out. While we were in the area, we chatted with David Square from the Winnipeg Free Press and then went to the restaurant in the area. The people in the restaurant said there were big ships out on the water where we were and that they were spooked by the same waves as we dealt with. The big boats felt like they were close to capsizing and came in.

Today, we went into the restaurant and talked with the owner who is also a sailor on the lake. He said nobody is going out today and said probably not tomorrow either. We’re just going to lay low in town and hope that this wind and weather system gives us a break and allows us to continue. Watch for another blog update to post as soon as we are able to call another one in.

Here's an excerpt of an interview we did with Ron Hustvedt for the Outdoor News and Star Tribune. He has more of this interview and will publish it soon.

Friday, July 15, 2011

100 Miles in 28 Hours

                        Sunrise on the Red River with motivational quotes we love so dearly...

We love Canada! We're in Winnipeg, Manitoba hanging out at Starbucks writing this blog and preparing to launch into the Canadian wilderness. Lake Winnipeg awaits. Hopefully with gentle south winds and blue skies.

Out to eat with Christine, Nick
and my parents in Fargo!
The night after our last blog was one for the books. We went out with Riverkeepers, Christine and Nick. We had some good discussions about Riverkeepers role in involving the people of Fargo in watershed protection. They have tons of cool programs and love helping people get out on the water. Check them out!

The Menogyn group headed to the Coppermine River
and Hudson Bay Bound.
After dinner, we were so lucky to meet up with a Menogyn group headed to the Coopermine River in the Northwest Territories. It was so great to see another group of people excited about getting out into the wilderness.

Then, we had a six day break!
Natalie did a great job as her sister's maid of honor. Here's her favorite story:

I was the maid of honor for my sister Leslie's wedding in Philadelphia on July 2nd. I was immediately thrown into a salon for a manicure and pedicure, which I received while sitting on a massage chair and drinking a mimosa. My life makes little sense these days! Anyway, during the wedding I was crying because I'm a huge sap (I cried more than my mom. ouch.) and because I was so happy that my sister and Brian were getting married. During the service I was trying to keep my nose from running but when I bent over to fix the train on my sister's dress all of the snot flew out of my nose and onto her beautiful white gown! I tried my best not to laugh but it was hard when I saw some of the faces of the other bridesmaids and groomsmen. I managed to keep my cool. It was great hanging out with family again!
Natalie and her brother Tim and Leslie's wedding reception!
  I was busy at home in Inver Grove Heights getting the rest of our food and maps together.
Here's all the maps of the Hayes River.
We can't wait!

St. Olaf friend, Sara Galbraith, helped me paint our canoe with its name Kawena Kinomatea (no worries in Cree) and with Hudson Bay Bound spray painted on the right side. Reminder! Our canoe is coming back from York Factory and will be auctioned off at Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply in Grand Marais, Minnesota with all proceeds going to YMCA Camp Menogyn. 

We got back on the Red River on July 5th. Here's a photo journey of our last week or so on the Red.

A sunken car in the Red River. The annual flooding takes in a lot of debris.

Here's an eagle's nest! Both parents were home. We see eagles everyday. God Bless America. 
The Historical Society of Climax, MN had a Barbecue for us at this rebuilt cabin. They also let us stay in their "artist's apartment" in town for the night. The next day, Asher (far right) and Wayne (right behind Natalie), went paddling with us in the morning! It was so great to have companions. They are in charge of a program called River Watch that teaches high schools along the Red River about water quality. Check out their really awesome program at:

The stretch of river from Grand Forks to Pembina has a slumped barn around every corner. We were told there used to be a thriving farming community, but in the last decade the flooding has caused people to abandon their farms and homestead along the Red River. 

I went swimming for the first time all trip! It felt really good and the water seemed plenty clean. 
A beautiful sunset from our tent on the Red River.
Story of our longest day yet: We arrived in Pembina on July 11th. Ron Hustvedt from the Star Tribune/Outdoors News had driven 5 hours to meet us for dinner and an interview. Look for an article in this Sunday's Star Tribune! The next day we crossed into Canada! The Canadian Border Patrol were waiting for us at the top of the hill in two HUGE SUVs. Once they saw us they drove down to the boat launch to meet us (we had called to arrange this a couple of weeks before). We should have filmed it because when we rounded the bend their SUVs had its emergency lights on and four six foot Canadian's dressed all in black got out to talk with us. They didn't want to come near the boat because of the mud, so we brought them the shotgun and our passports. I went with two of them to fill out the gun permit and pay $25 while Natalie flirted with the other young and cute border patrol agents. When I got back, we joked around and took off around noon. The wind was calm and we paddled easily St. Jean Baptiste. We were really craving donuts, so we went to look for them. But, when we got out of our boat we were immediately stopped by a man named Richard with a thick french accent and told we had to go get Manitoba's best poutine at Yahooz. It was free pool night too! What a great stop! We had Canadian beer and talked it up with everyone in the bar. They were excited about our trip and are hopefully following the blog now. We were back on the river by 7PM. We had a nice sunset paddle to Morris, but we decided we didn't want to camp we wanted to go keep going to Winnipeg. After a couple of rounds of coffee we were back in the river. We paddled all night and until 10AM the next day when we arrived at the Best Western in Southern Winnipeg. We were finally in bed at 12:45PM. Paddling at night was perfect. There was an almost full moon and no wind. We could clearly see the river banks and hear farm dogs announcing our arrival. I hope we didn't freak anyone out when we sang to keep awake. We could have been mistaken for ghost-like river sirens. We approached the border of Winnipeg around 7AM greeted with a flashing orange sign saying DANGER NO BOAT TRAFFIC. We had no idea what it meant, so we spent the next hour trying to figure it out. The authorities of Winnipeg weren't sure either, so we carefully kept going. Turns out there's a dam that was being closed to put water into the diversion channel that goes around Winnipeg to protect the city from flooding. We portaged up some rocks and recommended to a worker that they add more to their sign. Here are some pictures from our first night paddle. It was really good practice for what we will probably be doing regularly on Lake Winnipeg.

We stopped in St. Jean Baptiste home of Manitoba's best poutine (french fries covered in gravy).  YUM!

Sunset before our night paddle to Winnipeg captured with the GoPro.

1:30 AM. The best picture of the moon we could get. The night was much more beautiful than our cameras could capture.

1:30 AM. Natalie says, "blai!"
3:45 AM. The sun started to illuminate the sky at 3AM.

4:30 AM. Natalie's silhouette in the sunrise on July 13th.

7 AM. The sign before the diversion gate near Winnipeg.
A special thanks to the wonderful people who have housed us and taken the time to swap stories along the Red! And now for our latest video blog...we'll update again at Norway House. But for now, we're off to ADVENTURE!!