"The Odyssey"


It just had to be done. We live on the eastern shoreline of a bay called Constance Bay, and about 15 km away (by road) there's a lake called Constance Lake. There's a creek called Constance Creek that connects the two (at least according to the thin blue line on the map) so we simply had to find out: could we paddle from Constance Bay to Constance Lake (and back) via Constance Creek?

It was a beautiful day to make the attempt, but we were a bit worried about how quickly the water had dropped since our first outing of the season on April 16. We'd gone about a quarter of the way up the creek then (turned back on account of pending darkness) and had come across a number of shallow water obstructions. Now that the water had dropped so much, there would surely be more barriers to deal with.

We paddled swiftly across the bay and started into the creek. It's quite wide at the beginning and absolutely beautiful, basically a flooded forest on each side. One difference from three weeks ago was that some of the trees were showing off their colours - beautiful bright green. Another difference was that many of the logs were sporting the shiny shells of painted turtles, and some other type of turtle with a sandy-coloured shell.

As we got close to the section where the waters meander past the Eagle Creek golf course a couple in kayaks passed us in the opposite direction and we exchanged pleasantries. The lady warned us that there was a mother goose nesting on top of a beaver dam just around the bend, so we steered clear. It was a very cute scene. It's interesting how geese benefit from the work of beavers and muskrats. The muskrats and beavers don't actually use the top of their dens for anything, so the goose gets free rent and no hassles.

After the golf course the creek gets a little less navigable with various obstructions (thank you, beavers) and then with a thick section of reeds where it is hard to figure out where to go. We poked and bashed our way through and after a few twists and turns we were at the Vance's Side Road bridge. We came across four paddlers in two canoes who asked us "how far we had gone" or something like that. Keenan explained we had come all the way from Constance Bay. Julie picked up the conversation from there and heard a reference to "Well, we tried going the other way [towards Constance Lake] and couldn't get through."

This was concerning, of course. We soon found out what they were talking about. The reeds were incredibly thick and there was no obvious channel. We poked around and although not too sure if we were going the right way kept pushing on until the creek opened up again. We figured that would be the end of the difficulties, because on the map it looks like the creek is pretty wide the rest of the way. And it is...for MOST of the rest of the way.

The section between Vance's Side Road and Thomas Dolan Parkway is the least interesting scenery. There are low shrubs for hundreds of feet between the shoreline and the trees, so the view is similar most of the way. But we were treated to a nice show of flying by an enormous red-tailed hawk, who let loose with a a scream of "keeeyaaaaa" in response to our presence.

We knew we were getting close to the Thomas Dolan bridge when we spotted the big osprey nest on top of the pole (this is a familiar sight to anyone who drives that road). As we passed under the bridge it was surprising to see that the supports for this bridge were actually made out of wood! It looked like someone had taken some poles and some planks, grabbed a hammer, and slapped it together. Or perhaps we just don't know enough about bridge construction to appreciate the work.

Just on the other side of the bridge we spotted an osprey sitting in a tree. We stopped and had some water. Julie checked him out with the binoculars and Keenan tried with little success to get close enough for a decent picture.

The easy paddling was about to end. We'd gone more than ten kilometres against the current, battled up and over obstructions, and bashed through thick reeds, and it was about to get worse.

First there was another of these thick reed sections, and it was extremely confusing. The water was not moving making navigation a matter of luck more than anything. We got through the reeds and then the vegetation changed. Instead of soft reeds it was very hard vegetation growing out of hardpacked mud burms. That combination meant next to no give if you got stuck. And get stuck we did. A two-foot channel is no place for an 18 foot kayak.

The creek was down to a trickle and we didn't know if we were totally lost or if this was just the reality of the water levels. Keenan (weighing more and having a heavier kayak) got into a hell of a battle trying to make a 90 degree turn into a small channel. It was about 10 minutes of lifting, prying, scraping...at one point pushing with the paddle with one hand and pulling through the mud with the other. It worked, and for the moment, there was enough water to move.

Just when we thought that we'd found a solid channel to the lake, the creek seemed to completely disappear. Just a bit of water with hundreds of those hardpacked mounds of sticks. Yuck.

The creek seemed as though it continued north but there was a lot more open water visible to the southeast, which was also what we assumed to be the direction of Constance Lake, so that's the way we went. It was once again a lot of prying, pushing, and in Julie's case, lots of cursing.

There was a particularly funny moment as Keenan was stuck in the middle of the swamp speculating aloud on whether or not this was the right way to go. Julie was a bit behind his position and was feeling the same need. Then in a stream of subconscious she blurted out "Well, I suppose I could use my binoculars and just see what's ahead." Sometimes fatigue makes your brain work in funny ways.

Fortunately (as the binoculars verified) the lake was indeed up ahead. Some more pushing and prying and we broke out into the open water. It was a glorious moment. In the distance we could see the floatplanes parked in front of the Constance Bay Lodge...the big reward at the midway point of this journey...a shoreline dinner in a rustic restaurant!

Just to make us earn it a little more there was a good wind in our faces that combined with our worn out muscles to make the little lake feel like an ocean. At long last we were in front of the restaurant. We stumbled onto shore, laid out the kayaks on the grass, put on some shoes, and headed in.

We'd never been to the Constance Lake Lodge Fish 'N' Fly Inn Restaurant but with the out-of-the-way location, the place couldn't possibly stay open unless it had something good to offer. We were not disappointed, starting out with a delicious and hearty homemade soup with beans and lentils and rice and some other stuff...it was really good.

Our friendly server (Carly?) asked where we had come from. When Keenan told her "Greenland/Armitage" and she looked puzzled, he went on to explain "eastern shoreline of Constance Bay." She replied "Oh, I know where you mean, it's just that you can't get here from there. I mean, I've never heard of anyone doing that. How many times did you have to get out and walk? None? Wow, I think you might be the first people to ever do that!"

This made us feel great, there's nothing better for the ego than feeling like a pioneer. Even if what you've done might be considered, well, stupid.

Next we each had a club sandwich. It was made with real chicken and tasted great. Julie went wild and had fries, Keenan had the mashed. There was no turning down homemade pie, lemon meringue for him and banana cream for her. Delicious!

It was very difficult to get up and go back down to the water. Our bodies were saying stop, but it was now 5:00 and given it took 4 hours to get to the restaurant, we'd have to do better than that to beat the sunset.

It wasn't looking good at first. As is typical, Keenan was a speed demon on the first half of the trip, and now it was Julie's turn. As she sped along down the lake, Keenan lagged behind with muscle spasms in his back. He altered his paddling motion and eventually it went away. And soon the swamp was directly ahead.

We got a bit of help when Julie found a bit of a bigger channel through the swamp. It still took some pushing and prying, but it wasn't nearly as nasty as what we went through in the other direction. We picked up probably half an hour with this improved route.

High above a small bird of some kind was chasing a hawk and gave its behind quite a beating with its beak! The size differential of the two birds made the situation seem rather hilarious, but it was no doubt an angry mother out protecting her nest...and doing quite a good job.

The sun was now bouncing off the water at such an angle that it was both hot and blinding. As we made our way through the Dolan/Vance's section we looked forward to the forest in the final 7 kilometre stretch.

Rounding the bend just downstream of Vance's bridge we surprised a red-tailed hawk sitting in a low-lying tree. The sun glanced off his striking red tail as he sped away. Just a few seconds later we spotted an enormous great blue heron standing in the middle of the creek doing a bit of fishing. And then to top it all off just beyond that there was an American bittern hiding in the reeds. Neither of us had seen one before, except for in a book. As Keenan stopped for photos the bittern did just as our bird book says...it stretched out its neck and tried to pretend it was a reed. Not a very effective disguise, but fascinating to watch. It actually swayed back and forth slightly as though it were being blown in the wind!

As we closed in on the stretch between the golf courses we relaxed. It was shady, cool, and fresh. A kingfisher flitted through the forest nearby, and a muskrat was doing a little fine-tuning on his den. When we entered the wide section closer to Constance Bay there was a family doing some catfishing from a small boat with an outboard motor. I asked what they were catching and the man asked his wife "C'est quoi, barbotte?" and getting the answer the man shouted back to me "Catfeeesh!"

We paddled out into the bay to be greeted by the beginnings of a gorgeous sunset. Spurred on by this beauty and the sight of our deck and barbecue in the distance, we turned it on for the final 300 paddle strokes to our little beach.

We struggled out of the kayaks with muscles aching and non-compliant, and started returning the gear to the shed. With each passing second the sunset grew more beautiful...the blues and purples were incredible. A perfect end to a triumphant day!


Total Distance Paddled: 34 kilometres

Total Paddling Time: 7 hours

Total Restaurant Time: 1 hour

Wildlife Sighted: great blue heron, red-tailed hawk, unidentified hawk, osprey, unidentified falcon, red-winged blackbird, kingfisher, Canada goose, American bittern, muskrat, common tern, cormorant, pigeon, crow, mourning dove, mallard duck, bufflehead duck, painted turtle, unidentified turtle

Air Temperature: 12-16 degrees

Water Temperature: ass-freezing cold