This summer, Erin and I took a short trip. Picking up from where I left off two years ago, we paddled 55 nmi from Ornes to Kjerringoy just north of Bodo.
The usual sorts of things went wrong. We started a week late because the airline lost my luggage. I closed the garage door on my paddle, crushing it just before I left home. Nothing out of the ordinary.
And the usual sort of things went right. We dined like kings on delicious fish, mackerel and others, almost every night, and we paddled under sunny snow-capped peaks throughout our days.
We rescued a woman who fell off her sailboat, and got no thanks what so ever, but received warm welcomes elsewhere.
We shivered and shook when when we changed out of our dry suites at the end our days, hands so cold they could barely grasp a zipper, and smiled with ice cream headache joy after rolling.
We had a grand old time. I wish it could have been longer, but life presses on.
I'm working on my phd now, so who knows how long before I get back out there in earnest, but that day will come. And in the mean time, I'm still paddling and teaching locally, so if you're in the neighborhood, be sure to look me up and we'll go for a paddle.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
In the summer of 2016, Erin Bendiksen and I completed a 630 nmi, 9-week trip from Albany to Lake Faillon. We ate lots of fish and berries, paddled down some rapids, and up a few, portaged 32 times including up four cliffs requiring rope and pulley systems, destroyed one kayak, recovered ancient first nations art, rescued mariners in distress, performed field surgery, screamed at bears, made friends and enemies, and generally had an excellent deep wilderness adventure.
In the future we hope to pick up where we left off, northbound. Meanwhile, I hope to paddle in Norway for summer 2017, hopefully picking up from where I left off summer 2015, still northbound.
I hoe you enjoy our Quebec summer below. Be sure to click on the pictures to see the albums.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Our last day of the summer had begun. I needed to get to my new job so that they could fire me six months later, and Erin too had to return to the real world.
The rapids began at the end of the lake. We slid down the first set, and then portaged around the second. We lost the trail a couple times, but found blueberries, so it was exactly the right sort of portage to wrap up our trip.
For the second set of rapids, our guidebook said we needed to be careful of the big rock at the end.
Some of my readers may recall that I said we would destroy one of the boats in rapids. Well, we did, and since my story so far has been to the best of my recollection, and I recall exactly when we destroyed that boat, it’s coming.
I rushed down the rapids. The rock hid under a wall of water blasting up around it. I took the drop to the right, and then tried to stop to warn Erin around the rock. But the current jostled me at least another hundred meters before I could pull over.
When Erin came down the rapids, I yelled my warning, but she did not hear me over the watery roar. She went over the rock. Her boat projected through the air. The stern hull landed hard on the rock’s peak, and the bow floated in the pull of the current below. Erin’s boat rotated and she hung upside down, her head slightly dipped in the water.
She tried to roll, but suspended as she was, it didn’t work. She let herself out and pulled her boat from the rocks as the current ran her toward me.
I sprinted from the side, latched my contact tow to her boat, and paddled with all my strength toward the shore. The next set of rapids rushed toward us. I could not overcome the current. While I pulled, she tried to climb into her boat, unsuccessfully. I didn’t make it to the side of the river in time, the lower rapids were on us, and I detached myself from her boat.
I paddled down, and pulled into an eddy below.
Her boat, the Solstice, stuck tight, pinned against rocks in the rapids. She climbed onto them.
We made a plan. She’d push her boat into the main current, I’d catch it below. Then we’d get her sorted out.
With colossal strength, after attempting several times to empty the boat, only for the current to swamp it again, she dragged the boat through enormous pressure against the rocks to freedom.
A moment later, the rapids pinned it again, and she repeated the process.
Eventually, the boat floated out the bottom of the rapids. I towed it to shore, then went to retrieve Erin. She held onto my boat and swam while I paddled to the water-edge rock where I’d parked the Solstice.
The stern and cockpit had severe leaks. The bulkhead between them was obliterated. The bow compartment only leaked a little. I had the materials, Fiberglas and epoxy, to do a serious repair, but it would take days. Our train would come the next morning, and anyway, we didn’t have food for days.
I used my entire roll of duct tape to hold her boat together and keep the water out. We consolidated all the equipment in my boat, and the dry bags once full of food, now empty on our last day, we filled with air and packed them into her boat.
We continued downstream. I caught two fish!
We pulled out of the final set of rapids right in the middle, underneath the railroad bridge, and set up camp. Whatever we didn’t need for the night, we climbed up to the tracks above. After two fish for dinner, we spent our last night in the wilderness.
The next morning, at four am, we woke up, packed, and climbed to the tracks. A thick fog engulfed the bridge. I stood with my flash light, ready to point it at the train, and Erin waved a paddle with a neon shirt tied to its end.
Just after dawn, the train crossed the foggy bridge, and stopped for us. The conductor helped us get our boats into the baggage car. Richard had told him we’d be coming. We sat in the single passenger car.
The rain rolled back down more or less along the same route we’d paddled up. We watched much of our journey rewind past us at 40 miles per hour. When we passed La Tuque, my cell phone briefly turned on for the second time since arriving in Canada.
Ten hours after miraculously stopping the train, Richard picked us up at the station in Montreal. We spent the night in his guest room, and the next day he gave us a lift. We spent Shabbat with my aunt and uncle on Lake Champlain, and began recounting our story as a thing of the past.
Thank you Erin, for making this expedition so extraordinarily special. Without you, there’s no way I could have gotten through all those portages. With you, I flew as though I had wings.
Two weeks later, and skinnier than I’d been in years, my doctor diagnosed me with Giardia.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Into the headwind, we paddled down some light rapids under a broken bridge.
I threw up. My stomach felt disgruntled. I didn’t want to eat.
Spots of rain came and went, but the wind persisted against us. We’d planned to wrap things up after only one more day of paddling, which meant we had a surplus of energy bars. I laid off the trail mix and stuck with the bars, they seemed easier on my system, if only slightly.
I paddled weakly.
We arrived at Lake Failon, and stuck close to the southern shore where the wind blew weakest. At the far end of the lake we found a small resort town, and pulled up on a beach. Above, a column of smoke rose to the sky, and the fire’s owners invited us to warm ourselves and pitch our tent on their lawn.
They also gave us a ride to the local hotel, where we might find wifi and a shower.
They didn’t believe we’d kayaked from New York. Seven or eight wilderness Canadians (or tourists) sat around, and looked at us. Clearly, they thought we lied.
“We paddled up the Hudson, to the Champlain Canal, to the Richelieu, to the Saint Lawrence, to the Saint Maurice, to the Gouin Reservoir, to the Megiscane, to here, and tomorrow is our last day. We’ll take out at the train tracks just beyond the rapids.”
They believed us. We got to use the shower and the wifi, and the owner of the hotel even gave us a lift to scout out the rapids and potential portages.
Monday, August 22, 2016
Our day began with going, ever so slightly, the wong way. With only a little bit of an about face, we were back on track. Then came the first set of rapids. Our sheets said they were level two and three. We rushed down, and around rocks, from one section to the next.
On a small, flat, in-between area, a teepee stood at the edge of the water. Nobody seemed to be home. We got out and looked for a way to portage around the bouncing rocks below, but found nothing. We headed back into the fray, launching our boats from one potential pin to the next, sliding and dropping as the water flew around us.
The second set of rapids, our map said, had a portage. We searched the woods, found lots of big blueberries, but no portage. We paddled down the first bit of rapids, then carried the boats and gear along big flat rocks beside the river until there were no more, then put in and paddled out the lower portion of the rapids.
Rapids are like roller coasters, except there’s no assurance that they’re safe. As a novice, I climbed a steep learning curve.
Our map said the next set reached level four, and that we’d find a portage. After some searching, we did. We lugged our gear up a hill, along a path through clear cut forest, then back down into woods besides the water.
When we returned to the water to make a second trip, we saw a beaver swimming. Occasionally it dove, then come back up and patrolled from the surface. When it saw us, it dove with an enormous splash.
Shadows grew longer, and we decided to make camp leaving the final leg for the morning. We made dinner down by the water, and ate while being eaten. We never ate within the bug safety of our tent because we didn’t want to attract bears in the night.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Light rapids brought us to a lake which in turn led us to more river, then another lake.
Larger rapids lay below us, on both sides of an island. Our map said the rapids to the left of the island were more navigable, or that maybe there was a portage there. The directions were in French and unclear to us.
We couldn’t find the portage, so we paddled down. I tried to read the water. I needed to find the rocks underneath based on what the surface did. I went over the first drop, and steered around a rock over the second.
I paddled backwards and turned hard to avoid being pinned, and took the third drop and then the fourth. I came out the bottom with a few more scrapes on my hull, but still in one piece. If I kept scraping the bottom of my boat, I’d lose it.
A few fishermen in small boats floated around the bottom of the rapids. Erin and I were running low on toilet paper, but nobody had any for us. We’d make due without if we had to, but it didn’t hurt to ask. Of course, it didn’t help that we didn’t know how to say toilet paper in French.
The river curved left and right. A small house, without road access or electricity, sat at the intersection of our river and another.
I caught a fish, yay. Before I could get the hook out, it flopped in my boat, hooked my thigh, and then tore at my leg with such force that the barb in my leg broke free of the hook. One of the hook’s three barbs stuck firmly embedded in my thigh.
A motor boat came up the river, and we waved to them for help. Erin got the first aid kit and our rescuers, impressed by my wound, handed me pliers. With only one barb, I didn’t need to cut anything. I coated the barb and the anticipated exit wound with antibacterial goo, then firmly gripped the hook with the plier, and pushed it out of my leg from underneath.
I felt the point digging up as I manipulated the pliers. Once out, I remembered to take a picture. I then pulled it out from the tip through the tunnel I’d burrowed. Thinking about it, about six months later, makes my leg hurt.
The fishermen told us that if it got infected, we could come shelter with them at the house we had just passed, since there was nothing else out here.
We continued on our way. The west wind slowed our otherwise downhill progress.
As the sun began to set, tired and weary, we found a small beach with barely enough room for the tent. Hopefully the water would not rise.
Friday, August 19, 2016
We’d filled up on drinking water at the last cabin, two days earlier. We needed to find drinking water before Shabbat. Ever since losing our water filter, we’d tried to fill up only at reliable sources.
We paddled down the river, and saw a motorboat. Apparently a fishing outfitter hid up in a lake that fed the river. The fishermen on the boat only had beer, no water. We decided not to head up to the outfitter.
The next fishing boat, a couple of hours later, happily gave us a small 500ml bottle of water. We drank it right away, and gave it back so as not to be stuck with the garbage. They thought we might find another outfitter around the corner, where we could get water.
We went around the corner, but found only wilderness.
We paddled through lakes with lots of islands, some big, many small. Sometimes when all the waters converged to one channel, we felt the current.
We caught a good-sized fish, and then another. When I pulled the second one out of the boat, Erin held it in her cockpit so I could take the hook out.
Taking the hook out of pike’s mouth is tricky business. They snap with rows of sharp teeth that had previously made my fingers feel like hot dogs. I’d learned to hold their mouths open with my fat knife, but they were so slippery that they'd still get bites in, or escape Erin’s grasp and flop around the boat.
When the new catch flopped in her boat, and she reached for it, one of the hooks lodged in her finger. Another one still snared the fish, flopping.
Erin fought the pain. The barb did not come out. I reached into her boat, and separated it from the lure, like a key from a very tiny ring.
I then hooked my contact tow rope to her boat and paddled us both to shore. Scared, I kept telling her she would be fine. “Don’t forget, I’m a medic. We’ll have it out of you in no time.” I had no idea what to do.
We got out, I went for the medical kit not sure what I’d do with it, and then reexamined the hook in her finger.
The hook had three barbs on it. One of them sunk deep. The other two made it impossible to drive the barb through her finger and pull it out the other side. I gently tugged on it, to no avail. It would not come out the way it went in.
Erin braced for more pain, “rip it out,” she said, “I’m ready.”
“No.” I worried I’d take half her finger off with it. “You’re going to be fine. We’ll figure this out.” I tried to be calm for her.
I took out my swiss army knife. I did not have wire cutters to separate the three barbs and drive the lodged one forward and out.
After covering the blade and the site in antibacterial goo, I slid it along the inside of the hook, as I pulled up, until I widened the hole in Erin just enough to match the shape of the barb inside her, and pulled it out.
A little blood flowed from the tiny hole in her finger. I pressed more antibacterial goo into it, and then put on a bandaid.
Erin felt ready to get back on our way, so we did. I wished I’d thought to take a picture of the hook so that we could look back and remember her fortitude.
To the left, on the next lake, we found a tiny stream. We’d have to dig a little to fill up our water bottles from it, but it flowed clean enough. Just beyond we saw some kind of camp. We got out and explored. In a field, we found a pavilion of sorts, fashioned from wood cut there and tied together, teepee structures without skins, and piles of wood, probably cut on site.
Back on the water, three motorboats approached us. We met archaeologists, and we had just perused one of their digs. We were in ancient First Nations’ trading ground. “Did you know that it was once possible to paddle from here to the great lakes, Hudson Bay, and New York City?” None of them spoke English. One of them spoke in Spanish, which Erin understood.
“Yes, we know. We paddled here from New York. We’re going to Hudson Bay, though we won’t make it all the way this summer.”
The archaeologists were impressed. They gave us juice boxes, and candy bars. They didn’t have any water, but told us where to find a stream, and recommended that we make camp on the beautiful beach across the way. They also dug over there.
We found the water, draining out of a swamp but sufficiently wet. Behind the beach we found an ancient log cabin where we sheltered from intermittent rain over Shabbat. On Friday, we’d caught four medium to large fish, our largest catch yet, and feasted like royalty.
The beach looked out over the lake. The archaeologists came back on saturday to tell us about their dig and the people who once lived and traded there. A couple did speak English, but the Spanish speaker seemed to connect with Erin, and gave her two beads that they had recovered on the site.