This weekend was a grand success. We left Toronto and drove north, headed for backcountry at French River instead of Algonquin, having been tipped off that there weren’t many sites to be had there. (I have a nightmare where we paddle and paddle looking for a good site and can’t find one.) French River is a little harder to get into, and therefore quieter. Our odds were way better. We went with Joe’s brother Chris and his lady Robyn…all the better to share the workload and paddle for help when you are gored by a bear.
Saturday was spent paddling far out, looking for a good place to stop. Just before sunset (dudes, you do not want to canoe in the dark) when we were getting pretty far out in the middle of nowhere and had seen and rejected a whole bunch of places…
and we were starting to worry, we saw an inukshuk pointing round a bend…we followed it and found, I kid you not, the Hilton of all stopping places. It was a small island and obviously someone has loved and cared for this place for many years. There was a long smooth rock point to pull canoes onto,
There was benches built by a beautiful fire pit (which someone had thoughtfully stocked with firewood)
There was a table built from a split log and rocks…
and, in some sort of backcountry miracle…
There was a seriously high end latrine. (It had an actual toilet seat. It was fantastic. I was stunned to discover that after only one or two trips into the woods without one, finding a box in the woods is like finding a spa. I never thought I would think that sort of thing constituted luxury…but there you go.) We had a lovely evening and woke up the next morning ready to take on the world. We headed down the part of the river that had either some rapids, or a very long portage. We thought we would have a look at the rapids and make a decision about whether or not it was safe. We paddled (upriver and into the wind, very rough going) and came to the spot. We pulled in the canoes and walked the rapids, trying to assess if it was doable, or…at least, if it was doable by us.
There was some fun rapids, then some swift water, then this 1 metre drop, which, while I know it doesn’t look big here, is really, really, really huge if you’re the one talking about taking a canoe over it. Joe and Chris puzzled over it for a while.
What they finally settled on was this:
We would come round the S bend after the fun rapids (class 1, for anybody in the know), and swing hard left to do the slowest part of the swift water. This would mean we weren’t going so fast when we came to the drop. We would avoid the ledge with the white water, coming down to the right of a huge honking rock, then down the fastest but simplest part and then navigate the white and swift water and the rocks after the drop. We were especially going to avoid the rocks marked with Xs. As we went back to the canoes and tied everything down and pushed off from shore, I asked Joe what he thought what the odds were that we were going for a swim.
“50-50” he said, “Just avoid the rocks my Honey.”
Well. The sock and I probably wouldn’t have pushed off if we had asked the question before getting onto the swift water.
As we came round that first bend we were perfect. We came exactly as the diagram indicates. We swung round perfect and were feeling pretty good as we came to the right of The Rock. That would be This Rock.
This picture is deceptive. The drop to the left of the rock is actually about 1m ( that’s about 3feet), that’s HUGE. The Rock is massive, extending far under the water. The part sticking above the water is about a metre as well. Big Rock. Big Bad Rock. As we came up to it, following our plan brilliantly, the wind suddenly gusted from our right and drove us over to The Rock. We hit it with the left side of the canoe and because of the shape of the canoe, that effectively rolled us over. Thus began just about the scariest 3 minutes of my life. As the canoe tipped right, I remembered everything that I ever learned. I pushed off hard from the canoe with my feet so that it couldn’t roll on me, drew up my legs, pulled in my arms, pointed my bum to the rocks (rule one: protect the head) and began a path through the rapids…sans canoe. I did very brilliantly well, yet, hit (I believe, it all happened very, very, very fast) the rocks indicated below.
When I regained control, I swam hard across the current of the river and clambered up onto the rock I took this picture from. I was stunned, as I dragged myself up, to discover that incredibly, I still had my glasses, still had my paddle (good girl) and most amazingly, due to some thoughtful toe curling on my part…. had not lost my birkenstocks. Joe was fine (better than fine, he thinks this sort of thing is big fun) as well, though he did lose his paddle and sunglasses.
We have some spectacular bruises. Chris and Robyn followed a few minutes later, having pulled harder to the right when they saw our sorry arses bobbing in the river. Our canoe (and Joe’s paddle) were retrieved
and I looked to assess the damage. My sock and camera ride here when I canoe.
The camera rides in my sock bag inside of a dry sack (a bag that is meant to keep stuff dry) but it’s not meant to be entirely submerged, certainly not for the 30 minutes that this stuff was underwater before we got to it. I was prepared for disaster.
The camera was fine, just fine. Spotlessly dry, and the only damage, other than an extraordinarily wet sock in progress and a huge bruise on my arse and arm, is that there is now a Knitpicks 2.25mm dpn at the bottom of the French River. Never fear though….
I had another sock in my backpack.
The rest of the weekend passed without incident, if a little damply. (Takes a long time to dry out from a dunking like that.) We had a fire and some whiskey,
and by the next day,my shoes were dry and all was forgotten.
We took pains to leave the Hilton campsite a little better than we found it by building an end table/ beer stand out of some found objects. and we took the time to mark the point of the island with an inukshuk to mark it as a good shelter for the next passers by. (People sometimes build these just to be art, but used right, they are pretty handy directional markers.)
We paddled for home.
It was fantastic. It was rugged. It was empowering (and bruising) as all get out.
I am Canadian Knitter. Hear me roar.
(Ps. My yarn is almost dry.)