Monday, May 22, 2017

Canoe trip report May 2017

I left home early on Friday morning. I planned to hit the cabin for some light repairs before heading out on a two-night, three-day canoe and camping trip with friends. I parked my car along the dirt road, gathered my gear, and hiked.

Normally, my car would take me further along this road, but heavy spring rains required me to walk further than normal, rather than destroy the soft road addled by spring rains. I traveled quietly. Thoughts of whitewater canoeing adventures to come occupied my mind. Suddenly, a large black bear entered my view. I stopped as I surveyed this dark creature, walking on all fours and standing 3 feet tall. I estimate it being about the size of an office desk. The creature sauntered a bit heavily as it walked with a large head and body. It recognized me, as I recognized he or she. I stopped, stumbled, and retreated a bit. The bear looked at me and then drifted into the woods like a shadow passing with the sun. I regained some bravery and held my ground. I contemplated advancing towards my goal of working at the cabin. Many minutes passed as I imagined the bear lingering near my passage. Eventually, I retreated and returned to my car, having realized enough excitement for that day.

Ten or fifteen minutes later, I met my friends at a nearby diner. They arrived in a large 4-door, 4-wheel drive truck. I drove in what I call the Cadillac, basically a large sedan with a trailer hauling a canoe. A good friend joined me as a passenger, and we traveled to the take out. I dropped my car and the five of us eventually found the launch site. We dropped gear and loaded boats. Soon we were starting the canoe trip.

Ten years ago was the last time we paddled the river, according to our photo records. The high water levels and distant memories made the rapids an adventure. I remember thinking the trip had just one set of tough rapids, but we encountered three good drops on our first day. My partner and I lined our boats over a twisting drop and a beaver dam on the first day. We ran a majority of the subsequent rapids. The other canoe and kayak somewhat easily passed these sections. Our first night, we camped along an east-west sand beach. The black flies from earlier in the day no longer bothered us here. Our cook prepared a five course meal with personalized menus. We enjoyed local mushrooms, lobster chowder, mashed potatoes, corn bread, and local asparagus. Our colorful tents lined the sandy shore.

The next morning, we awoke and paddled across the windy lake. We found the outlet, navigated small but interesting rapids connecting us to the next lake. We lashed our canoes together and formed a sail to carry us down the next lake. I carried the sail support like a guitar, while my partner held his support more like a mast. We traveled about 5mph down the lake for almost 2 hours. We stopped at a large rock for lunch and muscled down the lake via the wind to our next beach campsite. A tasty chicken and coconut rice dinner, along with nice company and a roaring fire, made for an enjoyable evening.

The next morning, we saddled our gear into the canoes. The lake narrowed into a small rapid, some deadwater, more rapids, and then further deadwater. My canoe partner and I ran these sections well. When we approached another set of rapids, I questioned whether this was the big rapid or not. Do we want to stop and scout? My buddy said no. We ran the rapid. We hit the first large drop and took on some water. Serious waves fiercely guarded the passage downstream. I hastily pivoted our boat around a white birch tree standing upright in the water. We dropped down this next section, again taking on more water. The canoe floated a bit recklessly with too much water in the bottom. A large boulder approached us with much speed. Lacking control, we smashed against the boulder. The canoe warily swung around the rock. I clamored for some unimportant gear, and the boat wavered weakly. My mistake. The canoe tipped precariously and took on tremendous amounts of water. We were done. The boat, borrowed from a colleague, spun around 180 degrees and caught volumes of water rushing downstream. We fought the canoe to shore, emptied the water, and eventually carried the canoe and gear to safer passage. The other canoe team in our group dumped in the same place, even after scouting the rapid for some time. The kayaker in our team paddled the section, but shook considerably after running the whitewater. No one remembered the falls ever being this big, but the heavy spring rains somewhat explained our situation.

After gathering our gear and boats, we paddled through a few more rapids and calm lakes, and eventually found the reassuring site of my car and the takeout.

During this trip, we endured higher-than-expected rapids, ravenous blackflies and mosquitoes, plus a great time among friends. Sore muscles and sunburns were part of the deal. This same group has paddled spring and fall trips off and on for the past 20 years. A few bug bites and overturned boats were completely acceptable. After a handshakes and hugs, exchanged by men who haven't showered for days, we agreed to paddle again this fall.