Call me a fool, but amidst the snow and ice at -3°C, I decided to go canoing on Tuesday. Canoing in the winter is something I’d never done before and really wanted try out. The past few weeks I’ve been using my morning showers as an opportunity to harden myself a little against temperature shock in preparation (brrr!!!), just in case, but regardless it was a decision I didn’t take lightly. I was quite concerned by the risks involved; accidentally falling into the water at freezing temperatures, without a drysuit on (only a wetsuit), doesn’t have to end well no matter how well prepared you might be. After taking a good look at the conditions on the river on my way home from university, and sticking my hand in the water for a while, I decided to go though. I took spare clothes and a cell phone (packed watertight) in my backpack, and I also decided it’d be a good idea to check in with a friend a couple of times. I also took a mylar blanket, headlamp, a very bright flashlight with a strobe function, extra batteries, a lighter, some extra clothes to put on for the duration of a break, and strapped a knife to my lifejacket as well. An icepick would have been better, but I had to make do. A package of crackers, some liquorice, and two bottles of warm water completed my equipment.
When I finally got on the water a little around 16:30 in the afternoon, the sun was already setting, but I’d been out in the dark before (and I did have my headlamp) and with all the snow I wasn’t worried about visibility in any case. The sunset put on a fabulous display of colors. Even in the fading evening light, after sunset all the ice lining the shores and hanging from the trees as icicles or pure transparent spheres was simply gorgeous. I can only imagine what it would have been like a few hours earlier in the direct sunlight.
After the first few hundred meters I encountered my only impassable obstacle: I had to get onto land to get around some fallen trees blocking the way. I had the river on my right and a flooded meadow, totally frozen over (which I was not about to set foot on), to my left. Right in front of me was an elevated stretch of the meadow, which looked like it was free of the flooding, but it was full of shrubs, branches, and those fallen trees. My first thought when I got there was that it looked like the surface of the moon, and that I was never going to get across there, but after scouting ahead a little it turned out it was only a short stretch. I went back for the boat, which just slid right over everything with all the snow and ice, and pretty soon I was back on the water again.
Having to get out, in combination with the moderately strong current, did make the going a bit slow: it took me almost an hour and a half to work my way 2 kilometers upstream to my destination, a meadow just northeast of Querum. I played icebreaker a bit to get myself and the boat into a sheltered niche by the shore, and ultimately just forced the canoe up onto the ice, which allowed me to get out onto dry land, for a well deserved break at my destination. The blade of my paddle had a coating of ice on it at this point. I checked in with my friend, ate a little, drank some warm water, and after about half an hour was eager to get on my way back. Despite a fair bit of extra clothes I’d put on for the break (a lesson I learned the hard way, back in the Finnish Army), I was starting to get cold regardless. I took the extra cloths off, hurried back onto the water and started rushing downstream. A few minutes later it was all was good again. The trip back was really quick: getting back, including hauling the boat back over the trees and branches, took me just over half an hour, and then after jogging a kilometer, with the boat in tow like a sled, I was back home safe and sound, with a huge grin on my face.
I have to admit I’m pretty beat, and today I took the day off today just for rest and recuperation. Come spring, my canoe might need a bit of paint here (scraping along ice at the sides is not so good for the paintjob), but overall it was a great trip! If I ever go canoing in the winter again, then with a drysuit, or at least with a second boat around, but I’m glad to have done it solo once. It was a cool experience, and it was good to be out there and really be doing something again! 🙂