“People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.” - St. Augustine
The months that followed my return home were tumultuous indeed. I was somewhat happy with what I had accomplished, but it also felt like I needed to complete my journey. That was looking more and more like that would never happen due to one fact… The day that I returned the canoe to the rental shop, I felt a pain in my right buttocks and down my right leg. It was sciatica and it would have repercussions over the next year of my life.
Sciatica is one of those things that you actually have to go through in order to understand what exquisite pain it can inflict on someone. The only way I can explain it, is to compare it with a bad toothache and not favorably so. Now imagine that instead of a tooth, it is your whole leg that is in intense pain. To make a long story short, my condition became worse and worse until I could no longer walk or even stand for more than a few seconds. I was off work for months that winter and I couldn’t do much besides lie on the couch, swallow painkillers, drink rum and Coke and watch TV. I was extremely depressed and my journey down the Red Deer River was far from my thoughts. It was many months before I got any better, but after Christmas I started to feel a bit more mobile. I nursed my back and tried to walk as much as possible, but even getting around the block was quite a chore. Many times I would cut my walks short and limp home in pain and frustration. I have always considered myself lucky to be blessed with good health and this was probably the worst episode in my entire life.
The fact was that my journey had contributed greatly to my ailment. I was able to see my M.R.I. many months later. Viewing them, it was immediately obvious what was causing me so much difficulty. I had a herniated lower disk and it had a bulge ( it was more like a tongue) that extended out, touching my spinal cord and irritating my sciatic nerve. Ignoring my pain and carrying a heavy pack had caused my already torn disk to herniate and canoeing for days on end only exacerbated the problem.
By March, however I was back at work and already thinking about returning to the river to continue my journey. I talked about it to my friends, but they just looked at me with stunned disbelief. “You must be kidding!” At the time I was only half serious. It did seem hard to believe.
When it came down to it, I still felt like I was on my journey. This ailment was only part of my passage. It only served to strengthen my resolve. An old friend of mine would have said this was “character building”. That was a running joke between us. When the river got high again in June, I would be on my way if I could help it at all. Some compromises would have to be made, though. I decided that the only way I was going to make it was by taking my small flat bottomed boat, which I had named “’Lil Titanic”, powered by my little 5 hp Mercury outboard. A nice high backed seat, for back support would also be needed.
In June, I was test running my outboard in the back yard and my neighbor asked me what I was up to. When I told him that I was going back to the river, he just said, “You’re determined to screw up your back!” I was feeling good though and with a little help and planning, I believed I could make it. So, on June 26, 2004, my wife and I loaded up the truck and set out to the Red Deer River valley (at East Coulee) for the second part of my journey.
|Three months of lying on my couch added some pounds, but I felt I was ready to return to the Red Deer River|
photo courtesy Len Yandeau