Who doesn’t love adventure? It excites us and reminds us that we’re alive. It challenges us to forget about all the other things going on in our lives and focus solely on the moment at hand. I got to experience my own adventure this summer which I’m going to share with you all this month.
If you’ve been reading my articles, you’ll know that I live in a northern Alberta city in Canada. There’s a lot of rustic beauty in Alberta. We have it all. The rocky mountains, beautiful wide open plains, rolling hills, forests, lakes, and rivers. It’s an outdoor playground. My inlaws enjoy the good life on an acreage even farther north than myself and we decided to do a rustic river canoe/kayak trip this past June.
The trip started at Wolf Lake which we paddled across to meet up with the formidable Wolf River. That morning, the lake was like glass. It was one of the most peaceful, beautiful mornings I’ve ever had on the water. The calm before the storm, if you will. We took our time paddling over to the mouth of the river and did some fishing on one of the finger lakes it leads to. As we were rounding the corner onto the smaller lake, we saw a black bear with a young cub by the water’s edge. She took one look at us and disappeared like a ghost into the forest. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the fish were biting and life was good.
After fishing for a couple of hours, we headed back to the Wolf River and started our journey downstream. The plan was to camp out at a known site that our guide and family friend Daryl had been to before. It was only minutes into the river trip that we heard the rushing water. Our first set of rapids. Now, let me tell you, that sound gets your heart pounding and your stomach flipping. My husband and I were in the canoe while my sister-in-law, father-in-law, and Daryl were each in their own kayaks. The canoe made it through no problem, but my sister-in-law’s kayak spilled her right into the water. It was not a great start!
The sun was still shining through and we knew it wouldn’t be long before she could get dry at our camp spot. However, we somehow ended up missing it and continued to battle the river for a few more hours before we found a makeshift camp for the night. There were many challenges that day. The rapids are class 2 – 3 and some towards the end of the second day would be considered class 4. The biggest hazards in the river are fallen trees, or what people call “sweepers”. Large pine with long branches under the water is something you want to avoid. Especially if the water is deep and the current is strong. If you fall in and get sucked into a sweeper, you can get tangled up and drown. The other big risk is injury. We were hours from cell service and there was not another soul in that wild forest for days. If we needed to get help, it was at least a day away.
That afternoon we went through thirty or more rapids, had to portage around at least four log jams, and my sister-in-law got spilled two more times before the day was out. Her kayak was a sit-on-top kayak, which in hindsight was not a suitable kayak for the river trip as it was too top-heavy and tipped easily. At the very end, as Daryl had just picked out a camp spot, our canoe hit a huge rock and we pitched sideways so hard I dropped my paddle. We teetered wildly on the edge of spilling us and all our gear into the rushing river. Luckily, we were able to shift our weight at the last moment to avoid tipping. My dear husband got us unstuck from the rock while Daryl grabbed our paddle as he was already downstream. Nothing like a near miss right at the end of the day!
We camped right by the river, which was absolutely gorgeous. We got a fire going, pitched our tents, and made some dinner. Daryl cleaned up the fish he caught and cooked up a delicious fish fry for us. Now, you may be asking, what the hell does any of this have to do with cocktails?
I had a feeling that after a day on the river, I’d be needing a stiff drink. Me being a bourbon girl, I decided to pack myself the ingredients for a fireside Old Fashioned. I brought 2 flasks of bourbon, a little bottle of my homemade demerara syrup, and what I had left of orange flavor drops from my pantry. We had a little ice in our coolers to throw in so I mixed up a few old-fashioned’s for all of us to enjoy by the fire. After a long strenuous day, it was pretty much bliss. I even tried a few puffs of Daryl’s flavoured cigar along with it to cap off the day.
To recreate this drink at home, I decided to do a smoked version of my old-fashioned one using my cocktail smoker.
Smoked Old Fashioned
2 oz Bulleit bourbon
2 dashes bitters
1 tbsp Demerara syrup 1 orange peel
2 cocktail cherries
Add bourbon, bitters, and syrup to a cocktail mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a rock’s glass over a large ice cube. Express orange peel over glass and rim edges before dropping in. Add 2 cocktail cherries to garnish. You are now ready to use the cocktail smoker. Set your glass under your smoking cloche and connect your smoker device. Add wood chips to the smoker and light them with a cooking torch, turn on the smoker and fill the cloche with smoke. Let rest for 15 seconds and then slowly lift the cloche off for a dazzling smoked effect.
The next day of the trip was a socked-in rainstorm that didn’t let up until we had reached our cabin for the night. It made us all grateful that we had gone farther than planned that first day. There were still quite a few challenging rapids ahead of us, however. One of the dangers we encountered was an old sweeper log with thick sharp branches that would punch right through you if you hit it fast enough, which seemed to be the river’s intention. The river sucked each of us into that sweeper no matter how hard we paddled the other way. Two of the kayaks bailed as they sat lower in the water and had no choice but to avoid the sharp branches. Our canoe barreled through like a tank while my husband fended off a branch or two with his paddle in the back. We made it through rattled and unscathed but it was a reminder of how dangerous things could get at a moment’s notice.
The final set of rapids where the Wolf meets the Sandy River was the steepest, rockiest, and most intense of the trip. The river had saved the best for last. Right at the top of the first fall, we had to thread the needle between two large rocks. The water was inches from the canoe’s rim as we scraped through. The rest of the rapids were a blur of me calling out large rocks to avoid and paddling to stay straight and upright. It was a hard and fast run, down and down we went as we neared the meeting point of the rivers. Once we glimpsed the lazy wide Sand river ahead we whooped for joy as we knew we’d made it through. The mix of adrenaline and relief made us forget how cold and wet we were at that moment. The hard part was over and we’d never felt more alive.
Luckily, we had a cabin to stay in the second night. It was a deliciously warm haven with a spectacular view. Getting warm and dry after a day in the rain was like coming home. I had never been so soaked to the skin as I was that day. That night we had another round of fried fish and old-fashioned’s to cap off the trip. The next morning we paddled our last few hours down the Sandy in beautiful blue-skied sunshine. The river was breathtaking in its beauty and we felt it had all been worth the challenges along the way. The trip left us feeling like we had passed a test of wits and grit and we felt on top of the world. I went into the trip with a “just roll with it” mindset that I feel I owe a lot of our success. A positive mindset is a powerful weapon in the wild. And a cocktail or two to look forward to doesn’t hurt either.
Cheers until next time, Stace