Abitibi Paddling Adventure 2020 Part 3 (Sept. 9-10)


With the temperature having dropped some overnight, we were treated to a gorgeous (if somewhat chilly) foggy morning to breakfast (the last of the bagel and cream cheese) and break camp in.

Not long after we set out, a way off down river, we could see something moving on the river that looked like how a boat moves; it got closer, and we could see that it was a boat. Eventually it got close enough for us to see that it was a fishing boat with 3 guys in it. We waved, they waved, and then they motored over near to us, dropped to an idle, we put our paddles down, and we chatted for a little bit. They were from Camp Onakawana, and mentioned that we were the only paddlers they’d seen going down the river this year (and that they’d usually see 3 or 4 groups go in a typical year). They also confirmed for us that any rapids were all pretty mellow until just before flowing into the Moose, and even the rapids from there on down were still a lot easier than what we’d already been through.

So of course, probably within an hour (and a bend or two in the river) after parting ways, we got to another small mellow rapids. In the rapids, there was a nice clear-looking path between a pair of rocks, which we decided to take. And as we went through it, we discovered that there was a baically flat-topped rock, just below the surface, right where the wakes (from the rocks that we went between) met up. It was well hidden in the turbulence from those merging wakes, and all that water converging on it from the sides gave it a bit of a back-current over its top.

So when we took the canoe between the rocks, it hit that hidden rock, and pivoted up onto it so that it was broadside to the current, and the back current had put it a bit up on its side so that the wakes off the rocks quickly swamped it. While most of our gear was pinned down by the thwarts and the tarp we’d put over it (and either ok to get wet, or in a drybag), there were a few loose (and buoyant) items in the canoe that tried to float away from us. Things like the drybag with all my clothes in it, which was tucked behind and a bit under my seat, so it’d be handy to layer down and up as the weather changed. Of course drybag was something of a misnomer, given how it leaked.

So as D started trying to right the canoe (or at least make sure it wouldn’t try to drift away on us itself — or liberate more of our belongings), I ran after the things that had escaped. I recovered 3 bags, but failed to recover one of the steel nesting containers, one of D’s rainboots, and a glove or two of D’s. The boot and nesting container were still quite visibly floating, and weren’t drifting away all that quickly once out of the rapids, so we decided to focus on getting the canoe bailed and underway again.

Being full of water, it was hard to get off the rock — and being on the rock in the intersection of 2 rock-wakes, it was hard to get the water out of. Eventually we were able to manhandle out to water deep enough for it to float in, so we could right it and bail it out. Of course things had shifted, and the weight distribution had become wonky, so we each had to bail with one hand, while holding the heavy side up, so its gunwale wouldn’t dip into the water (and undo our bailing). Eventually we got enough water out that this became less difficult, and it wasn’t that long (though it certainly felt like forever) before we’d bailed out enough to get back underway.

We decided to paddle a bit after the floataway items, and were able to recover the nesting container (the boot and gloves are presumed to have sunk somewhere along the way). We’d also decided that once we’d recovered or given up on each of the driftaway things, we’d find a place to unpack the canoe, assess what was soaked, and start to dry things out and set up what camp we could with things that were dry enough. So we did this.

It was afternoon already when we stopped. We found a site with what seemed like enough space to lay things out and hang things up to dry. The drybag my clothes were in had leaked, and everything of mine was at least damp. D still had some dry clothes, and our sleeping bags were still dry (as were the gadgets and batteries. Our site lacked a decent supply of firewood, but there was a high bank with a lot of driftwood and deadfall on it, just across the river, so I went to gather wood there.

As I paddled back into the site, D approached me saying: “you’re going to hate me for this”.

“For what?

“I think we should keep paddling for another couple of hours, and just dry everything tomorrow on a proper rest day.”

“But I don’t have any dry clothes”

“It keeps raining bits, and it’s mid-afternoon already. Nothing’s going to get dry today anyway. It’s supposed to be sunny tomorrow and warmer than today”

“But I want to have dry clothes to sleep in tonight”

“If we keep going, we can cover enough distance to feel no guilt about not paddling tomorrow, when our clothes can properly dry, and I have some extra dry clothes you can borrow”

“So I’m hearing a bunch of reasons that it’s not that bad of an idea, but the only point genuinely in favour is that we’d cover more distance today.”

“Well it’d be nice to still have averaged at least 20km a day at the end of tomorrow.”

“That’s the distance thing again. Is there another reason? I don’t want to do it without another reason.”

“Fine. We’ll do things your way. Again”

a long pause

“Ok, let’s resume paddling.”

“Oh good, there wasn’t really a good place to put the tent here anyway.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right there — so there is another reason it’s a good idea to go now. This place does kinda suck as a campsite, and we could totally find somewhere better.”

So we continued on, and it was largely an uneventful paddle. We paddled later than we usually would, because we’d taken a long “lunch” (I don’t recall eating much other than candy on that break though), and we’d already agreed that we’d just have more charcuterie for dinner (supplemented with some garden salad, because we were craving vitamins) to simplify and shorten the evening of dampness.

When we woke up in the morning, it was sunny, clear, and windy. We had overnight oats for breakfast (soaked in UHT milk with chia seeds, almond slivers, and microdried strawberries and raspberries; I added cacao nibs and maple syrup to mine, while D added banana slices to hers — remarkably, we still had edible bananas this long into the trip). We quickly set to setting up the cooking tripod, and fashioning another tripod from the canoe paddles and a stick, weighting them down, so the tension on the loaded clothesline wouldn’t topple them, and realizing a few times that we needed heavier weights for all the clothes we had and how wet they were. Fortunately, there was no shortage of rocks around.

By around mid-morning we were all fed and the clothes were all hung up to dry, so we took the opportunity to laze around, read, and generally relax until late afternoon. Occasionally we wandered over to the clothesline to hang drying clothes back up, since it was windy and we hadn’t packed clothespegs, and sometimes threw already-dry garments into the tent to reduce the toppling load on the tripods if the wind picked up. Mostly though, we just had a chance to relax.

When late afternoon rolled around, the clothes were pretty much all dry (and so was the towel), and the weather was about as warm as it was going to get (I’d guess in the high 10s), so we went down to the river to clean ourselves up. I’d set out the solar camp shower in the morning, and used it to wet my hair (after shaving), but as warm as the water was, it still left me wet in the cool wind. So I lathered up my hair and the smelly parts of my body as quickly as I could, and ran into deeper water to rinse off (the water was probably in the low 10s, so it was hard to muster up the motivation to duck into it to rinse off — and even mid river it still wasn’t chest-deep).

Once rinsed, I ran ashore to towel off and put on some clean dry clothes (and feel correspondingly amazing, since before the dip, I hadn’t bathed in about a week, and had spent much of that week in at least partially dampened clothing). D was still working up to her initial wetting dip (she’d decided not to bother with the solar shower), but once she took it, made short work of soaping, and rinsing — I almost didn’t have time to bring her towel and clean clothes.

Once that bit of self-care was done, we got back to the work of the trip: folding and re-packing our now-dried clothes, taking down the clothesline, building a firepit, gathering wood and lighting it, cooking dinner (grilled cheese sandwiches), pumping more water, and the like.

It being a cool clear night so far removed from the light pollution of any human settlements or infrastructure, we were treated to a display of stars that night that was as vivid as any I’d seen in my life — and when I was having a last pee before bed, the most stunning Marsrise I’d ever seen. That said, we still got to sleep reasonably early, so we could be well-rested, well-fed, and clean and dry the next day.

Sept. 9 distance paddled: 25.8km (10.4km pre-break; 15.4km after)
Sept. 9 shortest-path distance: 24.3km (9.8km pre-break; 14.6km after)
Distance from Otter Rapids at end of Sept. 9 (and all of Sept. 10): 83km (68 at break)
Distance from Moosonee at end of Sept. 9 (and all of Sept. 10): 59km (74 at break)

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