Abitibi Paddling Adventure Part 5 (Sept. 13 & 16)

2020.09.25

The rain had stopped while we were sleeping, but everything was still wet and muddy outside. Fortunately, we didn’t have much farther to go. Also fortunate was that the tide hadn’t washed the canoe away (though it seemed to have moved — not so much as to have caused the tarp covering it to have lost the rocks on the corners holding it down to the ground, or for the canoe to have escaped from under the tarp, but moved nonetheless).

Some snacking replaced breakfast, based on the understanding that we would soon be in Moosonee, so there wasn’t much paddling to accumulate energy for, and maybe there was even a warm meal cooked by someone else to look forward to. We loaded the canoe up one last time, and headed out.

As we got within sight of Moosonee, we weren’t sure where along the shore to beach the canoe, so we ran up on a grassy sandbar/island, and D turned on her phone, to see if she could get a usable signal. After much fussing around with the phone, and also much adjustment of the canoe, as the tide was coming in, and we had to keep moving onto the sandbar/island in order to remain aground, we determined that neither D’s phone nor mine would be able to connect to the networks available. So we just decided to paddle along the sandbar/island to its end, and then continue downriver until what seemed like a good place to stop.

That place was basically the port lands of Moosonee, on a beach next to a bit of a jetty for driving vehicles onto barges or ferries. We dragged the canoe well onto the shore, and started to wander inland, to see what we could find. We weren’t walking for long before a local who was driving by saw us, asked us if we knew where we were going, and offered us a ride to a guesthouse to see if they had room for us.

Fortunately for us, he brought us to the Lilypad Guesthouse where our knock on the door was indeed answered, and we were told that the guest suite was available, but hadn’t yet been put in order since the last guests has left, and would we be able to hold on until 1pm. It was late enough in the morning that this was no problem, and we told them that we still had to bring our things back up from the canoe, so it wouldn’t be a problem at all.

We forgot however to ask them if they knew of a taxi operator, or really anyone at all with a vehicle who could help us bring our things up. So we walked around the corner to the local restaurant, to see if there was a warm breakfast to be had. They were closed for Sunday, so no luck. We wandered down the street to see if the Northern store was open, but they were also closed for Sunday.

The churches on the other hand, were open, and I was able to convince D that “Jesus will help us get a ride”, so we went in to the service at Calvary Outreach Ministries.
The only people inside were the pastor and the musicians, which we learned was because the first COVID case along the Moose River had just been confirmed in Moose Factory. We learned this while speaking with Denna (the pastor) after the service had ended. He had a really inspring story about how he had come to Jesus (and then to the ministry) from a youth full of violence and of drug and alcohol abuse, and a really moving account of having provided end-of-life pastoral care for the man who’d killed his father.

After a bit of chatting with Denna, we mentioned our circumstances, and he naturally offered to help us get our things from the canoe to the Lilypad. (We didn’t bother transporting the canoe itself, to leave open the option of paddling the rest of the way downriver to James Bay). Karen let us in to our suite, which was essentially a nicely decorated and equipped 2 bedroom apartment. On top of that, she and Amanda (her daughter) were incredibly friendly in so many ways that listing them all would require its own post.

Instead, let’s advance a few days to more paddling.

I’d gotten a recommendation from an acquaintance that paddling the rest of the way down to James Bay was absolutely worth the time and effort, so I was pretty keen on making the side-trip. D was still nursing fresh memories of the soreness from the paddling thus far, so the compromise-of-sorts was to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday to make the side-trip (if making it at all). Thursday was out, because we wanted to leave the option of an emergency overnight stay at the side of the river, and not risk missing our train back south by doing so.

Having remembered how perceptible the tides were on our last day of paddling (and still remembering the terrible timing of the tidal currents sailing down the Hudson river in 2005), I decided that we should try to time our paddle to arrive on the bay at low tide, in the expectation that the flood currents could give us a bit of a boost back up (I was also remembering paddling against the current before our last night on the Abitibi, and figuring that any boost we could get would be a good thing).

The tide forecast recommended a Wednesday trip, if we wanted to be able to sleep to a reasonable hour. Our desire to rest off the aches and pains of the main paddle also recommended Wednesday. The weather forecast had its ups and downs for both days: Tuesday was warmer and sunnier, but the wind was blowing downriver all day, so the paddle back would be against both winds and currents; Wednesday’s forecast had rain beginning in the early afternoon, and winds intensifying with the arrival of the rain, but before the rain came, the wind was forecast to switch directions to be mostly a crosswind, pointed slightly upriver.

So Wednesday it was. We packed up our bags with snacks and a meal for the paddle (and the tent, and sleeping bag, and stove and rations, in case we needed to stay out overnight), and carried them on down to the canoe to be on our way at around 7:30am (a little later than the 7am we’d planned).

The paddle downriver was largely uneventful. The scenery changed to wet meadows and then tidal marshes as we got closer to the bay, and we occasionally found ourselves surfing a bit on waves coming from behind us, but the winds driving those waves were supposed to change direction around the time we would be, so no big deal, right?

Between the river current, and the tidal current, and the wind, we made excellent time out to the bay, and beached the canoe on an exposed tidal flat to see if there was anything of interest to support our decision to do this extra paddling (the acquaintance who’d recommended the side trip had had beluga whales swim by his canoe when he went down to the bay). We didn’t really see much of anything. I dipped my finger in the water and dabbed it on my tongue to see if it tasted at all salty (since we were now on the Arctic Ocean, and although the Moose River moves a lot of water, we were half an hour later getting going than planned, and the tide should’ve been running upstream again). The water didn’t taste at all salty, which meant that the tidal currents were completely overwhelmed by the river current (which didn’t necessarily mean much; the tide had just turned, and was still mostly slack).

So after a bit of snacking and general dawdling about, we got back in the canoe, and began our paddle back upriver at around 11am.

The rain had started. It was still a relatively light rain, but it was there. The wind was still blowing downriver, and was still pretty strong (we were now paddling into the waves we’d been surfing on on the way down). The current was pretty strong. We had to paddle hard to make any headway. We covered maybe 1.5-2km over ground before pulling over to the riverbank to take a short break and have some more snacks.

As we continued on, the rain became heavier, the wind became stronger, the tidal currents failed to provide any help, and the air became cooler too. Our stops to rest and snack became more frequent, and also began to be motivated by a desire to warm our hands back up. Finally, after about 3.5 hours of this, we could start to make out where the Moosonee airport was from the flight paths of the planes landing there (landing rather than taking off, because planes both land and take off into the wind to get the best use of the runway — which also means that the airport, and Moosonee in general, was still upwind of us). At around this time the wind began to shift. It went from being almost entirely headwind to a proper mix of headwind and crosswind (our frequent stops to rest gave us plenty of opportunity to compare the winds blowing downriver with the winds blowing from shore). The rain continued.

It was cold and wet, and we were cold and wet, and at some point around 4pm, we finally got back to the beach we’d set out from, secured the canoe, and walked back to the Lilypad to take warm showers, put on dry clothes, and eat and rest some before making any effort to retrieve our things. By the time we got back we were moderately hypothermic (based on D’s assessment of our symptoms and professional expertise). We wondered whether either of us would have had the presence of mind to notice if the other had started to show judgement impaired by hypothermia and make sure we’d’ve stopped to pitch the tent, get out of the wind and rain, eat, and warm up. I wondered how much of our not having stopped earlier was already a product of impaired judgement.

But we were back. The side-trip had been an unwise decision (or maybe a few of them stacked together), but it had not been fatally unwise. We warmed up quite nicely, and enjoyed our remaining pair of days in Moosonee before it was time to catch our train back south.

Sept. 13 distance paddled: 3.4km
Sept. 13 shortest path distance: 2.2km
Sept. 16 distance paddled: 38.6km
Sept. 16 shortest path between Moosonee and turn-around point: 18.3km

Total distance paddled from Otter Rapids to Moosonee: 166.3km
Total distance paddled on trip: 204.9km
Shortest path distance from Otter Rapids to Moosonee: 141km
Shortest path distance from Otter Rapids to James Bay turn-around: 158km
Google Map of the trip
GPS tracking data and waypoints from the trip

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