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Not Your Daddy's Canoe Run - Part 1

Every year while I was growing up, my father, some family and friends would organize an annual canoe trip down the Canaan River each spring.  It was something of a tradition that we would do each year in late April or early May while the brooks are still high enough to easily canoe without portaging.  It’s always been an all-day trip, driving far back into the woods and putting a handful of canoes and supplies in on a tributary brook that runs to the Canaan, and arriving at our end point near dark at the end of a very fun day. Lots of laughs and an adventure was assured each and every year.  We have many stories that we constantly share with anyone who will listen about these trips, none more frequently than “we need a plan”:

One of these trips, nearly 15 years ago at this point, Dad invited along a co-worker to share his canoe with he and I on this adventure.  This fellow had never experienced anything like a canoe trip that lasts from morning until night.  He took the “passenger” position in the canoe, sitting in the middle section, typically reserved for our gear, but which allowed him to more or less be “along for the ride”.  During the day he had a great time, laughing and joking with all of us, but you could tell as the afternoon turned to evening he was at his limit.  It was at this point that Dad decided to play a trick on him.  As we were crossing a set of hydro lines (Electrical Transmission Lines), at around 7pm, Dad looks up and says:
“Richard, see those lines?  That’s the half way mark”.
“Half Way?!?  We need to start making a plan!  It’ll be dark soon, we need a plan!”
In truth, the hydro lines are only a couple of miles from the end of our run, but for the rest of the trip, Richard was in a state of panic, “We need a plan boys!” he would say, and Dad would laugh.  To this day, it’s very seldom we drive by these hydro lines without one of us saying “We need a plan!”.

My father’s generation is getting older, and for the last few years the motivation to spend morning until night on the river hasn’t been there.  It seems we keep saying “maybe” until we decide it’s too late for the trip this year.  This year, however, Wayne and I purchased new Kayaks.  We were determined that even if no one else wanted to go, we were going to make the trip down the Canaan this spring.   Spring of 2014 in New Brunswick was not a kind one, with late snowfall, extreme flooding and below average temperatures. Two weeks before our run, the flood waters rose so high in the region that the Cherryvale Covered Bridge, which had stood on the Canaan River for 87 years, was swept away by the powerful waters.  It was clear that even 2 weeks later the waters were going to be high, and fast.  As such, it turned out, no one else wanted to go! 

Wayne and I were on our own, but armed with our new identical kayaks, and an unwavering resolve to do the trip, we made our plans.  On May 3rd we would head to the camp, which is located on one of the tributary brooks leading to the Canaan and put in directly from there.  Given that we weren’t heading back into the woods like we used to, we decided that we wouldn’t take out at our usual spot, but much further down river.  The plans were set, and all we needed to do was hit the water!

As that morning arrived, we were ready to hit the water!  A beautiful morning, with temperatures projected to reach 20 degrees Celsius (68 F), we thought our biggest concern would be a sunburn in this finally warm spring day.  Wayne had brought subs along for our lunch, and I had brought along some other food for our afternoon eating.  Our camp is right on the brook, which was convenient to launch to say the least.  This would be Wayne’s first time in a kayak, so we opted for the convenient location in case of launching issues.  There is a bend in the river by the camp, and about 100 yards downstream a culvert where the river passes under the road.  We would kayak right through the culvert and truly begin our journey.  No big deal, as both Wayne and I had walked through the steel culvert, which has a diameter somewhere around 20 feet, many times growing up while fishing for trout in our family’s piece of paradise.  About 10 years ago, major reconstruction was done on this culvert, involving filling the bottom of it with cement, we thought to reinforce it.  In actual fact, during this reconstruction, they added a fish ladder, right in the middle of the culvert.  Little did we know we were about to kayak over about a half a dozen mini-waterfalls.  Once we knew this, it was already too late to turn back.  Did I mention this was Wayne’s first time in a kayak?

I went through first, nervously laughing the whole way at the thoughts of my poor brother’s first experience in a kayak being such an adventure, and when I got out the other side I pulled up to the shore to wait and assure that Wayne made it through safely.  He did, although he wasn’t exactly laughing about it.  Little did I know that karma has a way of evening the odds in our family.  As soon as he arrived alongside me and we were ready to depart, I tried to use my paddle to push off the shore, and snapped one of the blades completely off where it connects to the shaft. 

We were less than 100 yards downstream, but I was far too stubborn to let this turn us around.  “I’ve gone down the river with a canoe paddle lots of times, this is no big deal.” I told Wayne and we continued on our way.  What I hadn’t realized is that effective steering in a kayak is pretty dependent on having both blades at your disposal.  In a brook that was easily 8-10 feet higher than normal, that was quite a challenge!  Not only was the water high, but it had spilled beyond the banks in many areas, creating flows and mini brooks in areas that clearly weren’t part of the natural brook.  Navigating these channels, deciding which way to go, and staying clear of debris turned out to be an adventure for both Wayne and me.  Much of the day from that point on was spent trying to improvise a way to keep the hollow blade attached to the shaft.  The most successful method was whittling down large sticks and jamming it into both ends.  This would work out well until the wood got wet and soggy at which point it was useless again.  If I’m being honest with myself, the effort to attempt to fix this broken blade wasn’t worth it, I should have carried on without it.

Not long after the broken paddle debacle, we were casually floating down the brook when we came upon an “island” that doesn’t normally exist in that stretch of brook.  Not knowing which way was the actual brook and which was simply flood water overflow, Wayne and I decided to try to go left, as it looked to be the correct way.  That turned out to be incorrect, and it wasn’t far that the passageway became about 3 feet deep but extremely fast.  Unfortunately we ran into some debris and Wayne quickly ended up sideways.  Being sideways, and inexperienced in raging flood waters is a bad combination, and I saw his kayak flip over quicker than either of us could have expected.  Luckily, the water was shallow and he was able to easily stand up and corral his kayak as it tried to escape down the brook.  Now, maybe a mile from the camp, it was time for a break!

Wayne pulled his kayak to shore and I followed.  He stripped down to get warmer and dryer, and I went to work getting his kayak and gear dried out.  The one real casualty of the tip was the two foot long subs, which were completely demolished by the encounter.  The day was getting warmer all the time and it wasn’t long before we decided to get back on the water, armed with the knowledge that even if nothing happened from here on out, this was going to make for a great story.

I’m pleased to report that things did get much more peaceful after this stretch of disasters.  Shortly after getting back on the water, we were able to float within 10 yards of a doe and twin fawns right beside the brook, before they realized we were there.  It’s always nice to have these close encounters, and was definitely a sign to us that sticking with the plan was the right choice.  The next few hours were mostly uneventful, we passed some fellow crazy canoers and some who were out for a nice Saturday trying to catch fish in the high, rushing, and dirty waters.  The highlight of this section of the trip for us, was crossing under the “We need a plan” lines and laughing about poor Richard.  

The tale of our spring trip continues, you can find it here.

2014-12-17 09:31:46


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