North Bay to Montreal – not the end of our communications!

North Bay is a lovely little town, I shouldn’t say little but in European terms it is. This has all sorts of advantages such as both having the size to support a cultural life while still able to maintain a community life. Large enough to so you can be an individual while small enough to know your neighbors. This town is near enough to Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal to be an important cross road and nature is of course just outside the city with a big lake to boat and the French River wilderness area or the crown land to the north for recreation.

We were received by Anne and Franck as if we were family. The kids played with us, the coffee flowed and sharing meals we got to know each other and confirm that we owned the same values. Anne as Dana’s camp supervisor was able to share with us some of the pranks he was known for as well as his ways of insuring at 13 that the “system” worked for him. A real friendship exists for him with Anne.

Next morning Dana’s mother Valerie and Jim arrived after driving 3 hours with a GPS that led them to the wrong side of town to share breakfast at 7am. The plan

Portaging through North Bay

is to drive me and the equipment to Mattawa and for the guys to speed the canoe down the Mattawa which is low we are told. So after a splendid breakfast offered by Jim, they drove the guys to the canoe which had been portaged through town the day before 5km to Trout Lake. Then I was picked up at the docks where the gear had been safely supervised by the 24hr harbour watchmen and we drove to Mattawa. They then drove back with a canoe on their car (we gave them the red canoe) and gear plus extra food (big bag of gorp) to take home.

At Mattawa after storing the gear on the river bank out of the way, I set myself up at the Moon Café where I had a good lunch while working on the internet. This is where I made most of the arrangements for our arrival. The Moon café is run by a family with whom I progressively became friends. Laurens son is the waiter and he cooks. We discussed our trip and he helped me post a sign for the guys at the last portage before Mattawa so they would not loose time finding me. The guys were supposed to make the Mattawa in one day, but finally they made it the next day so I slept in the appropriately named Voyager park near the gear. I walked through town early hunting for a cup of coffee and discovered huge wood sculptures of the characters that made this land by a local artist. Later Laurens Senior offered me breakfast while we shared a little music (he is a musician) and life stories of our common 60 years of adventures. I felt close to this family and appreciated Laurens son as a young man to whom I offered he come one day to France and learn cooking from Jackie the chef in Fort Mahon.

At last we are paddling on the Ottawa. We had been talking about this river all along the trip as our last long stretch before the arrival where we will join the St Laurent and finish the journey. This is a large wide river with a large variety of trees some of which are starting to announce the autumn with red leaves and yellow tints.

We reach the Johachims dam. Here it’s a several kilometer portage so I take a pack on my back and head out to see if we can get help. A couple hundred meters and I flag down a guy on a quad who takes me to the local store telling me that I should ask the owner if he can help. So I walk in and meet this wonderful man, phylosopher of this small resort village, and he tells me that if his wife is there she might help us. Well, not only did she help me get the gear but offered to render me on time to the docks of Pembroke where we are supposed to talk to students about our trip. The guys after taking initially a road blocked by fallen trees, finally wheel the canoe in and head out to join me.

Peter's family portaged our gear

 

Finally in Pembroke the students never show up but Mike Ranta is there (solo canoer with his dog we had met previously in Sasketchuan) when I get back from doing internet in town. So we spend the evening talking about our experience and drinking beer with some ruhm I had while laughing about our hard times on the water and the wonderfull meetings we had. He is an interesting man who has found himself after a difficult youth. Wheeling canoe to Muskrat lake 15kmHe now is a real missionary trying to inspire kids in his community that life is wonderful when you make something of it. What is most impressive is that Mike talks about doing another trip of this type each year. Mike is also a friend of Janice, our Quetico ranger, who lives in the same village; so we talk about life, it’s harships and the people we care about. Finaly it’s bedtime and a storm comes crashing in on us. So close that at the minute you saw the flash the tearing billowing sound hits us. Snug in our tents, we still wondered how close it had really come.

Well the guys did not make it on time for us to paddle to the outfit who had agreed to portage us so we decided to pass by the Muskrat lake which means a 15km of portage and then 3hrs on the lake and another 15km of portage to rejoin the Ottawa river. This is made possible by Peter’s mom having found us and agreeing to carry our gear Arnprior our next stop. This time Peter stays with the gear and the four of us go off wheeling the boat alonside the road, stopping to pickup a hamburger and fries or drinks along the way. An organic farmer having left his crop on a table next to the road, Dana buys beans and tomatoes, leaving the cost amount in place of the goods he takes. Adrien is impressed by the trust this implies. Finally we arrive at the Muskrat River where it’s marshy banks lead us to the lake. A camp appearing at night fall we ask if we can stay and they once again welcome us and offer us showers and facilities.

Before dawn we are up and at the first light in the canoe again to what promesses to be a big day. 3Hrs of lake, 3hrs of portage and 5 hours of paddling to reach our destination. Well, the wind comes up on the lake and leaving at 6 am we are paddling hard. With 2 to 3km of wind and hard paddling we reach the other end in half the expected time. Then, after a cup of coffee with free refills at one of those roadside stops associated to gaz stations, we are met on the road by a local journalist who had received a call from a neighbourg telling her a huge white canoe was going down the road. She stopped across from us creating a road block. A man stops, towing a long trailer; and offers us to portage to Portage du Fort where we can access the Ottawa river and paddle after the white water rapids. In one hour we achieve what we had been planned in 4 or 5 hours. Portage du Fort is a lovely spot with an old lodge where we stop for coffee while being intervierwed. As we propose to pay, the inn keeper tells us she heard our story and offers it to us. A spontaneous generosity typical of our Canadian encounters.

Paddling down river we slowly leave the wilderness to enter the cottage country and after a couple of days arrive in Ottawa. But first we stop in Arnprior where Chris Johnson welcomes us. Peter’s mom is there at the entrance of the Madawaska river and we stop at a canoe peer where dragon boats from last week’s race are lined up. Arnprior is a weekend residential community outside of Ottawa. Some people commute but Chris is thinking about retirering here, a quieter community but near enough from Ottawa to allow access to culture, specialized stores and friends. Chris is a management consultant who founded a firm 20 years ago to enable independent consultants to work with government contracts. Size, stability and reputation plus the ability to get paid monthly in exchange for 10% of the revenue. A good deal that I have practiced in Paris in my own consulting days. We talk shop and I find myself in the presence of a man with whom I find many common values. Chris & I go to Ottawa and drop off the gear the next day while the guys paddle to the Deer Lake canoe club where Hugo’s mother has arranged for us to store safely all of our gear and canoe.

The Kitchins, Hugo’s parents, have prepared a wonderful reception, first night with friends, second night in a smaller group with family & friends. Garden grown vegetables, beer of course, and showers, beds … the feeling that we are “at home” with the “family”. I enjoy my exchanges with Hugo’s parents about parenting, independence of the “children”, concerns about their choices and making opportunities possible … though officially retired Hugo’s father continues to work on missions as a consultant and they seem very happy in their “after work” life. Hugo’s friends are present, canoe championship buddies with whom he has grown up in the neighbourhood and who are now earning a living in canoe competitions. I really appreciate the camaraderie, the no frills and true exchanges between them. His closest buddy arranges to borrow a van and we portage all the gear to the Ottawa kayak and canoe club, one of the oldest clubs of the country, where we are greeted warmly and allowed to store our gear. From there we take the canoe out on the river and paddle to the riverbank of parliament hill. Then we portage the canoe to the lawn of parliament house. People gawk at us, smile and cheer. Some want to have their picture taken with the canoe. Photographers who are waiting for a meeting to end ask us if they can take a picture and we find ourselves in the journals of both Ottawa and Montreal with the caption “Pascal guiding his comrads at the portage in front of parliament house … “ we are now famous! The essential part is that we really had fun doing it and Hugo tells us that Prime Minister Harper was waving at us … another one of his wonderful jibs of imagination. Meanwhile we took many pictures and Hugo filmed the whole event. I had gone the day before to the French ambassy and met …. the ambassador’s representative in charge of key issues such as ecology, economics … etc. A competent, focussed intelligent woman, we talked for about an hour and though she immediately identified both reasons to encourage us and objections the economic agents of canada might make to the French Ambassy’s support of our expedition (since we are stating the real issues with pollution and socio political observations) she promessed to act to have a representative meet us in Montreal and personnaly expressed her admiration and support for our venture. Not quite the champagne reception we deserved, but the essential spirit of official support. Later I provided pictures and possibly we’ll be on the ambassy’s blog.

Time keeps ticking, we leave this warm welcome to reach Montreal in 3 days and be on time at the official arrival in the Old Harbour at the Salon du Bateau à Flot where the press, our readers and city officials are invited. 3 days where we keep telling ourselves, “this is the last time … “ for any of the common actions we have been doing for the last 5 months. 134 days and almost 5000 km is no small amount of time or energy to spend. Yet we are, or at least I’m, totally unaware of the dimention of this journey. 3 days of 60 to 70 km per day feels good physically even if at the end of the day the neck muscles and arms are acking. We paddle with gusto having unloaded some of our gear and food since we will not need them. The early morning rises with nothing but gorp or the almost dusk stops in deserted road ends or people’s lawns they lend us are no longer an effort. We are bent on getting there on time and this is the only thing that matters. The pace is totally different and has really been different since North Bay. This is the pace of “getting there” and our trained bodies, our ability to go beyond the point of pain or tiredness serves us well. We paddle in rhythm without though or the need to let each other know how we are organized. We are seasoned paddlers reaching the end of our journey, each looking forward to the arrival celebrations and already thinking about our futur life, return to the job market, being with our “significant other” and for me the organization of the next trip across America with my wife and Adrien.

We camp one day on a lawn, the next day we swim from the beach of a well to do house where the woman of the house even if she accepted we go for a swim seemed concerned about her security; then we later have our last camp where a road ends at the river … not the great campsites we have known. The last day, up early we have a crossing to reach Montreal Island. There the wind comes up and the waves start building up to the point when they nearly come over the side. Of course the wind is once again against us, the persistent story of our whole trip. We feel as if nature is wanting to test us one last time before arriving as Peter insures we cross the waves at the right angle so we do not take on water even if it’s not exactly our course. Finaly we reach the other shore and protected by the island we manage to head once again for the passage around the tip of Montreal Island. There a lock awaits us to leave the Ottawa River and arrive in the St Laurent our last body of water to reach La Chine our destination. It’s early so we decide to have breakfast after the locks.

La Chine Fur museum Voyager's Route

People on the quai gawk at our canoe and we distribute calling cards, postcards with our web blog address & Email while explaining where we came from, when we started and …. our experience. These are city folks, out for a saturday leasurly walk, a different breed from the canadians we have met in their daily occupations who have welcomed us all along the way. We are more of an attraction than an experience … hope you understand the nuance. We go to an italian restaurant and have the WORST breakfast experience of our whole trip. The waitress is impolite, suspects us of not paying, … I leave her NO TIP and we leave with the feeling of returning to the negative parts of civilization.

Scheduled to arrive at 6pm, we know we can get there at 3 without effort, so we paddle and stop at the last island before La Chine to have our last swim. Our last 3km are joyful and we arrive at La Chine around 4pm perceiving our welcoming committee on the far shore of the canoe club our destination. Our friends are waving at us and we are paddling directly for them, then on a peer at our right two small girls about 10 years of age, hail us saying they dropped something in the water and asking us to get it for them. We are in a dilemna, do we do the chivalrous thing and turn away from our friends or stay focused on our arrival? Finally all of us agree to go get the fallen headband and the smile of the two girls is reward enough for our effort. Our friends seeing us turn away think we have not understood where to go and they disperse trying to head for where we seem to go. We feel bad for them but once our mission accomplished, as we head back to our welcoming committee, they gather once again and we land on the dock of the Canoe & Kayak Club La Chine. Where for centuries Voyager expeditions started and ended their journeys.

It was suggested we take our shirts off ... by a woman!

 

Smiles, huggs, taps on the shoulders and the symbolic champagne. How wonderful to see these family members, the girlfriends and even Mark our saviour from Grand Portage who has made the journey to be here at our arrival. We are bewildered. Unable to understand really the three fundamental facts: we have accomplished our goal, we have safely accomplished an exceptional journey, our 134 paddling days are now behind us. Our friends keep telling us we have done something exceptional, we are starting to become aware of this, but for us we have just done what we set out to do.

Crossing Montreal on Canal La Chine

After storing the gear in the cars, portaging the canoe to the grass lawn and thanking our hosts, we head for the La Chine Fur museum where the hostess makes us visit the expositions explaining the hardships and long trips these voyagers have done. I smile interiorly thinking that we are probably the only visitors who really understand what she is saying. The picture in front of the ancient map of our whole journey is the key record of this visit.

The next day we meet at 8am to paddle the La Chine Canal to the official reception at the Salon Du Bateau Sur L’eau. We have decided to welcome as many as possible in the canoe and so Mark, Adam & his friend and all of us, except Hugo who decided to stay with Jodie, paddle through Montreal on this historical canal which was reopened recently and is becoming a green corridor within the city. On the shores we see the remains of the industrial erra, rusting cranes and bridges with vacant lots that speak of bygone days. On the horizon the modern high story buildings, on the shores the runners and morning walkers. We portage the first locks, then manage to go through the 4 others quickly enough to reach our destination only 30minutes late. There once again we are greeted by the organizers, our friends and families … and even the representative of the French Government, Nathalie Pradère, Consule Générale Adjointe, a warm friendly woman with her compagnion who share this exceptional event. Several simulations of arrivals are done so the local TV and friends have a chance to take pictures and experience the “Beluga” our worthy canoe. Then it is time for seperations and I organized the free storage of the canoe on the back of the docks so we can all disperse.

Behind the camera is Bruce Fountain, our staunch support all the way!


We have no solution for the canoe, our attempts to sell it on Craig’s list, on free sites, contacts with the canoe clubs of Montreal … and no one seems to mobilize themselves to provide solutions.

A real French - Canadian joint venture (French Embassy is PRESENT!)

Finaly, since I’m buying a car to cross the country I decide to bring it to Toronto. As you can see, a HUGE canoe on a SMALL car is quite a sight. But I had tied it on so it became part of the structure of the car and with the help of passer bys we managed to position it on top. I was really glad to arrive in Toronto without issues and on the way people would ask us if they could take pictures of this exceptional convoy. Finaly the Beluga is stored in Peter’s garage until the guys can sell it, most likely in the spring.

The trip is over, the next day in Toronto Bruce and Valerie remitted to us the symbols of our accomplishement, the toque and sach of the voyagers. Over a last beer we celebrated one last time deploring that Hugo was unreacheable and not there.

Here are the pictures of our team as we resumed our lives.

Peter kept his beard

Hugo is absent …

Pascal is with his wife traveling the USA

Adrien has yet to cut his hair

 

Note for our readers

We will be publishing a photo album of the trip. For coordination purposes and to update on the paths that each of the core voyagers will be taking, we are asking that the BLOG stay open until the end of the year. I will be posting (hopefully others as well) updates on when the book will be ready and my personal adventures as I cross America with my wife Veronique and Adrien. Not a real blog, it will only be notes on impressions and possibly a few pictures.

I repeat that should you want a specific picture of the trip, provided it is only for your personal use, we will send an electronic copy to you for printing. Please send us an Email with a copy of the picture you want from our blog and a statement to the effect that this is only for personal use. I will try to respond quickly but allow a few days since I’m traveling.

 

Finaly, let me thank you for your continued reading of this blog. Those who would wish to follow my personal adventures as I begin in June a new expedition across the Americas, from Seattle to Chile with my wife and two donkeys, please send me an Email with you FULL coordinates (first & last names, address, tel fixed & portable, Email) so I can establish a list to whom to send information once I set up a blog.

 

May you be inspired to do such a trip yourselves and share it with your family & friends. Remember, “if you knew what you were getting into, you would never do it”, but that can be said of mariage, kids, … and in the end it’s really what life is all about.

 

Pascal

 

Article de presse paru

From: Joani Hotte-Jean <jhotte@quebecyachting.ca>

Subject: Article sur Bateau Info (voir site www.bateauinfo.com)

Date: September 26, 2011 9:58:59 PM EDT

MOUNTAINS2MONTREAL : PAGAYER POUR LA PROTECTION DE LA NATURE
 

Le dimanche 11 septembre 2011, lors du Salon du bateau à flot de Montréal, la traversée Mountains2Montreal a pris fin pour sept canoéistes qui ont amassé des fonds pour la Société pour la nature et les parcs du Canada, un organisme qui a pour mission de protéger les 45 millions d’hectares du pays.

Leur périple de 4 500 kilomètres a commencé sur la rivière North Saskatchewan en Alberta et a duré 130 jours. Quatre-vingt kilomètres de portage ont été nécessaires pour reproduire l’itinéraire des trappeurs du XVIIe siècle.

Un documentaire sera réalisé sur cette aventure qui a profondément marqué ses participants. Vous pouvez d’ailleurs lire quelques billets racontant les points saillants de leur  trajet sur le blogue www.mountains2montreal.ca.


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