The joy of wilderness canoeing is something that should become more recognised. Isolation from civilisation alone is such a cleansing experience and living the way our predecessors did has a gratifying sense, as if one is reviving the ancient ways.
After arriving in Canada courtesy of flying and driving, we were itching to try the third method of transport: boat. With our supplies and ourselves ready, we had driven down to our outfitters on the Sunday, having left our home in Wales on the Saturday. Then came the challenge of packing; fitting two weeks of supplies for one family, into four packs was always going to be a challenge. But we emerged victorious and soon enough, Monday, the first day of our expedition, had arrived.
The plan was simple; from Armstrong, the only village bordering Wabakimi, to catch a train. One train travelling from Montreal to Vancouver would stop and collect my family and I, along with our eighteen and a half foot canoe and four packs, before dropping us in the middle of nowhere at mile fifty four point one. Thus, our journey would begin. We then had fifteen days to travel through the park and make it to our pick up point.
Our luggage took minutes to unload and just like that, we were in our canoe, all alone. My paddle was so familiar and the comfortable rhythm I fell into seemed to take seconds. Our route was planned across 10 maps. Map 1 directed us underneath a bridge and when we came out from the other side, the lake that lay out in front of us was inviting and natural and wild. The bridge was the last item of human architecture I saw for two weeks.
The feeling of total wilderness and lack of human influence took such a short time to coat me entirely, it was almost as if I’d been here for days. We paddled as a unit, with my dad steering carefully and my mum and I powering our craft. I marvelled at absolutely everything I saw, from the enormous evergreens to the fragile pitcher plants.
The first campsite was reached after an exhausting but amazing day. We had sighted a bald eagle and not one but two adorable otters. My body, not used to such rigorous exercise (canoeing is a lot more tiring than one would imagine), was eager to relax in our new tent. As we were positioned right next to a wide river, I found myself simply enjoying my surroundings and focusing on the warm, calming feeling that filled me.
After a delicious meal, everyone retreated to the comfort of the tent. I fell into a deep slumber to the sounds of a rushing river and rustling branches, completely and utterly content, free from hassle and stress.
The next day began with early morning fishing with my mum but no luck. Our sightings this day were two bald eagles, both absolutely magnificent, and a beautiful loon, with her tiny baby or ‘loonling’ as we referred to him.
This entire national park, despite human touch, had managed to maintain its wildness. People had had only a minimal impact. Small footpaths and occasional hints of where others had camped were the only signs but, considering the size of this beautiful area and its blooming plant and animal population, humans had barely made a dent. I have no doubt the ancient people of Wabakimi, the Ojibway and others believed in spirits but I have my own interpretation. It felt to me as if there was a spirit of Wabikimi itself, protecting it. To find such an untouched, pure place is so incredibly rare and something to cherish.
Despite spectacular weather for most of the journey, half way through the trip I spent one of my days shivering and soaking as we battled rain and wind down several rivers. The wind was often in our favour but turned yet again to be our enemy on other days, to the point where I could swear the canoe was moving backwards, despite all four of us paddling at full power.
At one point, we detoured to follow an extension north, since we’d pushed hard in the first week and were ahead of ourselves. This involved a rest day and a trip in which we’d simply go exploring without our packs. We camped at our home for the next three days and decided to go on a day trip tomorrow to explore. With the sun decorating the sky and the beautiful forestry surrounding us, our small adventure was absolutely picturesque. And then it got ten times better.
As we were paddling back, we spotted something moving ahead of us in the wetland. Unable to figure out the species of the shape, we paddled closer. I let out a gasp of utter shock when the moose reared its head. Their elegance, paired with obvious power, makes these animals ones to respect. The moose allowed us to get incredibly close. A strong male, with a smooth, silken coat and an incredible rack of antlers. Eventually, he decided we were a threat and bounded off into the forest. It was such an amazing sighting. We saw a female later that day but nothing could compare to the mighty bull.
Too soon for my taste, it was day fourteen and we were paddling to a pick up point. The wind was, unfortunately, directly in our face and showers were frequent but I couldn’t help the slight sadness that overwhelmed me. Endings, I find, are always beautifully bittersweet. I was proud of my achievement of finishing the trip but leaving such a wonderful place is truly heart-wrenching. The calming effect it had on me were something I wanted to cling on to forever.
And I shall always remember the lesson that the park taught me: to simply enjoy life.