“All you need is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure”- Mark Twain
The next day I had planned to go as far as Empress and finish my trip the following day, but when I got to the last bridge on the Red Deer River it was still early afternoon and there was no reason to stop, except to offer my flesh to the sand flies. After pausing briefly to think things over, I pushed on across the Saskatchewan border and into a stretch known as the Cottonwood Bends.
The channel was deep and easy to follow, once I got into this winding section and I opened up the motor and cruised along. My thoughts were of the moment and all of the places that the river had taken me. I thought of the babbling waters and pristine valley at the head of the river and all the tributaries that contributed to make the Red Deer River that I was floating on at that very moment. My mind took me back to the stream that roared under the natural bridge, the glacial silt of Drummond creek, Bighorn Creek at YaHa Tinda, the Panther River - where we launched our white water raft that July day, the James, Raven, Medicine and Little Red Deer Rivers of the West Country, the Blindman River, Tail Creek, Ghostpine and Three Hills Creeks, the Rosebud River and little Sandhill Creek, all of which contribute their waters into the main river. Now all of their waters were combined together and would flow into the waters of the South Saskatchewan to mingle with waters from the Bow and Oldman River drainages. A great blue heron flew beside me for a way, until it landed in a one of the many cottonwoods that line this final stretch.
|The confluence of the two rivers - the Red Deer coming from the left-hand side.|
There was an island ahead of me and I slowed my motor to take my bearings. Then I cut the motor completely and began to come to a realization in this convoluted and somewhat confusing spot. I looked over my shoulder and spied a bald eagle flying low over the water towards me. The eagle passed right over my head as if to greet me and landed on a tree on the island in front of my boat, which was now floating in the waters of the South Saskatchewan River. I had done it. I had completed my Red Deer River journey. It was July 1st - Canada Day. I have enjoyed many great Canada Days over the years, but this one will surely be the most memorable one of all for me.
I floated there for a while, enjoying the moment. Then I restarted the motor and dodged sandbars and small islands full of pelicans to a spot near the south bank of the South Saskatchewan, where I found the main channel. I then headed east to the ferry at Estuary. The broader and deeper waters of the South Saskatchewan carry less silt than those of the Red Deer, due to the many dams along the length of the Bow and Oldman Rivers which allow the silt to settle out of the water. The Red Deer only has the one dam, at Dickson. Once I was away from the confluence of two rivers I found that the going was easy for my small outboard motor.
When I arrived at the ferry, I got out of my boat and called my wife by cellular phone to arrange for her to meet me on the following evening. I could see thunderheads approaching from the west and the ferryman told me that there was a severe storm watch for the area. The sand flies were thick on the muddy banks near the ferry, so I risked heading back upstream to find a camping spot. The thunderheads were growing in size and bolts of lightning descended from them. I could hear the loud thunder echoing across the plains. Luckily I managed to be in a spot between the storms. It only rained lightly on me while I enjoyed the spectacle. At one point it appeared that a funnel descended from one particularly threatening thunderhead. I was starting to worry that I had made a bad choice. I was a sitting duck in the middle of the river, but the funnel abated and this massive storm also skirted the river to my north, much to my relief.
|Sunset on the South Saskatchewan River|
I found a nice campsite on a dry bank under a sandstone cliff across from the mouth of the Red Deer River. There were few insects in this pleasant spot and I made supper and watched the sun set, under clearing skies, while crickets serenaded me. A prairie falcon made occasional forays from the cliffs above my camp as darkness slowly drew the curtain on one of the best days of my life.