Monday, August 26, 2019

New York to Hudson Bay, All Done


We made it from New York to Hudson Bay. We survived the scariest river I’ve ever paddled. Erin and I had fought a few times about rapids, or whatever, but we were closer than ever. This was the most remote, challenging, wild expedition either of us had ever paddled, and it was amazing.
We hitchhiked back to our car in Matagami, drove to Waskaganish to get the boats, and then drove home.
Here are some pictures from Waskaganish.

And here's a collection of nice pictures from the trip.

Day 75

We walked and lined our boats down through shallow rapids off the side of the current down the hill until we got to the lake at the bottom, where with a minimal amount of dragging, we got the boats over rocks, streams rushing between them.

Below, the water was calmer, until it wasn’t. The first set of rapids were shallow. Erin, both taller and lighter, sat higher up and with the better view choose deeper water than I did. Stuck, I got out to pull my boat over pebbles in the middle of the river.

We decided to paddle the first set of larger rapids. The waves rose to about a meter, but the water looked deep and with no major obstacles we gleefully bounced down the center.

The river split into narrower streams around enormous pebbly islands, and where the islands closed in, the water poured fast and picked up height.

Then the river curved back into a single body, but now the right side shot down viciously, the main current forced through a long narrow channel beneath a cliff, and the left side of the river, a shallow rock spiked lake with rivulets of water falling off the side into the wild rush below. We paddled the shallow gradually descending lake, and then climbed down one of the last falls before rocks took the lake over entirely.

The chanel widened slightly and the current slowed down enough to manage. The river widened, and then narrowed a little, and we arrived at the next set of big rapids. Erin thought they looked too shallow, so we paddled down the calmer river right to a short portage over yet more rocks, a short paddle across a calm beside the storm, and then a climb down a rocky wall between falling streams to the river beneath the rapids.

A wide dry river bed full of low growth lead away from the rapids around, what would have been in a high water, the island marked on our map.

Another larger island lay ahead. To the right, the river flowed smaller and cascaded down one set of rapids and then another. To the left, we could not see the rapids, but knew they were there.

We walked down through the river, three sets of rapids on the right, and paddled where we could.

At the bottom, the Notaway still flowed, but calmly.

And then we weren’t on the Notaway any more. Though the water didn’t taste salty, our map said we were in a tidal region. We were on James Bay.

We spotted a couple cabins on the side of the river, and considered stopping. We had about three days of food, but that meant eating mostly stale granola.

We decided to push on. With the wind at our backs, we could make Waskaganish by 8:00pm or so.

The water grew too shallow to paddle easily. We tried heading out to deeper water, but couldn’t find any. At times, my boat deeper in the water than Erin’s, I had to get out and walk. We progressed across the shallow bay slowly.

At one point, both Erin and I both walked, pulling our boats through the shallow water on leashes. Erin shrieked. She’d been dragging her leash in the water, no boat on the other end of it, for the last few minutes without noticing. Her boat floated some hundred meters away. She sprinted through the shallow water before it could complete its escape.

The sun began to set and we put our deck lights on. We’d learned how to read the weather of the region over the summer, together with the barometer on my watch, and knew a storm approached. Maybe any minute, maybe tomorrow morning (It took two days, but it came.)

Erin spotted the red buoy first, while I pulled my kayak on a leash at least a mile from shore. The buoy meant we’d find a channel. We were saved. I walked, she paddled slowly, toward the channel, and from there, we raced.

We paddled up the very bottom of the Rupert River, and arrived in Waskaganish around 9:30pm. Some First Nations folk on the beach helped us move our boats inland with their truck. The town has a couple of tepees set up for travelers like ourselves, and we used an expensive hotel’s bathrooms.

A friendly First Nations man heard about our trip. “You paddled the Nottaway? The last guy who did that had to eat his dog.”

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 51.488860, -78.745829

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Day 74

Though the rush of doom lay behind us, two enormous sets of rapids still waited.

The river picked up speed as more and more islands populated it. We descended between the islands, and the water continued to move faster. Large rocks ahead snaked into what might have been a kayak trap, easy going in and near impossible coming out.

Erin climbed up on one to get a view and try to figure out which way would be safest. We went around the small archipelago to the right. The kayak trap had an outlet, but the water poured out there too shallow, too fast, and too steep.

At the bottom of the lagoon, the water swung around and we took the chanel to the left of the largest island, Ile D’herbomez, coming up fast.

We moved too fast, and it looked like a shelf lay ahead. I motioned to Erin for us to stop at a flat boulder that I thought we could land at. I got there first, came in hard and fast, and climbed onto the rock just as the current tried to pull my boat away. I pulled my kayak up. A moment later Erin landed. She did not try to stop next to the island and climb out. She didn’t slow down at all, and slid her boat right up onto the rock. The speed and volume of the river scared us.

We looked at the shelf below. A larger boulder ahead obstructed much of our view. We decided to walk and portage the boats down the left edge of the river. The forest grew too thick to take out, but we could portage over islands where that seemed safer than walking in the current.

Getting off our island would be hard. If we didn’t go upstream at all, we could easily be pulled into one of the towering boulders, clumps of rocks, or over the shelf. But paddling upstream against this current would take everything we had, and maybe more.

With the best sprint I could manage, I paddled up a tiny shelf, and then let the current whip my bow around as I shifted over to the side where I could stop. Erin tried a different route that took her dangerously close to the towering boulder and a short drop, but faired better not having to climb the shelf.

We walked our boats down the edge of the river, climbed over and down a couple small islands, fearfully walking across the current to get there, until we found some smaller streams separated from the terror of the main current. We came out the bottom of those streams and the river calmed for a bit, until the waterfall.

A large shelf lay ahead, we scouted by climbing up to a thick shrub plain on the left side of the river, and decided we could probably portage most easily on the right. Back in our boats, we crossed the current fearfully, but without any trouble, and climbed up the stone edge of the island. We were able to bring the boats over and down the cliff on the other side without unloading them. Supplies ran low, which made for lighter boats. We paddled across a small lagoon off the side of the rapids, and then portaged again over the next island.

The river widened just a bit before it hit the Canyon of Terror and Life Ending Soul Sucking Horror. We paddled across the rapids and climbed up to the large expanse of rocks that passed between the canyon and the forest.

Lakes and small streams flowed down into the roaring canyon, and the large flat rocks made for an easy if long portage.

Below the first heavy set of rapids, we launched into the canyon, cliffs rose on either side but the deep water made the rapids here just passable. The cliffs abated on the left, and we swung around into an enormous eddy, just before the canyon tightened up again into more terrifying force.

We scouted, and found, past the great flat rocks, an enormous expanse of shallow lakes, grass, and easy walking rocks. Raspberries grew thick, and we ate while we explored. We took the boats onto the expanse, paddled one of the shallow lakes, and then portaged across a line of flat rocks standing above the spread of grass and raspberries.

We descended to the top of the rapids delta, where the water emerged from the end of the canyon and spread out, wildly flying down the side of a rocky hill to smoother waters below.

We made camp on the last of the great flat rocks, and enjoyed our dinner no longer so frustrated by the swarms of mosquitoes. Perhaps there were fewer as the weather grew colder, or maybe we were stronger. More likely the former.

Filling up water from one of the streams coming off the grassy expanse, I lost the black water-bag cap. It floated away and was gone before I could snatch it. We searched the rocks below, but experimenting with the other waterbag cap, figured out it should have floated.

With some detective work, I found it in a sieve of sticks and brush some seven meters downstream. We would finish in a day or two depending on the weather.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 51.084542, -78.777645

Friday, August 23, 2019

Day 73

We launched into alternating light and moderate rapids. Avoided rocks, headed for V’s, stayed close to one another, but not too close, and rocketed down the river.

The river opened up, and became shallow. Large eddies danced behind the many rocks. The landscape descended visibly as we slid downhill with the water.

Then the river narrowed and the rapids picked up again, bigger than before but still manageable. Looking at the water spilling out below us, the left side of the river looked easier than the right where the last rush had spilled us, so we turned our bows upstream and crossed.

Then we were flying forward again, dodging rocks and staying sharp, while straining to see farther ahead. I wasn’t sure, but I saw what might, or might not, have been the top of a shelf. I couldn't get a good look at it from my cockpit while in the race.

With an abundance of caution, we pulled over at some rocks on the left side of the river, and beheld an enormous shelf. Had we continued even a little farther, the hidden waterfall would have reared up and pulled us down.

Small flat rock islands dotted the left side of the shelf, and we walked the boats down the water in between them, and over there surfaces climbing down to lower levels carrying the heavy boats. We paddled what short distances we could as the falls to our right celebrated the wilderness with abandon.

A last section of portage, for which we unloaded the boats, took us across flat low rocks and a few ponds off the river left. We put in at a stone beach at the bottom of the falls where the river widened, but on account of the descent, still rushed and pummeled. Terrifying, we loved it, and rode out to slightly calmer waters below along the route that seemed least dangerous when we’d looked and planned from the rocks above.

The fastest most terrifying section of the river, the wildest descent, was behind us. We paddled onto the next map and finished much closer to shabbat than we would have liked. The river still moved quickly, though not nearly as quickly as it had for all of the last week. We stopped at a hill covered in tall grass, but the rocky ground beneath the grass would make it hard to pitch the tent. We searched a beach, to steep to pitch a tent, and the forest above, too thick.

As the sun descended in the sky, we decided to try the left side of the river instead of the right, now far apart compared to the narrow runs above. The sun shone in our eyes and made finding a site even harder, until we saw a cabin.

Inside, we found mice and the thick odor of mice droppings. Outside, we found abundat raspberries and a perfect spot to pitch our tent.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 51.059397, -78.630188

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Day 72

Rapids and more rapids, until we found a flat section of water, and then a big rapid we’d need to portage around.

We decided to line it. We tied rope to the bow and stern and began pulling the rope along the water as we scurried and leaped across rocks above. Sometimes I walked along the boats in the water, bracing against the current and risking my footing with every step, to guide them through tricky channels or around difficult obstacles. Sometimes the current flowed too strong.

My rope attached to the tip of the stern, Erin’s the tip of the bow. From atop a bolder, we tried to guide the boat between rocks a bit too far away. The current grabbed the kayak, flooded the cockpit, and we held it with all of our strength. The boat looked ready to break, and Erin ready to fly off the rock. The force of the river, boat, and rope working against her, most likely exceeded the 120 pounds she yielded for leverage. Her ferociousness couldn’t help her against the laws of physics. “Let go!” I yelled over the roar of the river.

She did, and the free bow out and, though water logged, the boat went back to behaving like a boat instead of a parachute. This happened twice more. Somewhere in the process we lost the fishing rod I’d made. We should not have lined the boats. It had seemed like it would be easier than carrying the gear, but it was not. It was more dangerous.

Above an island, the river pored over another large shelf. And in the woods, we found a portage trail, or at least, enough of one to make it work. At one intersection, we accidentally followed a moose trail into the woods, but then returned to our path. We stopped for blueberries, and I laid down to rest my back for a bit.

We left the trail to hike across low rocks standing just above the river, and put our boats in the water at the bottom of the rapids. The whole thing took us more time than it needed to. But we were back on the water and on our way.

After shallow rapids across a wider section of the river, we made camp at the top of the next rapids, a mile and a half below. The water again funneled through a narrow section, and some 200 meters of rocks spread out to the right. After climbing across them, we walked through some shallow water to an island on a flat lake. We pitched our tent on a shelf halfway up the house sized boulder.

Beyond the lake, we found a small stream coming out of the woods and refilled our water supply. With all the portaging, and the streams we were now finding frequently, we’d cut back substantially on the amount of water we carried. We filled up enough for the night and the next day.

The sun set over the field of rocks, and the rapids made music behind us. Our boats lay at the end of the portage ready to launch on the morning.

Check out some great pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.947058, -78.368074

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Day 71

We continued our portage. Every couple hundred meters we’d rest our load and head back for something else, or begin a next section. bookm

The small rocks we’d climbed across the day before transitioned into larger flat boulders, and then cliffs, columns, and canyons. We lowered the boats onto a pond and Erin paddled them across. We began to add scouting legs to figure out how to best navigate the often vertical terrain. We searched out the safest descents and easiest climbs, sometimes hopping from one boulder to the next.

Finally, we could see the river ahead of us, and then after our last descent, the riverbed flattened out. We climbed across more small and medium size rocks with poor footing, water moving beneath, until, totally exhausted, five or six in the afternoon, we were able to put in and get back to the business of kayaking.

We paddled two miles of swift water to the next portage. The river poured down a large shelf to the left of an island. To the right, we portaged, climbing down a cliff to flat water below. Between the island and the mainland, the water had too many shallow rocks to paddle, but we pulled the boats along passed the island and beneath the shelf.

With our boats and gear ready to launch, we climbed back up the cliff and searched the thickly moss carpeted woods for a campsite or a stream. We were out of water and tired. We found neither.

Beneath the shelf we paddled manageable rapids, and then found a beach, with a stream. Our prayers were answered.

Oil seemed to come out of the ground. We’d seen this elsewhere, but here it was most pronounced.

We used the ample drift wood to make a campfire, and settled in comfortably for the night.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.949558, -78.278364

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Day 70

About a mile past launch the water roared around a sharp bend in the river. We paddled as close as we dared, and then scouted the corner. If we got really close to the rapids that might pull us to our doom, we’d be able to cut across the rocks for a fairly easy portage.

We found a small notch in the rocks that we could take out at. If we missed it, the current would pull us into doom. I would paddle both boats, one at a time, while Erin waited atop the rocks. To make sure I’d see the notch from the water, I stacked some stones nearby.

The water pulled me down river, I saw the stones late, and pulled into the notch barely in time. It looked different from the water than it had from above. Erin helped me get the boat out onto the rocks, and I walked back upstream to do it again.

The second time I was ready for the notch, and pulled in early. Too close to the side, an eddy pulled me onto some shallow rocks facing almost upstream. I backed out, and without enough time to turn around in the rushing current, backed into the notch where Erin waited for me.

We got the second boat out of the water and began the portage across the enormous boulders. Where we walked along the edge of the forest, we found a thick growth of saskatoons and ate the perfectly ripe berries of deliciousness.

We piled our boats and gear at a small beach just below the rapids.

Light rapids followed. Erin suddenly had trouble maneuvering, because my lure had caught her stern toggle hold. We pulled together and I freed her as our boats were moved swiftly into slightly flatter water.

After separating, bigger rapids came, almost too big to safely paddle down. We stopped halfway through the run and climbed onto a rock to get a better view of the wildness below. We saw that we’d likely find a way through closer to the center of the river, so we paddled out with our noses upstream, and then turned around to aim for the center of one of the river’s V’s. I almost made it. A rock I hadn’t seen clipped my stern hard when I fell onto it from above. My boat would leak slightly at the wound until I could repair it.

But then we were through; Erin faired better than I.

The next set of rapids were fierce, too big to try, so we looked for a portage trail. We found one, maybe, but it was so underused we couldn’t get the boats through. A wide swath of rocks spread some 150 meters or more from the edge of the main river to the woods, and small streams and ponds meandered between them.

With a combination of walking in water, pulling ropes from the rocks above, and paddling we worked the kayaks down mini rapids and over small waterfalls until we had to portage the rest of the way. Climbing small to medium rocks is always hard going, the constant up and down and search for safe footing while carrying the heavy portage weight is an exhausting challenge.

We passed under a tree between a couple of larger boulders, and found a spot to repack our boats and launch from low rocks.

The river curved around a large bend. A wide, low, rocky island stood across the bend from us. Behind it waited a dry riverbed, split off from the running water, that would be our next and largest portage.

I fished as the river rushed us around. We wanted to take the island on the inside, but the water moved fast between rocks and then down a small shelf. The main body of the river on the outside moved much faster and deeper, but we weren’t sure we’d get to our portage going that way.

One of the rocks caught my lure, and I pulled over just before the stream ahead got nasty. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t free the lure from the shore, so holding onto a rope that Erin had the other end of, I climbed well into the strong current to free my lure, and succeeded without dying, though having gotten away with something incredibly stupid, may be the worse for it.

We then did some combination of walking and flying down the stream to the where we could park and portage. The main current went to the right of Ile Interdite. The dry river bed cut a mile long path to the left of the island before meeting up with the current. Were we to paddle instead of hike, a series of death rapids waited for us.

We took the boats out on a pebble beach, changed into warmer land clothing, and began the day and a half portage.

Two loaded duffel bags and hands full of dry bags, and two kayaks, we repeated the 3 legs every 100 meters or so. At first, we climbed over small rocks. Ponds freckled the alien landscape, and as we got farther down we would hear or see small streams moving beneath the rocks.

It rained.

After a few legs, we found an enormous flat rock, easily the size of a football field, and pitched our tent. At the top of it, some blueberries grew in the woods. After hot rice and lentils we climbed into our tent for well earned sleep.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.936548, -78.210106

Monday, August 19, 2019

Day 69

We woke to find fog covering the river and the wind coming from the south. The wind the night before had signalled a change in weather systems.

We paddled down rushing bouncy water until we arrived at the roaring Cachechekuch rapids. We pulled out at a pebble beach where the river bead split, one path dry and the other charging forward.

We began carrying the duffle bags full of gear down the dry river bed. Climbing up and down the small boulders with all that weight was hard. We sweat and worked. A half mile is a long portage, but at least the rocks got big and flattened out near the bottom. We dropped our gear at the bottom, then looked for an easier path through the woods. We found some blueberries, but no path.

We then hiked back to the boats and the remaining gear. A trip for each boat, and another for gear. As we went back and forth, we tried to explore to find easier ways to go, we found some pretty, shady spots, and small rivulets of water coming out of the woods, but there’s no easy way to carry a kayak half a mile over rocks, and then go back and do it again.

We did figure out that, rather than hike the boats around a pool near the bottom, we could just put them on the water and push across to save time and energy. We also probably could have paddled a bit farther down river before taking out, but didn’t want to relaunch for it.

We finished the portage at 4:00 at a cobblestone beach with sandy sections. Above one section a stream disappeared into the sand just above the treeline. We hiked back into the woods and filled up our 10 liter bags from the pristine flowing waters in beds of thick moss.

Erin had some chlorine packets. Each packet was for 100 liters, so we tried to measure out a tenth of the powder for each water bag.

I made a fishing rod from a stick with my knife. I tied line to a notch in the center, and then coiled it around a V at each end of the half meter long stick. I’d keep it on my deck, and if a fish pulled it off, the wooden branch would float and we’d get it. I didn’t want to tie it to my deck since there was no system to let more line out.



GPS coordinates: 50.87716, -78.10327

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Day 68

Just after launch we had bouncy, chilly rapids, then a calm fast moving section of river, where I noticed that Erin’s day hatch was open and waterlogged. The first aid kit and a couple other dry bags were wet inside, but suffered no major damage.

We arrived at Chute aux Iroquois [Iroquois falls]. The river rushed between cliffs on either side down a wild shoot and around a corner. It is the only rapid on the Nottaway for which there is a proper portage through the woods. We looked for, and found it, above the high rock face on the left side of the river. While old and underused, we had no trouble following the distinct path across the moss bed of the forest.

Because of the U-bend in the river, almost all of which fantastic rapids, the path cut away from the rapids, through blueberries, to a swift moving but flatter river below.

We piled our boats and gear at the bottom. We packed our boats one at a time on account of the tight space in the uneven rocky terrain. After I sat in mine, I found myself floating down river backwards while putting my skirt on. A rock made a concerning sound against my hull before I straightened things out.

We found ourselves against a headwind, but with the current under us in spite of the slightly widened river, we made good time. At the end of that lake, we’d move onto a new map and things would get interesting. That is, even more interesting than they already were. The river would drop 200 meters in the next 43 nautical miles.

The river picked up speed. We weren’t exactly in rapids, but we moved fast in the narrow river. Where rocks breached the surface, waves formed around them. We stayed sharp and constantly scanned the waters ahead.

Then we approached the rapids Cachechekuch. We tied ropes to the kayaks and walked them from the rocky shore until the rapids got too big. The stone ground stood a good three feet above the surface, and we raised the heavy boats with difficulty. We tried to carry the boats across the short portage loaded, but they were too heavy.

By the time we had everything near the launch, it was late and we decided to make camp. The woods behind the rocks were too thick, the rocks mostly uneven, but we found a spot atop the rocky hill near the tree line.

We could not put stakes in the ground, so like many other of the rocky camps we’d made, I used rope to tie the tent to whatever could be found: a small tree, rocks, a bush, and a pointy part of the boulder the tent rested on.

A few blueberries grew around the camp.

That night the wind blew fiercely.

Check out some pictures of Erin eating blueberries on the portage!

GPS coordinates: 50.86935, -78.08346

Friday, August 16, 2019

Day 67

We paddled more fast water, and down smaller rapids, until we got to the next big one: Rapids Longs. Erin and I climbed onto rocks and looked down at the watery excitement ahead of us. Small rapids flowed into bigger rapids forced between two giant rocks on either side.

Erin wanted to start the portage above the medium rapids. I didn’t. I paddle my boat down to the end of the medium rapids, before the huge rapids and then hiked back up to get Erin’s boat. She met me at the take out and we began our portage, first over difficult terrain made up of small boulders, and then across huge flat rock faces.

Small clear fish ponds spread across the rock faces high above the river. Grasses grew where dirt collected.

Past the rock faces we hiked across sharp ups and downs reaching teeth out into the river over the wave train at the bottom of the rapids. The river turned to the right, and there we found a beautiful beach, part sand, part stone.

The portage was almost half a mile and took us just shy of sunset. Tomorrow we’d rest.

Water flowed down rocks near the beach. By removing the nozzle and placing the tip of the waterbag hose against a crack in the rock, we found we could fill our bags with probably clean water.

These pictures area a bit washed out, but so were we!

GPS coordinates: 50.66162, -77.88641

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Day 66

We paddled west. A bear walked along a beach about a quarter mile from us. I started to paddle toward it and Erin said “no.” She was right of course. At the end of the lake, the river narrowed and the water fell. One set of rapids followed another. Where the river widened the water still moved fast, around one bend and then the next, through unbridled wilderness and beauty.

Then we came to big rapids. We scouted them, and found no portage trail. I thought we could paddle them. The river narrowed between a high shelf to the left and cliffs to the right. It poured with fury. But it looked deep, and I thought we would go in, and we would come out, hopefully still in one piece. No rocks was good. There was one rock at the bottom on the right. I couldn’t tell how deep it was, but the steep wave it threw up looked best avoided. We’d have to steer around it.

Erin wasn’t so sure, but finally agreed to try. She would go first, so that if something happened to her I could come from behind and try to help her. I took pictures as she went down, then followed.

I kept an eye on her, until she disappeared from view. I started to panic, and searched the fury for her, and could not find her. I did not focus on where my boat headed until the the big wave and rock on the bottom sucked me in. I sprinted to escape, with everything I could muster, and failed. The edge pulled me up and flipped me over.

My sprint had starved me of air, and as I tried to roll up one way, the hydrodynamic wildness pulled my boat the other, and I did not come up. I tried to get to the other side to roll, as wave train tossed me about, and I couldn’t make it. I wet exit, holding onto my boat and paddle. But I was downriver of my boat, the dangerous side. After a breath, I tried to duck underneath. But the currents underwater fought with my paddle and tried to keep me down. I let go of it and came up above my boat. Where was Erin? I watched my paddle just out of reach get tossed in the waves ahead of me.

And then I washed out. Erin, about 500 meters downriver of me, swam toward her boat. She looked fine. I reentered mine, rolled up with my spare paddle, and recovered my primary paddle from an eddy. Then I went for the girl. She hand rolled up in the water logged boat.

Erin was shaken up. She’d lost her paddle and her boat, and only recovered one. She worried that I’d be upset with her for losing my paddle, but I only felt joy that she was okay. She would never again listen to me when I told her that I think we can paddle big rapids, which was just as well. From there on, the river only got faster, and harder.

We looked for her paddle some, but it was lost. We now had two carbon Gearlab Greenland paddles and one Epic winged paddle. I took a Greenland and Erin the winged. The next rapids were not far ahead. We paddled up against the shore, and took out just above them. The portage would not be hard, and we’d make camp on the big flat rocks that looked over the river, singing a song of boat crushing majesty as it poured loudly, cascading down between rocks to flatter water below.

From this day on, the river was a new thing, a thing of constant portages, exploration, rapids, and fear. At least my back was better. Erin’s infection seemed to have completely subsided as well.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.4954, -77.76319

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Day 65, my birthday!

Today we would try to find the dirt road out. At the end of the day, based on the viability of our exit strategy, my back, and Erin’s mouth, we would decide to exit or continue.

First, we found a small hunting cabin on the east side of the river. Erin scouted the area while I lay on my back on the porch. She returned with raspberries. There was no road here. We got back on the water.

Our expedition route lead to the west. But the water got closest to the highway (11 miles to the north), on a sublake to the northeast. It would take us far out of our way to search the sublake for a dirt road. If Erin got a fever, and I remained cripled, we’d be lost.

We paddled to the northeast, and entered the lake. We crossed to the eastern most side with the ever present western wind at our backs, and slowly made our way around the edge back toward the entrance. We’d search the northern part of the lake until we found it.

But we didn’t find it. We got out a few times when a break in the trees might have been a road, but it never was. Erin trailed our fishing line behind her, but caught nothing in the cloudy water.

As we made our way to the western edge of this portion of the lake, the water grew shallow. Erin got out of her boat to take a break, I floated and waited. I noticed that I had needed much fewer back breaks, every hour, not every 20 minutes.

Erin got back in her boat and noticed she’d lost the fishing rod when she stood up. The rod had a carabiner on it, and I was always careful to clip it. But here on this flat water, Erin hadn’t. We walked around in water up to our knees. I heard a splash some 15 meters away. Perhaps a fish made off with the whole thing. The cloudiness of the water revealed nothing, and so we lost the fishing rod.

We paddled on. The water got so shallow we had to gorilla scoot away from the shore. And as the day ended and we left the sublake returning to our expedition route only slightly ahead of where we’d camped the night before, my back not feeling so bad, and Erin’s mouth improved with treatment, we found a beautiful beach with a dirt road leading away from it.

We made camp.

We hiked up the dirt road to a derelict cottage, windows broken, wood rotting. The road continued past the cottage, but I don’t think anything other than an all terrain vehicle could have traversed it. If we hiked out, we could try to hire someone to recover our gear.

Most importantly, my back was feeling better. Erin thought her mouth was getting better too. We would continue on. There would be no more options for take out until Waskaganish.

Beside the long beach, a rocky precipice overlooked the lake. Behind it we gorged ourselves on blueberries, and then ate dinner while watching the sun over an unforgiving, beautiful wilderness. I hoped we made the right decision.

Check out our pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.29707, -77.48218

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Day 64

Another late start for my back. We hoped the extra sleep and lying down helped. If my back didn’t get better, doom.

We launched our boats onto the waters gently flowing around the island and continued downstream. Every 20 minutes, we broke for ten minutes of me lying on my kayak deck. My muscle pain relaxed to agonizing happiness.

The river widened and zig zagged. Rather than stay with the current we cut straight to hopefully save time, and found ourselves in shallow water against a headwind. We gorilla scooted, much longer than we would have liked, until we turned the corner and were out of it.

We stopped to rest on a sandy spit far from the main shore. I don’t know how long I layed there. This was my fifth day of abject patheticness. Later, as we continued north on the lake, we could dig a paddle down to the bottom to hold our position against the wind when I rested.

Meanwhile, Erin had a problem of her own. An infection had grown in her mouth. Before the trip, I had tried to secure antibiotics from my doctor in case of wilderness emergency, but the doctor did not provide. And now Erin suffered. When I made her laugh, she winced with pain. She no longer spoke in more than a whisper as the infection that started in her cheek spread to her throat.

I stuck a thermometer in her mouth to see if maybe she was coming down with strep, but it showed her as dead. I cleaned it, and stuck it in my mouth. I too, was dead. I’d had the thing for years; it no longer worked.

From 2003 to 2005 I trained and served as an IDF combat medic, and we had an expression. “חובש טוב חובש מאלתר. [A good medic is a creative medic.]” So starting the evening before, I had Erin rub town the painful area of her mouth with alcohol gauze pads we’d brought in the first aid kit. So far, we didn’t know if they worked.

We had read, in our pre trip research, that an old dirt road came to the northern end of this lake. With both of our maladies, we needed to find it. We needed to think about aborting. But that was for tomorrow.

A large beach spread across a point on the western side of the lake. We had a campfire and pitched our tent on flat soft sands.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 50.22452, -77.46698

Monday, August 12, 2019

Day 63

Lake Matagami turned into the Nottaway as we continued north. Our late start and frequent breaks made for slow going. But the river picked up speed where it narrowed, and we cruised through one set of rapids, then portaged across an island at the second. Enorumouse flat boulders spread out along the edge of the island, and the river narrowed significantly to its left to make a combination of paddling, carrying, and lining a success.

I laid down on one of the great flat rocks to ease the pain in my back.

We launched back into the swift water, but a scant 8 miles into our day, we had to stop for the night. Low on water, we found a stream feeding the river just across from an island with a beautiful beach. We hiked up the marshy area at the mouth of the stream to where we finally found a thin rivulet of clear water.

I frequently had to lay down to rest my back on the short hike. Erin’s boat, not quite grounded, floated away and she had to run after it, but not too far. Shallow water extended a good distance out from the stream. Rather than help, I took a picture.

Where the water became clear we found bear and wolf tracks. A beaver had chucked a tree almost to falling. We pumped water filling our bags, but too much silt clogged the filter making it useless for the rest of the trip.

We paddled to the beach site and made camp. Erin found an old frying pan on the island, and once we looked, we found a few other signs that a regular campsite had been there many years ago.

Check out our pictures here.

GPS coordinates: 50.09088, -77.46577

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Day 62

On Sunday, we launched late, slow getting out of camp because of my back pain. But I intended to paddle through it, and I did for an hour. The tail wind scooted us across the lake and we were at the other side before I had to stop.

I found that lying down on the deck of my kayak while Erin held it secure leaning from hers, I could rest my back without getting off the water.

Across the water to the south we saw a last outcropping of houses which our map said had road access. We could stop here. If my back didn’t get better in a few days, we could run out of food and summer before hitting Waskaganish. We pushed on. My back would get better.

We paddled in 20 minute bouts with ten minute back rests.

The lake turned north and we lost our tail wind. We stuck to the west side of the lake up against the tree line to avoid the beam wind, until we got to a large bay pointing to the southeast. Crossing it was a fierce battle, at times we weren’t sure if we were making any progress at all. Erin fell behind, but I needed to get out of the wind, off the water, to rest my back. I pulled ahead, and second to none, she soon caught up. The closer we got to shore, the more the trees broke the wind and the calmer the water grew.

When finally we made it across the bay, we pulled up to a stone spit, I rolled out of my boat, and rested my back on a large flat rock. Gradually the pain subsided.

We continued northbound. Erin caught a walleye and a pike.

We camped on a beach with an abundance of driftwood. Our fire burned pleasantly when a fish jumped in the evening water. I caught it adding to the already abundant dinner. We feasted and slept under a clear star filled sky.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: ~50.00598, -77.45914

Friday, August 9, 2019

Day 61

We continued down the Bell for a short time, and then completed it as we paddled onto Lake Matagami. Woods quickly surrounded us and the few satellite cottages disappeared behind us. There would be almost none until Waskaganish.

The west wind that had slowed us two weeks earlier now pushed us on. As we paddled east onto the lake we made good time with a swell to surf.

But the time in the car, and on the planes, had done something to my back. Something bad. The pain quickly grew until I could barely paddle. I had experienced this once before on a paddling trip in Greece. If I didn’t stop soon I wouldn’t be able to get out of my boat without falling in.

Erin was sympathetic, and we pulled over at a beautiful beach stretching around a small bay. A stream from the woods cut through the sand. The water in the bay was flat and Erin helped me out of my boat. I lay on the beach on my back as Erin began making camp. Gradually, the pain subsided.

We’d paddled only about 5 miles. Hopefully I’d feel better by Sunday.

Here are some pictures of me and Erin in our tent from that day!

GPS coordinates: 49.83102, -77.63381

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Day 60

In the rain, a Frenchmen staying at the B&B was excited to see us off on our journey and take pictures. When we told him we were engaged, he said “If you guys can go on trips like this together, you’ll always be together. That’s how we did it.” He nodded toward his wife, still in love after some 50 years.

The river flowed much lower than it had two weeks earlier, so the bed and breakfast’s dock now sat on dry land.

We arrived at our first portage after about 5 minutes of paddling. We had scouted it while the mechanic patched out tire, so we knew what to do.

We had to carry the boats only a short distance so we took out the water and the other especially heavy bags. Supplies refreshed, this turned out to be quite a lot. The river narrowed into three necks, each with a short steep drop. We carried the heavy gear down the smooth rock face, and launched just beneath a small waterfall.

Not long after, we found a small wood beside Matagami and a hiking trail to pitch our tent on.

See pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 49.7629, -77.62143

Returning North

In a short span of time, we flew to and from Norway, then drove from New York City to Matagmi. We wanted to resume our expedition with all haste, fall and cold loomed. After a full day of driving north , we slept for a few hours in the car beside a small lakeside campground.

The smell of burning oil had begun filling the vehicle every time we stopped. My eleven year old subaru may not have been up to the task.

At first light, we pulled back on the highway and kept driving.

The GPS took us onto an incredibly bumpy dirt road. The bus we’d taken south had us on paved roads the whole way. We thought we could figure out how the bus had gone, but to go back around could have taken us a couple more days of driving, whereas we only had three or four hours on the rocky road.

I progressed slowly. We saw three other vehicles, a pickup truck going the same direction as us, and a couple flatbeds oncoming taking up almost the entire road. We tried to drive on the less bumpy middle of the road. We found a construction crew working at a bridge, they waved us past.

About 15 minutes out from Matagami, we’d gotten out to use the side of the road, when I heard one of the tires leaking. The car did not yet ride funny, so we finished our two day drive at a tire repair shop at the entrance to town.

Once our tire was patched, we drove to a mechanic to figure out the burning oil. They did something that didn’t make a difference and sent us on our way a couple hours later.

We picked up our boats from the bed and breakfast, packed, and launched.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Day 59

We finished portaging from where we’d taken out friday and paddled down the last easy bit of Rapids Mignon, launching on an inlet just above the bottom on river left. The water was a little fast and a little rocky, but we’d made it through much more challenging rapids already.

From the bottom I watched Erin come down after me and, coming out of an eddy, get stuck on a barely submerged rock. Shifting her weight didn’t free her. After a bit of relationship drama, she got out onto the rock, freed her boat, and then launched quickly and efficiently from the middle of the rapids.

Rapids Coldspring were big. The water descended terrifyingly down a steep decline, and then around an island. On the right side of the island, the rapids bunched together to finish quickly after the rapids of doom. On the left side the water flowed calmly, with more rapids presumably around the corner.

We scouted the right side of the river, and found an arduous path, up and down and through the woods. At the end of it, a fisherman told us to portage on the other side of the river.

We ferried above the top of the falls and found a perfect take out. Much of the path was along rocks, but in the portion that lead through tall grasses we found the vestiges of a portage trail. Back and forth three times, supplies were starting to run low, put us beneath the first couple shelves and on the calmer left side of the island.

Paddling along, at the end of the island we found another shelf, numerous tiny islands blunting the challenge of the portage with the spectacular beauty of the wilderness. One of those islands had a stone spit traversing the shelf. We climbed down, one loaded boat at a time, and launched off the bottom.

The fellow in the row boat had told us that Matagami lay 20 miles ahead of us, but we were pretty sure he meant 20 kilometers, and that he had rounded up to get that number.

The wind blew against us, and we pushed forward to Matagami. We ran out of water, but we’d be able to refill in Matagami.

A beaver flapped its tale and dove when we approached. We’d taken a split off the river into a small tranquil chanel slightly sheltered from the wind.

It felt like we never got any closer, and then we were there. We pulled up to a dock beneath a bed and breakfast, and found a home for the night. We found a bed, a shower, a laundry machine, and all the perks of civilization.

GPS coordinates: 49.75037, -77.62111




We had a critical family event we needed to attend in the very beginning of August. We could try to finish before then, and risk missing it, or go home now and pick up in August after the event. Missing the event was not an option. So rather than risk it, we went home. The B&B offered to watch our boats and gear for us.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Day 58

In the morning, the wind continued against us, and blew throughout the day.

We paddled between the islands of a tight archipelago in the middle of the river. Trees crowded to the edge of great boulders rising out water that dropped as it poured through the river neck.

At Rapids de I’lle we searched for a portage on river left, as the woman from the bridge told us. We climbed up to the train tracks that crossed the water, and went back and forth looking for a trail, but found nothing. We scrambled down rocks and boulders on the left side of the river, and then tried to follow a path back up into the woods from the bottom of the rapids, but an animal trail disappeared after a hundred meters.

Erin noticed that the island in the middle of the river was a shorter and easier portage, so we crossed to the island. The steep landing was tricky in the fast moving current, but climbing down the island, from the top of the rapids to the bottom, turned out to be shorter and easier work than the rocks on river left. Soon we were back on our way making good time.

At the next rapids, Rapids Mignon, the river split around and island. We scouted the right side of the rapids. Large flat boulders lined the island. They would make an easy but again long portage. The river fell down a series of shelves, and I wondered if we could paddle down the easier bits and portage past the harder ones. We then scouted the other side of the island, and found a much easier portage and big flat rock to make a wonderful campsite for shabbat.

So we made camp. Erin cooked food for shabbat while I tried to fish the rapids. My lure kept getting caught in the rocks and I didn’t catch anything.

I joined Erin, we finished cooking and welcomed in the sabbath and our day of much deserved rest.



GPS coordinates: 49.61269, -77.49687

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Day 57

Just after launching from the muddy bank, I noticed a leach on my leg. I took off my shoes and found four more. I screamed like a little girl before removing them by attempting to slide my knife under their succkers. They did not want to let go.

We paddled down some light rapids and took the right side of large split in the river. The other half of the river wouldn’t rejoin ours until the end of the day, leaving us on a piece of river like those we’d paddled much higher up.

We passed under a narrow bridge. Two First Nations people called down greetings to us. They were young, spoke Ensligh, and had paddled this section of the river before. With a last few sentences as the current pulled us past, they gave us information about upcoming rapids and portages. What luck!

The wind turned against us. The water rose up wherever it could. In spite of the current at our backs, progress slowed, and exhaustion overtook us. We fought on, hoping to make it to Matagami before the end of the week, but failed.

We passed a long abandoned cabin, but a quick investigation encouraged us to search further for a campsite.

At 7:30 pm we pulled up to a beach where we found more muddy clay than sand, Our feet sunk deep, and Erin wanted to search for a better place. But the cold sunk in, and the weariness protested. We pitched our tent on the most-solid, flattest ground we could find, besides enormous moose prints, and slept like rocks.


GPS coordinates: 49.42337, -77.4364

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Day 56

We woke to another beautiful day, and did our best to launch without stepping in the muddy grass.

Erin succeeded. I failed. I must have pulled six or seven leeches off. Yuch. Since our campsite had been grubby, and overridden with mosquitoes, we decided to have breakfast at a nicer spot, and fled.

Some rocks reached out from shore toward the center of the river, so we stopped. Rocks toward the center of the river always had fewer mosquitoes than the woods.

As Erin cooked, a fish jumped in the water, not far from the foremost rocks. I cast my line, and on the fourth try pulled in a small pike. Besides our usual cornmeal, we had fish soup for breakfast. Yumm.

Back on our way, the river twisted and turned and the current picked up again as it narrowed. We passed under a road and found a large lumberyard to our left. The industrial space totally incongruent with the natural wonder that had surrounded us. We thought about refilling our water, but decided not to. We didn’t want anything to do with them, and most likely they didn’t want anything to do with us.

Around a couple more bends in the river we saw a dock with a motor boat at the end of it. The time was 4:00pm. Our kayaks slid over grass growing from the water onto a muddy bank at the base of the dock.

An older French speaking man was home. He invited us to shower and stay the night. His mosquito free home felt like heaven. He’d started building the cabin a few decades earlier, and continued to make improvements, like the laundry line he erected for our newly clean cloths.

He kept it mosquito free by burning an incense like poison coil. In the morning, after the coil had burned out, the mosquitoes came in. I found another one, set it alight, and restored the tranquility. We slept in, and then took our time packing up.

We tried to to clean our clogged water filter. Silt from one of the streams had left it near useless. We managed to improve its performance only slightly.

Our host, thrilled to have us, called his friend over the radio and told him he had kayakers that had paddled all the way from New York. He also swept up a fairly large pile of dead mosquitoes, part of his daily routine.


GPS coordinates: 49.17281, -77.13798

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Day 55

We didn’t dare let the current catch us without scouting first. Our beach camp looked out over an inlet from the river with a strong current branching off the main one and following the river’s edge.

As soon as our boats left the tiny beach’s eddy, we were whisked around the inlet to the other side, and with urgent timing, backpadled to stop the boats at a rocky slope and took out. There was just enough room beneath a ledge to secure enough of the boats on land.

We needed to get a view of the river ahead. We climbed up into the woods and followed a parting in the forest-floor moss over a great stone floor. Just as the moss closed in on the path, we stepped under a couple of branches and out into an open space where the stone beneath our feet swept into the river.

The river rushed through a narrow channel toward a drop ahead. Looking across, we made out a few tiny inlets with eddies. I wanted to get a better look at the rapids. We hiked along a ledge above the river, and constantly tried to decide if we were on a portage trail, perhaps a continuation of the one we took the day before. But as we approached the falls, we became sure of two things. We were not on a trail. We could not paddle down those falls and hope for anything but catastrophe.

Erin saw one of the small plastic hanging flags besides one of the inlets on the far side. She’d found the portage trail.

We hiked back to our boats and crossed the rushing river at a strong ferry angle. Once across, we paddled close to shore until the second tiny inlet where we’d seen the flag. We found a pond the length of two kayaks connected to the river by a narrow opening. At the far end of the pond a steep muddy bank descended into a marsh. Above, we thought we saw the trail.

I climbed the bank, and slid back into the pond. Erin may have been amused. But we made our way to the top and found a thick forest. We pushed through it, exploring, looking for the trail with great difficulty.

We searched above the bank of the river with no luck. We returned to our boats, tried again, returned to our boats again.

If we cut directly into the woods away from the river, we found wide mostly stagnant stream running parallel to the river. It would be hard work to take the boats down the stream. In some places it was more than deep and wide enough, but in others rocks or logs would make paddling impossible.

We followed the stream to a deadend, hiked a little longer into the woods, and found a trail marker. The trail was old, and underused, but much better than nothing, and would work. We followed it back to the far side of the stream on one end, where it continued back toward the upper rapids where we’d failed to find a portage the day before, and down to a cobblestone like beach beneath the falls. Grass grew between the flat stones, and a lake spread out carrying the roar of the rapids.

At the top of the portage, we paddled out through a slit into the marsh at the bottom of the muddy bank, until they would go no further, then pulled them over the last of the marsh to the dead end stream on the other side. We took out the gear, carried the boats over some stones that crossed the stream, paddled 10 meters or so, and then pulled them up to the path.

The portage was long, and took us over a hill through the woods. We made two trips for gear, and another for each boat. After the four legs, we collapsed on the stone beach exhausted. Wouldn’t it be nice to make camp there for the night, but it was too early in the day, so we snacked, loaded out kayaks, and put in.

Calm water, and then around a bend we arrived at Rapides des Cedres. Water flowed smoothly under a bridge, but there, forced to narrow, it rose into an exciting waive train. We bounced down with delight, no rocks or or shelves to destroy us.

The river moved us along, and the time to make camp approached. A cabin on stilts stood where a large stream came into the Bell. We found a nice spot of grass to pitch the tent on, but a sign beside a wildlife camera said we were not welcome, and we still had a few hours of light left, so we continued on. Besides, the house was locked.

Back in the water a fish jumped ahead of us. I tried to trail my lure where we’d seen it, but no bite.

Around the next bend we found another house. It was not locked, but filthy inside and out, with garbage everywhere.

We continued paddling, and started searching the shores for anywhere we could pitch a tent. Night approached. I paddled the left shore, and Erin the right. I found a spot first. A beaver had feld a tree, and the wood chips along with animal trails down to the water, kept the foliage at bay.

As I pulled my kayak in, and Erin crossed the river, I felt a snag on my line. Most likely, the water grass had the lure, but as I worked the reel and pulled the line to get it in, the line and lure swung out into the deeper water. A pike had my lure. We fought and I reeled it in, but just as Erin went to scoop the big guy up with the net, he snapped, freed himself of the lure, and disappeared in an instant.

Erin and I climbed out of our boats into the grass toward the site, peeled leeches off, made camp in the tight space, and slept.


GPS coordinates: 49.02601, -77.15741

Monday, July 8, 2019

Day 54

We launched low on water. Behind us, we saw a large house on a hill just above the river. Way more than the usual hunting cabin, this was a proper two story house had siding, and a view of the river. We imagined being welcomed to a delicious lunch, or at the very least, to refill our water bags.

Paddling beneath the house, we found an old barely used trail with the remnants of a rotted rowboat half submerged in the forest moss beside it. We hiked up. Garbage lay scattered beside the house, including an automobile size pile, as well as an actual abandoned car.

The decaying stairs up to the porch barely supported my weight without breaking. And looking through the window, I saw the inside of the house underwent construction. A table saw and other tools lay strewn about. Nothing looked finished.

We found a spigot on an outside wall, but no water came out of it.

We headed up to the road, and found another abandoned car, but no other houses.

We paddled a short distance to a small hunting cabin a bit downstream. Though water pipes connected a couple sheds and the cabin, the spigot to let it flow appeared to be locked in one of the sheds.

On the other side of the river we found a stream. We hiked up, into the woods, and though deep sucking mud, to where we found a trickle of flowing water. Giant horseflies took gobs of Dov and Erin meat while we swatted at them and pumped water through our filter, until the silt ruined it. At least we had our water.

Our map marked Chutes Kiosk, a waterfall, and we approached it with trepidation. A train bridge crossed the river and a flag hung from a tree on the left above an easy landing. Excellent, surely that marked a portage trail. We searched, and we searched more. The forrest was thick with young trees. If there had been a trail there ten years ago, it could be completely overgrown by now. I looked at the impressive shelfs and wondered if we could paddle down them. I don’t think they were more than 7 or 8 feet in some places. Erin would have none of it.

Across the river we saw low growth, and then large boulders that crowded the right shore. We paddle to the other side and took out at a muddy beach, dragging the heavy boats onto the thick growth. After getting the boats and gear across the boulders, we found something of a trail at the bottom through a small section of woods to a beach where we made camp. People had come this way before.

We cooked dinner out on the rocks near the rapids, and perhaps there fewer mosquitoes came after us for being away from the woods, but there were still a lot.

From the beach we could see the main current rush passed the small inlet in front of us around a sharp turn. Our map showed the waterfall there.

Check out pictures here!

GPS coordinates: 48.98326, -77.01793

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Day 53

We passed a parking lot on the left side of the river. A sign welcomed people to nature, and porta potties provided them with a way to steer clear of nature.

The wind rose. Erin felt cold and put her jacket on.

A few cottages stood above the water on mowed lawns between bits of forrest. We guessed there was road access on the other side of them. Row boats with motors sat on the grass just above the water, and an older fellow mowed his lawn.

Our map, and the sound of the river, told us rapids waited around the next bend. So we went to ask the lawn mowing man about them.

We didn’t speak French, and he didn’t speak English very well. He couldn’t tell us if there was a portage. He recommended we take the rapids on the right. He also told us, “I’ve heard about you.”

Cool.

We approached the rapids from the right. They were ferocious. Maybe I could paddle down them. The water on the left side of the river poured over a rock filled shelf of death. The right side of the river moved fast, had large waves, a few big rocks that I might be able to paddle around, and a few places where there might be shallow rocks, or deep. I couldn’t tell.

Erin didn’t want to paddle down. I didn’t want to portage, so she would climb through the water as close to the edge as the thick brush leaning out over the river would allow, and I would paddle my boat, then hike up the river, and paddler hers down.

I began my run. I tried to stay too close to the side with the slower current, and got pulled into an eddy. Facing upstream, my boat slammed into a rock, I spun around going down backwards for a moment, and then straightened out in time to be flung through the bottom half of the rapids, by skill or luck avoiding disaster.

It was thrilling. At the bottom I checked my hull. It looked good. I didn’t see the large crack I put in it until a couple days later I realized the constant presence of water in my boat had to do with a leak.

I climbed up, passing Erin on her way down, and traded skirts. At the top, I got into her boat, and launched. Coming down the second time, I steered closer to the main current to clear the eddy, found myself flying through an enormous wave, and landing with a terrifying crunch on the rock just below it. The water whisked me on and spit me out.

Erin clearly had better judgment than me with regards to what rapids we could safely paddle.

Lower down, we got to more rapids, which we paddled successfully until they got big again and we decided to embark on our first portage. We found, on the left side of the river, a beautiful well maintained portage trail.

A similar trail had probably also lined the rapids that cracked my boat, but we didn’t think to look for it since the old man told us there was no portage. Assuming he understood us, and we him.

We walked down the trail and found a house on a beach at the bottom. We also got a better view of the rapids, and decided that, while they were big, we could paddle them after all. The right side of the river looked safer.

We ferried across the strong current at the top, and then let the current pull us over waves through the rough stuff, exhilarating and scary, to the calmer water below.

We continued down river, and arrived at Rapids Strangway

Erin searched the left side of the river a hundred meters or so up from the start of the rapids where a clearing came up against the water. Tracks lead her to believe she’d found a moose hangout spot.

On the left side, I climbed down the river through the water, and after the first bit of rapids, found a tree hanging way out over a stagnant offshoot of the river. An old thick rope hung from the tree, and a path lead into the woods beside it.

I followed the path, and though it hadn’t been maintained in years, much of it was passable. One section, with thick growth on either side had a pine tree across the path. The branches were too thick to climb over, but we could slide the boats under, ourselves on our bellies to make it past.

Elsewhere, I followed the a clear path easily, and though long, it brought me around the entire set of rapids to calmer water and a small campsite below.

I returned to the tree with the rope, mud sucking at my feet halfway up the trail, and began searching the other side of the inlet for the top of the portage trail. The trail above, if it existed, was not clear. I wandered out of the woods into a rocky space with grass growing taller than me. With some wrong directions and backtracking, I found my way through the grasses to my boat. I called Erin on the radio, and we met just above the first big rapids I had precariously climbed through earlier.

With a little bit of scouting, finding a small pool filled with tadpoles, we settled on an optimal path to the stagnant offshoot of the river. Once we carried out boats and gear there, we loaded the cockpits of the boats with the gear, and pulled them through the water to the top of the trail.

In retrospect, we should have paddle down the first small set of rapids to the tree with the rope. The offshoot there would have made for an easy parking spot in spite of the swift water.

The mosquitos waited for us. But in spite of them, sweating under our jackets with head nets on our faces, with six trips along the lengthy trail, crawling on our bellies and yucking through mud each time, we got our boats and gear to the camp at the bottom.

We had dinner looking out over the rapids, swatting mosquitoes, but generally feeling good about the beautiful world we traversed.


GPS coordinates: 48.85942, -77.10396

Friday, July 5, 2019

Day 52

Paddling through Lake Parent, we caught a fish! We scooped a pike out of the water in our net, and then held its mouth open with my pfd knife while I tried to carefully remove the hook. Previously, pike had bitten my fingers and lodged hooks in me and Erin during this process. I have since read that the wise fisherman uses pliers. But my hand took no harm when the pike twisted spasmodically; I yanked it away dropping the fish back into the net. The hook got caught up in the net, but with some effort, carefully twisting, pulling, and giving the fish some healthy respect, we sorted everything out.

I’d bought a line with a ring at one end and pin at the other for threading through the jaw of a fish so that we could keep it in the water alive as long as possible. I’d forgotten it at home.

So with a key ring and a piece of string from my repair kit, I made another one there on the water, and tied it to the back of Erin’s kayak. We resumed our paddle, and caught another pike just before being taken down the light rapids out of the lake.

As we fiddled with the second fish, hook, and net, the wind blew us into some bushes and onto some shallow rocks, which was much better than down the rapids.

Fish secured behind the boat, we paddled down.

Beneath the rapids, a large wild stream poured into the river beside a small cabin. We searched around the cabin for a rainwater basin to resupply, and didn’t find one. It looked like the stream came from a section of Lake Parent, northeast of where we left it. We thought it best not to drink water downriver of Senneterre.

We continued downriver and began searching each cabin for drinking water. Silt and stagnant goo filled most of the streams at the side of the river. We found a basin of rain water on the third try. The basins are linked to the roof gutters and fill up from rain: likely full of bacteria, but probably not giardia. We made camp on the screened in porch of a cabin just above some rapids.

The porch had a grill on it, so we grilled fish for shabat. Mosquitos got into the porch area through holes in the floor, but not into our tent. The porch on the hill gave us a view of the river and lakes on three sides. We enjoyed a well deserved day of rest in aslice a paradise.


GPS coordinates: 48.78547, -77.0828

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Day 51

Some calmer water followed the rapids, and as we paddled between islands in the delta of one river into another, we completed the Megiscane and began the Bell River. In the distance we saw Senneterre’s marina, but in the distance was the closest we’d get to civilization as we turned south away from the town.

The current moved much slower now through the wider river, but a healthy tailwind helped us to make good time. We cruised pass a fishing boat exchanging waves and smiles, and made camp, exhausted, on a beach on an island in Lake Parent.

With ample driftwood, we made a fire to conserve fuel. Afterwards Erin used it to heat water for sunset tea. We slept on a flat bead of soft sand.

Pictures here!

GPS coordinates 48.63025, -77.0628

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Day 50

Morning came, and we packed as quickly as we could in the mosquito feeding frenzy. I found an outhouse to do my duty, and mosquitoes feasted on my tush.

We launched.

We had filled 20 liters of water back in Montreal while we waited for the train. Our supply was running low. So when we passed a small stream feeding the river, we turned our boats to paddle up it. Silt clouded the nearly stagnant water. Our boats followed the zigzagging path through a swamp until we could go no further. We got out and tried to hike up to where the water flowed. Our feet sank deep in the mud.

We reentered out boats, and returned to the river without any drinking water.

Around the next bend, we found another hunting cabin; this one even had a dock. The mosquitoes didn’t seem to bother us while we paddled, but as soon as we landed they came. We applied bug repellent. The cabin had a screened in porch where we stretched, and a rainwater basin in back from which we filled our water bags and nalgenes, totalling 34 liters.

Back in front we watched a groundhog waddle through the grass and eat flowers.

In order to fit all the water in our boats, we clipped the ten liter bags into our cockpits, to occupy the space between our legs. On the water, I practiced some rolls with the bags, and everything worked fine, though I worried the bags would get tangled during a wet exit or reentry and roll.

The cabins along the river seemed to increase in frequency as we approached Senneterre. But none were nearby when we arrived at our first major series of rapids. A railroad bridge crossed the river, a continuation of the line we’d taken a couple days earlier. The water moved fast and we paddled as many sections as we dared, our boats scraping against rocks we couldn’t dodge quickly enough with the heavy loads.

The river grew too wild to paddle. We parked our boats and scoured the sides for a portage trail, and found none. We hauled our boat over 20 feet of rocks and boulders to walk them through a stagnant pond. Tall bushes separated us from the roaring rapids beyond. Deeper than it looked, I fell, banged my shin on a rock, and found myself floating with the buoyancy of my life jacket. The dark water took us back to the rapids a bit lower down, where we began walking the kayaks down the edge of wild river.

The current rushed around our legs as we tried to walk the boats from one shallow area to the next. Sometimes we’d find ourselves waist or chest deep, clutching the boats for safety as the other one of us held the far end of the boat from more secure ground.

Soaking wet, feeling invigorated yet exhausted from lining the boats, we made camp on a flat boulder archipelago in the middle of the river. Water rushed around on all sides. The sun set gloriously over the woods.

See some pictures here!

GPS coordinates (maybe) 48.338082, -77.087147

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Day 49

A word of cation. No notes were taken on this trip as we struggled to make as many miles as we could in the limited time we had. Furthermore, I was not able to write down my memory of the trip until several months after I returned home. I have a bad memory, this is the best of my recollection.

Also, Erin was a hero time and again, with every small action, on this expedition. I don’t write about her much since she is a private person who avoids social media and publicity, nor do I write much about the exchanges between us for the same reasons.


The river flowed high and fast. The rapids under the bridge were bigger now than they were when we’d taken out in 2016. We found a calm spot just above, where one of the bridge columns came down beside the shore.

After several climbs back and forth from the tracks above, we had our gear and boats beside the river. I had checked at home to make sure it all fit in the boats, and it did this time too, but barely. Together, one at a time, we lifted the enormously heavy boats, and put them in the water. I settled into the Latitude, and Erin the Pilgrim Expedition. We pointed our boats upstream and let the current spin us around, and shoot us under the bridge.

Exciting but harmless bounce cleared us of the rapids, and we grinned. That was fun and easy.

Thick pine forests lined the water, and wilderness extended beyond the limits of my imagination. I hoped we were ready for what lay ahead.

The next rapids came within the hour. The water leaped and surged down a steep descent, and we paddled pushing away any thought toward the hassle of a portage where no portage trail would likely be found.

I arrived at the bottom first, and took my camera out to get a picture of Erin coming down behind me looking like a heroine. The camera caught on something in my life jacket pocket, and when it did come out, the casing flapped open. I waterlogged my camera on our first day.

The next set of rapids came when an island seemed to take up most of the river. We padded the wider side successfully and continued in the warm sunlight. Besides the camera, we were off to an excellent start.

On the water for about six hours, we saw a small isolated hunting cabin on patch of grass a couple meters above the water. A smaller river fed into the Megiscane at the spot, and we paddle up it to a steep muddy bank boat ramp beneath the cabin.

We pulled the boats up onto the grassy lawn, and began to make camp. The mosquitoes came. A lot of them. We checked, and found the cabin unlocked.

I heard a fish jump in the small side river. I grabbed my rod and cast while Erin got started on dinner. She did not like that I wasn’t helping with dinner. I got lucky, because on my third cast, I caught the fish. I scaled, gutted, and threw it into the rice and lentils. Though small, it tasted delicious. I had helped with dinner after all, and Erin was quite pleased.

We made dinner inside the cabin, but the mosquitos came in. They found a way, and they ate us, and we suffered. It’s hard to eat dinner with a mosquito net over the face. And at every exposed bit of flesh, they feasted.

After getting into our tent for the night, we did the usual kill them all dance. Under the fly an angry swarm quivered and flew. Their buzzed, not the melodious song of nature, more like the sounds a tree hears when the chainsaw comes approaches.

They waited for the tent flap to open, and when we went to the bathroom in the night, they were ready. They filled the tent. So we both sat awake with the flashlight and did the mosquito killing dance, and with twenty to thirty dead mosquitos lining the walls, many of them bloody, we slept.

GPS coordinates: 48.278303, -76.973321

The First Night

We got off the train beside the river at midnight, three hours later than we had expected, and without the vestiges of day we had expected.

Erin and I had put some thought into headlamps. On the previous leg, the many hours of daylight meant we had never needed more than one headlamp. Too bad. We had a deck light, but holding it up alight to see ahead blinded as much as it lit the darkness.

The mosquitoes found us. Immersed in a swarm of blood suckers ready to drag us into hell, we flew through our duffel bags to get the face nets out and rain jackets on. They bit our hands and though our pants.

Through the ever growing swarm, we climbed down the hill under the bridge, to the water. The river flowed high. So high, the wonderful camp site we’d previously enjoyed and expected to find, lay entirely underwater.

Sweating under our jackets, we walked along the water, through thick underbrush and mosquito torture, looking for a spot to pitch our tent. I accidentally stepped in the river, soaking my shoe immediately.

No spot could be found: not on the hill, not beside the tracks. Well, maybe beside the tracks. We found a spot that might have been large enough to pitch the tent about a meter from the rail. The next train wasn’t scheduled to come, as far as we knew, until after we’d most likely wake up in the morning. We decided it was too risky.

We set out aimlessly into the woods. And found a spot on the mossy forest floor, with just enough space between the trees. We pitched the tent, tried to kill as many of the mosquitoes that came in with us, and collapsed asleep.

A train passed above at 3:00 am.


GPS coordinates: 48.270317, -76.798282

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Train

We looked around at the train stop. We searched, and found no indication that we were at the right place. A sign beside the open platform offered a number to call, but nobody answered since it was Canada Day. A sign listed the lines that were available from the station — all local.

We were the only people at the station, and full of doubt. We moved our boats and gear next to the track. Then we waited for the train.

Another person showed up. He came for the same train we waited for. Yayy.

We waited. The train’s ETA came and went. We waited. The other fellow at the station got a text message. The train was delayed. Erin and I found a water fountain in a nearby park to fill up our 10 liter bags. If the train came while we filled our bags, the fellow would try to stall them while we sprinted back. But there was no need. The train arrived three hours late on account of another train getting derailed just south of us.

Together with the conductor, we loaded our boats onto the baggage car. The conductor didn’t even need to see our tickets, because she knew who we were on account of the boats. A good thing too, our tickets were on my phone, or rather, in the cloud. I didn’t have access without an internet connection.

Suburbs of montreal rushed by us, then trees, rivers, lakes, and hills. Some of those lakes and rivers we’d paddled on the previous leg of the trip. The conductor asked us where we’d get off. We showed her on a map, and also told her we’d know from our GPS when we approached.

“Your GPS won’t work up there.”

“It worked up there last summer.” We had used it once the entire summer, and then on the train coming home. It worked fine.

“This train has a satellite dish, and their GPS doesn’t work. There’s no way your handheld device will work."

The GPS worked fine. We showed her, and made her dislike us. She told us we had to stop going to our boats. We had been spending time in the baggage car doing last minute alterations and preparations with boats and gear. But now that our GPS worked, there were security concerns and we couldn’t go into the baggage car unattended.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Montreal

The original plan was to do the first week or so of the summer’s trip with friends, Amy and David. They canceled last minute, but would still prove to be a valuable resource. David’s parents lived in Montreal. We could stay with them overnight and catch the train in the morning to the spot on the river where we’d hailed the train finishing our 2016 trip.

Amy might have mentioned something about her inlaws not communicating so well with one another, but not to worry, they expected us, and would give us a ride to the station in the morning. We could leave the car in their driveway for the next month.

We knocked on the door, and waited.

An older woman opened the door in a nightgown. “Yes, what do you want?”

Erin and I stood there, a bit confused. We had thought David’s parents expected us.

“I’m Dov, this is Erin …” She showed no recognition. “We’re the kayakers.” Still nothing. We asked her if we had the right address.

“Yes.”

“We’re friends of Amy and David. Did David tell you we were coming?”

“No.” She told us, opening the door a little more.

Erin was able to show her the texts she’d exchanged with Amy, but we were not invited in. So

be it. We’d find another way to make this work.

We’d ordered bear deterrents to the house: flash bangs for the 12 gauge, bear spray, and flairs. Shipping laws for these things made it easier to have them delivered in Canada than in the US. “No worries. We’re happy to find another solution. But we ordered a package to this address. Do you have it?”

“No.” She told us. “We didn’t get any package.”

And that was all there was to it. We’d move on.

“Where will you go?” She asked.

“We’re not sure yet, but we’ll find something.” we didn’t even have internet. Our phone service cut out at the border.

“If you’re friends of David, come in.” She told us, and ushered us into her house, and her kitchen, where she offered us cookies and bagels with cream-cheese.

After a light snack, Erin and I went shopping and to drop off our resupply package to be mailed to Matagami the halfway point. By the time we returned to David’s parent’s house, his father had come home. All was well. He had expected us. We were super welcome.

He had our package, minus the blanks that may have wandered off with his grandson. ‘‘He orders all sorts of things from the internet,” the old moroccan told us. “I assumed the package was for him.” (It had our names on it, care of David’s father). After perusing the contents, the young man told his grandfather that someone had sent them a box full of munitions. David’s father went to call the police, but spoke with David just in time to figure out that a stranger hadn’t mailed them explosives.

That night we had a cozy bed in a welcoming home. The next morning David’s father dropped us at the train station and then took our car back to his house to sit in his driveway for the summer.

Polar Bears, the Gun, and Canada


After too many hours on the road, we approached the US Canadian border in Vermont.

We had a shotgun with us. When we'd planned the trip, we planned for two months of paddling which would likely take us into Hudson Bay - polar bear territory. And despite my aversion to guns, experts and dopes alike unanimously recommended I bring a firearm.

We waited in line to get into Canada. Before leaving the US, I needed to check my gun out at the US border, Border Protection had told me over the phone.

We could see the Canadian border up ahead, as the traffic periodically progressed a handful of inches. Through the congested lane to our left, we just made out a third lane branching off toward what might have been US customs. No signs gave any hint. We asked the fellow in the car to our left if we could cut across, he said no. But the car after his let us through, and we cut across the traffic to just barely make it to the off lane before a separation barrier.

Ahead of us, the off lane parallel to the road lay open. A large beige brick building, probably American customs, stood off to our left. We drove down the empty lane beside the traffic choked road. A sign said to "stop here for declarations," beside an unmanned booth. We stopped. Nothing happened. I started driving again. Two hundred yards later, the lane re-merged with traffic, quite a bit closer to the border. We had inadvertently found a great way to cut the line.

I drove in reverse back to the stop sign, parked, and went toward the building. A friendly border patrol officer opened the door for me.

"Hi," I said as he let me in, wondering what on earth I was doing. "I'd like to fill out paperwork to leave the country with a firearm. I called in advance and an officer told me over the phone this was the surest way to get the firearm back into the country without trouble."

He could help me. I followed. He then directed me through a door which locked behind me. I waited with all the people held up on their way from Canada into the United States, and worried that I was in trouble. The door had locked behind me, what if I had inadvertently done something illegal with my borrowed gun, and they arrested me? What would Erin do? Would she be in trouble too?

I don't think of myself as a worrier, but I've had enough trouble with the law over the years to shake a bit when a door locks behind me.

But after just a couple minutes of waiting, the border agent called me up to the desk and gave me the form on which I would swear it was my gun. I told him it wasn't, it was my brothers.

The officer one booth over muttered, "It's not even his gun, heh."

But my officer thought about it, and told me the best thing to do was just say it was mine. And so I did.

We went out to the car to check the serial number on it.

I was scared to handle my gun. What if I moved too quickly and the border agent shot me? But that didn't happen, because I explained my problem to him, and the officer, understanding, removed the 40 inch shotgun from the 41 inch dry bag, and copied down the serial number. He also expressed admiration for my firearm. I glowed a little.

I got back in the car and we drove passed the traffic until our lane met up with the Canada bound road much nearer the border. It turns out it may be faster to leave the US with a firearm, than without.

We pulled up to the Canadian checkpoint, and handed the officer our passports and Canadian firearm paperwork in triplicate.

"I didn't ask for papers," the officer commanded at us. "Hand me just your passports." We took the paperwork back and handed him just our passports.

He reviewed them. Erin is a Canadian citizen, so she should have been easy. But when he asked her where her permanent address is, and we told him that she was between places right now. He didn’t like it. How was he to know that she didn't plan on staying in Canada?

"She's a citizen." I told him.

"A lot of people think that they can come into Canada, but the items in the car are not a citizen of Canada. You may be trying to bring in a tv without paying taxes on it."

"We're going kayaking, and leaving the country in a month." I said looking up to the kayaks on the roof.

"And how will you support her during that month?" He asked me.

"We have lots of rice and lentils." I told him.

He didn't seem to believe me that I had so many rice and lentils. But I did, and would not be deterred.

(We also had beans, granola, spaghetti, wraps, peanut butter, cornmeal, energy bars, cheese, and who knows what else.)

"What was that paperwork you tried to hand me?" He asked.

"A non resident firearm declaration form."

He took the form, printed in triplicate.

I went on, "I didn't know if I was supposed to sign it here, or in advance, so I printed three with a signature, and three without."

He looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language (neither French nor English). "I don't do paperwork. I won't do paperwork for you. You'll do that inside."

I felt like I had done something terribly wrong. That I'd been getting everything wrong since I first opened my mouth. "I'm sorry, ... for being me?" I trailed off.

He told me to drive around the corner. Someone would inspect my firearm while I stayed in the car.

The officer who inspected my firearm was friendlier and more helpful. In short order we were back on our way, everything had worked out.

Teaneck

Erin and I had set out to kayak from New York to Hudson Bay. On our previous leg, we’d made it as far as Senneterre, all the uphill bits, and maybe a quarter of the downhill bits.

Now we drove our station wagon up north, boats on the racks, gear in back, to pick up where we had left off. Months of planning would come to fruition, if only we could get out of Teaneck without the car breaking down.

But we couldn’t. The back of the car lurched violently every time we hit a bump in the road, and unfortunate sounds emanated from under our gear. We moved the gear around just in case we’d packed wrong, but that didn’t help the fact that one of the shocks had blown.

We didn’t know what the sounds and shaking were about, since Erin and I are car illiterate. We might be able to make the drive up to Montreal in spite of the lurches, but better judgment prevailed and our kayak laden subaru pulled into the local mechanic’s lot. Amato knows me much too well.

He kept his staff there late, welded the cracked shock back together rather than wait a week for the new part to arrive, and we were on our way again Sunday morning.

We made it out of Teaneck.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Thank you Don White!!

A special thanks to Don White who spent untold hours augmenting beautiful maps for our upcoming expedition.

You are a gentleman and a scholar!