Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tumasi's New Boots

You're right, the picture is missing. As soon as I get permission to post it, I will. If you really, really need to see it before you begin reading - or during - then click 'here'. It won't take you exactly to the picture, but scroll down a bit and I think you'll see which one I want to use...

Ever since I started writing this blog, I've shut the office down at Christmas, doubled the staff's pay and told a Christmas story. This year, even in these tough economic times, I've been able to extend this gift again. I hope you'll enjoy this year's offering!
Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Tumasi close the door to the trailer classroom building where he taught and start to head over to where I was in the main school building. I turned and watch him as he made his way to the school door. I was thinking about how our lives had slowly come together. He'd been born in a sod house out on the tundra and I'd been born in a hospital in a southern Canadian city. So far apart and now here we were together. We were the same age, teaching the same grade and spending our weekends hunting and fishing out on the same landscape.

The door slammed shut and I could here him speaking to one of the teaching assistants in Inuktitut. He was excited. He'd got a call from the post office. A long awaited parcel from Sears had finally arrived after several delays. His footsteps were silent as he made his way down the hall to my class, but his excitement told me he was at the door.

"Johnni-ai!" He spoke the common greeting style in the Inuit culture of northern Quebec. I smiled.

"So we're headed to the the post office…! I'll be ready in a sec."

"Ya, finally my boots are in. Can't believe it's taken so long. I thought I'd be going hunting barefoot this Christmas!"

I looked down at his feet. He was wearing beautiful homemade kamiik, sealskin boots his aunt had made. Everyone in the community wanted a pair of those boots and Tumasi wanted Baffin skidoo boots from Sears. What a crazy world!

"Ya, right. You look barefoot in those kamiik. Real shame to have to cut your frozen feet off, especially at Christmas. It might keep you working regular hours though, without those fast moving feet…!"

He smiled. He knew I was always bugging him about his 'just-in-time' style of working, never wasting a moment in school that he could spend on his skidoo out on the land.

We headed to the post office and picked up the boots. I was a bit surprised by how heavy the box seemed to be, but decided not to say anything.

"Come over for some tea." Tumasi said as we exited the building. "We'll see how these beauties fit!" We strolled down the snow covered main road through town. I noticed they'd raised the price of gas again at the Coop. It was $0.75 a gallon! Incredible! It just keeps getting more and more expensive these days. I was glad we didn't have cars in the North. Can you image running a car with gas at that price!

I couldn't believe how long it took Tumasi to finally get around to opening the box and trying on his new boots. He made tea, we ate some dried caribou his cousin had dropped off last weekend and then Tumasi decided he wanted to change all the lights on his Christmas tree for ones that blinked on and off. Better his place than mine, I thought. Blinking lights? Oh gawd…

The wrapping on the boot box seemed to be tougher than steel, but Tumasi finally took his pocket knife to it and off it came. In shreds. Next the box itself, which proved to be a bit easier. He raised the flaps and looked inside.

"Waaaa…?" I looked in the box. It was full of light blue foam peanut-like things. Tumasi shoved his hand into the peanuts and felt around.

"Aaaaaaiiii…? What the…?" He pulled out a Hohner button accordion! Shiny, red, and so not boot-like!

"Did you order an accordion boots?" I said, pretending to be shocked. Now Tomasi can't play an accordion. In fact, he can't even hold a tune as far as I knew.

"Are you kidding?" He fished around in the box as if the boots were still down there hidden somewhere in the peanut pile, but of course they weren't. "I don't believe this! An accordion? Where are my stupid boots…? Sears! What idiots Kabloonat are!"

"I tell you what. Let's trade boots. You can have my boots and I'll take your kamiik." I lived in hope although his feet were smaller than mine by a couple of sizes. Maybe I could get them stretched...

"No can do, friend. My aunt would have me stretched, dried and sewn into a parka if I did that."

Tumasi was clearly confused about the marvels of southern Canadian culture when people down there didn't know the difference between skidoo boots and accordions, but what could he do.

I left him with his problems and headed home to work on my own for a while. It certainly was a costly error on Sears' part. I checked the mail-order catalogue and discovered the accordion cost over $300 while the boots were less than $50.

At school the next day, I noticed that Tumasi wasn't wearing his new accordion 'boots', but he was smiling. "So what happened?" I asked. Here's what he told me.

"Well it turns out my aunt's husband used to play the accordion. I never knew that, but he says he used to borrow one and play one when he was young. His mother had learned to play accordion when the old traders used to come up here long ago. When he herd about the mixed-up package I'd got, his eyes lit up like Christmas lights. There's no way he could afford to buy an accordion, so thanks to Sears, he's now the owner of his first accordion. He's offered to order me some new boots from his cousin the skidoo dealer the Coop uses. They'll be in on the next plane!"

"So can he still play?" I asked.

"A little bit, but he's rusty. He said with a few days of practice, he'll be ready to play again. He already told everyone there'll be an old time Christmas party in the school gym with step-dancing, just like in the old days. Pretty cool, ai?"

"Ya, pretty cool!" And it was!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Wondering what to get for the kayaker you know who never actually gets out on the water, but loves to tell stories of the wild times he/she had? Well, if they have a iphone or ipad, then here's just the thing. iKayak! Silly, but it did help pass the time for a while on that 15 hour to and from flight to Asia I took recently. All the fun of the real thing without getting out of your seat, changing into a drysuit or wondering where the take-out is. Just start edging your craft and the rest is taken care of!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Search For Franklin

You cannot be a fan of all things arctic without wondering what happened to Sir John Franklin and his two ships, the Erebus and the Terror. Despite years of searching, very little in the way of remains have ever been found which is odd considering both ships contained locomotive steam engines which surely would show up on some kind of sensor and the location where they were last known to be is recorded in the only document found.

This past summer, yet another group, Parks Canada, went looking for the ships, but again, to no avail. They did find a ship however! This one was a bit easier to locate as detailed records were kept locating where it had been abandoned in 1854 by
Captain Robert McClure and his 66-man crew. The ship was the HMS Investigator. The ship had been locked in ice after wintering twice in a dead end bay finally forcing McClure and his crew to abandon the ship and leave behind a cache of equipment and provisions on the shore. They made it to safety eventually and returned to England bearing the sad news that Franklin remained lost.

This summer's search has produced some remarkable photos of the Investigator as she lies upright on the bottom of the shallow bay where she was abandoned years ago. As the area is now part of Aulavik National Park, one might assume that kayaking trips will soon be organized to visit the wreck and go diving on her... Well, one can dream, at least!

Image sourse:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fire Dancing on Ko Samet

Kayakers by nature become well acquainted with beaches and beach life, but every now and then a beach turns up with something a little out of the ordinary on it. Here is an example.

Fire Dancers from Michael Bradley on Vimeo.

These very young children would appear each night on the beaches of Ko Samet, Thailand and perform these swirling fire dances for anyone who'd watch. After the performance there'd be a passing of the hat and the children would head down the beach to perform again.

Do these children go to school during the day? Is this to be their life work? I have no idea, but it was a bit shocking to see how skilled they already were and to wonder what their futures would be like...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Seasonal Variations in Taiwan

Back in Taiwan, I once again set about looking for a kayak to paddle. I had very kindly been given a list of Taiwanese kayak venders by Nigel Foster before leaving so I presumed this hunt would be an easy one. Looking over his list, it soon became obvious that the southern end of the island would be my best bet. I took the hi-speed train to Tainan in the southwest.

Once there I encountered my first problem. I don't speak Chinese! Fortunately, my son does. However as all my contact information was written in English, we discovered it wasn't easy to convert addresses and so on into the local version of Chinese spoken by most people in Tainan. Calling around also proven disappointing as venders seemed reluctant to rent out boats given they felt it was "winter" and their stock had already been put away! Finally an adventure-touring company in the city also declined to rent out boats as their season was over... I guess that's why so many folks we saw as we walked around in the chilly (?) 25°C weather were wearing their down-filled parkas and fur-rimmed hoods!

Driving back to the hotel from a bird-watching outing - rare black-faced spoonbills - the guide casually mentioned we really should be out in kayaks to see the birds. What, we asked? Yes, he had two boats at home we could borrow. Sadly we'd already booked our train for the journey back north and the flight home...

Not to be thwarted quite so easily, on our last day, we headed to Fulong on the east coast. As the train pulled into the station we could see a kayak sign! Finally, with one day to go, I'd paddle, but it wasn't to be. This place too had closed for the season.

So from a paddling point of view, the trip was disappointing, but I would go again, in season next time. I think I'd also make it a point to travel to places where kayaking outfitters are well set up and expecting people like me, anxious to rent. Certainly these places exist. I just chose not to visit those areas as this particular trip was more family oriented. The SE Asian coastline is definitely made for paddlers with every variety of skill level you could ever wish for. I wouldn't discourage anyone from going. Just do a little homework first if paddling is your primary goal.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Snorkeling The Reefs

When Ko Samet turned out not to be a paddler's paradise, at least in terms of interesting kayaks to paddle, I looked around for alternate water activities. Large motorboats would arrive off the beach each morning, people would climb aboard over the stern and off they would go, returning each evening, all happy and tanned. We soon found out they had spent the day snorkeling the reefs surrounding some small offshore islands. That sounded interesting, so we booked…

The trip out to the islands took less than an hour and we anchored in picturesque bays, moving every now and then to sample different sites. The equipment this time was in excellent condition and seemed brand new!

While the scene above water was totally engaging, what we saw under the the surface was shocking. Most of the coral was dead and the marine life usually associated with reefs had mostly disappeared. The cause? The guides put the blame squarely on recent increases in water temperature. It appears that coral can only live within a relatively narrow temperature range and that had been exceeded in this area. In spite of this disappointment, it was good to be swimming in the clear water and seeing what once was. Will it return? Will the commercial fishing be able to sustain itself in these changing times? Only time will tell, but it did make me think about how our impact on the planet is slowly but surely putting the squeeze on us. It led me to post a carbon dioxide watch widgit here on the blog to remind me to curtail the size of my personal footprint...

We finished the day by visiting a small island park where we were served refreshments of juice and fresh fruit. Here as well, we got to know some of our fellow snorkelers more personally. In particularly, this lady, a Thai befriended us and we ended up traveling back to Bangkok with her the following day. Throughout the trip we were treated to incredible hospitality and kindness by local people. It was very heartwarming!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Paddling in Thailand

While it wasn't the primary aim of my recent trip to Taiwan and Thailand, I certainly had going for a paddle as one of my goals. The first real opportunity came when visiting the island of Ko Samet on the Gulf of Thailand. Surely there would be kayaks of some sort to paddle on this tourist oriented island! Why they even had a Buddha statue on the beach to summon up the paddling spirits for me…

At first, I began to despair as none of the gorgeous beaches appeared to have kayaks for rent, although I was sure I'd seen people paddling some distance offshore. I'd have to extend my search further along the beach...

Well, here we are. A kayak of sorts. A bit on the heavy side, but definitely a kayak. Now to see if it's for rent and at what price. Being with my son, we decided to opt for a double and had it towed across the beach to the water. It was much too heavy to carry easily! Checking out the hatch - partly full of nasty black bilge-water - I decided to leave my shoes and towel ashore. The life jackets were not that form-fitting and the paddles probably doubled as agricultural tools at some point during the year, but we were going kayaking nonetheless!

Given the nature of the equipment, we only went out for an hour or so, but it was so good to be on the water in such beautiful surroundings. We paddled south, trying out the boat's abilities in a few rock gardens and so on. Not that manoeuvrable as it turned out, but it took any groundings with barely a scratch. I wanted to try it's surfing ability, but sadly the seas were much too calm with hardly any swell. I didn't go paddling again during the stay. I've been spoiled by more modern, light-weight boats and my light Greenland sticks. I kept reminding myself that kayaking wasn't the goal of this trip...

Monday, October 25, 2010

The End Or The Beginning...

Neither! If you're one of those nostalgic about the long ago days when Inuit paddled skin boats and lived in snowhouses, you might be concerned to see what's just happened in Iqaluit. The coffee chain 'Tim Horton's' has moved into town. I understand from fellow blogger from Igaluit, Townie Bastard that there may be more than one outlet for the chain. How times do change!

Mind you, you can still build a snowhouse and paddle a skin covered kayak if you want to, but now you can have a hot coffee at the same time!

(Image from Townie Bastard's blog)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Blog Action Day: Water

It's Blog Action Day!

Water. Who needs it? What's it good for anyway? These sound like silly questions, but when one looks around, it's clear that many of us don't seem to know the answers to these questions. The owner of the pedalo in the photo above didn't seem to get it. He or she discovered that it was fun to be out on the water in the pedalo, but when it disappeared from wherever it was stored, it seemed like it was out of sight, out of mind. Just one more toss away item, it would seem. It ended up at this spot and remained there for a week or more. Finally, helped by my cousin, we towed it to a small nearby beach, drained most of the water out of it and pulled it onto dry land. Last time I paddled in the area, it had gone. Was it the original owner, or someone else who took it? I suppose that's another way water serves us: passing things along!

Another interesting thing about water is it's double edge. What can nourish us can also kill us. What might look like a crystal pure drink may contain deadly organisms. Sea ice, another form of water, allows seals to be seen by an Inuk hunter, but when it forms a thin skim layer on the surface, it can tear the hull of a boat to pieces. Steam, the vapour form, will make a delicious espresso coffee, or burn you. The double edge of water is never far away.

Keeping this ying/yang concept in mind, we need to treat our water with care and vigilance. It will keep us well or kill us. Never turn one's back on water! Like the pedalo, one can be pulled in and set adrift. Unlike the pedalo, landing on a distant beach can be a life or death experience...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Geocache Vandalism

A few weeks ago I participated in a geocaching event in Maine. I chose to look for caches which were hidden around the shores of Flagstaff Lake. This meant that I could spend a day paddling the lake, going from cache site to cache site, combining two fun activities at the same time. I managed to find 9 out of the 10 geocaches I looked for, a pretty good record for me. One of the caches was a brand new one created for the event on an island in the lake. All of them were not easy to find. They were well hidden!

I recently received news that some kill-joy out there has been going around stealing caches and throwing the contents in the garbage. He manged to find and distroy the new cache and perhaps some other ones around the lake. His rationale is that he is "defending the forests" by removing what he sees as trash, littering up the landscape. He fails to mention that most of the geocaches he has removed up to this point actually were hidden in roadside guard-rails, a commonly used hiding site...

Sadly this is a case of a mis-guided person whose actions do nothing to defend the forests, but serve only to alienate him from hundreds of geocachers. In fact the motto of the geocaching world is "Cache in, trash out". Caches are not litter. They are carefully hidden, safe for animals and help promote an appreciation for the wilderness by getting people out there in the natural world. While paddling Flagstaff Lake, I brought along a trash bag to defend the forests and beaches. I collected all the trash I came across - there was a lot of it! - and was able to recycle nearly all of it when I returned home.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Photo Dump

I got dumped on by a fellow kayak blogger the other day for using one of his photos in my piece applauding the work of an Australian kayak maker who's using solar power in his factory. The photo looked like a cute family snapshot so I didn't think anyone would mind it being used. I was wrong. Mea culpa!

The subsequent discussion on his blog makes it clear that the issue of copyright is not as well defined in people's minds as it might be. It's also clear that the concept of copyright has failed to keep up with the internet and the way people have chosen to use it. It's become a bit like the 'wild west of yore' where one needs to be savvy if you don't wish to be victimized by people doing what I did. It's the reason why most professional photographers wishing to protect their work and receive due credit for it use dedicated, protected sites where they retain all their rights and ownership. The average person, like you and me don't bother. Instead, we use photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Picassa to store our photos online. These sites often claim ownership of our photos and many users do not realize this. We sometimes feel flattered or annoyed when our photos appear elsewhere on the net. Who owns what on the internet and how it can be used is far from clear to the average user. The wide-spread copying and using of other people's photos puts one in an up-hill battle against users living all over the world living in a variety of conflicting jurisdictions.

Does that make me less guilty? No, of course not. I used another person's photo without giving them proper credit. When contacted about it, I offered to give him due credit. I didn't get a reply to that statement. Instead I got dumped on publicly on his blog. I don't mind being corrected when I make an error and I don't mind correcting my errors if I can. It was a useful wake-up call, but unfortunately it won't really help my fellow blogger retain ownership of his photos.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hiking the Trail

While at Flagstaff lake the other day, I met a couple of people who had spent the summer thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. I enjoy day hiking and can see myself getting into doing some over-night hikes, but taking on the challenge of a long trail like the Appalachian is truly mind-blowing. We're talking walking around 2000 miles over some of the hilliest terrain on the planet. Beautiful, but tough.

So my admiration goes out to these people as they reach their goal of being a 'thru-hiker', someone who walks the total length of the trail in a single season, more or less non-stop. Many people keep an on-line journal of their experiences which can be accessed here.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Changing Feet

In the photo on the left, a birch tree has grown on the decaying trunk of a predecessor. As the old trunk slowly disappears, the young birch appears to have a set of legs well above the forest floor. It reminded me of the legacy we all share with each of our pasts. We are what our pasts has made us, aren't we?

I'm trying to change a bit of that past these days as I recently discovered I can no longer paddle in the old comfortable way I've done for the past five years or so. In 2005 I bought a kayak with a Smart Track rudder system. Over the years I have developed the habit of pushing on the foot peg on the same side as I was placing my paddle: left foot, left hand; right foot, right hand. Doing this would enable me to give the rudder control lever on top of the peg a little tweek to keep the kayak going in a straight line.

Why change now, you might think? Well, my new boat has no rudder. Direction control is based on what I do with the boat. Placing both foot and hand effort on the same side of the boat with each stroke causes the boat to wander off course. Until recently, I would correct this with a bit of edge or by adjusting the skeg. This would work, more or less, but I was starting to wonder why it was happening. It turns out much of the problem is to be found by the way I was paddling, all one side, then all the other.

I began paddling using a left hand side stroke combined with a right foot push on the peg, followed by the opposite diagonal pattern. I immediately noticed less wander and more boat control! Now I have to unlearn an old habit as I must consciously avoid falling into the old pattern. As many of you know, breaking old habits isn't easy. That old trunk is still there affecting everything I do!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Eustis Geocaching Event

Geocaching has becoming a regular part of my life when I'm out paddling or hiking. I'm not much into looking for caches when driving around, but I've discovered that geocaches are often hidden in interesting and scenic areas well worth kayaking and hiking into. Flagstaff Lake in western Maine is one such area. I camped there briefly last summer, but only now have found the time to return to explore and look for caches. I found there were some serious challenges! In some cases, the fall draw-down of water has created a shoreline which is both shallow, strewn with snags, with a bottom composed of boot-sucking mud!

Once onshore, the challenge continues! I found it was seldom possible to land directly in line with the geocache's GPS coordinates, so it meant heading along the shore before entering the area of the cache. Some bays, like this one, are packed with wood debris. The gorgeous mountains in the distance, full of their fall glory made it all worthwhile, however!

On the other hand, much of the lake has shores of fine sandy beaches. Easy on the kayak's hull and it sure makes looking for a cache a whole lot easier.

The lake itself being dam controlled varies in depth over the year. Fall is the time when the water level tends to be lowest and many spots were shallow. Happily, the sandy bottom in most places means that a sudden grounding of hull or paddle isn't that damaging. The whole day varied from cloudy, then sunny and just as suddenly windy and rainy. Still, the whole lake has beautiful mountain vistas, covered at this time of the year in glorious fall colours. Highly recommended!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ontario Greenland Camp

Most folks into Greenland style paddling and rolling know about QajaqUSA's fall retreat called Delmarva and many have made the annual trek to meet up with friends and share their knowledge and skills. Well, now we have the makings of a similar event in Canada. Learn To Kayak, two people from the Toronto area with the help of friends and businesses put on the first annual Ontario Greenland Camp last weekend. Space was reserved for 50 kayakers and mentors at Camp Tamarak in the Muskokas and we got down to business.

Skill sessions were held in a number of areas including rolling, of course, forward strokes and harpoon throwing. In the photo above, a rolling demo was put on for us to enjoy. I missed the games event which was re-scheduled, but it included a race taken right out of Knud Rasmussen's movie, 'The Wedding of Palo'. I understand it was lots of fun although the weather conditions were somewhat better than that seen in the film!

All in all, a fun event! I hope to return next year... If you're a FaceBook member, lots of photos from the event can be had on the Learn to Kayak page.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Silent Lake, Ontario

Here's my routine these past few weeks: Pack the camper, drive to the chosen destination and set-up camp. Usually, if the area has enough interesting paddling spots and some hiking trails, I'll stay in a campground where I can have easy access to showers, toilets and so on. If not, then it's either, quicker and rougher stealth camping - or sometimes kayak camping in a tent. Here, at Silent Lake Provincial Park, it was the former. There are no paddle-in camp sites here, but it's a nice little lake with lots of hiking trails. I ended up spending four nights on this spot.

Access to the water was quick and easy, although it required a drive from the campsite. Once at the beach, it was an easy launch on a lake which at this time of year was almost mine alone to enjoy.

I managed to grab one lakeside geocache, but spent the rest of the time exploring all the little channels and bays on the pretty lake. There's a hiking trail which works its way around the lake as well as several loop trails to various ponds and bogs nearby. The Kawartha Highlands area is just a short drive away and it too offers lots of lakes to explore. I didn't get into that area this time, but with better weather and more time, it looks like an interesting area to explore.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Geocache at Crotch Lake

Almost a year ago Mairi Watson and I left a geocache at site #42 on Crotch Lake in Ontario. It was placed in a couple of ziplock bags and hidden under the ground juniper cover. We knew it wasn't the best arrangement, but it had been a spontaneous thing so we went with what we had. In the spring of 2010, we visited the cache and finally registered it on the official Geocaching site. Within a couple of weeks it was discovered. Naturally comments began coming in about the container... Finding myself in the area once again last week, I launched early in the morning to see what I could do to put things right.

Site #42 was all in order, much as we had left it, although someone had added a green plastic chair, and some firewood, all carefully stacked. The rain and high winds of the previous weekend had required people to add a multitude of rocks to hold down their tents as well as some overhead scaffolding for tarps. I headed off to look for the geocache. I was shocked to find it lying in full view! The juniper bushes were much thinner this year than last exposing the ziplock cache for all to see. In fact, it looked more like trash than a geocache...

So here is a photo of the new container with its original 'hot' contents together with some of the additional items which discoverers have added over the summer. The new container has been covered in 'camo' duct tape and hidden in the original spot, buried in the ground cover making it less visible, less 'trashy'. Who will be the first to find it now?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Grenadier Island Paddle

On Labour Day Weekend some friends and I paddled out to Grenadier Island, one of the 1000 Islands downstream from Kingston, Ontario in the St Lawrence river. It was a new area for me and I was looking forward to doing some exploring. I'd been upstream in the Ivy Lea area years ago, so I knew the paddling would be interesting both because of the currents and the incredible houses that have been built on some of the islands. Leaving from Mallorytown Landing, we paddled over to Grenadier and set up camp, our base for the weekend.

I woke up during the night as rain began dropping on my tent. Oh no, not a rainy weekend after weeks of glorious hot weather! It got worse. By morning, the rain turned to showers but two of us decided to make a re-supply run back to the cars to ferry over things which didn't make the cut on the trip out the day before. On the return crossing, the wind picked up. A lot! The crossing quickly turned into a sideways surf ride! By the afternoon the wind was clearly trying to blow the water out of the river, or so it seemed! Paddling was put on hold while we scratched around for other things to do.

With paddling on the river temporarily put on hold, we followed the island trails visiting some geocaches, some old houses, a golf course (!), a couple of ancient cars and an ice vender! Cold beer! Just the thing when you're stranded on the shore for a weekend without paddling!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Parc Frontenac, Québec

It's probably a truism that one tends to seek adventure farther from home than closer. Such has been the case with most of my travels which have taken me wide and far. That changed this past weekend when I loaded up all my kayaks, yes the four of them, and together with two other couples, headed to Parc Frontenac only about two hours from home. I'd never been there before, so I was primed for adventure!

We spent the first day paddling on Lac Sauvage. There were loons and mergansers swimming around and some bald eagles keeping on eye on our technique from lofty tree perches. I paddled my skin-on-frame for the first time this year. It was a tighter fit than I remembered. What can that mean...?

Lac Barbeu was next on our list. It's seen in the two photos above. It's a eutrophic lake meaning it's silting up and nearing the end of it's life. In time, it will become a marsh, then slowly dry out as forest cover begins to invade. The most obvious feature for me was how hot the water was! I didn't have a thermometer, but it was very bath-water like in the shallower bays.

The last day of our visit, we tried out Lac Des Isles. True to it's name, it was dotted with islands as well as rocky gelcoat scrappers hidden just below the surface. I cringed each time one of my friends added another scratch to the bottom of one of my boats. Mind you, I scraped quite a lot of paint off the bottom of the SOF, so I guess I shouldn't complain to vigorously! The most interesting find was this thread of algae encased in gelatin-like material. When held up, the tiny green algae formed a spiral through the gelatin. It was a beautiful work of nature!

Like many of the SEPAQ parks in Quebec, we found it both expensive and clumbersome to camp in Frontenac. For example the base fee is reasonable (~$25), but then you get charged to make a reservation, another daily fee to enter the park, more for the showers and so on. By the time you've paid for everything, the price is over $34 per day. A similar facility elsewhere would cost almost $10 per day less... . Wilderness sites feature several camping spots connected to one common facility which can be great if your group takes all the sites. Otherwise you will find yourself sharing with strangers who may or may not be like-minded. When they're not, it isn't much fun...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Changing Labrador

Traveling through Labrador constantly brought surprises, some more unexpected than others. I knew all about arctic flowers, how colourful and vibrant they can be, but still it was almost shocking to see them again. We used to suck the sweetness out of these ones and cook them in bannock.

Now and then we drove through areas which had burned over during forest fires. These too I had seen before and recalled that fire renews life in these boreal forests, allowing new seeds to grow and establish themselves as though they were the phoenix trees.

Labrador is not just forest, but much of the land is covered in peat bogs. Now and then one comes across patterns in the bogs such as you can see here. These areas of patterned ground, as they're called, is the result of alternating freezing and thawing of the soils over long periods of time. This one in the photo was particularly interesting and large.

Nature hasn't been the only one at work in Labrador and along it's border with Quebec. Here mountains are being taken apart, the iron ore extracted and then shipped south the smelters so we can build buildings and make cars. This has been going on for nearly 50 years in Labrador and there seems to be lots of mountains left to mine!

Finally, now in Quebec, is the Manicouagan 5 power dam, sending electricity into the North American Power grid, so we can all enjoy a coffee every morning and heat our homes at night. This dam has created a giant circular lake as its reservoir which begs to be paddled some day...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Building Boats in Cartwright

Looking for a hiking trail in Cartwright, Labrador led to an unexpected find. The trailhead was supposed to be on a particular street, but driving up and down in search of it, nothing like a trail entrance or beginning looked obvious. Finally we broke down and drove into a driveway, parked the van and headed towards the garage behind the house where we could hear voices. This is what we found...

It seems the trail began right beside the garage and headed up the hill. The rocks we'd seen painted white, blue and green, Labrador's official colours, had actually not been some child's prank, but were the beginning of the trail! Meanwhile we focused on the folks in the garage. They were building a boat, a 'speed-boat', they called it. It normally would take about two weeks to put together a boat like the one in the photos. The design was a local one, adapted to the waters in the area. As we spoke they had just finished nailing the last of the ribs into her. A little finishing here and there, some paint and she'd be in the water ready to swell-up and head out fishing.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Roads Of Labrador

One of the reason for going to Labrador this year was the news that the Trans-Labrador Highway (TLH) would be open for private vehicles for the first time. Until this summer, it wasn't possible to drive from Newfoundland all the way to Goose Bay and south into Quebec. One had to drive to Cartwright and take the ferry instead. You can still take the ferry, but once the road is finished at the end of the summer, the car ride ferry will end.

In Red Bay where the Basques used to render the whales they caught in the 1500's, the TLH switches from pavement to gravel. There is also a gate which opens only when the road is passable. We gassed up the car and headed out wondering what it would be like. We'd heard a few tales of woe..

It wasn't long before we were passed by another vehicle and got to see the dust. By the time we got back on pavement we'd collected enough dust to make our own road! We began to pray for rain...

The good news was finding that the road was maintained in excellent shape by a series of graders working full time. I live on a gravel road and know what regular grading can do to keep a gravel road passable. In Labrador it was common to see the graders pulling a truck so that at the end of his shift, the operator can park his machine and drive back home.

The new section heading to Goose Bay was passable, but a 30 kms section was pretty rough. Parts were still being blasted out of the rock, lightly covered with rubble and gravel and called a 'detour'. We'd met folks pulling large trailers who'd told scary stories of their transit of this section, but our van managed to get through with only a few scrapes. Had it really rained and there been mud, I'd probably be writing this from the bush somewhere...

Was the trip worth the effort? You bet it was! Instead of a long boring drive through muskeg and black spruce, we were continually amazed and intrigued by what we saw.