Race to the Re-Supply Plane
by Reed Ryan
Ed. Note: Due to bad weather the section was behind schedule. On the evening of July 6, it was 90 kilometers from the location where the re-supply plane was scheduled to be at 8:00 a.m. on July 8. After a back-breaking effort on July 7, starting at 4:00 a.m. that morning, the section had only covered 40 kilometers.
is now 5:00 p.m. and we are 50 kilometers short of our re-supply point on
Lac D’Iberville. The floatplane carrying our food for the remaining four
weeks of the trip will fly by at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. If we aren't there
the plane will return to its base without landing. The decision has been
made for Dave and I to continue through the night to try and get there
before the plane does. Packing only a dinner of canned ham and a hunk of
cheese, we departed.
we trudged onward, the bush that lives by the glitter of the moonlight and
the northern lights began to awake. Two otters playfully swam in front of
our outfit, but only for a short while, as they retreated into the
moss-laden forest, as if late for a curfew.
and I rarely spoke; we were completely entranced by our synchronization. I
felt like I was apart from my body, surely exceeding its limitations. My
sinewy arms had been reduced to Jell-O and my head was heavy with
weariness. We pushed onward, grabbing the water with our instruments of
voyage, pulling the water behind us. We were racing against time, sure to
lose if we did not keep the pace.
twilight in the land of the Great Loon lasts until after midnight allowing
us to navigate. We entered a lake littered with innumerable islands under
the backdrop of a large mountain looming at the exit of the lake.
skill in navigation was matchless here. We maneuvered in and out of the
islands smoothly, without incident and always we aimed for the mountain. I
knew our goal lay beyond it. Only by the toil of our bodies and the sweat
of our brows would we get there. All the while, with every paddle stroke
and pull of our brawny backs, there was the song of the paddle whispering
through the northwesterly wind, singing “Keewaydin”.
was at this juncture that I started to dream - not about the trivial
luxuries I had left at home, carefully tucked away with my tennis shoes
and hidden inside the images of the television - but about the simple
pleasures of life held dear when life is focused on survival. These
pleasures are the camaraderie of a 12-man section sitting around a
dwindling night fire, soaking in the day’s events over a hot cup of tea.
During this vision, I decided that I would savor every moment I had in the
wilderness, whether it is under the sharp pain of a heavy tumpline, or the
joy of a well-run rapid.
opened my eyes and stared into bright-looking blackness. We were still
paddling, still moving to that seemingly inaccessible place, Lac
D’Iberville. I started to wonder if this lake actually existed, or if
Dave had conjured it.
12:30 p.m. we pulled over to pitch a tent. The harsh truth here was that
we were still 20 kilometers away from D’Iberville and hadn’t slept in
more than twenty hours. Twenty kilometers is a long way to go on an empty
stomach and a couple hours of sleep. Right then, D’Iberville seemed as
far away as the moon.
out of our vessel, we both nearly fell over from sheer exhaustion. Solid
ground felt foreign to my legs. The tent managed to pitch itself in a
grove of windfalls. I was asleep within a minute of putting down my head
but it was a fitful sleep. I'm sure Dave didn't sleep very soundly either
woke up at 4:00, without the aid of our morning coffee, and crawled into
the canoe. The previous night’s trek had been a challenge of absolute
endurance, but the next day’s test would be one of will power.
sliced through the water, intent upon our destination. Just as we had
enjoyed observing the bush putting itself to sleep the previous night, we
had the opportunity to see the woods awake all around us. The sun slowly
peeked its head out and provided some warmth to our bones chilled by the
passed a porcupine completing his morning bath. He was sitting by the side
of the river, basking in the morning sun, soaking in the birth of a new
day dawned clear and warmed to 90 degrees F within an hour. I was running
on reserves I never knew I had. Hours passed by like minutes. I looked
ahead to every peninsula in the distance, hoping when we rounded the
corner we would be at the entrance to Lac D’Iberville. But each time, it
was an extension of the lake we were on. I kept hoping that the next one
would be it.
10 kilometers left, we had the fortune of coming upon a portage around a
rapid. We welcomed the break in paddling, unloaded the boat, and carried
the loads across the 500-yarder. When we climbed into the ancient-looking
canvas canoe after the portage, Dave told me we could not rest for the
remaining 10 kilometers. We were sprinting to the end.
rounding the bend of the next peninsula, we entered the infamous Lac
D’Iberville! I was so elated I could hardly contain myself. However, my
elation was halted when I realized the drop-off point for re-outfit was
across the lake. My muscles went numb. That last paddle felt, not like a
lake, but the Atlantic Ocean. Each paddle stroke was bringing me closer to
my breaking point.
We finally reached the drop-off area, saw a suitable campsite and collapsed on the ground. We had made it. Dave and I had paddled 90 kilometers in 27 hours with only four hours of sleep and two meals.
I woke up two hours later to the sound of the bush plane circling with our food. My body had never been tested in this way before, and will never again. Right then, I felt a draft of wind and my mind was filled with happiness. I knew that the Great Loon had surely looked after us and we would reach the Bay, no matter what the challenge.
Looking west and downstream on the Rivière De Troyes a day before reaching Richmond Gulf. The mountain in the background is where The Portage took place.
Photos: Reed Ryan
|Reed Ryan on the Rivière De Troyes.|
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