We began our journey on the Saint Maurice, gateway to the back country. Sprint kayakers raced down the smooth waters in the opposite direction. I think that by the end of our trip, with a little help from giardia, I looked as fit as they did crossing our bows in line.
The town is called three rivers, which is weird, because there are only two, the Saint Maurice and the Saint Lawrence. Maybe they’re not very good at counting.
At first, we paddled into a mild current. But gradually, it grew. We hugged the sides where the current flowed weakest, used eddies where we could.
Sometimes a rock, tree branch, or bend in the river caused a jet of water to push us out into the stronger current. We’d sprint like mad to get above it and back to the side.
A bald eagle flew overhead, lazily crossed the river a few times, and settled in a distant tree.
A plastic sea kayak came down stream and the paddler was shocked that we were going up. Rapids lay ahead. Maybe we could make it if we stuck to the left side of the river. We crossed to the left side and donned our helmets.
A fish leaped out of the water behind us. Erin had caught it on her line. Against great pressure, she reeled it in. Finally close enough, she pulled the fish out of the water and, stunned by its alien countenance, held the beast before her.
The fish flipped, flopped, and freed itself of the line. In a moment, gone from sight.
The water at the edge of the river became too shallow to properly plant our paddles against the current. Where the water was deep enough, the current rushed too strong.
We got out and walked, pulling our boats behind us through the rapids. I took a step off a cliff into dark deep surging water. The current had me, and in my panicked attempt to swim out of it while holding onto my boat, I let go of my paddle.
“Grab my paddle!” I shouted to Erin as the current took it to her. Holding the bow of my boat, I swung out into the river as I futilely fought the immense forces around me. The stern of my expedition heavy kayak slammed into Erin’s legs, and in spite of the near crippling blow, she grabbed it along with the paddle.
With two hands and only half a moment to think, she held my paddle and both boats, bracing against the enormous pull of the river that had rendered me helpless. I don’t know how she did it. With the stern of my boat now anchored, the current rushed me around back to the side where I stood up and smiled, pleased I hadn’t been washed over rocks miles below.
We continued our slow dredge, hiking and paddling, up the gauntlet, now on the lookout for underwater ledges.
Sometimes paddling around the jets took multiple attempts. Failures washed us hundreds of meters downstream (paddling in the US is safer because we use feet).
I’d taken over the fishing since Erin had enough sense to focus entirely on the task at hand. I caught two fish! I filled my cockpit with water so they could remain alive and fresh. When hauling the boat behind me, I struggled enormously against the chaos of the river to keep the boat upright, so that my captives would not escape.
We were perhaps more tired than either of us had ever remembered being when we saw a house in the woods on the far side of the river. We had hoped to make it to the first dam, but had no idea how much farther we had to go. We decided to see what we could find at the house. With the enormity of the current, we’d have to paddle farther up river to make the crossing to the house, since we’d fall back with the current.
We saw the dam. The closer we got to it, the stronger the current grew. Hiking through the water was no longer an option, so we carried the boats over rocks along the edge.
Finally, we saw the takeout. A boat ramp led down from a park on the other side of the river. Just beneath the engineering behemoth,the mighty river exploded out. Wild hydraulics bounced us up, down, and every which way through terror. But we both remained upright, and with colossal efforts, made it to the boat ramp.
We camped in the park. A friendly fellow gave me a ride to a gas station where I picked up some treats for dinner and filled my water bags.
Exhausted nearly to tears, we felt, correctly, that our trip was finally beginning.