First Solo Canoe Trip

The above photo was taken along the banks of the Mighty Peace River when we were 11. We found an old gravel pit upriver from Watson’s Slough and were doing some target practicing. The big red canoe on my older brother’s work truck was the one dad brought home from Yellowknife when I was 5. My family had many great adventures with this big freighter canoe and the following story is one of them.

It was my brother’s and my 13th birthday. Our dad had taken us to a wilderness lake to have a canoeing and camping adventure.

On the first day we canoed to an island on the lake and set up camp with a tent and sleeping bags. For supper we had brought along a cooler and some canned goods in case the fish weren’t biting. The next day we swam, canoed, hiked and enjoyed ourselves. I think dad was having fun too. Dad loved any kind of wilderness adventure as he made his living as an exploration geologist so he spent a lot of time in very rugged wilderness conditions. So perhaps this was too tame for him.

Early the next morning I awoke. It was before day break and I felt this need for adventure. It was in my DNA. I just felt this pull, this inner desire to test myself against the wilderness. I quietly dressed and carried my boots down to the waters edge. I had my hunting knife in case of dangerous beasts. In fact, there were bears and big cats in that area. At the water I donned my boots and a life jacket.

The canoe was heavy, a big freighter canoe, but fortunately the ground was wet and the vegetation slippery with dew so I was able to slide the canoe into the water. I was excited because the lake was covered in morning mist. A thick damp fog beckoned me into the unknown. Surely this was the start of a pleasant adventure.

As I paddled silently out from shore I drank in the sweet smelling morning air, the cool dampness was refreshing. I paddled as my dad taught me for hunting moose. The paddle never leaving the water fully so that there was no sound of water droplets splashing off the paddle. One has to turn the paddle sideways like a knife as it is pulled forward for the next “J” stroke to begin.

Once I was well out on the lake I stopped paddling, letting the canoe glide on the water, in the mist. I was hidden from all the universe it seemed. Alone in adventure land. Then I heard a faint sound. It was the sound of something in the water. Something swimming lightly, faintly. Like a small animal. Then I saw it! An otter swimming across the bow of my now motionless canoe. I didn’t want to scare it so I remained still. Then I slowly began to paddle after the otter. I felt like it was leading me somewhere.

I paddled, the otter swam, I paddled some more. Then I saw the woods of the island looming out of the mist. The otter had led me right back to our camping island. I felt very content with my little adventure. Within an hour the morning sun would rise and burn the mist off the lake, yet for now, I was hidden in the lake mist. I returned the canoe and quietly went back to our campsite and crawled back into my sleeping bag. I fell back asleep, smiling.

When the sun was fully up and daylight made it hard to sleep I heard the sound of dad making breakfast over the campfire. He turned to me and asked, “geschlafen zie gut?” (Excuse my poor spelling). Dad spoke German but I did not take it in school). I smiled, “yes, I had a great sleep”.

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