by Clare Cayley from Vancouver, BC
May 10, 14
In 2005 my friend Drew Osborne and I embarked on a five month, 6000 km canoe expedition. The trip began on the snowy banks of the North Saskatchewan River in late April and ended on a glorious fall day on the St. Lawrence River in Montreal. It was an experience of a lifetime shared between two friends.
Conquering the grand wilderness of Canada in a canoe is both unimaginably challenging and stunningly beautiful. We paddled up and down rivers, over waves, rocks and sand and across some of the world’s largest lakes; we saw it all.
On our 70th day we began our first upstream battle, against the current on the Winnipeg River. Paddling against the record flood
proved to be more emotionally draining than it was physically (as if surviving the Manitoba bug season wasn't enough).
We were traveling in one day what we normally did in one hour. After three long days of this, the force against us really began to take its toll. As evening drew on and we struggled to find a place to camp amidst all the cottages on the banks of the river, our exhaustion turned to frustration. As our weary bug-bitten arms dipped our paddles into the river, we silently wondered if it was possible to continue.
Up in the distance we saw a man standing on his dock as if waiting our arrival. When we were within earshot he called out to us. He asked where we were going. We replied: “Montreal!”
“I doubt you'll make it to Montreal tonight” he laughed. “How about you call it a day and stay with us”. It was perfect.
He and his wife, Al and Lynn, invited us into their beautiful cottage for the evening. When Lynn took one look at our bloody swollen bug bites, our dirty clothes, and our messy hair, she insisted we each take a bath. It was our first bath in over 70 days, long overdue and simply magnificent.
After we had each bathed and it was possible to stand within 10 feet of us, Lynn approached us holding a telephone. “Call your mothers,” she said. She said they would want to know we were safe and doing well and she was right. We had an amazing dinner, lovely conversation and under fresh sheets we fell into deep sleeps. As I drifted off I remember wondering what I had done to deserve the generosity of these total strangers.
In the morning we had another wonderful meal and then began our preparations to continue our journey. Lynn had prepared fresh baked goods to take with us.
As we paddled away we were beaming. Our strokes were powerful and strong. I don't think we even noticed the river was flowing against us. At the time I felt so lucky to have met these inspiring people, but as we continued with our journey we found that this was just the first example of the incredible generosity of strangers. Every time we thought we couldn't go any further it seemed there was someone else waiting with a warm meal and a fire.
I learned a lot of things on this trip. Many things I will never be able to put into words. One thing is that I learned what it means to be Canadian. The people that I met inspired me. They opened my eyes and taught me the beauty of generosity. Today I feel both proud and grateful to say that Canada is my home.