Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Oh well, s... happens!

Sometimes the best laid plans don't always work out like you envisioned them. I left for a solo trip with some forecasted inclement weather later in the day - rain and winds. Having tripped for many years I've developed a routine and set of gear that allows me to handle just about anything that I may encounter along the way. I did do something a bit different for this trip in using a 2 part pack system (clip together to portage, separate for packing fore and aft in the canoe) that I have, rather than my usual canoe pack and small barrel. With some judicious meal planning and dehydration prep, tight portion control and ruthless winnowing of nice to have stuff, I managed to pack everything for an 8 day trip in the 2 bags using a 20 litre olive barrel for the food - game on!!

Jan dropped me off in overcast conditions and I quickly headed off. Well the weather turned out to be somewhat more severe than forecasted and over the course of the next 5 hours I was thoroughly soaked to the core in spite of full rain gear and the wind switched to out of the north, precipitating a sharp temperature decrease. It was raining so hard that I needed to stop twice in a little over an hour's time to drain about an inch of water out of the canoe. Needless to say, my pack system was sodden and a fair bit heavier than when I started out.

Rain on Matagamasi Lk.

I stopped earlier and one lake sooner to get under cover and change into dry clothing etc. Set up the tarp, gathered a bunch of small wet wood, got my twig stove going and brewed a welcome pot of tea and then a hearty pasta based supper. The rain petered out around 6:30 pm and I got about setting up my hammock for the evening. This is when I discovered that 2 of my dry bags aren't as dry as they used to be! I always pack the essentials in dry bags (sleeping bag/mattress, clothes, hammock etc) which in turn are packed in an Ostrom dry bag pack liner which has never failed despite enduring monsoonal rains or the occasional dump in a rapid etc on trips. However, since I was using my smaller 2 part system (each bag is about 35 litres) I used separate dry bags for different things this time without a pack liner. I found a fairly large wet spot on my down sleeping bag and the hammock was also damp in it's dry bag. Not much I could do about it other than make the best of it for the night and dry out things the next day, a bit of a pain in the butt but easily remedied.

Under cover and beginning to dry out!

The other foul up revolved around my sat phone. I am out in the bush camping, canoeing and hiking upwards of 40 - 50 nights/year in fairly remote areas and often solo. Jan worries about me injuring myself etc and we've developed a system using my sat phone to allow her to track my progress and ease her concerns. I am much more conservative when tripping alone than I might be with someone else but as we all know, shit happens, dump the canoe and lose gear, slip and fall injuring myself etc. I use an Inmarsat phone that has a built in GPS that allows me to send a location daily via a text message in the evening and Jan follows my progress on a map and all is well. So, the thing about using technology is it's great when it works and not so great when it doesn't. I did my usual routine and fired up the phone, locked on the system and the phone generated my GPS location and I hit send - sorry, network failure, message not delivered, sent to draft! OK, tried it again, same result, tried both a text and email message which is our main method of communication rather than the considerably more expensive voice option, with the same result. So, dial up and phone home which is when I got the message from the provider that my account had expired - Doh! It turned out it was not the end of September expiration date on my card as I thought but the beginning of the month. Oops, no remedy for this one as I use prepaid minutes and if you don't roll them over with a renewal before expiration you get to start over.

So, I'd gone from cold and wet to dry and warm to a wet sleeping system with the temps headed for freezing and a partner at home wondering why I hadn't checked in, life is good usually but sometimes the odd complication creeps in! Jan and I have an understanding should something go south on one of my trips if I haven't checked in, she will wait till for 2 missed evening communications and then call out the dogs as the deal is at that point something has probably happened. I awoke to a hard frost, and a stiff north wind but no rain and the promise of sun later in the morning. My sleeping bag was considerably wetter from my generated body heat and sweat and in a perfect world I would have just laid over for the day and dried out before continuing as except, for the phone, all was fine. I packed up and headed back south to a cottage lake hoping to find someone with some sort of phone service to alert Jan to the situation before she the set the dogs loose! If this option didn't work I would head down to the Kukagami Lake road and walk over to Sportsman Lodge where there is a phone. Long story short I managed to find a very generous couple on Matagamasi Lake with an internet phone system late in the afternoon. I phoned Jan and she picked me up a couple hours later.

Ah well, live and learn. I'm lucky to be able to indulge in my outdoor interests all year long and the sat phone has become an integral part allowing everyone a level of comfort and safety while I'm out there pursuing my passion for the outdoors. I checked my providers website this morning and low and behold they now are offering an automatic recharge option on the prepaid cards. Now that is a great Sid option as I'll never turn that sucker on again and get the "your account has expired" message again!! Now to unpack and dry everything out while I wait for my account to be recharged so I can finish what I started :-)

Post script: I spent an enjoyable few hours chatting with the older couple who lent me their phone. We discussed the history of the area (Chiniguchi area, Matagamasi Lake in particular), remote phone service - they live off the grid and our kids. Turns out one of their sons married the daughter of folks we knew when we lived in Thunder Bay in the early 1980's. It's a small world sometimes, after all what are the chances of anyone canoeing up to a remote cottage and finding out that you have some mutual acquaintances!

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