A Journey Pulling Together
Having grown up in an urban centre where some women shrivel at the thought of having to spend a night without a blow dryer and a make-up kit I pride myself on what I consider to be my low-maintenance requirements when it comes to the outdoors, camping, no running water and sometimes no electricity.
I had the opportunity, possibly a once in a lifetime, this past summer to participate in a week-long canoe journey with Metis, First Nations, RCMP, various city police and some of the local school districts. The warning was to be prepared for the outdoors, some hard work and overall a fun time. So, armed with a foam mat, tent, toothbrush, toothpaste and some baby wipes in place of showering facilities and no training I set off for camp.
I ended up arriving a day late due to previous commitments which worked in my favour seeing as the weather proved to be typical BC with just a few showers over the previous day and a half. I walked in to a camp deep in the woods via logging road to a busy, energy filled environment. I quickly learned that some people were first-timers, just like myself while others were seasoned veterans. This would prove over the next couple days to be quite evident as we paddled the water of Harrison Lake, Harrison River and then the Fraser River.
Our first time on the water was a little challenging as we learned the effectiveness between pulling together and not and to listening to the sounds and sometime orders of our skipper Jim Dallin, with his commands for power strokes.
The next five days were some of the most exhilarating and empowering days of my life to date. Working to pull together in an 18-seat Voyageur style canoe with some people that you know and some that you have never met before, to physically challenge yourself through all weather conditions, hungry, tired and excited was a learning experience that I would not trade for anything in the world.
At the height of our journey we had 12 canoes in our entourage pulling together down the tree-lined river, we were able to see pictographs made by the Nations that had traveled that very river thousands of years ago. The Nations that we visited along the river were extremely hospitable and took us into their communities and shared their traditions, stories, laughter and wonderful food with us.
The most challenging but invigorating part of what had now become my own personal journey was crossing from the Harrison into the Fraser River. At the junction is a whirlpool, which could prove the strength and force of Mother Nature. Our canoe was the last to cross due to our size; we would perform a rescue if it were going to be required. We sat and watched all of the other canoes make the treacherous crossing. When our turn came it would require all of our energy to put into the power strokes that would get us across, my heart was pounding and I could feel my adrenalin pumping. It was the same feeling I felt waiting for the sound of the starting gun at the beginning of a race. We all made it safely across the river, stopped to celebrate our achievement and to take a moment to let the satisfaction settle in.
There were so many sounds that I had never heard before, the rushing sound of the sand along the bottom of the canoe or the sound of eagle strokes and our paddles dipping into the water at the same time. What I had believed was going to be a physical journey had now turned into a more peaceful, spiritual journey as I learned what I was capable of.
There were so many moments that words will not explain, drumming for my first time, learning so many things from my Elders, Phillip and Betty Gladue and so many of the others on the journey. There are so many things that we do not know about each other or ourselves, the journey taught us that. It taught us about each other’s cultures, about our strengths and our weaknesses.
There will never be a moment that will replace us coming into the final leg of our journey, down the channel, land on either side of us, the Kwantlen First Nation Reserve and the historical city of Fort Langley, the drums beating, their song and our power strokes carried us up to the land.