As I sat on a convenient rock, trying to turn our slushy water into at least warm tea and coffee, I watched the sun come up across the gorge. The early morning sunshine caused the frost on the edges of the delicate golden grasses and deep red ground cover to sparkle. The beauty of the moment was marred only by the pain in my absolutely frozen fingers and toes.
Once we had everything packed up we headed off again, past the small babbling creek where we'd gotten our water. A somewhat steep descent brought us to a low lying wet area at the edge of an old beaver pond. Yesterday the tall grasses and reeds were a lush green. This morning they had turned to a soft, light brown and were covered in a light dusting of white frost. A sea of pale grey snags stood among the grasses, spanning the marsh.
A short while later we came to a beautiful arched wooden bridge with cherry red railings and sides. It was almost perfectly reflected in the black water of the river flowing beneath it, and it had a distinctly Japanese feel to it.
On the far side of the portage a wide, dark river meandered around several s-bends. The dark pines and spruce trees were almost perfectly reflected in its surface, and the shrubs surrounding its banks were full of birds. Many Ruby-crowned Kinglets and White-Throated Sparrows were among the feathered bodies that were busily moving through, but we spotted a Canada Warbler, a Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Black-and-White Warbler among the crowd as well.
Up until Bear Lake, the Centennial Trail seemed to meander through the landscape in a way that followed the contours. It was very well marked, and the sections that ascended and descended usually had natural stone ledges that acted as steps for assistance. The trail was very well signed, and we were usually following a discernible footpath. This left us free to appreciate the beauty of the landscape, and we enjoyed it very much.
Around seven kilometers in we were bushwacking our way through a dense stand of saplings and working our way around a series of fallen trees, when the pink flagging tape brought us to the edge of a large beaver pond. Initially it looked to us like the flagging tape took us into the middle of the water, but instead it guided us around the edge. We were actually walking beside the beaver's dam, and at one point the water in the pond beside us was well above our heads!
We continued on and eventually crossed a hydro corridor. There was another pond under it, which we stopped to check out. We also checked carefully for any signs of bears, moose, or other wildlife, but we seemed to be alone. So far we haven't really seen any signs of moose or bears on this trail. We've also noticed a rather strange absence of any ants. There are however still swarms of blackflies, which we hadn't been expecting so late in the fall and given the cold temperatures.
We were soon rather miserable, but continued trekking in order to stay warm. All of a sudden we both realized we hadn't seen any actual trail markers in a while, only pink flagging tape. We looked at the Trail Forks App, which we've been using to navigate, and realized we were on the access road out to the highway, not on the main trail. We backtracked about a kilometer to the point where the main trail should have been. At all the junctions so far there have been clusters of hand written signs indicating where each trail fork leads. We couldn't find anything like that here, and as hard as we searched we couldn't find where the trail continued. In this landscape, with the density of the trees, it takes missing only one flag to lose the trail. Maybe we weren't looking in the right spot or the right direction.
It turned out to be a brand new access route that was clearly still under construction. Newly cut stumps and vegetation lined the route, which was still muddy and raw. We scrambled up a a very steep embankment, back onto the hydro corridor, and up again onto a ridge before descending back onto the road.
The Whiteshell Trappers Museum is also located at the Alfred Hole Goose Sanctuary. The log cabin was closed, but apparently during high season it is possible to visit the museum and speak with a modern trapper.
After exploring the sanctuary we attempted to find a place to camp in the area. It turned out one of the campgrounds was closed for the season, and the other was full. The motel in Rennie was also full as it was now hunting season. It was around 4:30 pm by this point, we were very wet, and we were starting to get cold in the biting wind. We headed into town and were greatly relieved to find that the restaurant in the motel was empty of other patrons and open for customers. We quickly sat down and spent the better part of the next half an hour warming our hands and striving to dry out our socks and shoes.
Rennie is a small town located on the railway line. It has a motel, campground, convenience store, post office, and gas station. The fresh people we met there were incredibly friendly. One of things that stood out about the community was its tongue-in-cheek slogan "Welcome to Rennie, home of something or somebody famous ... someday ... maybe."
After warming up inside with hot coffee and tea, sandwiches, and fries we felt a good deal better. We decided to give the last campground in town a try. We had no cell service or access to the internet, so we walked the 4 km down the road, only to discover it too was closed for the season. Somewhat discouraged, we walked back to town, bought water and bread at the gas station/convenience store, and headed back to the trail to camp.
It seems that we begin every new province with a bit of a debacle. In Newfoundland we had a freak snowstorm at the end of June. In PEI we visited two days after hurricane Dorian hit, and had to scramble over, under, and around more than 100 downed trees in the first 10 km. In Ontario we got lost on the Lanark Link a few days after starting out. Today might not have been our finest day, but hopefully we will find our bearings soon. Perhaps each region simply needs to remind us that there are still new challenges ahead that we are not ready for.
As we lay here in our tent the milky way is shining brightly above us, and we can the hear the honking of the Canada Geese at the nearby sanctuary. We are warm and cozy inside the tent. We have the food we need. Things could definitely be worse.