We did no trip in '05. First miss in thirteen years. In '06 there was a trip in the offing. But not the kind of one I'd have ever guessed would happen. That we were returning to Wedge Lake was no surprise. Maybe going in late June was a bit odd. But Larry Gogal had said the best time for fishing was July and for me, the last week of June was pretty darned close.
Why this was happening in the way it was, had to do with a wedding, Allan's. He and Maria had decided to do a two phase honeymoon. The first phase was in Hawaii. How mundane. But a romantic notion nonetheless. The second was to share with Maria a different kind of paradise. That Maria was willing to go along with a Canadian canoeing and fishing trip said a lot about her. Also seems she wanted to catch a big fish. Okay. A couple of mahi-mahi or big-eye tuna off the Makaha coast would have done the trick nicely. Why Canada? Better ask her. I know I loved it. So did Al. Must have been contagious, in the disease sense. In short, I felt honored to be a fifth wheel on a three person trip. Even rented a Minnesota III canoe to celebrate and at the same time, have room for all of us in the same boat. Long, fast and slow to turn. Maria and I picked Al up from work at noon on a Friday and we were off.
Spent the night in Winnipeg. All went well 'til we gassed up in Ashern. There I was hit and knocked down by a three pound horse fly. And that wasn't the only one. Maybe a sign of things to come? Long story short. The northland had gone through it's first wet Winter and Spring in half a decade. Also had a horse fly hatch of biblical proportions. Seriously biblical. If I'd been pharaoh, a hatch like that and I'd have sent Moses and all of Israel packing in a minute. Had it only been me and Al, the bulldogs would've been no more than a sincere misery. We wouldn't have liked it and would have bitched about it forever more. But Maria, she was another story. You see, she's a woman. I know, in this day and age we're all supposed to be equal in every way. But when it comes to flesh chomping horse flies, there is indeed a difference. When the bulldogs are biting, they thrive on exposed flesh (though it wouldn't surprise me if they could bite through a boot). Simply put, a woman doesn't want to pee in the woods under those conditions if she doesn't have to.
That leads us to this interesting and maybe funny, depending upon your point of view, anecdote. Way back when, I'd been warned. The man in the Flin Flon - Flin Flon is the only city in Canada named for a character in a Science Fiction novel. The novel being The Sunless City, by E. Preston Muddock. And the character Josiah Flintabbety Flonatin - Bombers t-shirt told me the gas station on the road to Easterville wasn't dependably open. So not to count on it. He didn't however, say it was strange. He also didn't say it was the setting for an episode of The Twilight Zone. Or that it might be a portal to Hell. Somehow that all fits in with the story of J. S. Flonatin.
Inevitably the inevitable happened. As it inevitably must. In the cover of brush at what was usually the Friday night sobriety checkpoint, Maria made a valiant attempt to do the necessary. It was there in the lot that I noticed we were being followed by a cloud of horse flies. At least I think we were. They were there when we came to a stop and didn't seem interested in doing much more than follow us around. So Maria had to deal with them and another cloud already waiting in the bushes. With no success. So she was stuck. Not an indoor bathroom for at least two hours unless....
Twenty minutes later we turned into the gravel lot of the Easterville gas station. No cars around. Didn't seem closed. Didn't seem open. Didn't need gas. Didn't find out if the pumps were operating. And the cloud of flies was still with us. Had been for over a hundred miles. Had to look them up on the internet to see if that was possible. Seems they can do about ninety mph. Damn. That's smokin'. Could very well have been the same flies we'd been married to since Ashern. Wonder if they knew the way home to their moms, dads and local bar?
What I'm working my way around to is that I didn't have to pee. And since Maria had Allan as her gallant escort, there was no way in hell I was going out in the cloud or confront whatever might be waiting for us in the gas station. Yes, this is an admission of cowardice. I can live with that. Therefore the description of what came next is only a guess. I never saw Maria and Allan again. What happened remains a mystery. One moment they were there, the next they weren't. Oh well. What ya gonna do? It's just Canada. Things happen.
Sorry about that. Sometimes I get carried away.
Maria and Allan entered the building. Dead flies covered the floor, window sills, counter, the Virgin of Guadeloupe. Pretty much everything. The few live flies seemed to be trying to smash their way out through the encrusted windows. Screaming in their itty bitty voices, like out of the '50s sci-fi movie The Fly, "Help me! Help me!" For some reason, being in that room terrified them - both the flies and Maria and Allan. A small, black and white television flickeringly played the same scene from an ancient episode of The Days of Our Lives, over and over. No sound from the set. Occasionally the characters stopped to watch Maria and Allan as they moved about. No one around. No answer when they called out, "Hello. Anybody here?" A door open to a back room. Finally Maria crunched her way to the restroom. A small, gloomy, not-much. But it beat the alternative.
Maria tells the story much better. Her very real, emotional involvement tells me I did the right thing by staying in the car.
By this point there was no doubt in anyone's mind, except mine, that we weren't going to Wedge lake this year. I'm a little slow on the uptake. Kept suggesting impossible scenarios involving air conditioned bubble suits that would allow us to walk on the water and fish as normal. No matter what I came up with there was this situation with Maria. Finally I realized she was the perfect scapegoat, the perfect out. "Yeah, me and Al woulda gone in for sure. But we had the woman with us. You know how they are."
Made it to The Pas. Knew we'd get the gospel about the flies from the locals. They were pretty taciturn folk. If they made any fuss, we'd know there was a real problem. Gassed up at the Esso station and asked around. "Oh yeah. De're sure sumthin', aren't they?" Strike one. Lunch at the lodge up the street. Same story. That was enough for me. By the way, lunch was a couple of degrees short of plumb. Snappy, crisp buffalo burger. Summer sausage instead of pepperoni on the pizza.
Back at the Jeep the flock was still hovering. Not so bad elsewhere. Wrote that off to urban pest control. We decided to go with Plan B. Then set to figuring out what that might be. Back in '00 we'd done a drive though Riding Mountain National Park on the way home. Nice looking area. Big hills, vistas, lakes and lotsa traffic. So we looked down that way on the map. We also recalled a couple of signs passed in the dark. Porcupine Provincial Forest and Duck Mountain Provincial Park. Figuring Porcupine was both closest to us and farthest from big towns, we went there.
On paper the Forest looked good. Hills and lakes. And no horse flies. Couple of billion mosquitos but they were a simple job for DEET. The Ranger who paid us a visit wore a head net. Said the bugs were unbearable. Made us feel like real people of the backwoods. Ate a few as a snack while we talked. Nice wide open site. Too bad the fishing wasn't much. Some of the small but car accessible back lakes were stocked with trout, grayling and arctic char. In the intense sunshine of our stay we had no luck.
Confession time. I may have screwed up. Or chickened out. Or made the right decision. On the west edge of the park sat Armit Lake. At least five thousand acres of pike. Some big. Didn't know about the pike at the time. But I did know that to get to the ten miles of muddy ATV track that accessed the lake, it was a seventy mile drive into Saskatchewan. At least that's what we were told. Never seriously considered it. But we were traveling in a Jeep with true four wheel drive. Might have been a tight fit but we probably could have done it. Or maybe gotten stuck in some sink hole with no possible way of extraction. Brought back memories of earlier fun times. Another of those what-ifs that have no answer. Life seems to be filled with them.
Maria did catch her big fish. Two of them in fact. Not huge, but big. A thirty-two inch pike in the park. And a little later a nineteen inch bass near the cabin on the way home. She's got bigger ones in her future. It's just a matter of wetting a line in the right spot.