SUPing Down River

SUPing Down River

Dispatch by Paul Auerbach
Photo by Jimmy Martinello

"You guys need to get up earlier and paddle longer." That's what Brian Lepine had to say the second time we ran into him on the river, halfway up the Coupé.

Brian lives in Fort Chipewyan and knows the rivers and channels we navigated on our way to the Peace and now the Slave River. He had taken a look at the map and he knew where we were going and how much ground we needed to cover to have any hope of reaching Fort Fitzgerald by June 4th. Putting in more time on the board definitely helped us make the progress we've made over the last two days, and the current carrying us north has not been frustrated by too much wind.

This morning we woke to brilliant blue skies and just a light breeze from the north.

We got on the water after another brilliant breakfast at cafe Delano (pancakes, peanut butter and maple syrup) and paddled up the east bank of the river as it wound its way north, cormorants deftly flying only inches off the surface of the water in front of us. We could feel the cold ground over which the wind had passed to reach us here and it helped us keep up the pace most of the morning under brilliant blue skies.

As anyone familiar with distance paddling or hiking will tell you, fatigue is cumulative, and we definitely felt the effects of the last couple of days as the sun rose higher in the sky. By one p.m. the paddle strokes were shortening and we had to get off the water to rest and eat and recharge. We found a great landing spot on a long sandy beach and hauled the boards out of the water, wriggled out the tops of our dry suits and took a much-needed break.

Wood Buffalo WalkTaking a much needed off-board break 

We pushed on for the rest of the afternoon, paddling for the most part in a group but often separated by as much as 150 metres, each of us just a little bit hypnotized by the slowly swirling currents and the heat and (perhaps) a touch of dehydration.

The river in this area feels like a series of connected lakes, and often you can see the forest in every direction you look. At one point I sat down on my board to take a drink and give my legs a rest, and the board did a series of three slow 360 degree pirouettes, lazily spinning while I took in the surrounding beauty and filled my lungs with the cool clean air of Canada's north.

We made it to Hay camp this evening, after paddling some 40 kilometres, exhausted but feeling like we had a day to remember here in Wood Buffalo's western edge. And as tired as we all were, as soon as we got our gear onto the ground we put on some shoes and set off down a dirt and gravel road, where within minutes we saw signs of the wood bison after which this national treasure is named.

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