written by Ann Verrall (co-producer/co-director)
When Dee first asked me to be involved in 500 Days it was to do some filming for 3 days in Nova Scotia when passed through on the trail. Now we are 2.5 years on and I am immersed in the project and journey in so many ways. Almost entirely as the one watching the GPS spot, meeting up where trail meets road, doing logistics. The first 100 km of the Path of the Paddle’s Omimi Trail is the third time when I have actually traveled the trail with Dee. The logistics are always complicated and requires others to do the drop off and pick up. This time a big thank you goes out to Karen Arnold for stepping into that role. And to Clara Butikofer, Path of the Paddle Association for the help and support.
And so my story of traveling from North Fowl Lake to Northern Lights Resort – 11 days in September. In this 100km, there is 13km of portaging including The Long Portage of 4.5 km. I am not a very outdoorsy person – day hikes now and then. It has been over 30 years since I went on a canoe trip that required camping and portaging and at that time the words “never again” certainly were uttered. But here I am at 58 agreeing to and welcoming this opportunity.
Each portage we needed to do 3 times so 13km actually meant 65 km for us. The first 2 trips gave us time to assess best places to step before bringing the canoe but it also provided lots of time for dread and “I can’t believe we have to bring a canoe through this”.
An unusually hot late September and lots of rain created an explosion of flies and mosquitoes that we were not expecting and were not prepared for. Moments that hold fast…
– first portage between North Fowl Lake and Moose Lake. We can’t find the entrance through the marshy grass. There are no markers. Eventually we do but can’t access it because it is “quick-mud” that would swallow you up. So bush whacking through wet, uneven, clumpy bog. Dee falls, I fall and we are both thinking – what have we gotten ourselves into.
– the Height of Land Portage between South and North Lake. We made sure we filmed our process through it.
Being swarmed, breathing in bugs, choking while trying to reload the canoe in a boggy muck, knowing relief was only out in the lake.
Moments when moving the canoe was measured by a foot at a time. Achievement was seen as – we got the canoe over that rock or around that curve or over that muddy mess or up that rock slope.
Portaging through water might sound like an easier experience but I’m not sure it was. Walking through moving water over slippery rocks that you can’t see felt more dangerous.
So the question that gets asks most is why. I never asked myself that during this 11 days. It always made sense to me on some level why I was there. Here is my best attempt at an answer.
There is something in traveling that slowly, rock by rock, footstep by careful footstep, eyes to the ground, the weight of our home on our bodies, making each movement all that more significant. A fall could be catastrophic. Focused mind, focused body. A union with the earth. A reminder that she is here, still here, not forgotten. Like the discovery of a primal relationship that we have long forgotten and weren’t even aware we were mourning its loss. It is in our DNA – this relationship.
Our last day. We decide to take Hap Wilson’s Path of the Paddle route. Our last portage we are elated because it is almost entirely a grassy lane and we give thanks for Hap. Although swarmed with bugs we are able to pull the canoe together.
And then we paddle through still lake water. And realize we can make the exit point that night. I watch the sky above and think of the souls that have passed on in my life that I feel connected to and feel fed by their strength. I think of me as a GPS spot being watched and that too feeds me. Our eyes focus on a tiny light in the distance – that’s it. It is a beautiful way to end this journey for me.
The day after landing at North Lake Resort and being looked after by the amazing Connie Nickelsen, I ask Dee what her most meaningful moments were. She mentions the eagles – yes I agree, the paddling. She asks me the same question. Weeks later I contemplate that question and I realize it was the portages. That’s where I learned the most. That’s where my relationship with the natural world shifted. That’s where I remembered that primal connection.