Thrown into the fire - Serena's Story

The PACT crew crossed briefly into the boarder territories of the USA. Because of the need for rural boarder crossing passes, our Aussie broski James wasn’t be able to cross the boarder as we had previously hoped. For this reason, we contacted another camp tripper to join us for a week of paddling, portaging and pleasantries in the boarder waters. The PACT trip welcomed guest star and ex-tripper Serena Deketele. Serena has just graduated from Queen’s University and was planning her move up to Thunder Bay to begin her studies at Northern Ontario School of Medicine. Conveniently enough, Thunder Bay was our next resupply stop and not too far from our boarder crossings. Thus, Serena took James’ place in the crew as we crossed continuously between Canada and the US.

 

Serena’s PACT Journal

Day 0

            I’m packing up all my usual canoe trip attire, anxiously waiting to join my trip friends on their incredible journey across Canada. I had been following them throughout the summer, wishing I could be a part of the PACT experience! So, when the message came from the crew asking when I was making my big move up to Thunder Bay and if I wanted to join a week across north western Ontario, I prematurely catapulted myself the 15 hours to TBay to join up with them on day 75 at Arrow Lake.

Day 1

            Day 75 of the paddle across Canada has presented me with four old friends, two new friends and countless levels of trip stank from the crewmembers. As my tender nose starts to adapt to the rank smells of 75 days of trip, I can’t help but notice the unity of the crew’s stokes and the smiles that are stretched across their sun kissed faces. After all the days of paddling, dawn until desk, the members seem to not have only grown physically stronger but have also developed an indescribable strength in their friendships. Everyone continues to laugh, be kind and respectful to one another even after spending every waking hour together since May.

Day 2

            Lets take a minute to think about the crew’s beloved voyageur canoe…

Pros:

-       Authenticity: PACT aims to replicate the fur trade routes in the same fashion as the original Canadian canoeists. To do this they must transport all their goods as a team in their 25-foot canoe.

-       Paddling Speed: The well-practiced PACT crew can reach up to 50km in a day paddling at a max of 8km/hour. This helps them fly across the gigantic bodies of water that were traversed by the fur traders

-       Prizes: People love to give goodies (food, lodgings, etc) to people paddling a big canoe.

Cons:

-       Weight: six people must carry the 300 pound fiberglass canoe. This weight is not distributed evenly (50 lbs per person); each person could be crushed by up to 120 pounds on their shoulders. When one who has not been doing 75 days of trip is thrown onto a portage aptly named “Long Portage,” this weight comes as quite the shock.

-       Width: The canoe is about six feet wide with the voyageurs underneath… most trails are not cut for this width and thus as we try to portage the boat we are pushed into the bush to be cut to smithereens by aggressive shrubbery. 

-       Rapids: because of the weight in the canoe with the paddlers, barrels and packs the boat has a tendency to bottom out across rapids. Once we reach Thunder Bay our ride will be in much need of repair.

Day 3

            Today we did Fowl Portage… It was foul (hardy harrharr… never gets old). This portage was 390 rods… what a rod is… I still haven’t figured out… But I’m told about 2.5km. Before the portage we took some time for ourselves with a beautiful 15-minute hike up one of the many majestic cliffs we’ve been paddling past over the last few days. There is no doubt about the beauty of this rugged piece of boarder land.

            Anyway, back to the portage… this one was 3 hours of knee-deep mud, bloodthirsty mosquitoes and branches and spiky bushes that jumped out and bit tired voyageurs.

           Finally, we arrived on the Pigeon River. On our left was Canada and on our right the United States. We paddled into the dark trying to find a suitable place to spend the night and finally decided on a flat but overgrown piece of turf. We woke up surrounded by 5-foot tall shrubs and about a square meter to prepare our breakfast and ourselves for the day.

Day 4

            Some days are weird… today was one of those days.

We continued down the Pigeon River and decided to check out what looked like the beginning of a portage. As we made our way down this portage we discovered that had we not taken it we would have launched ourselves over a very tall, and very beautiful waterfall, Partridge Falls.

            We finally made it to the mouth of the Grand Portage! Food prizes were left for us from our trip friend and his wonderful daughter who we had been crossing paths with consistently. As we ate our goodies we sat at the campsite at the beginning of the portage planning our attack of the 13.6km venture. We hear banging in the river and Hollye says it sounds like a boat. Peter goes to investigate. Upon hearing Peter’s scream the entire crew bolts to the river leaving a cartoon-like tornado at the picnic table; the boat had not been tied and had taken off down the rapids! We caught up to the boat by frantically running down the shore - Scott gracefully plowing through the water - and managed, after some time, to pull the boat back up stream to the take out… The boat was then removed from the water so we didn’t reencounter the same fate.

            After lunch and setting up camp at the start of the portage we trudged the canoe the first 6km.

Day 5

            Today we did the Grand Portage… The 41 kilometers of portaging (the portage had to be done 3 times, once with the canoe, a return trip, and once with the gear) took us about 15 hours in total. Thankfully the maintenance crew was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING and had a clear 6-foot wide trail the entire 13.6km!!! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! We arrived at the Grand Portage National monument to a warm welcome from the historic gardener. Fittingly we camped in the authentic voyageur encampment. Feeling bent and broken we folded our crippled bodies into tents for a painful and restless sleep.

            Ugh… Even just thinking about it makes me too tired to go on....

Day 6

            Today we became a part of the Grand Portage Monument scene as the modern day voyageurs. It was a delight to be able to share our first hand experience of what a difficult job the fur traders had. We also got to take a walk through the historical trading post and learn more about our voyageur ancestors, from what they ate, drank, did in their free time to how they traded, who they traded amongst, seasonal changes in trade and so on.

            In the early afternoon we finally set off on Lake Superior to track down James. After a stop at Hat Point to offer tobacco to the lake we found him at dinnertime at a camp belonging to a kind local family who took fantastic care of us! We feasted with them and chatted long into the night. I have never seen such acts of kindness from strangers as I have on this trip.

Day 7

            WE HAVE ARRIVED IN THUNDER BAY!

After a successful day of sailing, thank you X-Man Storm for the tail wind, we were picked up by a kind couple about 20km from Thunder Bay. Captain Joe and his lovely wife towed the canoe and invited us aboard their fantastic yacht. We reached the Thunder Bay Yacht Club in about 30 minutes and prepared the boat and gear for a rest day.

Scott’s marvelous parents met us and treated us to a delicious dinner! THANK YOU! We got to spend some down time together as a completed crew and celebrate the arrival at PACT's biggest resupply city.

Day 8-9

            The PACT crew has spent a fun and quiet rest day at my home in Thunder Bay and I’m sad to see them go. The crew fetched their resupply from the Roots 73 store in Thunder Bay and were welcomed warmly by the staff who had prepared an incredible bulletin board explaining the PACT initiative and route.

I’ve had such a fantastic week with the crew and would love to continue on their grand adventure. There isn’t a kinder, funnier group of people! I hope to see all my dear friends again soon and wish them safe travels across the rest of Superior (may Storm be at their backs throughout)! James and Marc, you’re as fantastic as ever. Scott and Pete, SO glad I got to know you two fab cats better! You’re incredible fellas! Marissa and Hollye, I’m so happy to say I’ve made two new friends with two strong, honest and down to earth ladies. PACT, your strength and persistence are an inspiration. You’re capable of anything and everything and I love you to pieces! Miss you already! GOOD LUCK! xo                      -Serena

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