|Nanook's Campfire Tales|
|Bartholomew River Blues
by Allie Jewett
as told to Nanook of the Nashwaak
It was May 15. There were 22 boats, close to 50 people all told, men and boys. It was organized by the City Club of Fredericton. We were planning to go on the next weekend, over the Victoria Day long weekend, but so many folks would be busy opening up their fishing camps and cottages on that weekend that we decided to strike out one week earlier.
The day we set out was cold, the water was high and running feather-white. There was snow on the banks still lying in the shade.
I bought a brand-new 20 foot square-stern Chestnut, a beautiful cedar and canvas craft specially for this trip. It was heavy, but nice and wide for carrying gear and cold beer, back in the days when beer came in quarts. I guess I thought bigger was better.
When we started down, I realized that this was not the ideal boat for the Bartholomew. The stream was only a few feet wide, with one twist after another, and rushing wicked fast. There was no room to maneuver our loaded boat, we just kept her straight and hoped for the best.
No, nothing was tied in, it was all just thrown into the boat, clothes, tents, sleeping bags, food, beer, stoves, you name it. I must confess that I was not an experienced canoeman. The stream was full of logs, sticking out from the bank on every turn at all angles. It wasn't long before we hit one, and our boat was sucked right under that awful log before we had any chance to swing the big rig to shore.
Our boat got jammed and tipped sideways, and we lost all our food and tents, our sleeping bags, all our beer. The only thing I managed to save from being washed downstream in the current was my waterproof duffel bag with my spare clothing inside.
So we wrestled the boat out from under the log somehow, about eight of us, and my partner and I went to shore. We put on dry clothes, right down to our underwear, and soon started out again when we were nice and dry and warmed up. I threw my wet clothes onto the floor of the boat in front of me.
It couldn't have been more than two or maybe three turns later that we hit another log, and the boat once again got sucked under in seconds, flipped over and came to rest jammed in tight. It took another team effort to twitch it from the clutches of the sweeper, and when it finally came back up, there were my duffel bag and my wet clothes from earlier - gone!
The worst part was that in the pockets of my missing pants were my car keys, my wallet with over $400., my drivers license, and all my important papers. I was not a happy camper, lemmetellya.
Not too much later we all came to shore to spend the night. We were at least twenty-odd miles from the nearest settlement. We were cold and wet, and we had to beg food and beer from the other boats. There weren't enough tents to house everybody, so the children slept in the tents and the adults stayed outside all night long.
It was so cold that night the river froze over in the bogans, and our drinking water seized up solid in the pans and jugs. We kept heaping more wood onto the fire and got close as we could, sleeping in fits and snatches and waking up when the fire died down. We restoked it again and again and tried to get back to sleep.
If I could have sold my house to get a helicopter ride out of there that night, I would have done it in a heartbeat. I was freezing cold, hungry, tired, a little drunk and plenty scared. I think I got so chilled that night that nowadays even the slightest east wind makes me shiver and remember how cold we were way back then.
Thankfully, the next day was warm and sunny, and the river was wider and calmer down to the takeout. Everybody made it out alive, no bumps or bruises.
The first thing I did when I got home was sell that huge boat. I was pretty steamed about the loss of my wallet, and I still had to reimburse the outfitter for the tents and all the outdoor gear I had rented from him.
Two weeks later, I got a call from Jimmy Wilson, he used to be a member of the Legislature back then, and he asked me whether I'd been doing any wild and crazy boating lately. I knew he was leading me on, and pretty soon he fessed up that he had found my pants on the river. He spied them hanging from the branches of an alder bush about four feet over his head as he was paddling by. That's how high the water was when we came down the river that year. Thank Gawd for an honest man, my wallet with my money and my papers, and my car keys, were still in the pockets.
That was the end of my Bartholomew River running days.
Never say never, Allie. Thanks for telling us your tale.
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