In an effort to be billed as the friendliest man in Canada, I wave at every passing vehicle when pulling Karta. Oncomimg or overtaking makes no difference. Everybody gets a wave. I’m keeping a running tally of the rough percentages of who waves back in what kind of vehicle. So far, Manitoba is running away with it.
Every now and then someone honks. It’s rare enough that I wonder if they’re annoyed with me taking up so much of the highway.
Catherine honked at me just as I was about to turn off the highway and make camp at a Manitoba Hydro work station. It wasn’t much: Mucky gravel on top of the dyke bordering the river just below Macarthur Falls. It was the first place I didn’t dare drink the water despite having every confidence in my filter. The slime and unrecognizable things swimming in the soup were too much.
I know it was Catherine who honked because she managed to find me after travelling to Lac du Bonnet and back to buy water and Gatorade and deliver it. I was beyond grateful after my trip
to the swamp.
Up early to polish off the last 4 km of highway before the put in at Macarthur Falls, I’m walking head down as quick as I can to avoid the heat that comes early. I hear a vehicle slowing as it nears so I look up, move a shade closer to the shoulder and wonder if the truck is taking aim or precautions.
Stopping beside me, I recognize Catherine in the passenger seat. Before I can get a word out sideways, she introduces me to her cousin Paul. Soft spoken with knowing eyes, he invites me to stop at his place. ‘Hard to miss. 5 multi-colour Adirondack chairs just before you hit Lac du Bonnet.’ I agree to stop and the truck makes a quick u-turn and is soon out of sight.
Anxious to be paddling, I hurry through the transition from cart to canoe. Once in the water, I am immediately met by the current. A few minutes later, stapled to the shore, I am paddling at 100% and barely making headway. With the wind against and the chop broadside, Lac du Bonnet is suddenly very far away and I know in my heart of hearts that I am in trouble.
It turns out that every home or cottage has 5 multi-coloured chairs. Stopping in front of most of them trying to imagine Paul living there is a welcome change from fighting the wind and current. With a quarter mile to go to the Lac du Bonnet public beach, I give up. I can’t find the chairs or Paul.
I lean into the paddle, take a few serious strokes and suddenly see two people waving at me from a dock. Heading back to shore, I recognize Catherine and up on the bank, I see 5 multi-coloured chairs.
I’ve arrived. And just in time as the wind and current is getting to be too much. I figure to stop for a bit, wait out the wind and continue on to Seven Sisters Falls.
The wind doesn’t let up at all. Within the hour, I realize I’m not going anywhere. Paul’s wife Leslie offers me every kindness and convenience their home
can provide while Catherine bustles about the kitchen and fridge producing drinks, fruit, and snacks. It’s impossible to say no to any of it despite the misgivings I’m having.
By late afternoon, the lake is being lashed by gale force winds and the rain is coming down in sheets. I’m pinned at Paul’s place and glad of it.
The kindness of strangers knows no bounds. I am overwhelmed and relishing the company. I’m among kindred spirits and Paul carefully recounts his own adventures. I understand then the look he gave me in the car.
Cajoled into gigging, Paul does a song he wrote about farming. I’m embarassingly emotional as ‘Prairie Skies’ goes right through me.
The people you meet. The people whose stories and gifts bring you to your knees. These are the people who have always been here, who have always cared and helped, these Canadians.