Wet Butt Paddle

Saturday (June 4) was cloudy and humid, with occasional light drizzle. In the morning, I read a newspaper article about a Paddle Manitoba urban paddling event. Paddlers would be able to put in from the sloping shore on the north bank by the footbridge in Assiniboine Park, paddle to the Forks, and get a bus ride back to the Park. I didn’t want to get involved with the logistics of getting back to the Park to get my car and then getting to the Forks to get my boat, but reading the story was enough to break my inertia.

I haven’t been on the water since the fall of 2002. I was unwelcome at my wife’s family cottage at Minaki in 2003 – I’m not going to discuss that further – and I didn’t make time for paddling in 2004 except to attempt one course. I had made one final trip to Minaki last May to pick up my kayak, and I had done a little carpentry to store the kayak in the rafters of the garage.
The carpentry had worked well. I got the kayak down and into the saddles on the Thule rack on my car quite easily. I drove to a Canadian Tire Store to get a Manitoba Parks vehicle pass and then on through Headingley to Beaudry Park. There were only a couple of cars in the lot.
I found a place to put in. The banks are sharply cut, and there are no docks or ramps, but there are couple of places near the parking area where there is a path down to the water’s edge. I was a little clumsy, trying to hold the boat in the current, and wobbled enough to get a couple of liters of water in the cockpit, so I paddled with a wet ass. I forgot to take the shockcord off the rudder.
I haven’t paddled in current very much, and I haven’t paddled here before. The river has been high this spring and there has been a lot of rain in the watershed in the last two weeks. The river was higher and faster than normal. It is wide and shallow. In one or two places floating trees have snagged bottom and imbedded themselves in the mud. I had to paddle steadily to make way against the current. I was concentrating on paddling and remembering technique. Between wind and current, rudderless, I was using correcting strokes to hold a line. There isn’t much shoreline cover, and I only saw a couple of ducks and small shorebirds. I saw songbirds in the brush on the river’s edge. I saw one flash of yellow as the light caught one bird – yellow warbler I think.
Both banks are parkland, treed, brushy. I was alone on the river. The humidity had created a haze, almost a light mist. I saw two deer in a grassy patch on the right bank, and I was able to get within about 20 meters. They saw me, but the motion of the paddle wasn’t enough to startle them. The wind was behind me, so they caught my scent as I came in towards the shore and ran off snorting into the deeper brush inland from the water’s edge. Not quite the primeval opening scene in The Last of the Mohicans, but still a dazzled beauty moment.
The return trip with the current was quick. I was cautious about getting out. The soft mud on the bank was no higher than the low docks I am used to, but it was oozing under my hand and didn’t support my weight. I figured out how to lever myself out of the cockpit without putting my ass in the wet mud or losing the boat in the current. Small successes please me inordinately.