Shipiskan to the Sea: An Attempt at Words about Canoeing on the Kanairiktok River

It’s almost always hardest to capture the hard work of outdoor adventure because you are too busy doing it to stop and take pictures. Sometimes the work of finding the words to describe an expedition is as arduous as the portages. I’ve just home from a two week expedition “on the Labrador” with five friends/ co-adventurers and I’m going to attempt to find a few words here to share of of what we experienced as we travelled from Lake Shipiskan to the sea on the Kanairiktok River.

We flew to the trip start at Lake Shipiskan via float plane and then paddled and portaged our canoes 210 kilometres to the Labrador Sea. It was a privilege to traverse Nitassinan, the ancestral homeland of the Innu, via the Kanairiktok River. The Innu place name for Lake Shipiskan is Ashuapamatikuan, which translate as “waiting for caribou place.”

There is always a great flurry of activity that occurs whenever a float plane is loaded or unloaded. They are tightly scheduled and there is often the question, “Will we be able to land and be dropped off or will this be an expensive flight seeing effort?” The pilot will often circle the landing area a few times to check for hazards and then with the plane banking and throttle cut, the plane drops suddenly from the sky and skims along the surface of the lake like the water bugs we all captured as kids. Gear is grabbed and tossed, the plane become cavernous once again, and we all hop to shore to watch the plane take off. Emotions swell like the buzz of the straining engine and then the plane is off, gone. We are alone with ourselves. And the bears. And the black flies. And the trees.

And the silence. A profound silence. A deafening silence that is only sliced by us and the occasional jumping trout. We are here. In Labrador. With the lakes and river providing the multi-textured ribbon of experiences that will enter our bodies, minds, and souls with each paddle stroke and each step along the portages. And the sky. Oh the sky. A sky that greets us in a steely grey reminiscent of a moody hormonal teen then transforms the next moment into a reflective blue dance of endless possibility.

And the sand. The sand that temporarily captures our footsteps until they are erased by the rabid rain which is swelling the lake and reminding us that we too are fleeting. Passing this way once. Noticing the preciousness of being here, both in this place, and in this life. Committing to look deeply along the way at both big and small.

And the fireweed. The small fireweed. Alpine. Hardy and hard working to survive in this harshly beautiful landscape. It offers an invitation to pause. To stop. To breathe in. And then out as the miracle of small pink flowers adorn the shore.

And the rocks and the trees. Seemingly at odds but strangely together. Inseparable from each other in this landscape and from the sky. Trees and rocks that both block and provide our passage. Home and away. There and here. Teaching the frivolity of separation and duality.

And the waterfalls. The power of water channeled through narrow passages. Their sounds rumble with a vibration that both terrifies and soothes the spirit. The water calms and pools at the top of each, awaiting the moment to cascade suddenly to the bottom. To move from here to there with no choice about going. The water transforms from deepest sky blue to brightest cloud white and back to blue. All the while, we toil to make way around the edges. The portage providing safe yet taxing passage.

And the bears. And the beavers, muskrats, woodchucks, geese, ducks, squirrels, fish…all of the wild beings that we see and don’t see. They too, leave their tracks in the sand. We catch glimpses of their passage. They walk, they fly, they swim. They remind us to take care. To travel well and do it right. To protect. To marvel. To squeal with delight at the magic of sharing the forest and water with them.

And the exertion. The paddle strokes. The lifting. The dragging. The exhilaration of the rapids. The hard work of moving day after day. Crawling into a sleeping bag, sore, tired, proud. Mind empty save for the colour of the sky as the sun drained away for the day.

And the light. The light of day leaving and the light of day coming. Sleeping until light. Sleeping when light. Sinking into a rhythm eons old that connects us to all who have walked and paddled this place. A place made so special by its remoteness. Its challenges. The discipline it demands. The skies it delivers.

And the team. The sangha of the river. The ones who share the work and the fun. The skies. The sun. The rain, drizzle, and puns. Paddling our way to shared memories that will move, sustain, and enhance our lives whenever we come together to remember. This time. A time travelling a river together.

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4 Responses to Shipiskan to the Sea: An Attempt at Words about Canoeing on the Kanairiktok River

  1. VickyTH says:

    This trip is mesmerizing; so much beauty, adventure, hard work and joy rolled into one excursion. I’d say you inspire me, but that’s a little cliché. What you do is propel me to leap into an adventure of my own and to see yet another facet of this marvellous world. Thanks for the read – it made my day.

    • TA Loeffler says:

      Thanks. I often write to try to understand what the experience was/is for me. Though I haven’t met you in person yet, I appreciate that I am able to witness the journey you are on…discovering and nurturing your strength in so many different ways.

  2. Les Barbour says:

    Great trip TA. Reading some of your posts over the last little while. This last piece you wrote was great and nice pics! I worked in Churchill many years ago so I can only imagine what a couple of weeks in the bush was like with those flies..but then you become immune! What an adventure..great job!

  3. Trien says:

    I love reading about your adventures. You take the time to acknowledge everything around you big or small and draw the reader into a glimpse of your experience. The pictures are beautiful and tell a story of toil and triumph and take us to places many of us dare not go. Thank you for sharing TA! And glad you & Marian didn’t get eaten by bears!!!!

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