The water will resist you, like syrup around your boat. It will bend and slither, and you’ll swear you hear it laugh.
Pull back now.
The soft run of water over the bow, your hands battling the gunnels, the crest of a wave or glint of sunshine against the black water before you.
The smell. the silk touched scent of alive! the pines and the soft wool of forest, untouched, protected. Were it a woman she would curl around you, fingers, tendrils in your mouth, slippery down your cheeks, gentle on your eyes. Drunkenly you’ll close your eyes.
Again. Over and over and your muscles nod their assent and whisper we remember and your bones and body just work and thought-what’s thought, it’s thrown out while you count the waves and rocks and trees you’ve avoided and curse the headwind and wonder if you can.
I think I can. I think I can. Fucking river won’t best me.
And it doesn’t. It pushes back every step of the way, the wind and the concealed armor of rocky water, it makes you work for it this river. Every river has a soul, a being, and this river is immersed in attacking back. This river makes you want it.
Arms screaming, every pull to the left a struggle and a trial and then it ends and you’re out on the rocky shore and unbelieving that you’ve done it.
First real time in a canoe, you do over 25 kms in one day, into a headwind. First real wild trip, you go three days into the bush, realizing only after that if you chop off a finger or swallow some water, it might take a few days for someone to notice when you don’t come back. First real trip into the woods, and you miss that rock, not the one on the left or the one ahead but the little yellow beige bastard who popped his head up and said BOO!, dumping you into the cold October water. The river doesn’t let you up for a minute, teaching you a lesson you aren’t willing to admit you needed to learn. First time, and you did it, 50 odd kilometres, or more over a few days, and you don’t hurt so much as feel oddly proud that even though you weakened, even though you wavered, you told the river to go fuck itself and kept moving.
River’s don’t much like cussing it seems.
We rode the Patapedia River (named by the Micmac meaning “irregular and capricious current. HA!) down to where it met the Restigouche, fell in, camped, and hauled ass the next night to make up time. My first day out I was terrified, out of my depth, worried I’d disappoint or even worse, endanger my lover. I worked hard to find my footing, and instead gave myself a migraine. We made camp in a fishing camp built what seems like eons ago, a different world 1958, I couldn’t help but think of the french men who built the camp, all pipes and playful cursing and an easy cast into the waters.
We woke to the scent of pine misting on the air, salmon jumping, for joy, for dinner, not matter, they were silver in the air. We woke to a young bull moose, 20 feet away, maybe 30, just staring, curious, but ultimately, moose-like. He wandered off, tired of my baby voice telling him he was lovely and look! no guns, we won’t eat you moosey! and clambered like a tank through the river and up onto the bank across from us. I saw his antlers go, and then only heard him, and echoing crack in the wind bouncing against the ridges.
The second day we found our rhythm. It made more sense to me, as the river released it’s language and my patient boyfriend let me find the rocks before us, and I learned to read the river. When we turned into the Restigouche, we were having fun, energized by what I can only imagine flying feels like. We ate apples by the small fire we built on a gravel bed, waved to a man closing out a warden’s lodge. We watched as bald eagles took their lazy time in the very wind which angered us, swimming it seemed in the air.
Then, high on our pride, we missed a rock, I missed a rock, and in we went. Even in a wetsuit, hitting rushing river water when it’s 45F outside is a shock. I watched my love jump for the boat, murmured my thanks that he is so bloody careful with tying everything down, and proceeded to want to crawl into a very warm bed with a very hot cup of tea.
But you push on, You have to. Just like so much else, the only way out was through.
I wasn’t going to admit defeat, but we were shaken and suddenly felt unsure. We pulled off early to camp on Crosspoint Island, a lovely little island site. I wandered around mostly useless, made stupid and sullen by the cold. My man did all the man things, and got the tent up, the wood split, the fire going. Food warmed. We crawled into a too small tent, and warmed the air, waking through the night tangled. Every move meant coordinating who turned when, and accounting for the bounce of air mattress. I woke to the rising sun, warmed.
We set out again, and I was anxious and worried, and was feeling ill. My head was filling up with snot, that spot behind my eyes was starting to pound, and I wanted to sit and cry. The cold had sapped my strength and confidence, and I was equal amounts scared and pissed off.
We stopped at one of the campsites that has road access on the off chance that we could pick up cell service. But it’s funny, 22 kms off the main road and in a valley, there’s no service. It was walk for hours without the promise of a signal, or suck it up and keep going.
We kept going, I sucked it up, and we powered through 25 kilometers, at least. I felt like shit, and then suddenly, I didn’t. Suddenly we found the groove. We stopped trusting the river, and went back on guard-our intial problem when we hit the Restigouche was that we thought it would be easy. It’s never easy. It’s just different.
And then it’s over, and you stare back at the water in wonder. I can’t do that again, you think, but then you can’t yourself staring at the rivers you pass on the way home, wondering, what if, could I?
You could. You should.
I will again, and soon.
Imagine 3 days of something this pretty.