The Banks of the Back River, Northwest Territory, Canada

Paddling into a headwind gets tiring, especially doing it alone. If you have a partner, and paddling becomes tiring, the competition between the two of you can keep you going. Alone, I often end the day on the river sooner than if I were with someone else.

There are long, open stretches of the Back River where a headwind is always blowing, no matter what direction I’m paddling in. This particular day, along a sandy area where hard-packed dunes rise up behind a hundred yards of beach, I landed my canoe instead of continuing to paddle into the wind. One good thing about a headwind is that it tends to dim the presence of the bugs. Mosquitoes and blackflies are delicate beasts unable to go for fleshy targets during a wind, or a rain. In the rain, they simply hunker under a leaf, waiting for the intermission in their quest for blood to be over. In a wind, they follow in your wake, since you provide a wind block, the way a large boulder in a strong current creates an opposite eddy on its downstream side. They’ll land on you, laboriously climb up your shoulder or back, constantly prospecting for that vulnerable spot. They’re not lazy, the bastards.

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