Paddling the Athabasca River/Foreword

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We almost left without the paddles.

In fact, we were so close to driving away with the paddles still leaning dejectedly against the side of the garage, that I started feeling nervous about everything else we might have forgotten. Sure, we’d made a list and checked it twice, but those almost-abandoned paddles planted a seed of doubt and I felt a spike in my pre-trip nerves. With the paddles successfully added to the mountain of gear in the back of the car, Selena and I headed for the highway, accompanied by a sense of eagerness-bordering-on-anxiety. We had a nine-day adventure ahead of us.

Luckily canoeing is a great stress-reliever and from the moment our canoe touched the river, the agitation and nerves were washed away. There is a serenity to be found in the simplicity of rhythmic strokes and quiet wilderness. It is a luxury to take in the world at a slower pace – without obligations, news headlines, or traffic lights. We marvelled at how our simple daily routines fit into the amazing natural complexity of the world around us.

Of course, not every moment of our trip was paradise. Bliss was interrupted by blisters; serenity was checked by sore shoulders and cramped legs. Waking up on a chilly October morning to the clinking of ice on the river and frozen-solid water shoes was disheartening. At times each stroke seemed like one too many. But we reminded ourselves, over a cup of hot tea from our thermos while we floated downstream under a big Albertan sky, that there was no where else we would rather be.

The towns and hamlets we visited were linked by beautiful river scenery, flowing through a region of great historical significance. We glimpsed the world that indigenous hunters, European explorers, fur traders, gold rush prospectors and early settlers would have encountered hundreds of years before. As Albertans, it was a trip of exploration in our figurative backyard, taking us far away from our daily lives while still staying close to home.

Whether Alberta is your backyard or you are visiting from afar, the Athabasca River is a place for adventure. A canoe trip is the perfect way to find solitude, spend time outside, and connect with your paddling companion(s). It’s an experience that starts long before the first stroke, and doesn’t end when you reach your destination. From pre-trip jitters to the feeling of satisfaction upon completion, this is an opportunity for an experience that will last a lifetime.

Luckily, my pre-trip fears of forgotten goods turned out to be unfounded. The worst incident of missing equipment became evident when one of us casually mentioned over dinner, “next time we should pack a ladle for the soup.” Oh well, I’m just glad we brought the paddles!

Wishing you happy canoeing,

Allie Strel & Selena Phillips-Boyle