By Ross Montandon
After driving, blissfully unaware, the wrong way down a one way street for some 400 metres we were met with a mighty roar of oncoming traffic which stopped us in our tracks. Simultaneously a bedraggled homeless person approached the car waving his arms about, was he begging, hitching or simply trying to tell us in Canadian French something that we already knew? The traffic very politely and with great tolerance allowed us to rectify the situation.
A decent kip saw us skilfully navigating our way to the Lachine Rapids. Stopping off at the supermarket I managed to lock the keys in the car. Why do car hire companies insist that they always have only one set of keys. An elderly French Canadian taxi driver offered to help. From the boot of his car he produced a complete set of wedges and hooked wires He declined to answer our question as to his previous profession! In the meantime John and I had secured a hanging basket wire, some sticky tape and a broom handle from a tacky dollar store. With a steady hand and some excellent precision work John had this contraption through the tiny opening of the rear window and like a mastermind crook fished out the keys.
A great days paddling ensued
Big Joe was waiting for us in all its glory accompanied by a bright sun complementing the blueness of the St Lawrence River. Since it was a weekday we had the wave all to ourselves, shared only at times with local board surfers. I was surprised that during the whole of our 3 days paddling here there was never any dispute between kayakers and surfers which I had read and heard about in the UK. And neither should there be as kayakers and surfers alike are on the river for the same reason - to have fun. We spent the evening mainly eating, fatigued from a day on the water. By the time we had stocked up the energy sources it was time for bed, just to do it all over again the next day. On our second day in Montreal we returned to the car to find that some Montreal official had kindly left us a $52 parking ticket we had parked within 5 metres of a fire hydrant.
Lachine by dawn, Ottawa by moonlight
After a refreshing morning session on Lachine, we found it in ourselves to put our trust in the cruise control system, driving out of the stylish city of Montreal down the long straight roads passing smaller and smaller populated towns, pulling up next to bigger and bigger pick up trucks when we stopped for fuel. When I glanced at the magazine rack I noticed magazines with the titles of Bows and Arrows and Customised 4x4 trucks I purchased my Oreo cookie ice cream and my eyes followed up button by button on a red chequered shirt with a beard that could be said was so bushy that Chipmunks could nest in it during the harsh Canadian winter. All this was topped off by a white baseball hat that said Ontario gun meet 97 I hastily grabbed my ice cream followed by a meek Goodbye. As the vehicle rolled away back onto the tarmac I watched through the back window the clerk gazed back with a narrowing glare. I turned around and unwrapped my ice cream.
The roads soon began to look familiar as recollections came flooding back, 1950s restaurants, Tim Hortons, humorously tilting rickety old barns, defying gravity We could feel that the Ottawa was close by inviting us to its warm water and play waves. We pulled up to our accommodation and assured that there was just half an hour of daylight left we cursed the mosquitoes and headed out on to the river. Garberator still had a few paddlers sitting in the eddy their silhouettes just standing out against the wave. I had experienced late night paddling often in the UK but what you fail to realise is that out here there is no light pollution. The paddle back up the river to find our accommodation was so dark it was amazing, total darkness and stillness, a sky powdered with millions of stars, trying to find our small bay proved interesting as the Ottawa has many different bays and islands to disorientate the mind. Even though the Ottawa river attracts hundreds of paddlers each year and has been slowly adapted for the paddlers, you can easily lose yourself here on this complex river of channels and islands. Paddling at night made you realise that this is the real Canadian wilderness home to moose, bear and even worse mosquitoes! Altogether an amazing place and some superb whitewater to indulge in.
Thanks to Peak UK for ongoing support in all my Whitewater experiences.
And thanks to Shep and Bev for the last minute bubble wrap.