The Dryden Observer

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Real men paddle there

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

They looked not unlike the band ‘Phish’ paddling toward us — a sort of more youthful version of the Grateful Dead, still ginger bearded, strange and unaccustomed to the company of others for some time now.

As the six-man crew dragged their boats ashore at the old waterfront MNR base to set off in search of a Wal-Mart, presumably for bug dope and sunscreen, they came upon Blair Skene. The poor buggers.

Of the thousands of possible connections they could have made, they run into one of the biggest ‘cards’ in town — whose family connections to the silviculture scene predisposed him to ask the bedraggled voyageurs, at the end of a 50 kilometre paddle, ‘where were they planting trees?’

Recognizing the opportunity to style himself an international ambassador of goodwill, Blair did what most hospitable northerners would do.

He put them to work at his camp, of course.

With his dock in the water, his decks stained, his sauna cleaned out and fired up, he agreed to let them leave in the morning, but not before he could further impress them by having them paddle to ‘Skene Landing’ where they would then embark on a motorized shuttle around the hydro dam.

Talking to Mark Carlson, I immediately became aware of how envious I was of this group of characters.

You don’t often meet people who are in the midst of living out a grand vision and lofty ideals, people who have taken on a challenge that would test the very fiber of their being, that would yield some insights into what life was like for long distance travelers before the internal combustion engine.

What could you learn about yourself and your friends during a 2,000 kilometre paddle-powered odyssey from Ely, Minnesota to the shores of Hudson Bay at Churchill? Surely there would be good times and bad and you would emerge forever changed and bonded by the experience.

How much courage and patience does it take to walk away from one’s life for as long as it takes to complete such a journey under your own power, to disappear into the wild for months. Mark Carlson had a two year-old and a set of twins on the way.

I’d imagine this would be his last expedition for a while.

To the mechanized culture that has always prevailed in Dryden, this whole scene is harder to understand especially during a week when we fish for money and stuff the lake chain with boats capable of reaching the waterfalls at Minnehaha at the far southern end of Dinorwic Lake in a mere 15 minutes time. Is there really a sense of journey when these once remote places are so easily accessed? Or do we become handcuffed by our reliance on engines to move our other engines.

Do we forget what we’re capable of when it’s no longer required of us?

As strong thunderstorms pounded the region, Monday night as I sit writing this, I think to those who were out living in it, trying to fall asleep over the deafening white noise of fat raindrops on the taut stretched nylon of a tent fly. Good luck to you, gentlemen.

Chris Marchand

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