We all have our rituals, they're important and make us who we are.
My deep winter ritual is to look at the map of New Brunswick and fixate on a river somewhere. Is it canoeable? I set out to find out as much as I can about the river as spring approaches. Just maybe I'll run it myself if it sounds good.
Has anyone else paddled it? That's the main question. Often, the streams -- that's usually what they are, smaller watercourses running towards the bigger river we already know well -- are marked on the maps with small lines across them to denote stretches of fast water -- rips, rapids, waterfalls, or whatever the mapmaker decided was appropriate.
Ya gotta be careful, it's hard to tell what the mapmaker is trying to tell you. I saw the hatchmarks between Kilburn and Shogomoc Lakes on the old 1:50,000 maps the province used to publish way back when. I imagined 500 yards of scary pleasure leading down from the upper deadwaters to the lower lake, and looked forward to it all late spring long. There was a portage marked alongside the 'rapids,' but I imagined that was for candy-ass canoodlers who shied away from the smallest riffles.
When Biff and I finally got there, it turned out that the rapids were small and steep, choked with old wood and big rocks, and too shallow anyway in that dry spring. We had a long and scary portage through the woods on the 'powder-puff' portage trail, and I lost all further interest in the Shogomoc. I left the river to the intrepid kayakers who run the lower section where it nears the Saint John and never looked back.
On the other hand, the old maps showed long stretches of river here and there with no marks, notches or names where surely the current was swift and rocky, a challenge for open boaters and closed-boat kayakers as well. The Renous Rivers, especially the north branch, were a true challenge in gathering information. I finally scored some third-hand info about the stream, and discovered runs that hadn't been done in thirty years, with churning water that ran turn after turn, one thrill after another.
But it was risky too. There were stretches where we had to get out and walk as the river disappeared under coarse gravel dropped by glacial eskers in the last Ice Age, and re-appeared downstream, deep once more. There were blind turns before sharp canyons where we had only moments to get to shore or smash into unforgiving, uncaring rock gardens. Basher and I went for a long swim one spring day on the North Branch, and were fortunate to snag the boat and all our gear on a trailing rope before it disappeared downriver never to be seen again.
One other spring not so long ago, I shared my obsession with one of my paddling buddies, a river called the Becaguimec near Hartland. As luck would have it, I had to sit out that spring with a foot infection, and my buddy got all his pals together and ran it instead. Good for them, I enjoyed their run vicariously. But still I feel a little let down, not having had the opportunity of satisfying my obsession myself.
The pleasure must be worth the risk, because I'm doing it again. I'm looking at a shorter river up in the Tobique country. More than that I won't divulge. Maybe I don't want anyone to dash my dreams.
Another buddy tells me he's been on it, as a guest at somebody's fishing camp, but he didn't take his boat on it. He said it looked good, just what I wanted to hear.
I have the same old fantasies -- a sunny day, deep water, some rocks but not too many, untouched woods, a nice campsite, even trout to fill my frying pan -- oops, did I mention fishing? Well, why not.
I just might sneak over to the calendar now and pencil in some weekend in early June, before the blackflies are out. Better do it soon, we all know how fast that calendar fills up.
Which side of the river is the portage on?
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