Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Quebec Summer 2016

This summer, 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.
We hope to pick up next summer where we left off, northbound.
Stories below, and will be added regularly.  Be sure to click on the pictures to see the albums.

Summer 2016 highlights

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 43

Over a beaver dam, across a lake, over a beaver dam, and we joined with the outflow from another lake. We had enough water to call it a river, a small river, but definitely a river.
At our first rapid, the water moved quickly around small stones.  We stuck to the center where the river ran a few feet deep and had no trouble at all.
The second rapid, between two boulders, constituted a drop.  Woot!  The next rapid was similarly simple and just as much fun.  The water moved, and took us where we wanted to go.  What a wonderful change.  Little did we know, the little guy’s bigger cousin to the west would demolish a kayak and leave it’s paddler adrift at the mercy of a raging current.
But we didn’t know that, and we had fun.  We wore our helmets.  Once we reached the first of the two larger lakes, the current diminished and the ever west wind nagged.
Fishing let us finish the day with a tasty dinner, but it had also slowed us down every time the line caught on water weeds.
We began thinking about places to end our summer’s trip.  We could take out where train tracks crossed the river before Senneterre.  We needed to make it there with enough time to get me back to new teacher orientation at the end of August. Erin too had places to go and things to do.
We put the line in the water about half an hour before calling it a day, and caught two medium sized fish for dinner right away.
We made camp on a beach beside a burned out forest, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset beyond our small campfire.

Summer 2016 Day 43

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 42

We set out in the morning from the last hospitality we’d see for a hundred miles.
Before long, we were at the beaver dam.  We found the portage trail to the right, between the dams.  We got out, climbed over the first, passed the kayaks over, and then made trips through the short portage.  Our boats were a lot lighter than they‘d been a month earlier.
I’m a little worried I broke the dam some climbing over it.  It seemed like the trickle of water flowing though had grown.  Hopefully it wouldn't be too hard for the beaver to fix.
We took a raspberry break, then continued.  The shallow muddy river turned to the left, where we caught a fish!  The water seemed to grow shallower as we progressed.
We arrived at a fork in the river.  Our map showed the path to the right to be larger, so we went that way.
The river narrowed to a trickle, and a beaver dam.  We got out and climbed over.  On the other side of the beaver dam we found a pool, with another beaver dam at the end.
After the second beaver dam, we found an even shallower pool with an old road at the end.  The water trickled into some bushes where we found and followed a short portage trail to the next section.
Leeches glumped around Erin’s boat!  We tried to get them out without touching them, using sticks.  But the squirmy little bastards refused to cooperate, so eventually I used my hands.
We paddled 500 feet before the river became a tiny stream that again disappeared beneath brush.  We looked for a portage trail, and did not find one.  I tried following the stream.  I used the saw on my knife to cut through the near impenetrable growth.  Erin followed a lead in another direction.
After hacking, bending and breaking branches, I found a trail that crossed the river.  I called to Erin, and we explored it.  In one direction, after losing and refinding the the obscure path, we arrived at the next section of pseudo-river.  We followed the trail in the other direction from the stream to a swampy area about 30 feet back from where I started following the water on foot.
The portage was not short, and involved climbing over fallen trees, and rotating the boats around tight turns.  For one short section, we pulled the boats through marsh, but before long, we were back to lugging them over dry land.  Each of the five sections — trail, first marsh, trail, second marsh, last section of trail –  we were able to do in three trips, about half the time it would have taken us a month earlier laden with more supplies.
The rain came down hard, and by the time we completed the portage, our exhausting day had come to an end.  Eventually, this stream and collection of swamps and lakes that we followed would become the Megiscane.  We hoped that would be tomorrow.
As the rain poured around us the water in the swamps rose and a discernable, if shallow current began to flow.  We found ground that we hoped was high enough to pitch our tent on without getting whisked away, and walked across the river to prepare dinner so that bears wouldn’t be attracted to our camp.
We found moose tracks.

Summer 2016 Day 42

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 41

We entered our third drainage basin.  The first ridge we crossed, what felt like ages ago, on the Champlain Canal.  On tuesday, through three smaller canals, we passed from Canada’s Atlantic drainage basin into the Hudson Bay drainage basin.  From there on, we’d paddle downhill.
Our new lures dived too deep.  We caught our first fish right away, just as our hosts from the previous night promised.  But then the lure snagged on the bottom of the river and the line snapped when we tried to pull it up.
The dam was not a hydroelectric dam, but rather seemed built to force some of the higher lakes to drain into the reservoir rather than down into THE MEGISCANE!
After a short portage, we were on the new river. The Megiscane would hopefully take us to Senneterre.
But it didn’t feel very much like a river, more like a collection of lakes.  We paddled from one to another through the system.  The tightest connection took us on a path through grass not wide enough to plant out paddles on both sides of the boat.
I had a fish on my line.  I pulled it out of the water and tried to force it into my boat.  Its head thrashed on one side of the cockpit, its tail on the other, and I pushed down in the middle.  Too big, and too strong, for all that I wrestled with, I could not get it into my boat.  The fish broke free and swam away.
We saw a motor boat out on one of the larger lakes, but they disappeared by the time we got close.  We paddled past a cottage with a dock.  A couple disembarked from their small fishing boat with a bunch of fish on a line.
They told us we’d find a beaver dam ahead, and that the way after would be hard.  We should go around.  The fisherman and his wife showed us a 1,200-foot portage on the map that might or might not have a trail.  He said that would be easier than going along the river.  Erin and I were dubious, so we continued ahead.
Until we got to the beaver dam.  We’d seen lots of beaver lodges, but this was our first dam.  It completely blocked the river.  Just past the dam, lay another beaver dam, that also obstructed the river.  The water in between the dams sat much lower than the water above them, and the water beneath lower still.   Beyond the lower dam, a tiny trickle of water lead into a pipe underneath a road.
Piles of sticks packed with mud blocked the river.  We looked around, and failed to find a portage.  We paddled back to a boat ramp we’d seen earlier.  We walked along the road until it went over the puddle beneath the dams.  We looked for a portage path over the road, and didn’t find it.  We did find a precarious descent from the road onto the next portion of the river, but it would be tricky.  To carry the boats from the boat ramp to the bridge could take half a day.
We returned to the cabin.  We’d try the 1,200 ft portage tomorrow, and the cabin lay on the way.  The folks at the cabin were happy to host us in their guest room for the night, but they decided to revise their advice.  They now recommended we portage around the beaver dams.  They explained to us exactly where to find the path we’d missed.

Summer 2016 day 41

Monday, August 15, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 40

We continued south, unable to take exact bearings, and owing to an island missing from our recently printed map, we got a little lost.  We found ourselves at an outfitter with a few cabins.  We chatted with tourists who told us how great the fishing on the lake was.  You’d have to be a terrible fisherman not to catch anything.  We hadn’t caught anything.
The owner of the outfitter happily gave us directions, and we continued on our way.
A full day of paddling behind us, we pulled up to a small house on the water to ask if we could stay.  Vacant, we got back in our boats and tried the house across a small bay.  Besides looking much more lived in with clothing hanging on a line, blueberry bushes surrounded the property.
We pitched our tent.  Nobody showed up until just after we laid down to sleep.  A couple of fishermen pulled up in a motor boat.  We got out of bed, headed down to the water, and introduced ourselves.
They couldn’t have been happier to meet us.  Our hosts fed us delicious butter lemon fried fish and freshly picked mushrooms.  They gave us fishing lures, sure to work better than our own and told us the secrets of fishing in the area.

Summer 2016 Day 40

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 39, my Birthday!

We made breakfast, packed up camp, and went to retrieve our map from the table where the moose hunter promised he’d leave it.  The table lay bare.
We explained the situation to one of our hosts, a drunk.  He went off to find the guy who had our map.  We waited.  The drunk’s brother came around.  He too set out to get our map for us.
We had a GPS as a backup to the map. I’d saved way points to it, and they could be used to navigate our route.  But without any information about the surrounding area, where to find nearest forest, the surrounding topology, and upcoming rapids, we wanted to avoid being solely dependent on it.  Also, despite being marketed as waterproof, I’d lost way too many GPSs to water damage.  
Outside of Obedjiwan, we were more likely to find a bear to ask for directions than a person.
The brother came back.  He’d been our map thief's house, and found nobody home.  He called the police for us, and they came.
The town’s two officers were French Canadian and spoke English!  They listened to our story, and went to the map thief’s house.  The house remained empty.
They took us to the station.  I printed out some maps from a Canadian topographical site and thanked the officers greatly.  Our new maps weren’t as large or waterproof as the map we’d lost, but would get us onto the next map, still in our possession.
“What do you want us to do when we catch the guy who has your map?” the police asked us.
“I don’t know.  Explain to him the damage he could have done, I guess.”
Day 39
Sunday, August 14th - Dov’s Birthday
On the water, we quickly learned that our map had been stretched when printed, and we could not get accurate bearings off of it.  Fortunately, we could still eyeball our location pretty well.  The four compass directions—north, south, east, and west—still lined up with the map the way they were supposed to.  All the others were just a little bit off.*
We passed a couple of fishing boats, but didn’t catch anything ourselves. After the late start, we paddled over calm waters, hopping from one island to the next, then through a passage, and finally south along a shore.
Our tranquil afternoon ended with a fiery sunset mirrored on the lake.  We watched it from a stone spit that reached out from the small beach where our tent stood between bushes.

*We did not identify the factor of the stretch, which would have let us compensate, and without knowing if the stretch was away from the origin, wherever that might be, or off only one the axi it would have been difficult to determine.
Summer 2016 Day 39

Friday, August 12, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 38

With blueberry laden breakfast in our bellies, we set out onto the tranquil waters of the reservoir.
We paddled around and in between islands, by grassy fields, and into a mild headwind over a couple of crossings.
Fishing on the lake without a permit was prohibited, and  law enforcement on the lake issued severe fines.  We were ready.  If a boat approached, I’d drop the reel under my skirt.  Hopefully the line would be sufficiently invisible from any distance.
A small motor boat approached.  It lacked sirens and anything to identify it as law enforcement.   But the two men on it wore uniforms, and by the time I saw it, they’d cruised close enough to see any of my sudden attempts to hide my fishing reel.
I leaned forward into a more aggressive paddling form to obscure the view of my skirt.  The officers stared at us as their boat slowly passed.  I smiled and nodded.  We kept on going, and so did they.
Halfway through one of the crossings, a fish had my line.  I let it run with it.  I tried to pull it in, but it wanted to run more.  I pulled it in some, and then it ran more.  The fish was indefatigable.  I pulled it in slowly, and it came.  It fought, but then it came in some more, and finally, we saw the fish beside our boats.  A Great Northern Pike, it’s head as big as mine, looked up at us.  It’s giant body curved into the depths beneath.  I tried to pull it up.  It snapped and thrashed, freed itself and vanished.  
My heart crashed against the walls of my chest.  Such a large and alien creature had never been meant to be so close to the water’s surface, let alone, seen by men.
We continued on, severely rattled.
For the first time in ages, no current pushed against us,  but the wind picked up where the current left off.  It had started the day before, and continued unabated.  Apparently, the wind on the Gouin reservoir usually blows from the west.
Our destination for the weekend, the Atikamekw’s town, Obedjiwan, appeared around the corner of an island.  We pulled up to a small beach freckled with broken glass, and entered the reserve.
The residents of the small house across the beach did not speak English very well, but managed to understand our request to pitch a tent in their yard, and were happy to oblige.
They also made some phone calls.  The vice principal of the local grade school spoke English, and came by to offer his services in any way he could.
What did we want?  Just to pitch our tent, find the supermarket, and be on our way on Sunday.  They were happy to oblige.
The deputy mayor came by with the town driver in the town’s van to welcome us.  They gave us a lift to the supermarket.  The van didn’t have any seats in the back, but a kitchen chair had been screwed to the floor.  Erin sat much more securely on the floor.
After we finished our shopping for Shabbat, the deputy mayor gave us a tour of the town.  We saw the school, the police station, drove up to a high point with a view, and heard a French monologue that undoubtedly contained everything anyone could want to know.
“Do you want art?”  the driver more or less translated for us.
“Sure, we’d love to see art.”
We found ourselves in the deputy mayor’s grandmother’s house.  The elderly woman wanted to sell us homemade dolls of First Nation’s people and their children.  The dolls were beautiful.  But a delicate First Nation's doll wouldn’t fit in our boats.
Between the tour of the town, the offer of hospitality, and the kindness, we felt indebted to our hosts.  We tried to make a contribution to the woman’s art without buying a doll, and once she understood what we were saying, she handed our money back.
The deputy mayor gave us a ride back to our tents, still happy to have us.
Summer 2016 Day 38 Dogs roamed the town, and we connected with a puppy.  When our olive oil container spilled inside our boat, the little guy joyfully climbed into our hatch and cleaned it up thoroughly.
He also stole our chocolate nibs and one of our bags of chia seeds.
Saturday night, Erin and I studied our map and planned our route for the next day.
The forecast called for rain overnight, and the owners of the yard we’d pitched our tent in invited us to sleep inside.  But many people slept in the house, all related in one way or another.  We thanked them for their offer but told them our tent would keep us dry.
A young man who had been introduced to us as a cousin spoke a little English.  He looked over our shoulders at the map we studied.
“That’s amazing,”  He said.  “Can I borrow it?”
I was pretty sure I’d never seen it again.  But how could I refuse someone who’s family had been so nice to us?
“It’s really important to us.  We can’t risk losing it.”
“How much does it cost?” he asked.
“Not a lot, maybe twenty dollars, but we need it,” I said, a little nervously.  
“It’s the only map you have?”
“No, we have about ten, but each one is for a different area.”  Maybe he understood.  Maybe I hadn’t broken through the language barrier.
“I’m going moose hunting tonight.  Can I borrow it?”
“You can, but you have to understand that if we don’t get it back, we’re fucked.”
“Yah.  No problem.”
“Okay, so it has to be back on this table by 9:00 tomorrow morning, when we launch.”

“No problem.”  He took the map.  I worried I’d never see it again.  I never saw it again.