Tuesday, August 29 to Friday, October 13, 2017 - Thessalon (ON) to Quebec City (QC)
The last month and a half has been marked by great emotions, surprises and intense, and magical moments. It was embellished by meetings and especially, by friendship. It's always fascinating how we feel, when we see a great friend that we have not seen for a long time, that it was as if it was yesterday the last time we met. Always the same great friendship and camaraderie. Things changes; environment changes; we all have had different experiences since the last time we met; our vision may have changed; but we are always the same, one to the other. Here is the summary of the last weeks:
While we had just finished updating the blog, we saw the lights of a car, coming into the darkness, from the window of our temporary home in Carolina Beach (Thessalon). We did not expect our friends Terry and Pauline (and their dog Wynston) until the next day, but they had decided to drive the extra three hours, after getting off of the ferry, to come and surprise us. What a nice surprise! What a joy! We spent amazing days with our friends. We visited probably all that we could visit at that time in the area, including the Bruce Mines Museum where we were treated to a superb guided tour. Never had we had so much information. Bravo!
With Pauline and Terry, we laughed, ate well, discussed, visited, played cards and caught up. It was also with them that finally we were able to begin the reflection process about the "after" (which we were always trying to avoid). We only gave ourselves 10 minutes a day to discuss the end of our journey and each time, we ended up dodging the subject. Neither of us wanted to face the reality that was going to hit us quickly. The thoughts that we would be static in one place, not living outside and that we would have to start working again was already depressing us. Thanks to our friends, we finally dropped the taboo surrounding our arrival and we even felt ready to plan our new life. Their friendship helped us overcome that obstacle and above all, our fears. They were there for us and without knowing it, they had come to see us at the right time. It was with sadness, but an immense thankfulness that we left in our wake Terry, Pauline and Wynston on the morning of August 31st. We left on the North Channel in the direction of Killarney (ON).
We were treated to pleasant conditions: just warm enough, but not too much; cooler nights, but we were very comfortable in our tent. We arrived at Stillwater Marina & Campground located on Birch Island on September 4th. We met with Murray, the owner. Murray is also a police officer who works a lot with his community to bring positive and enriching experiences to the young people of the reserve, where he lives. In addition to community and group programs, he does individual projects adapted to the reality of each person he works with. He brings teenagers boating and fishing. He seeks to help them built self-confidence and to develop a passion. It was an inspiring meeting. Murray also offered to transport the bags we would not need for the night, by boat to Killarney, since Killarney was the next day's destination. We had already chosen a safer route according to the weather forecast, but which required a portage.
On September 5, we arrived in Killarney. We were looking forward to eating Fish & Chips, prepared with daily fresh caught fish. Herbert Fisheries serves the best Fish & Chips ever! We have never tasted any so good! Afterwards we retrieved our bags, went to the post office and got back the drone that our friend Denis had sent us (updated by his son François-Xavier). We left in the afternoon from Killarney and made our way into beautiful Georgian Bay. Georgian Bay! Amazing Georgian Bay! We just love it! The water is translucent, green and blue, with thousands of pink granite islands. There are majestic pines and cedars. It's so beautiful. No wonder our friends, Michael and Jane, tell us that Georgian Bay is definitely one of the most beautiful place in the world to paddle. They travel a lot and have paddled in many places, but Georgian Bay remains their favourite spot to come back to every year. For us, it is paradise. This paradise, we took the time to film with the drone too.
We made our way into the French River. We had not seen this river for a long time. The last time, the water level was extremely low (2012). This year, it was just about the opposite. The scenery seemed very different, even though we had detailed images and memories of the places and landscape. Given the high water level, it was difficult for us to get to the portage of the Recollet Falls, the water was pushing hard on the wall. We had to line the canoe to advance toward the portage. After passing the Recollet Falls, we met with our friends Ena, Dennis and Leah at a nearby marina for lunch. Ena and Leah had planned everything. A deluxe meal and so delicious. It was funny to think that during our canoe day, we had the chance to eat duck. It was far from our everyday lunch. A real feast! We are really lucky and happy to have such good friends. To drive all this way to see us and have lunch with us ... Wow!
Gradually, the temperature began to change and reminded us that fall was coming. A heavy sheet of mist covered the growing rays of the sun every morning. The dew was strong and the nights cooler. However, the days were still comfortable and the temperature was perfect to walk the remaining portages of the French River.
The crossing of Lake Nipissing went relatively well. It began with a light crosswind leaving the entrance of the French River, then, a stronger wind came with waves. We had to lengthen the course as we could not head directly across the lake toward North Bay. At one point, we were able to surf a few big waves when we changed direction and enjoyed the waves at our back. It was fun! When we arrived in North Bay, we were greeted by Alain, the manager of the municipal marina. He offered us different solutions to help us during our stay in North Bay. He was also the one who told us about the new hotel in town that had just opened its doors 10 weeks ago. We stopped at The Homewood Suites by Hilton and we were generously invited to stay for free with dinner and breakfast included. The suite was superb. Even the canoe was given a royal treatment by sleeping in the lobby!
The next day, we walked, pulling the canoe across the city toward Trout Lake, were we resumed paddling. We made our entrance to the Mattawa River the same day. The mythical Mattawa River. A highway during the fur trade era. All its portages bear a name for a reason. Plaques are installed at the beginning of each portage to tell the story (see photos). Étienne Brûlé was the first European to travel on this river in 1610, followed by Samuel de Champlain in 1615. Our stay on the river was short, but charming. The portages went smoothly (we have quite a lot of experience in the matter now!) and the scenery was pretty. Every morning we began paddling in the mist. We let ourselves be transported in time and our imaginations were working full speed. We could have seen a Canot des Maîtres appearing in front of us through the whitish morning fog curtain (http://www.hbcheritage.ca/legacy/canoe.html).
Once in Mattawa (the village), located at the junction of the Mattawa and Ottawa rivers, we decided to stop for two nights. We had our supplies to pick up and shipments to do. Back on the water, we recalled all the places we had stopped in 2012. It was warm and beautiful. The temperature seemed to extend the summer season. Aside from the gradual change of colour and the shortening hours of sunshine, we would think and truly believe that it was still mid-summer (even at night). It was 32°C on September 16, 34°C on September 17, and so on. We had just received our big boots in anticipation of the cold, but it was short sleeves that we had to wear. It was hot and humid during the Rapides-des-Joachins portage.
On September 18, we passed through Pierre’s old playground. He lived for quite some time in Petawawa when he was in the Canadian Armed Forces. He told me stories and recalled memories. Even after 15 years, he still finds stories to tell me that I haven’t heard. Pierre is an excellent storyteller. Those who know him will know what I am talking about and will be able to certify that I have not been bored listening to his stories and memories.
Towards the end of the day, we arrived at the “Chenal de la Culbute”, located west of Chapeau. It felt like slamming into a wall. The rapids and the falls were not accessible due to the high water level. We had to walk on a sandy path to reach Chapeau Waltham Road and pull the canoe to the next place where we could get back into the water. We called our friends Louis, Monique and their daughter Klaudie to give them an update, as we planned to visit them the next day. Louis immediately offered to pick us up after his work day. He and Klaudie arrived as we were walking along the road. A good dinner, prepared by Monique, was waiting for us and on the banks of the river. In Monique and Louis’ camper, we ended our day. A lovely place to be with a great view. We then spent wonderful days and evenings with our friends. Fort Coulonge is a pretty community and the people tightly woven. Thanks to Monique, we were interviewed by the local radio station (CHIP FM) and also gave an interview to the Pontiac Journal. Everyone knows Louis and Monique here. It was pleasant to see friendship and good humour all around us. September 20 we arrived at Monique's sister's house, in Quyon. Micheline, Raymond, Jenna and Alexis welcomed us with open arms. We had a lovely evening. The next day, we had breakfast with Micheline and Jenna. A nice way to start our day. We departed, but were not on the water for long. Jean Robert and Odette, our friends from Quebec City, were waiting for us to spend a nice weekend together in Ottawa. We laughed so much when we saw Odette dancing on the beach when we arrived. It was a marvellous reunion. The last time we saw them was at Buffalo Narrows in Saskatchewan when they had driven for 3.5 days to see us. We spent some fantastic time with our friends in Ottawa and we even had the chance to see Myriam, one of their daughters. We stayed one night at the Radisson Hotel where, once again, our canoe was secured in a beautiful conference room. A huge thanks to the management team of the hotel!
On Saturday September 23, we all went to meet our friend Manuel. We had a lovely evening with him. The next day, Jean Robert and Odette left and we stayed at Manuel's. We had a lot of fun together. Then, Monday morning arrived and Manu had to go to work. Outside, a heatwave raged. It was too hot to paddle. Jasmine was looking for shade and she had low energy. This heatwave lasted until late Wednesday. On Thursday morning, we left Manuel with heavy hearts. It was truly coming. We knew that in eight days we would be in Quebec City. It was the last stretch.
We were already nostalgic just thinking of the end. We were not quite ready, but we had eight days to deal with what lay ahead. The first night, we stayed at the Camping Plage Rouge. Even though the season was over, the owner allowed us to camp. On the second day, we passed the lock of the Carillon dam. We met with Anne-Marie, a Parks Canada employee. She gave us freshly baked cranberry and chocolate chip cookies. We finished our day, just before the sun went down, at the Hudson Yacht Club. We received a very warm welcome and were even invited to attend the Members' Dinner. A beautiful evening! Thanks to all of you for allowing us to use the facilities and for the dinner and great evening.
On Saturday September 30, the wind was strong on our side of the river, but once on the other side, close to Oka, the conditions were excellent. We stopped at Pointe-Calumet to meet Bernard, a friend, and the brother-in-law of Denis and Danielle (our friends from Quebec City). We spent the afternoon and evening with him. Bernard wanted to show Pierre the conditions of the Thousands Islands River. We spent a comfortable night and had a good stay with Bernard. Bernard is 86 years young and looks at least 15 years younger. He is active and full of life. It is impressive and inspiring. He came to see us the next day on the river after we left, to see us go through the first rapids. He later told us that he was spoken to by an officer after crossing a fence and climbing on rocks to get closer to the water. Even at the age of 86, he still gets caught doing "bad, silly stuff" as if he were a teenager. ☺
The Thousand Islands River was pleasant to paddle. We hadn’t really planned to go that path, but we did not regret our choice. It was Bernard who convinced us. The water level was good at this time. Despite a late start that day, we managed to get to Repentigny and find a beautiful island to camp, on the St. Lawrence River. We saw a few large boats passing through the channel. We witnessed the water receding from the beach, as big boats passed by, before returning with small waves.
The next day was another good one. Long live St. Lawrence River current! We went up to Lake St-Pierre. We saw the sunset and the moon lighting the lake as if it was daylight. When the sun went down and the last rays disappeared, there was a grey veil which suddenly appeared for a few seconds, before the moon began to make the calm water glow and restore a little clarity in the night. It's like when your phone adjusts the brightness of the screen all of a sudden, depending on the ambient lighting. It was finally in darkness that we arrived at Camping & Marina Louiseville. We were welcomed by Louise and Nicole, two sisters. They ordered us a pizza and gave us access to the services. The campsite is family-run and has a beautiful atmosphere.
It was at Batiscan we slept the following night. At this point, the tides began. We enjoyed paddling late in the summer, as the sun set at about 10:30 pm. Unfortunately, we could not count on long days anymore. At 6:50 pm, it was already dark.
On Wednesday October 4, we left Batiscan under a grey, heavy sky. We knew it was going to rain, especially in the afternoon and evening. So we said to ourselves that we would go as far as possible, take advantage of the tide, and that it would be good to stop before the rain began. We stopped in Portneuf for lunch. It was weird to see a very familiar place after all these years. Already the marina was practically empty. Only a few boats and sailboats remained tied to the dock. We pushed downstream to Neuville and stopped at Club Nautique Vauquelin. We received permission to set up camp on the lawn next to the main building. We had to wait an hour before we could empty the canoe and pitch the tent, as a squall passed through followed by abundant rain. Once we got into the tent, we were speechless. It was the last night in our tent. It was the last night of our journey. It was the end tomorrow. We had agreed to eventually stop in Quebec City rather than continue to Moncton. It was a matter of budget and common sense for the months to come.
On Thursday, October 5, we took our time to pack up and have breakfast. It was sunny. The sky was radiant and bright. As during the more than a thousand days spent paddling in the United States and Canada, we dismantled the tent, packed, carried our equipment and the canoe to the ramp. We filled the canoe. Jasmine jumped, by herself, onto her canoe. We gave ourselves a kiss and we wished for a beautiful day. Then, we let ourselves be carried by the falling tide. We talked....I cried. We were at the dawn of a new stage in our lives. If we had the financial means, we would have continued, but it was now time for us to return.
We arrived a bit after 1:30 pm at the Cap Rouge Marina. The tide was low and we had to line the canoe to get to the ramp where we were expected by family, friends and the media. We walked through the slimy, slippery mud, as we made our way. We were happy, proud and grateful......and that's how we ended the NorAm Odyssey. Filled with emotions and incredible memories.
We would like to take the time to thank all the people who came to see us on our arrival, as well as all those who wrote and sent us messages. Thanks to all of you who read our blogs and followed our journey during all these years. Thanks to all the people we met, because it was all of you whom made our story a fantastic and magical one. Thanks to Denis and Danielle who have always been there for us, just like Terry and Pauline. Thanks to Jean Robert and Odette for coming to see us so often and offering us a roof over our heads, here in Quebec City. Thanks to Leah who since the very beginning has proofread all the texts in English. Thanks to Michael who helped us more than once and for all the canoe transportation. Thanks to Lisa and Jim for the weather forecasts and numerous calls to ensure that our parcels were going to be held at post offices. Thanks to Mireille, Dave and their children, Lucien and Florent, who every month, packed and sent our supplies and even bought food for Jasmine when we could not find it locally. They always continued to help us, despite their own challenge with Florent who was seriously ill. Thank you to all our close friends for their support. Thank you!
Thank you to all our sponsors and partners, without whom we could not have done this adventure: Click Insurance, Ortlieb, Reprografic, Hilleberg, Happy Yak, InReach Canada (now Garmin), Cliff Bar, Jack Wolfskin, DJI and DroneXperts, Clipper Canoes, Kokatat, Gray Owl Paddles, Exped, North West Company, Hanwag, Arc'Teryx, The Original Bug Shirt, and Maclinik. Thank you to all our precious donors and all of you who have made a gesture, however small it was, to help us.
Although the adventure on the water is over, the NorAm Odyssey will continue to exist. We have several projects in mind and in progress, including a book, a film and lectures. We will continue to send news. You will be informed of our next steps and yes, we have to find a place to stay. It's only been a week since we arrived. Time is already flying quickly. There is a lot to do. We are writing the end of this chapter as we are writing the beginning of another.