Hell and High Water
I didn’t know this part of the river. The water was unusually high and the current strong. There were rapids and falls I had never seen before and I was alone, on a solo paddle.
I had heard of another solo paddler, on the very same route, who had been tossed about and had given up. He was finally found and rescued – at one in the morning.
The challenge was appealing. It’s part of what draws me to paddling. But I had rented a canoe and I wasn’t comfortable with the way it handled.
I don’t blame the boat. It is a proven design, light and capable, a good canoe for these waters.
But it would have performed a lot better carrying two paddlers or a heavy pack. I was by myself, without much gear, on a day trip. I should have added some weight (probably water bags; easy to empty before every portage and refill before setting off again).
I had one other not very serious reservation about the rented canoe, but more about that later.
I was careful to study the map and scout the river as I paddled. I portaged more than was strictly necessary, making sure I put in well clear of rapids and rocks.
It was worth it, despite the unbelievable onslaught of bugs.
I stood in awe before a compact and powerful waterfall, the water from the swollen river roaring through a small opening in a wall of rock.
On more silent stretches of the trip, the forest rang with bird calls. There were frogs everywhere. A young eagle flew over me.
I saw no one.
I found, on the quiet water between the rapids and portages, the serenity I can only achieve in a canoe.
But it had been a challenge, and so back at the outfitter, when I turned in the canoe, I jokingly chided the staff.
I had enough to be careful about I told them; an unfamiliar river, a canoe I didn’t know.
And after one portage, I had noticed that I had ended up with what could easily be considered the most evil boat in their fleet …
Not a bad canoe, a grinning staffer countered. One, he said, that would probably be perfect for crossing a different river.
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"We do not remember days, we remember moments."
- novelist and poet Cesare Pavese