Years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a a fun weekend the likes of which I had never experienced before and haven’t quite experienced since. I’m talking the weekend I canoed down the Restigouche River. By the time I had reached my teens, I had the opportunity to camp overnight in commercial campgrounds and do SOME things outside, but I had never truly experienced the outdoors and surviving on my own until I had the opportunity to paddle down the river with one of my oldest and dearest friends. He likely won’t be reading this so I can flip some shit about him but I’ll mostly be focusing on our first trip down the river.
When my friend first suggested this trip, it was described as a 3-day ordeal of paddling and exposure to the elements. I wasn’t quite on board, especially since it would involve missing some karate classes but he finally convinced me. My friend’s family owned a rental company so we had the benefit of getting the canoe, supply barrels and various equipment for free. His mother took both our wallets with the thought that if we lost it in the river, we’d be screwed. As good a thought as that was, at the time, reflection on that aspect decades later tells me that if something had happened to us on the river, authorities would have had no way to identify our bodies. But it all worked out, so I guess I digress…
We were driven north-west by one of my friend’s sisters and dropped off at a launching site. The adventure started when we realized that we would be hit by a solid bout of rain before we got on the river. I foolishly thought that we would throw in the towel but my friend pointed out that it would be pretty silly to sacrifice 3 days of fun on the river for a little rain. I agreed and we cast off. Although we immediately got drenched by the rain, we had a blast. We paddled for a number of hours before we found a spot on the river that was out of water and safe enough to set up camp for the night.
We got a fire going, set up the tent and had an hour of quiet reflection as we chatted and snacked on the side of a river. The following morning, we shared the chores of getting the camp taken down as well as making a makeshift breakfast in a cast iron pan over a roaring campfire. It was a fantastic morning. We even had a forest ranger come visit and chat with us over coffee for while. No devices, no internet, no distractions. Nothing but good conversation and the open river.
We took to the water early on and started paddling down. We arrived at a part of the river where there was a deep, clear pool of water. We parked the canoe and tied it off and got in the water and floated down river in our life jackets for a bit. We were able to see so many freshwater salmon rushing around us. It was a fantastic experience. We set up camp for the second time that afternoon and spent some time swimming, laughing, signing A Cappella and enjoying the silent peace of the wilderness. It made me wonder why I had never done anything of this sort before. Then, I remembered that I was a Type-1 Diabetic and my parents were paranoid and shielded me from life. But I digress.
We reached the shores of Atholville, which meant that my friend’s family would be around to pick us up shortly. We were dehydrated, exhausted but happy. Our 3-day transit was a combination of intense exercise from the paddling and being in the elements. Packing up the canoe and our equipment almost felt like a tedious endeavour and took forever. That ride back into town felt surreal; like being in the civilized world was something we had left behind. But it didn’t take long for us to get back to my friend’s Apartment where a hunger the likes of which I haven’t felt in forever took hold.
It was hard getting back to normal after that. A few years later, we would follow-up with a second trip down the river. It’s fantastic fun. I highly recommend enjoying some time in the forest where you ACTUALLY have some time to connect with nature and disconnect from modern life. It’s been a couple of decades since those two river trips and all the fun we had. Maybe sometime ion the near future, I’l need to find a way to introduce my sons to that same level of peace and nature. ☯️