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Beached on Talon with Time to Burn
Tripping Through Ontario's Woodland Caribou Provincial Park
By Bob Grafton

The Chief and the Stranger entered Talon from the north, the Aegean side, coming down from the Bloodvein. After running so long at the start of the trip, here they were near the end with what looked to be two or three extra days to get to Tulabi Falls, the out point. Of course they'd had to build in sit days into the sched, but everything had gone so perfectly, none had been used. So now it was slow up a bit, 4 or 5 hour days instead of 7 to 10. Thing was, they found it hard to do that, to gear down. As they pushed along the north shore, heading southeast toward the beach, they were maintaining the pace they'd set day 1. They could've drifted in, but the Stranger was anxious to see the beach, maybe go for a swim to clean up a bit, while the sun was still a little warm. Wash the portages off.

The Stranger put the boat in around the point, heading for the trapper's dock. Or at least, for where the dock used to be before DNR put an end to the trapper's occupation of the site. The boys pulled the boat in and walked up to where the cabin had been. A great flat spot for a tent. DNR had burned the cabin to the ground the winter previous. Policy, to keep it wild. The Stranger recalled that trip that he and the Chief had landed in Talon with the UN op and Diesel. The Chief had been quite ill then. They'd stayed in the cabin for a few days while he recovered. It'd been a big help, a little shelter and heat. The trip was early in the year, wet, cold. Sometimes, people get sick, or hurt, or worse. A resource like a little cabin with a wood heater can be valuable. But, gotta keep it wild. So, what's all that in Haggart? Worse, whoever it is keeps it locked up, too. It's who you know, it seems. All equal with some just a little more equal than others. Probably irks DNR, but everybody works for somebody.

Going out tripping with a fixed end date is the usual. Probably few trippers can just stay out as long as the food lasts, Bill Mason style. The Stranger and Joy, and Otter, and the Chief had been talking about the endless trip, 50, 60 days. Fly in food every two weeks or so. Anyway, the fixed return date's the norm. So if you have to cross big water, like the Gammon, or Musclow, wind-stay days had to be allowed. Now, at the end of this trip, there looked to be a couple of extra days, although the Chief pointed out that big Eagle and Snowshoe were still ahead. Chase could be a challenge too, and Elbow. Fact was that although deadlines can seem compelling, they both knew better than to push their luck. No one wanted to end up like those three on Shoal. Caught out in big water at the end of October, with a back end deadline, those guys had made the call to go, despite the wind. They just had to get back. Wrong. The survivor must have clung to the canoe and drifted to an island, which is where the RCMP found him, alone. He had no recollection of the event. He could only wonder to anyone who'd listen 'Why me? Why'd I live?' Good question.

The Stranger had only been wind-stayed twice. Once, with the Chief up on the Bloodvein near Artery Lake, they'd had to sit almost twenty hours before they could cross a channel safely. So, they'd waited. Another time, he and Otter were heading through Eagle, bearing East to the Talon system. When they started to enter the big north/south channel, the Stranger could see that the north-west wind was really piling the waves up. As they headed out into it, the waves looked like rows of upright pianos coming at them, big black pianos. "Nope, not today,' he'd thought as he turned the bow to catch the lee of the point and kept right on turning until the boat was headed back west again, all the way to pre-Chase, to Lantern Lookout. Maybe next year they'd get there. Like Amundsen, the Stranger preferred to travel with as few adventures as possible, none being best.

So, here were he and the Chief, at the beach site in Talon with some time to burn. The Chief determined that this'd give them time to try his mother's recipe for wheaten farles, a kind of fried bread, bannock Irish style. But as the evening closed in, they set the fire on the beach, moved a woodland bench over and sat watching the sunset and moonrise together. Their arrival here marked the completion of their north to south transit of the Park, albeit over a couple of trips, Job to Eagle. Kind of like a birder's life-list. The occasion was marked with a toast, single malt, and a feeling of satisfaction. Talon was a sheet of glass. This late in the year, no bugs to send them into the tent. Just the fire, that long beach and long sunset, then the stars. Perfect.

Next morning, a leisurely breakfast of eggs and cakes, with an extra pot of coffee. The boys drifted down Talon to the river. Two easy portages brought them to the Dowswell Creek where a small falls marks the boundary of the Park. Some day they'd head over there to see Dowswell. Two more short walks brought them to Eagle, the bay into which both the Bird and the Talon rivers empty. This is the same bay that forms the end of the long north/south channel, the one that they'd put a day aside to cross, if need be. But as it had been on all the lakes so far on this trip, the wind was favourable. Not calm, but sufficiently easterly so as to allow the crossing safely and swiftly, with the wind slightly astern. The Stranger knew of two good spots in this part of Eagle. They settled at the little island with the big flat point. More perfect.

After a stay at Lantern Lookout in pre-Chase, they moved south to Snowshoe. The site in pre-Chase was named because, on their first trip there, Otter'd found an old kerosene lamp hanging in a tree and the site was up a bit from the water. Otter thinks it may be his fav. The Stranger had a blown-up photo in his office, a sunset that he'd look at when the winter sun started setting at 4 o'clock late December and early January while he churned it out at his desk. And drift away.

Snowshoe generally isn't a problem except for the large west end arm. A north or west wind can make it impassable. But, here again, the Stranger and the Chief just drifted through, able to transit west by sticking to the south shore. Normally, the Stranger would run the twenty miles from Snowhoe to Tulabi in a day, but because they had the time, the Chief opted to drift down to MacGregor. Funny thing, that. It was over twenty years they'd been touring around this part of the Shield and this was the first night they'd ever stayed in MacGregor proper. It was a very nice site, too. On the other hand, as one moved south from Snowshoe, the campsites became less and less pristine, more abused by those who can't or won't tread lightly. That's why the Stranger liked to stay in Snowshoe, because it was sort of the last wild spot. A little tougher to get to, and so, protected.

Woodland Cariboo was like that, too. The southern approaches were all kind of tough slogging, so those who got there were more likely to appreciate the place, to treat it with respect. At least, that's what it says here. Pick up at Tulabi was set for 5:30 to 7:30. When he'd made the arrangement with Diesel, the Stranger had wondered if he could make a plan to be in a lake 150 miles south of the drop point and hit it in a time frame to boot. They arrived at 6:30. Pretty neat. Better, Diesel had brought sandwiches and iced beer. A prince among men. Then, home.

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Copyright 2003 by Bob Grafton