The view from the trail heading south to Portage la Prairie is shockingly different than the last time Karta was put to work for more than just a few kilometres.
I had decided against paddling the Assiniboine Diversion. Unsure of exactly how much water was in the channel, I didn’t want to risk having to portage all my gear and the canoe through the reedy swamp that lined the Diversion. I was also unsure of just how much was left in the the tank. Up at 2am, paddling by 3 and arriving at 11, I didn’t relish a 25km upwind paddle. Once in the diversion, I would be committed as I only knew of the take out at Fort de Reine south east of Portage la Prairie. I figured to break the 30 kilometer portage into two bits: 18 now and 12 the following day.
Right off the bat, all started going wrong. Now wildly wrong, but just sideways bit by bit such that after an hour or two, I was wondering if the heat had addled my brain.
The road was rough gravel and rutted. Strike one. The heat was oppressive and there wasn’t a stitch of shade to be had for miles. Strike two. The bugs were crazy bad. Strike three. To keep from being burnt to a crisp, I was wearing long sleeves and pants-and sweating buckets. Strike four (as if I needed I another strike).
I was walking 45 minute stretches with 15 minute breaks. Having left at 2pm, by 7 I was pretty much toast. Sitting on the stern of the canoe on the highway shoulder, drenched in sweat and head down, I was searching for the strength to do the last 3km stint.
I needn’t have worried. Out of the blue, Jan, her husband Tod and Jace save me from myself. Jan delivers ice cold water, sparkling water and flavoured Bubbly, Tod turns up with iced Coke. Jace roars up in a quad to see what all the fuss is about.
They point me to a campsite by the rink only a kilometer away. The cut grass rivals a golf course and I’m not there 5 minutes before Monica and her husband Scott deliver ice-water, more Coke, and pizza. Pizza! I swear had I asked for the moon, Monica would have delivered.
A few days later, paddling down the Assiniboine I am desperate to get out of the canoe. In the boat for 9 hours straight, with 3 failed attempts to get out, has me desperate for a campsite. I head for the one and only patch of lawn that borders the river and pray that the bank is accessible.
Stumbling ashore, I head to a house to ask permission to stretch my legs. Forget stretching my legs, Ken and Diane, used to paddlers arriving out of the blue feed me hamburgers, more Coke, cupcakes, and offer me the gazebo to stay in! There’s even a table and chairs. Saved yet again.
There simply has to be something in the water. How else might one explain the kindness of people living around Portage la Prairie? I’ll go to my grave indebted to Portage people.