Our Great Big Canoe Adventure

Isabella had never done any serious canoeing before and wasn’t sure if she was up for the 4 ½ hour return canoe trip to Five Finger Rapids, part of the Dokis Native Reserve at the French River. But she was willing to give it a try as long as we didn’t mind taking an occasional break along the way.  “No problem,” we said.  Canoeing to Five Finger Rapids had been on our bucket list since last year.  There was no way we wanted to miss out on what we considered our great adventure.

Islands in the stream.

It’s a totally different experience trying to navigate on the water, than it is on land.  There are no sign posts, and very little in the way of cottages to mark our path in this part of the river.  We had to make our best guess as to which island on the map we were looking at in real time.  For the most part, as long as we stayed to the left, close to shore, we were OK, except for the occasional inlet that threw us off a bit.  But, as in most things in life, when you set off on a journey, people and opportunities always present themselves to help guide you along your way.  Our efforts at nautical navigation were no different.  We came across some fishermen who pointed us in the right direction, as well as a man standing on a hillside, who informed us we had arrived at Five Finger Rapids safely.

We located a decent spot to pull our canoes to shore on the rocky surface.  Laden as it was with paddles, a picnic lunch, and towels for swimming, the darn thing was heavy.  It took all four of us ladies to carry each of the little red canoes onto the shore so they wouldn’t get scratched.  But we did it, and hid our paddles in the bushes to make sure no-one would take off with them, along with our transportation home.
With knapsacks on our back, we trudged through the wilderness – well it felt like the wilderness to four city gals — over the moss-covered rock that felt like carpeting beneath our feet, up and down the roughed landscape, in search of the lost treasure of Five Finger Rapids.  Or, to put it more aptly, a place to have our picnic – in the shade, overlooking the rapids.  We found the perfect spot where we watched a group of kids play in the rapids for our entertainment.

As often happens when out in nature, we were visited by a most unwelcome guest – a wasp.  For some reason, it was attracted to my dear friend Lucy, who had already stepped in a wasp nest while hiking a few days before, leaving feeling unwell for at least 12 hours.  I guess it was her turn to get stung this year.  Last year my back was covered in mosquito bites while on the same hike.  So much for organic mosquito repellent.



Five Finger Rapids.

Undeterred by this unfortunate setback, and maybe even because of it, after finishing our picnic, we decided to change locations and find a spot that Alex, from the lodge, had told us was a great place for swimming.  This meant another hike through said wilderness – up more hills and over fallen trees with our individual burdens.  Louise and Isabella were way ahead of Lucy and me due to the heavier burden of our cooler, so we couldn’t even see them up ahead.  But that didn’t stop our forward movement.  We just hoped we were heading in the same direction as our friends were.  Fortunately, we were once again aided by the kindness of strangers who said that a group of women had just passed this way, and that we couldn’t miss them as long as we followed the trail.

On foot.

By the time we caught up with them, Louise and Izzy (as she likes to be called) had already dumped their stuff and were sitting on the rocks with their feet in the swiftly moving water, wondering whether or not to tackle the strong current of yet another set of rapids that veered to the left.  Once again undeterred, our fearless leader, Lucy quickly left her own stuff on the rocks, and was in the water swimming past the rapids to an outcrop on the other side.  Not one to be left behind, I set off after her, followed closely by Izzy and Louise.  It was a bit of a drag – by that I mean the nearby rapids wanted to pull us in a direction other than the one we wanted to go.  But as long as we stayed over to the left, where the current wasn’t as strong, we were fine.  In fact, we felt rather proud of making it to the other side.  The trip back was more of the same until we got back to where we left our gear.  There were lots of slippery rocks underfoot so we had to navigate without falling and busting open our head, or breaking a leg.  Little mountain goats that we are, we managed to make it back to the relative safety of the solid granite surface of land.

We spent the rest of our time at Five Finger Rapids lazing under the shade of a tree with a good book, or having a snooze.  Before long, we knew it was time to head back to the lodge.  But first we had to find our canoes.  Imagine a bunch of city gals wandering around in the wilderness trying to locate our canoes.  Just kidding.  We really did know which direction to go, although we did turn left instead of right when we got close to the river.  But we found them.  That’s the main thing.

Choppy water.  It wasn’t quite this bad.

I don’t know why it is, but whenever we’re at our most tired, the wind is always against us when we’re canoeing back to the lodge.  The waves were really choppy and it was hard going.  Poor Lucy, with her wasp sting, was digging deep to get home as soon as possible.  Paddle, paddle, switch – paddle, paddle, switch, was the only thing on our minds until I took a lesson from the voyageurs and suggested that we sing a song to ease our suffering.  Louise suggested the most appropriate, Land of the Silver Birch which we followed up with a few songs from the 60s, which we had sung at my Hippie Party the previous month, so they were fresh in our mind.  But when Louise suggested singing 100 bottles of beer on the wall, I simply had to draw the line.  I have to say, the voyageurs certainly knew what they were doing when they sang while paddling, it not only helped to keep the rhythm, it helped to keep thoughts of the numbing pain in our shoulders and the agonizing twinge in our backs at bay.  Paddle, paddle, switch – paddle, paddle, switch.

Tired right out.

The wind added an extra ½ hour to our return trip, but we made it.  With our last bit of energy, we hauled the canoes back onto the beach at the lodge, unloaded our things, and trudged up yet another hill to our cabin, where we dumped our stuff and collapsed onto our beds with the sure knowledge that these four, mostly 60 something women, still have what it takes to have a great big canoe adventure.

Categories: Memoir

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