JOURNEY THROUGH LABRADOR by Bernie Howgate

( Chapter 10 )

 

 

JULY 15th

Six months ago, I made a pact with myself not to go around Cape Harrison, no matter how calm the seas were. I can put up with all kinds of physical pain, but mental anguish in the form of nightmares is another story.

Lake Melville had proved my metal, but a promise is a promise, and the night I spent in Ship Harbor Island was used going over final details of my portage route behind the Cape. I was going to follow the winter snowmobile route down Jeanette Bay, then take Bob's Brook, across a pond, then drag, carry or pull my kayak over three miles of open country to the sea. No easy task at the best of times, but then I didn't know I was about to double my burden.

I have all kinds of maps, topographical, sea charts, some are 1:50,000 and others 1:25,000. Every inch of coastline is covered, or so I thought.

The brook that lead to the pond at the back of Cape Harrison was at the bottom of a horseshoe cove at the end of Jeanette Bay. My maps showed both the north and south shores of the bay at its mouth, but the bottom of the bay tapered off and a small corner was missing. This portion continued on another map - a map I didn't have - and this was to prove my downfall.

It took me just two hours to paddle down the bay and ten minutes to find the brook. It was now 11 o'clock. I had visions of completing the portage in one day, and I was too eager to get on with it. I should have double checked, but instead I immediately halved the load in the kayak, filled my waterproof back-pack and set off pulling my kayak up the brook.

The first grain of doubt to enter my mind that I was on the wrong brook, was when it shaved off into a stream. Then, one hour later, it turned into a dark liquid path overgrown with willows and fallen trees. By six o'clock only my stubborn pride kept me going forward. My map showed the brook winding over an area less than a mile long. I knew I was going slowly, but surely I was not going that slow. By seven I was getting desperate. The brook had levelled off into a swamp and moskitos were coming in waves. By now I was exhausted. One moment I would be knee deep in mud, the next, high and dry carrying my kayak over rocks. I had to cut down willows, move fallen trees and sometimes wade waist deep in frigid water.

That night I camped on a large table top shaped rock in the middle of a swamp and by nightfall the inside of my tent looked more like a blotting pad with red inky patches marking my mosquito kills

At first light I took off up the side of a mountain only to have my worst fears confirmed. In the distance due east of my present position, and clearly outlined against a border of trees, was the pond I had been searching for. I could even trace the brook I should have taken back down to Jeanette Bay. There was nothing to do but go back. I wasn't depressed, just angry with myself for not checking my route before now. It took me two-and-a-half hours to cover the same distance I had so stubbornly covered the previous day in seven. That was on the plus side. On the minus, I holed the kayak on the way down. Kayaks, I know now, aren't made to take rapids. I hit a submerged tree, ended up broadsiding a rock and spinning on another, before hitting a third and capsizing. What an adventure and it was only to get better on the next day.

Back in the bay, I went over my map with a fine tooth comb. The brook I had taken was identical in size to the one I was now staring at. Obviously they were two, both adjacent and within a few hundred yards of each other. I was that close, but close isn't good enough.

By late afternoon I had made the pond, did what repair work on the hole I could, tried and tested it on the waters, then called it a day. It wasn't a complete success, it still leaked, but nothing more than a sponge job. It would be an irritant, but at least I wouldn't sink.

The next day I spent three hours scouting out my portage route and marking the trail with surveyors tape. I wasn't about to make the same mistake twice. My portage would follow the caribou moss whenever possible. I cold use it to slide my kayak over, and before starting, I double taped over my 'epoxy' repair work to protect it. The kayak fully loaded weighs over 250 lbs., so I broke it down to three loads. With two back-sacks and an empty kayak, it meant every yard covered would in reality be six yards walked. It was a long day, but by early evening I was within spitting distance of the sea.

Ever since leaving the pond. I'd seen fresh bear droppings. I took to carrying my rifle with every load. Now within yards of the beach, I got careless. Ever been caught with your trousers down? Well, that's just how I felt when I saw this huge black bear without my rifle. It looked as surprised as me, but it was a whole lot bigger and in the bush the old saying 'the biggest rules' means just that.

I could hardly walk, let alone run. I shouted, it grunted. He wasn't intimidated in the slightest. They never seem to act like the text book tell you when you want them to. I dropped my load, walked as quickly as I could, then ran, then sprinted back to my rifle. I was exhausted. Cardiac arrest was setting in. I hardly had enough energy to lift the rifle let alone point, aim and fire it, and by the time I got my breath back and retraced my steps to the beach, it was gone. I'm not an animal lover at the best of times and when a whale popped up in front of the kayak sixty minutes later, I'd had enough excitement for one day.

 


Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14