The Meanest Link Part Two
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Day Two: Whitefish to Tanamakoon. Distance traveled, 23km (0.92km of Portages. 22.08km of Canoeing).
We awoke at six in the morning as the sun was beginning to etch it’s rays through the scant smattering of trees. Awake. Stretch. Eat. Pack. These things were completed within two hours as we were extremely sore from the previous day. That done, it was time to hit the lakes and waterways of this beautiful park again. We figured since it was almost a strictly canoeing day, we’d be better off than the day before. Much like the theme of this piece, we underestimated the mighty and unforgiving Madawaska river.
We canoed out of Whitefish with a headwind against us the whole way. Still, it was an easy ride for the first half-hour; the waves were soft and demure. With ever loosening muscles, we made our way into the first river of our trek. Rivers became my favourite portions of our journey. They made me feel isolated. Trees, both large and small, peppered the banks. The sounds of birds and animals cooing at one another replaced the ever-insistent drone of motor boats. It was quiet and peaceful and, most of all, fun. When one learns how to properly drift in a canoe, the meandering rivers provide all sorts of joy and excitement.
We arrived on Lake of Two Rivers and started our arduous journey across. Since our route of the link took us in a South Westerly direction, and the wind at that time of year was coming out of the North West, we had to attend with headwinds the whole way. Rivers weren’t so bad because you could follow the current, if there was one; at the very least, they were closed off from the harshest of winds, which was good. It was the lakes that were waiting to do us in.
Lake of Two Rivers is one and a half kilometers long. In the strong gusts and pounding sun, I was sweating by the time I was halfway across. Fun Fact: don’t let the name fool you, there are actually three rivers that connect to this lake. We came out of one and ended up taking the wrong exit river for a good forty minutes before we realized our mistake. It wasn’t so bad as the river was rather pretty but it cost us just over an hour. I should point out here that it was my decision to take this river, so my bad Twon and Erin!
Back on track, direction-wise if not timewise, we finally entered the eternal and daunting Madawaska. Originally used as a logging route in the late nineteenth century and then put to more practical use to generate hydroelectric power in the sixties, humans have gotten plenty of play out of this river. None so good as trekking up it for The Meanest Link, however. It was easy going for the first bit of the river. Nothing too noteworthy until we hit the split. One route would take us directly south while the other continued on west towards Cache. My crew had forgone the use of GPS (outside of the Spot device we kept for the sole purpose of broadcasting an emergency signal if it was necessary). Instead, we were working off a map and compass. It adds to the fun and challenge. Completing the link with GPS is fine, but may earn you less kudos in some circles.
We took the Western route of the Madawaska and it quickly became a whole other sort of river. Where it had once been wide and deep, now it was swallowed up by bog land and beaver dams. The depth of the river bottomed out and it made for difficult going in the two-person canoe. Oft times, one or both of them would have to get out and heave the canoe over the shallow areas. Everyone had to get out to help haul our wares over the beaver dams, numbering nine if my memory serves. Some were small and in shallow areas, so only your feet got wet. Others were long and large, causing those who got out to step into water hip deep. And of course, with the low water levels came the turtles, ducks, geese, herons and a cornucopia of bugs and pests. Despite the black-flies and mosquitos, every inch of the river was worth it for the beauty it showcased about the wilderness.
Two tiny portages and one small lake later, we arrived on the monstrous lake of Cache. A few islands, both large and small, populated the lake, with many channels running around them. For a novice orienteer it can be rather confusing. Luckily, we had Erin at the helm with the map now, and she guided us through in spades. There was also less wind, due to all the islands cutting off the open waters of the lake. Scattered around the islands were quite a few houses and camps. Easy living, they must have.
Eventually, Cache opened up to a channel that we paddled down with tired abandon. We came out onto Tanamakoon and immediately turned to our right. There was a rather large and lovely campsite situated on an island in the middle of the lake, but we were too bushed to go out there. We took the first campsite we found. While still being nice, it was plagued by mosquitos. We didn’t care at all. We set-up our tents, ate a small supper, and then proceeded to pass out shortly after the sun touched the horizon. We’d left Whitefish shortly before eight in the morning and rolled into Tanamakoon at eight in the evening. Sleep was a necessity.
To read Part Three, click here.