Open Water Trips

Adventures in Open Water in Small Boats

May Day: Opening Trip for 2009 Paddling

Finally! After balking for three weeks since the river ice broke, I have found time to get out and paddle the VJ again. The winter this year was very long and seemingly colder. Perhaps the colder feeling arose from the fact that I am out of shape and pushing toward the semi-ripe age of 50. How did that happen? How is it that when I first started building/paddling I was the tender age of 40-years and now I am approaching 50 at the perceived speed of a stick caught in a rip tide? And where did this damned 20-lb tire tube come from? Itís causing my nylon shirts to balloon out as if I was overweight or something.

The weather today was relatively warmish, a cool 15 C due to moderately heavy rain clouds that stalled over Edmonton only during the time I choose to paddle. Nevertheless, I felt great to be out there again. Last year I paddled some 862-kms from Borden, Saskatchewan to Grand Rapids, ManitobaÖfeels like I did that trip years ago. Todayís river run will be short and sweet. I have decided to limit the time I paddle upstream to not more than one hour in order to avoid injury. During previous season openers, I have gone out whole hog and paddled hard and fast only to end up with very sore shoulders and an aching back. Today (now that I have matured gracefully), I will make a gentler introduction to the season. I opted to use my Turbo wing paddle for the upstream run since the river current makes using any other differently bladed paddle more of a workout than it needs to be.

There is little ice left on the shoreline and no floating ice within sight. The water level is low for this time of year but the melt water from the mountains has not come through yet. We will see higher levels later this month. I launched at my usual site, Magpie Launch at Emily Murphy Park, in central Edmonton. I met a couple of men by the waters edge who were chatting up a storm while sipping coffee and enjoying the relatively warmer weather. We spoke of the VJ briefly and, while I prepped her for the launch, they stood by and watched. As I pushed off the rocky shore and into the strong current, I waved back at them and wished them well. Even though the VJ is beat up and carries a bad paint job, people still think she is a thing of beauty to behold.

I paddled easily upstream for one hour. I was impressed to spot a cormorant resting on a tree branch that overhung the river from high up. That is a rare site within the downtown area of Edmonton. I had already spotted several mergansers, male and female, warily swimming away from my estimated route while they nervously eyed me for any sudden moves I might make in their direction. They had nothing to worry about: I was struggling to find my paddling lungs and wouldnít for some time yet. There were several mating pairs of mallard ducks in the area; most of them were far more trusting than the mergansers. The mallards allowed me to get within 5-feet of their floating feathery butts before they altered course. Interestingly, most of them kept an eye or two on me but never bothered to fly away, just swim away. Sadly, I did not bring a camera today so I couldnít take any pictures. I put the camera down last week and havenít been able to find it ever since. Sigh! The mergansers made for great photography. Perhaps there will be a next time. Hah! Of that I am sure.

The winter ice didnít do much to further erode the river banks this spring. Aggressive erosion doesnít happen during the spring break up unless water levels rise and the thick ice is thrust up against the sandy clay that makes up most of the land surrounding the North Saskatchewan River in central Alberta. The trees are only just beginning to green up, with ripe buds expressing bulging growth that need a heavy rain to cause their leafy green potential to bursting forth. The water looks greenish. It is missing the usual suspended silt that it carries during spring run off. That will come soon. When that happens, my upstream paddles will require more effort and when it happens, I will be ready.

My turn around point was the pedestrian bridge at Hawreluk Park. I rested within the eddy of one of the central pylons while sipping Gatorade. A few people gave me some eye time. The micro currents of the eddy steered the bow of the VJ forward around the pylon until half the kayak was forward of the pylon. Shortly, the current grabbed the leading edge of the bow and the VJ turned to follow it. I paddled forward to avoid being spun around and headed upstream for a few dozen meters before turning to head back to Magpie Launch. The float back was uneventful, as I had hoped. I didnít want anything interesting to happen since I didnít have my camera nor any real interest in taking an interest.

Once I reached the put out point at Magpie Launch, the clouds had thinned enough to allow the sun to shine brightly upon the river. The increased sunshine provided me with enough warmth that I took my time to load the VJ back onto the car. I drove home feeling good that I managed to get out for the first paddle of the season and grateful that I have time to paddle at all. I suspect that I wonít get back on the water for a while. I have much work to do in order to get the NH S&G project completed so that Linda and I can paddle together. That is one very pleasant thought for me: to have a sweetheart who loves to paddle and who urges me to get to work on the NH so we can both get out and share an activity that I apparently live to enjoy.

Robert N Pruden

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May Day: Opening Trip for 2009 Paddling
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