The Paddling Pioneers

The Paddling Pioneers

Dispatch by Delano Lavigne
Photos by Jimmy Martinello

The quiet hamlet of the once bustling trading outpost, Fort Fitzgerald, lies less than 10 kilometres down river from where we are currently drifting. Beyond it are the cascade rapids, the first in a series of formidable, if not impassable, rapids that definitively signify the end of our weeklong journey along the bucolic waters of Wood Buffalo National Park.

Over the course of the week we have passed along the banks of four distinct yet separate rivers, camping wherever inspiration found us.

Each spot we camped at on our journey towards becoming the first to SUP the Slave River was a unique gift, presented to us by the river and the beautifully dense Boreal forests that cradle it in the northern reaches of this massive country.

The most memorable of which was a fortuitously placed band of rocks at the first major bend in the river that for no significant reason finally gave Jimmy and I our first clear sense of where we were on the river in almost 24 hours.

The two maps that we had brought with us on the trip had, for some unknown reason, a missing corner of approximately 40 kilometres of river. We had effectively been navigating the river for the last day—during a storm no less—by intuition alone, a skill that we are both thankful to have developed over years of being in the outdoors.

Wood Buffalo ShoreFollowing the outcropping of rocks along the shore

The rock outcropping consisted of a series of benches, ledges and naturally cut steps that provided us with a stunning platform from which we could enjoy the full moon. It was a truly magical evening, and with the encouragement of my paddling brothers, I decided to put on my dry suit, step onto my board and cast off into the night.

I couldn’t miss the chance to paddle the Slave River under a full moon and felt very connected to the idea that some opportunities are not meant to be missed.

This realization is exactly what we experienced and lived while paddling the waters of Wood Buffalo National Park. Each of us experienced it for reasons that are unique to us as individuals, but the fact that we experienced it together nevertheless created the bond. It is a type of bond brought on when seemingly disparate individuals are thrust into the unknown together and come out with a renewed reverence for nature’s beauty.

Thank you Wood Buffalo National Park.

Thank you to all those we met along the way and supported and encouraged us during our journey.

Thank you MEC for giving us the gear to do it and to Clif Bar for fueling us. Thank you to Parks Canada for maintaining such a beautiful place. Thank you to Fort McMurray for helping us get there. A special thanks to Brian Lepine for watching over us and Mike Keizer for celebrating with us.  

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