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. 

It 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.

As 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.

Dave 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.

Fortunately, 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.

Dave’s 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”.

It 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.

I 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.

At 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.

Stepping 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 that night.

We 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.

We 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 morning brisk.

We 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.

The 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.

With 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.

Upon 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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