We don our pirate hats and eyepatches once more and head out on the waters of the North Saskatchewan. Today our trusty side kick, J, and his bright yellow canoe are missing from our flotilla.
Both our vehicles have bars on the roofs, so we drop Murray’s vehicle off at Laurier Heights and drive to Devon with the kayaks and our gear in my vehicle. Once there, we unload everything and then remove the kayak racks from the bars. We load two racks into Murray’s kayak and one on top of each kayak, under the bungee cords. We also load the kayak covers, tie down straps, lunch and our sandals into the kayaks. We are ready to push off!
It is a windy day today, with the wind coming mostly from the west, which is a good thing as we are paddling north and west. The river is moving about the same speed as when we were on it last week. We notice it is not as silty as the other week also.
Murray doesn’t really believe in just floating down the river, so we paddle. Sometimes hard against the wind and sometimes very relaxed. About and hour and a half after we start, we pull off on a sand bar and have lunch. We don’t dawdle as we are in the wind and I am getting cold. This is a good learning experience for me about wet feet, wind and staying warm in cooler weather.
We see a few hawks, no deer at all, some fisherpeople, but mostly river scenery of striated banks, trees and blue sky. As we approach Edmonton, we see more and more houses high on the hills overlooking the river. We also see water lovers and their dogs enjoying time by the river.
Before we know it we pass under the Anthony Henday Bridge, two foot bridges and are approaching the Quesnell Bridge, which is just upstream from our destination. We land and check our GPS. 33 kms! Four and a quarter hours! WOW, the river must have been flowing at a pretty good clip as it didn’t feel like 33 kms.
We secure the kayaks racks onto Murray’s vehicle bars, load the kayaks and gear and drive back to Devon to pick up my vehicle. Once in Devon , we order supper from our favorite Vietnamese Restaurant which Murray picks up on the way. We are famished after our day of trolling the North Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, there were no other water craft for us to plunder.
The Arrogant Worms sing a song about pirates on the Saskatchewan River and that is what we are today. Pirates in kayaks! We paddle the river from Laurier Heights (near the zoo) to the 50 Street boat launch (near our house) with our friends J&A&S.
I have never done this before and I am excited as the flow rate of the river has mellowed out after all the rain and after paddling the Red Deer River, I feel I can do this. We meet up near the zoo at the boat launch and push off.
This is definitely an urban paddle compared to our previous paddles. On this river there is constant noise – traffic, motor boats, construction work, people on the river banks. We have paddled up to today in the wilds where it is quiet with the occasional bird call.
We see scullers training on the river, dogs jumping in the river, cyclists and runners on the river valley paths, fisherpeople and a few ducks. We travel to many large international cities where the concrete comes right down to the river. In Edmonton, the river is bordered by green. The city has kept the river valley parks for everyone to enjoy. The tall buildings of Victoria Park Road, downtown, the University and Saskatchewan Drive are visible but they are set back behind the green embankments.
The part I enjoy the most is floating under so many the bridges (10!). We start with the footbridge that connects Hawrelak Park to Buena Vista Park. Groat Bridge comes up and we can hear the construction on the bridge. My father was in Engineering in the 1950’s while the bridge was being built and I have some photos of his class on a field trip to the construction site.
Two most favorite bridges arrive around a bend. The High Level Bridge, opened in 1913, and the Walterdale Bridge, opened in 2017. My engineering roots are tickled just to be able to view them from water level.
Next we pass under the new LRT bridge being constructed over the river. The span doesn’t quite reach across yet and we mused about how the trains will have to jump over the gap on their way to the southside.
J tells us an interesting historical tidbit about the river valley. About a hundred years ago there was a dump by the river, just after the Dawson Bridge extending downriver for a distance. We float close to shore and can see the garbage being exposed in the river bank. Erosion is wearing away the soil, but the debris remains. We see old tires, metal, house parts, a horseshoe, coloured glass and it doesn’t smell that nice. Interesting!
We stop at the downstream end of an island for lunch and A&S, being of a younger age, frolic in the water and play in the sand. We older folks, sit on the sand, munch on our wraps and enjoy the views and conversation.
It is only 500 m to the 50 Street boat launch and once we push off again we are there quickly. It has been a grand trip down the North Saskatchewan and, unfortunately we marauded no vessels and obtained no loot.
Debbie’s and my plan is to pack early and stop at one of the many lakes between us and home and practice partner and self rescue techniques. One never plans a spill and if it happens it is a good idea to know how to get back in a kayak. Kayaks are narrow by design. If you sit in the middle and do squiggle around much they are very stable, but one lapse of concentration and you’re going for a swim.
This is when a little practice of getting back into the kayak pays off. There are a myriad of different techniques, and many different variations, on each of the methods to climb back into an overturned boat. You can take a course which will teach you one or two different ways to do it but I found searching the internet, and watching dozens of videos and borrowing ideas from several helped a lot. Both Debbie and I are fairly body aware and know what we are capable of. There were some of the methods that were just not going to work for either of us and some we thought we should try. By experimenting we each found a couple of ways that work. We have been practicing them. As we find others we give them a try and have added ones we could make work to our practice schedule.
We stop at Buffalo Lake. There are 3 different provincial parks around the lake and we wanted to do some reconnaissance for future camping excursions. The Narrows, the first stop, is a nice campground accessed by a gravel road. There were a lot of available spots, due to the gravel road access I think. There was a good place to put the kayaks in but the water is a reedy channel between Buffalo Lake and another smaller body of water. Not somewhere we want to dump the kayak and practice our skills. Nice enough campground though and maybe a place to return to. We could paddle the narrows and chill in the great outdoors.
Next stop Rochon Sands. There is a provincial park campground there as well. It is a little more crowded as the access road is paved right to the park. The beach in the park is nice enough but quite small. There are no reeds in the area of the beach and the bottom is sandy. This is where we launch the boats, go for a paddle, come back to shore don our wetsuits and head out to get wet. First the water is not a cold as we thought so the wetsuits are a bit of overkill and second the lake there is so shallow, even 50M beyond the swim enclosure both Debbie and I can touch bottom. We still practiced but cheated a couple of times when touching bottom was an asset. It was still time well spent as getting into the kayak was difficult but we both managed to do it.
Refreshed from out dip in the water and tired from our strenuous efforts we head to the north shore of the lake and the Buffalo Lake Provincial Recreation Area. This would be the most ‘rustic’ of the campsites. Again it is accessed by a gravel road and not as many folks are willing to travel the 5KM on a less than perfect road to get to a campground. The beach there is quite nice, we wandered out to the waters edge and there is a lot more room there than at the Rochon Sands Provincial Park. The one downside to this area is it is quite low, elevation wise. There has been a lot of rain this year in Alberta and a lot of the sites are rendered useless because of the boggy conditions.
Any of these three spots look good for future forays into the wilderness. Don’t know when we will make it back but I’m pretty sure we will.
The rest of the trip is a highway drive and I am again amazed at the fantastic landscape that I have driven though a hundred times and only in the last few years been awed by what is there.
It takes 6 car driving segments with 2 cars to get things set up this morning. Two cars travel to Tolman bridge with 4 people. Drop the kayaks there and leave M and Debbie to set up and make sure the boats don’t ‘float’ away. G and I drive both cars to the Morrin bridge, leave one car there and return to start paddling. Once we land at Morrin G and I will drive back to Tolman and pick up the car left there. We both drive back to Morrin to pick up M and Debbie and the 4 kayaks and then return to the campground. We checked out the logic of using 3 cars, as Debbie has her car from driving from Vernon, but it would still take 6 segmented trips. It is sort of like doing a grade school algebra problem. There was a reason we learned that in school. Although we used a graphic method rather than some long forgotten algebraic formula.
We put in at Tolman bridge as planned. The wind today behaves. When we start we have a tail wind. The grade of the river is steeper on this sections and with the wind we travel very fast. (at least relatively) The day is hotter than yesterday and there are a couple of occasions when the wind blows in our face but it is very light and more of welcome cool breeze rather than a challenge.
The wildlife is sparse. We pass the occasional cow or small group of them moaning and bellowing as we paddle by. The group spotted a couple of pelican’s searching for lunch. The big event of the day was a bald eagle and it’s overly large off spring. The eagle was flying back and forth across the river trying to attract our attention away from what appeared to be a flightless young one. The dark colored, no white head, juvi was lolly gagging on the beach.
Today was definitely the day of scenery. The base of the banks started right in the river and rose at a steep angle to a height of a 100M or so. The lack of a flood plain made the vision much more dramatic, more of a canyon feel.
The river moved quickly. Sitting in the kayak, it doesn’t really feel like we are moving that fast, but as we pass stationary things on the shore we get a real good idea of our relative speed and I think a strong runner would have a hard time keeping up. There was a homestead ruin on one of the banks and I turned and tried to paddle upstream to get a second look. I was motionless, much like swimming in an infinity pool. It would have taken a lot more effort than I was willing to put in to have a second glance.
We travel 24KM, it is a good day, a long day, and we are all bagged.
Tuesday, our first day of kayaking on the Red Deer River. We are to put in at the campsite near the Bleriot ferry and get out at Newcastle Beach in Drumheller. G and I had to hunt for the ‘beach’ in Drumheller but with a little help from a couple of locals we were able to drop off the pick up vehicle. Once back at camp we set up the kayaks at the river’s edge. We launched the boats and the day began.
The river is flowing nicely and we start at a reasonable clip. The wind is from the SE which is right on the bow so even though the current is enough to keep us moving downstream we all increase our paddling power. As we go we all talk about the increase in effort and figure it must be an unconditioned response to the resistance of the wind.
The view from the water is different than from anywhere on land. When Debbie and I are in some foreign city we will ride the water bus or taxi, if one is available, just to get that different perspective.
Travel by kayak is much slower than in an auto on the highway. It is easy to take in the surroundings and see things that would normally be a blur. The bright green reedy shore foreground and the striated cliffs of the badlands behind make for stunning scenery as we drift by. We are in a ‘civilized’ section of the river so there are a few houses that dot the banks and every once in a while a busy roadway parallels our path. Not exactly wilderness but that is quite hard to find now-a-days.
Not to many animals on today’s journey. We do see quite a few birds. There is an osprey or two circling high above us. Maybe checking to see if we would make a suitable lunch. They seem to be enjoying the strong wind, swooping and soaring without flapping their wings even once. The next siting is two deer on the left bank (arty types). One slid down a short steep band and into the water. She swam the river and mounted the bank on our right. From a couple of meters above our heads she stood and watched us approach. Not spooked at all. When we got too close for comfort she ducked into the bush and disappeared. We spot another osprey fishing from such a height it is really only a dark silhouette against the deep blue sky.
Our new found diversion of kayak touring in physically a lot of work which in itself is good, but other than that it gives us a reason to explore the world near our home. It’s on the water, of which we are great fans, the ride is super smooth, and the movement is rhythmic and repetitive. A short time into each trip ones worldly concerns disappear and the state of Zen takes you over. You become one with our kayak and with the surroundings and it makes for a very pleasant way to spend the day. Alberta is big and there is a lot of territory to explore, it should keep us occupied for quite some time.
We travel the world in search of beauty and really it is right at our doorstep. With the lock-down easing we are into the ‘staycation’ portion of travel. Our friends M and G are coming from Calgary, Debbie is traveling from Vernon, I will arrive from home in Edmonton. We are to meet near Drumheller, ‘The Badlands’, at the Bleriot Ferry Campground.The goal is to kayak the Red Deer River. It is a mellow waterway, especially downstream of Red Deer. Our plan is to travel downstream from the campground to Drumheller on day one and on the second day start upstream and paddle to the campground.
Normally we don’t tend to leave home much in the summer. With skiing in the winter and international trips in the fall and spring, the summer has been a time to spend at home and regen.
When driving solo, the conversation is a lot less active. In fact other than cursing a driver or two it is non existent. This means more time to look about and see things.
The highway is calm and I have some time to look about. Man is the country side beautiful. It is mid growing season and the crops make a perfect carpet over the land. The green and yellow checker board is like a quilt, accentuating all the dips, rolls and hummocks. People from around the world are amazed at how flat the prairies are, but I’m from here and what amazes me is how rollie they are. You are always either at a high point with vision for miles around or at a low point in the middle of a cupped hand looking up 360 at the horizon and the inside of a bowl with that checker board carpet.
This year we have had a lot of rain. All the waterways are full. The rivers are running high, the beaches at all the lakes are shrinking, and all the ponds and swamps are full to the brim. The bodies of water add so much to the landscape painting that is constantly changing as I move along the highway. The dark blueish water edged with the bright green reeds and a backdrop of yellow and green crops is a vision of joy.
As I get close to my destination suddenly some of the fields are blue. A pale purplish blue. My guess is flax. I can’t say as I have ever seen flax before but by asking a few questions when I arrive at the campground and meet up with M & G, G confirms my suspicions.
Travel the world and whatever it is you are in search of , whatever it is you want to see, hear, touch, smell, or learn is just outside your backdoor.
COVID 19 has dashed all of our travel plans for this year. A scuba dive live-aboard in Cuba in April, reschduled. A scuba dive trip to Roatan, cancelled. Tours through Madagascar and Nambia, rescheduled. So where should we travel?? Alberta! No borders to cross and no long hours travelling.
We load up our camping gear and kayaks and drive about two hours south east of Edmonton to Big Knife Provincial Park. It is along Hwy 855, near Forestburg, along the Battle River.
The campground is first come first served so no reservations are needed. It has a walk in tenting area but it is dark and, mostly likely, mosquito infested. We decide on a site in Circle A, the RV and trailer side. The sites are large (to accommodate those big fifth wheels) and a slightly more open to everyone’s business than we like. But they are pretty nice sites and we choose one that will get morning sun and afternoon shade.
While cooking one day, we notice that we do not hear others cooking and sharing meals. It is quite quiet. We are the only ones outside doing this domestic chore, everyone else is inside.
The campground is nicer than I expected, with a playground, mowed areas, a boat launch, pit toilets and group camping (now closed). It has only 40 sites and since they are wide apart every site is usable. There are a couple of hiking trails, one to some hoodoos. We walk there one evening and supply some mosquitoes with their supper and are slightly underwhelmed with the hoodoo.
Kayaking is a joy on the Battle River, especially for a novice like me. The flow rate is extremely low so paddling upstream is not a chore. On our first day we paddle upstream for 50 minutes, turn around and come back in 25 minutes. We spy muskrats, ducks, cows, coots and a crane that we chase down the river.
After lunch, we paddle downstream to where the river widens out and becomes rather lake like. On the way back, we take a detour around an island and go further than we had planned. By the time we arrive at the boat launch I have very tired shoulders and core. We had picked the perfect day to spend on the water in our kayaks.
We spend the afternoon visiting with M & G who arrived while we are paddling. We maintain a social distance and have a great visit. The next morning, the four of us launch our kayaks and paddle up river. We go further than the day before and spot deer, pelicans, lots of tracks in the mud and a couple of carcasses. It is nice to visit and share observances with fellow paddlers.
On the drive home Murray and I make a brief stop at the Diplomat Mine Interpretive Site. We realize that we tend to get in car and just drive from point A to point B, so we are trying to visit interesting side stops. The Diplomat Mine, a strip mine, began operation in 1956 and supplied many customers with coal, including the Battle River Generating Station. A Marion 360, the largest shovel in Canada at that time, removed the overburden and another huge shovel loaded the coal into a hauler.
To increase capacity at the mine in 1962, the Bucyrus-Erie 950-B was brought in and was able to remove three times the quantity of overburden than the Marion 360. The machine was dismantled and all that remains on the site is the bucket.
On our drive home, we cruise by a pond with a beaver lodge in the middle and, lucky beaver, he had a satellite dish poked into the top of his house. I wonder how many channels he gets!
Our international travel plans have been disrupted so we are enjoying local travel, exploring new places for us that involve water and kayaking. Where to next?
I have finally posted photos of our travels through Singapore, Indonesia and Japan in the fall of 2019.
To view photos, hover over “Photos” until the drop down menu appears. All three destinations are are under the “Asia” subheading. Hover over a continent and another drop down menu appears with the three destinations listed separately. Click on the destination in the drop down menu. Wait until the photos load. Click on the first photo and a “slide show” view will appear. Scroll through the photos using the arrow on the right hand side or the arrow key. Click on the “x” in the upper right hand corner to exit out of the slide show. Enjoy!
When we started planning this trip with R & L we were advised by a tour guide living in Kyoto that we would be in Japan near the busy season and should book all our accommodation in advance. At one of the our first meetings we decided to book a range of different types of hotels. We divided up the work and kept each other informed whenever a booking was confirmed.
We stayed in 12 different places and each hotel had its own personality. Arriving in Japan, Tokyo is our first stop. It is very big so to choose one area over another to stay in is impossible. It is the hotel that determines our set down point. The Edo Sakura is a very small boutique ryokan. There are western style rooms available but we chose to jump right in and reside in a Japanese style, 6 tatami mat room. Great place with wonderful staff. Breakfast, either western or Japanese, is available for a small charge.
Place 2 we did not book in advance. A category 5 typhoon is about to hit Tokyo and we cut out early leaving the last night’s rent at the Edo Sakura on the table. On the way to Osak,a L uses the trains internet to book a room. We use a taxi to find our way to the Minn Juso. Nice enough place but the area left a bit to be desired. Ladies of the evening gathered on the corner nearby and the night clubs are on the next street. So the clientele are young, rowdy and noisy. This results in the fire alarm ringing at 3am and us heading out into the rain until someone could clear the alarm.
The morning saw us head to nearby Kobe. We stayed in the Guesthouse Geragera on the shores of the Inland Sea. The rooms are dormitories and booking a whole room is possible. This we did. All 4 of us shared a room of about 150 sq. ft. Four bunk style beds and a fantastic view when we opened the door. It is a very casual place and the staff are great. It was a fun start to our road trip.
Onward to Tokushima on Shikoku Island. Here L found an older Japanese house to rent on Air b&b. We stayed for two nights and cooked breakfast and dinner in. The space is small by North American standards but we had more than enough personal space and were able to breathe once again. Interesting to see how the Japanese see and use space.
Our next destination, the Iya Valley and the very plush Kazurabashi Ryokan. It doesn’t really fit my image of a ryokan, which would be a small b&b type place. To me it is more of an old style luxury hotel. The rooms are Japanese style and the food, which is included, is oh so Japanese. It is our first encounter with an onsen and it is high class to match the rest of the digs.
Back in an urban environment we moved into the MyStays business hotel in Matsuyama. It is set up for business travelers in Asia and therefore quite small. The rooms are nice enough and adequate for the one night we spend there. It is close to the Matsuyama Castle and restaurants.
For Hiroshima, it was the Hana Hostel, to keep overall costs down. Central location to sights and restaurants. The building and rooms are slightly worn, but it was adequate for one night’s stay. It is near the train station so trains rumbled by. The sound wasn’t overpowering and it did stop in the middle of the night.
The Izumo Green Hotel Morris, had small western style rooms which were cozy and fine for one night. Most hotels offer a breakfast buffet, for a cost of about $7 Cdn, of a combination Western and Japanese foods. We partake in their offering and it is satisfying. This chain has hotels in other locations so would be handy to book more than one location.
Tottori’s Drop Inn advertises itself as a luxury capsule hotel/hostel/guesthouse. It is well appointed, clean and a must stay in if one ends up in Tottori. The capsules were large enough for 6’4’ R to sleep in comfortably. We felt safe and all slept well. Cool place and my favourite.
Kyoto’s Hotel Ninja Black was also a favourite. It is a small boutique hotel decorated in …… ninjas. It is only a few years old, well kept, clean design, western rooms and perfect for us. We would stay there again if we found ourselves in Kyoto in the future.
We wanted to go to Koyasan and do a “temple stay”. We booked at the Ekoin, recommended to us and boasts high reviews. It was very well appointed and totally what we were not expecting. We thought we would be “roughing it” but it was almost the caliber of the Iya Valley ryokan. Very Japanese, of course, with tatami mats, futons, onsen and sitting cross legged at low tables for meals.
We splurged in Mt Fuji and L booked western style Volcano view rooms at the Fuji View Hotel in Kawaguchiko. Totally worth the extra to get a view of Mt Fuji first thing in the morning. I dragged the easy chair in front of the window so I could eat my breakfast and watch the sky change over Mt Fuji. The onsen is wonderful and not too crowded. The hotel was slightly removed from the center of the town, but we made use of the free shuttle and the sight seeing buses to get around.
We all had our favourite places that we stayed in, but overall, we enjoyed every one. It was a great way to experience Japanese hospitality.
Toilet installment number 5 (maybe). I have seen this several times but it just dawned on me today that I have not mentioned it. On some toilets the lid of the tank is a basin. The fill water tube is a spout and you can wash your hands with the new fill water thereby using slightly grey water to flush the toilet and saving on water at the bathroom sink. Every little effort counts and this would add up over time. Bravo Japan!
An interesting bit of trivia R brought up the other day. Tokyo and Kyoto are the same letters with the syllables reversed. Don’t know the significance but it is an astute observation.
We have traveled in many Buddhist countries. One thing they have had in common up until we got to Japan is the monks live a life of austerity. Not completely poor or lacking in today’s amenities, but not lavish. For instance, the monks in Myanmar walked the residential streets each day and the locals made offerings of rice and other food so the monks could eat. Observing the temple residents in Japan and after our visit to Koyasan, and the thriving tourist business there, I think the Japanese monks live quite a high life. There may be some temples far away from civilization where things are different but except for having to believe in a deity being a monk here might not be so bad.
Something the folks in Koyasan should work on is the bus schedule. Considering it is a tourist destination the buses are not convenient to what the people would use. Eg. one of the buses stops at 5 after the hour, the next bus on that route is 55 after the hour. The town is not very big so walking is possible but I think catering to the hand that feeds would be a good idea.
I am still amazed at how little garbage there is on the street. Only a few trash cans are placed along the sidewalk and yet no one tosses waste on the ground. There was one place where this was not the case. On the most touristed avenues in Kyoto, Hanamikoji Dori. On our last day there Debbie and I went for a walk and as we turned off the Gion Shijo to walk along the canal there was a noticeable increase in the amount of junk laying on the ground. Tourists!
Traveling along we have passed through many forests. The palette of green is extensive. The mountain sides are solid with trees. The different grouping of trees are distinct and distinguishable by the shade of green of the foliage. Back in the days of film, Kodak, a North American brand of film, was known of it’s warm colors, reds and oranges, while Fuji, a Japanese film, was known for the green shades. Experiencing nature in Japan has made that difference completely understandable.
Another Japanese anomaly. It can be 8pm, completely dark and on the curb aligning a street no wider than one car width, with no cars in sight in any direct, will be a person or two waiting for the light to change from wait to walk. This does not even happen in Canada.