My girlfriend Tori and I were more than a little nervous starting this particular portage. The slog around Burr Falls on the remote Fond Du Lac River in Northern Saskatchewan is tough enough by itself. Add the fact that there was a mother bear and her two cubs milling about right on the trail and things seems just a little more dangerous than usual.
As we approached in our canoe, the bear family disappeared into the woods, but I was a little nervous that I might accidentally surprise them while my head was buried in the canoe during the portage. The driving rain wasn't adding any levity to the situation.
My North Water Spray Deck is equipped with very useful Zippered Cockpit Covers. They are handy for a few reasons. These covers zip and close over the cockpit openings and conveniently roll up and velcro away when not in use. This feature makes the deck great at shedding water while onshore and they up the ante on what is possible when lining your canoe.
Habitually, I'd been zipping up the Cockpit Covers before every portage, but that was before the bears! Having the Cockpit Covers zipped up ensures that none of the cockpit material will be dangling and possibly snagging along the portage, but unfortunately it also means that you can’t see through the cockpit opening.
Ding! The bell went off in my head. Standing in the rain, nervous about the trio of omnivorous ursus in front of me and readying our canoe for the portage, I realized I'd been doing it all wrong.
Along with the Zippered Cockpit Covers, my spray deck also has the Roll-Away Cockpit Tabs (which now come standard). I find the Roll-Away Cockpit Tabs a valuable feature to use while paddling flat water on warm and calm days. Using the tabs, I can roll the cockpit skirt material down and secure it neatly to the spray deck so that I can leave the deck on almost full time. By securing the cockpit material with the Roll-Away Tabs rather than the Cockpit Covers, I realized they are best put to use on portages because you can still see through the cockpit opening!
I fired off a bear banger to hopefully scare off the family of large mammals, and it seemed to work. With the canoe on my shoulders I had great visibility of the trail in front of me, and I began the portage with a new-found confidence. Every few paces I yelled "Hey! Beat it!" or "Hey Bear!!" and I nearly lost my voice by the end of the portage. I can’t say for sure, but my deck’s increased visibility could have been why I survived the bears that day.
As a side note - The Zippered Cockpit Covers when done up also make it so that you can leave your spray deck on when car topping your canoe, giving you better gas mileage...pretty impressive for just a simple zippered flap!
Watch the bear portage story unfold along with the rest of the adventure in my Northern Saskatchewan Safari video series at Field & Stream magazine's Facebook Page. Check out all the videos that I’ve posted with them.