By the time we'd eaten, broken camp, and loaded, the wind was howling out of the southeast. A shot straight at the river's mouth would have placed us sideways to the growing whitecaps. That left us having to paddle away from our goal and buck the breeze till we were mid-lake. There we held our tack till the upwind waves traced no zephyrs. In a split second we spun the boat and shot like an over-weighted bullet toward the river. The sports from the lodge had already flown in and had anchored in pike heaven, hootin' and hollerin' over a ten pound jack fish as we hissed by. Doubt they even noticed us or if they did, wrote us off as local color. Only crazy Canucks would be so foolish as to have canoed a half hour's float plane flight into the bush.
Once in the river we relaxed knowing all there was left to do was to haul two hundred thirty pounds of gear and boat over two ugly portages. Call it simple, mindless work with little chance of drowning. Three and a half hours and we again found ourselves on the shore of Elbow Lake. Along the way we'd sweat through our clothes and discovered the carry yoke I'd made had a flaw in design. Finally, in the last hundred rods I was able to throw the canoe atop my shoulders with the intention of finishing this portage properly. Call it ten strides later when I heard a loud crack followed immediately by a thud as I was struck in the head. Thought I was hit by a toppling pine. Seemed my creative idea of how to attach the yoke wasn't practical and explained without a shadow of a doubt why they're bolted in from the top of the gunwale rather than screwed in from the side. My immediate reaction was calling out, "What happened? What happened?" Yeah, once again I was clueless.
At the shore we took a prolonged break and stared at the whitecaps rolling in directly at our feet. Sonsabitch! Looked like weren't as yet done with challenges. By now we were running low on both food and energy. Didn't matter in the least. Our camp was only a couple of miles away and there was an island between that'd allow a couple of minutes rest. We paddled out, inching our way into the teeth of it. The first mile wasn't easy and also wasn't hard. Call it numbing. Once in the thick of it there wasn't but one option, straight ahead. The human body has nearly endless reserves of energy. No matter our fatigue after the portages it came to the fore. A little over an hour of slogging found us grinding ashore. We stumbled our way through the offload then Allan found a warm spot on the basalt shelf, propped his head on his life jacket, and was asleep in seconds. Dinner that night was rice and chili. As hungry as we were it still went down bland. Three hours before sunset we were in our bags and being once again being serenaded to sleep by the ravens.
Breakfast was a bowl of noodles. Not real wilderness fare but better than nothing. Also, we were low on water. Since we weren't filtering, shore water was out of the question and paddling out into the whitecaps to dunk the canteens, outright dangerous. Six a.m. and the waves were already borderline impassable. Nothing to do about it but break camp and paddle on. When we rose I figured we might make the landing on Iskwasum in the early evening. Heck, it wasn't but thirty-five miles and three portages away. Yeah, I'm a fool. Once we paddled out into the combers I knew that wasn't happening anytime soon.
Right off the bat I nearly smacked head on into a boulder. Good thing one of us was paying attention. I don't recall how many hours it took to reach our first portage but I do remember we'd been able to dip the canteens on the way, and Allan eating a bag of uncooked Ramen noodles when we landed. Even the grass and aspen leaves were beginning to look tasty. Somehow, in my calorie deprived mind I figured we were done with the worst of it. That the river miles to Lake Iskwasum were both down stream and would be in the shadow of the wind. Not so. On the upside, the sluice above the last last rapids that I'd feared since we paddled up it a dozen days earlier was flooded out. Yup, Allan had been right to not worry about it from the very get-go. In fact, he rubbed it in by saying the current hadn't changed a bit, that once again my fears showed I was becoming more of an old woman than an old man.
The misery of the wind ratcheted up once the river again widened but we were treated to a family of otters, cute little buggers with teeth like wolves. Then a fisherman in a walleye boat. As we approached our first campsite we paddled beside a black bear for a few yards before driving it off to the far shore. We figured the bear was heading to the camp of the fisherman we'd just passed, even considered paddling back to let him know. But the idea of again beating into the wind over a mile we already had in our past was repugnant. Pounding past his camp we could easily see he'd left out a table full of food. The bear would lunch well that day.
Again the wind cranked it up a notch to the point where we were sometimes motionless though paddling forward as hard as we could. It was about four p.m. when we finally got a glimpse of the lake itself. Like looking through the gates of hell. Paddling out into the four foot swells would have been beyond stupid. So foolish we'd have deserved to die. We landed at a shore lunch spot and called it a day. Twenty-five miles dead into a blistering headwind, don't ever want to do that again. We could barely move. We left the canoe in the water, tied it off fore and aft, unloaded only what we needed, and made camp. Al cooked supper while I patiently (too pooped to be anything but) set up the tent in the wind. We ate and were in the sack at six-fifteen with hopes for the morning.
Rose before the sun under a rainbow of pastel clouds, wolfed down what lint and crumbs remained in the food pack, and were off. Iskwasum was almost calm. We paddled the last ten miles with giddy joy knowing we were almost done. The access hadn't changed, the big boats, a new crew for sure, were lined up on the gravel, and the fisherman once again pretty much ignored us. However, one did strike up a conversation as we loaded the jeep. Said he'd spent his days in the bush a few years back. I don't recall the man's age, probably older than I was back then, but he did set me thinking of how many years I had left to do such stupidity. A decade or more I hoped.
The drive home was uneventful. Nine hundred miles, in bed by midnight, and about ten pounds lighter.