Thursday, February 09, 2006

Camping Stories

I came across some camping stories, and a memory came back.

It was our honeymoon, over sixteen years ago. We didn't have a plan. No exotic hideaway for us, just a room at Kenosee for one night, and after that, the road. Funny, Kenosee is a very short way up the road from my hometown, but we didn't see any Arcola folks there. Instead, when we stumbled over to the Moosehead for some food, we encountered a fellow we both knew vaguely from the dorm at Luther College, U of R. He reminded himself of our names, found out why we were there, and sang out, "So, what did you guys do last night?"

When we packed up the debris from the motel room, we discovered some things missing, and some things extraneous, so we went back to the farm, where the relatives cooed over us and pressed lots of leftover food upon us. Then we made our escape for the second time, and drove from the Moose Mountains to Duck Mountain. We have lots of Mountains in Saskatchewan. I've noticed, though, that if you're not from Saskatchewan, you can't see them.

They assigned us to the overflow camping, which was a lovely meadow in the forest, and if I remember rightly, we had it to ourselves. We walked on the shore by the campground, swam at the main beach, and then decided to hike the trail between the two areas. It was nothing daunting; you might want to bring a water bottle. It roughly paralleled the road, but kept its distance, off in the woods. There was a movement up ahead - another hiker intruding on our idyllic wanderings? No, a bear. It jogged across our path and away toward the lake. I had never seen one at large, but this one didn't seem too terribly large; probably a young one. We consulted and hesitated and worried about mother bears before finally deciding that no more bears seemed to be coming along, so we could probably safely continue across the bear's back trail. Later at the main beach, I found a map that showed all the facilities, including the garbage dump. Aha.

After Duck Mountain, we picked another green spot on the map, Greenwater Lake, but I don't remember our stop there. I remember the narrow iron bridge at St. Louis, but I had to do some Googling just now to find the name of the town, and thus I discovered that a major archeological find was made just a few years ago during assessments related to replacing that bridge. Well, the find is exciting, I'm sure, but I'm sad about the bridge. Safety, convenience, progress. Sigh.

During my Google tangent, I also found a St. Louis ghost story.

But sixteen-plus years ago, we knew none of this; we just drove across the bridge, admiring the broad river below, and continued on our way to Waskesiu.

The overflow camping there was a totally different scene. Again, it was a grassy meadow, but this time jammed with camper trailers and tents so close together that their guy strings overlapped. We hadn't been keeping track of days, let alone noticing the impending August long weekend. How it occurred to us, I don't recall, but we came up with a solution: the backcountry.

We rented an aluminum canoe, and signed up for a campsite out on the west shore of Crean Lake. They warned us that the sites would be primitive, but we were delighted. We piled our car-camping gear and several grocery bags of foodstuffs into the canoe and set forth. It was about four in the afternoon.

The Hanging Heart Lakes were lovely, and Crean Lake was like glass stretching away out of sight. We paddled through the deep green reflection of the shadowy trees and easily found our campsite: three sites together, but we had the place to ourselves. The "primitive" facilities included an outhouse, a nice firepit with a grill, a supply of firewood, and my nemesis: a platform high on some trees, for storing food out of reach of bears.

It's not like I fell off it.

It's just that the tin wrapped around the tree trunks had deep grooves scratched in it.

And the place was so beautifully private.

We drove each other crazy with our half-remembered wisdoms about how to avoid leaving attractive smells around your campsite. If I recall correctly, Garth was fairly unconcerned, but I heard every little sound in that terribly beautiful silence, and the next day, the setting was somewhat less appealing to him because of the bear in his tent (me).

Sometime during our stay there, we took the canoe out on the lake in the moonlight, but all I remember of that jaunt was the mosquitoes. That and wondering if the bears would come to visit our site while we were away, and wondering if bears are fond of swimming.

That must have been the first evening. I don't think we would have stayed a second night willingly.

But in the morning, there were waves crashing onto the shore. We spent the day puttering around the campsite, watching the occasional motorboat as it bounced across the lake and sent up a burst of spray at each wave. That night I couldn't hear the little forest sounds over the roaring from the lake and the trees. I wasn't reassured.

Was it two nights, or three? All I remember is that Garth got anxious about being stranded by the wind for another few days, and being late getting back to work. He decided we should get up before dawn, when the wind should be at its lowest, and paddle out.

The wind was still high when we arose, but Garth was determined, and I was becoming panicky about the imaginary dark forms among the dark trunks of the great dark forest. Again we threw our hodge-podge of gear and groceries in loose bags into the canoe. We very briefly discussed a strategy for orienting the canoe relative to the waves, then dug in our paddles and went.

It wasn't a direct headwind, but we couldn't run with it, either, at least not until we cleared a rocky point perhaps a half mile off. Garth has always been strong for his size, and he's not small, either. I was perhaps a little more experienced than he with paddling, but he managed quite well in the stern, and the first little distance seemed mostly okay. There were moments when he felt he needed to reassure me, though. He told me, "Don't worry; if we capsize, I'll dive down and get some of our stuff."

I just kept paddling. The near-misses with oversized waves wore on my already frazzled nerves, and the shore seemed to be approaching faster than that point where we could clear the rocks and turn down the wind. Garth quit talking and paddled. And we paddled.

And we paddled.

And we made it.

The Hanging Heart Lakes were oh-so lovely.

We returned the canoe and signed out of the backcountry register, and headed for Prince Albert and a hotel.

When we recovered, we realized that we had quite a bit of our vacation time left over, so we turned away from our homeward track and went to surprise the relatives who, by this time, were gathered at Kananaskis in southwest Alberta for a family reunion. We made a stop in Calgary so that Garth could show me the wave pool.

Garth loves water. He once spent several hours swimming across a crater lake in Australia, and back, all by himself. I, on the other hand, had struggled to teach myself to swim during my years at university. The only time in my life that I ever loved water was yet to come, a few years later, when I discovered that pregnancy made me buoyant.

Anyway, the wave pool looked like fun. Garth took me in the shallow end, coaxing me deeper into the waves, and showing me how to drownproof. Then we went to the other pool, where you could sit on a ball suspended from a rope and swing out over the water and then let yourself drop in. That was fun too. Garth, bursting with the joy of water and the pleasure of sharing it with me, led me back toward the wave pool. "Let's go in the deep end," he cried, and off we went.

He went down the ladder first. I had got about halfway down when a wave caught me. Garth must have been closely watching my descending form, because it didn't take him long to get hold of me. I climbed on his head.

I had never felt that way before, and never again since. I knew I was panicking, and I knew it was pointless, but there was not a thing I could do about it.

Like I said, Garth is strong. He put me back on the ladder, climbed out after me, and calmed me down.

Then he stood back, looked at me, and said, "I guess if we'd capsized, I might not have been going after our stuff!"


Jim said...

Sweet story Laura, I feel like I was there.

Madcap said...

Boy.... I seem to remember going to the library on our honeymoon... you two were real go-getters!

Great writing.

arcolaura said...

The library! Reminds me of a humorous speech I heard once, about the library being a great place to meet girls. One suggestion was to sit down next to a girl at a reading table and say to her, "Can I buy you a house?"!

Ontario Wanderer said...

Lots of memories drug up by your camping story. My first wife and I camped on our honeymoon, in a campsite where there was a bandstand that we did not know about. We left the camp at 1:00 a.m. During our first canoe trip, years later with two children, our food was safe from bears but a flying squirrel found its way into our pack and ate its way all the way through. Ah, memories.