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.”
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