The Shuttle Bunnies Strike Back (Eastern Canada for Couples)

by Mark and Heather Rainsley

(first published in Paddles magazine)

"Follow me, dear...what could go wrong?"

What happens if both you and your partner paddleand you have totally different paddling priorities? Mark and Simon went to Ontario and Quebec hoping to find challenging whitewater and thumping playboating. Heather and Cheryl just happened to be in the same vehicle at the same time, and they wanted to paddle the easiest, friendliest whitewater they could find. Clearly, either the boys or the girls were going to go home disappointed! Surprisingly enough, Eastern Canada turned out to be an unusually good 'compromise' destination

Heather: I was looking forward to seeing Canada. I was looking forward to seeing Simon again and getting to know Cheryl. I was not looking forward to yet another endless marathon of trying to summon up the courage to paddle rivers that were much too big and scary for my delicate nature. I was not looking forward to being a shuttle bunny by default (i.e. the assumption that by wimping out of the rivers, I had therefore chosen to shuttle them).

Mark: My mate Simon lives in the US of A with his girlfriend Cheryl. They invited Heather and me to join them for a couple of weeks just across the border in Ontario and Quebec. A sweet couplesy fortnight, all paddling on the water together and sharing our holiday experience. What could be more perfect? Si and I knew the secret subplot off by heart, however. The Canadian rivers would be too much for the girls' abilities, they'd end up shuttling the car, we'd get loads of boating done at the difficulty level we liked. It's a formula which has worked many times before, and hasn't failed us yet

H: The first evening in Canada set the pattern for how I imagined the rest of the fortnight might progress. Mark and Simon ripped up Expo '67 wave whilst I indulged my jet lag in the car. In fact; at that stage I didn't really care that I was in the car rather than in the boat. Sleep seemed like a much better prospect.

M: Si collected Heather and I at Montreal Airport and dragged us straight to Expo '67, a huge playspot on the Saint Lawrence River. With room for two on the wave, Si and I bounced and blunted until our arms went wonky. My body clock told me it was 4 am and this was happening against a backdrop of skyscrapers lighting up, as the sun went down over downtown Montreal. Splendidly surreal.

The Expo '67 wave in Montreal.

H: Getting to know Cheryl was a nice surprise, I had an ally! She too wanted to paddle something other than scary grade 5 (in fact, she had not paddled any white water before) and she wasn't going to stand for any shuttle bunny nonsense either. Things were looking up!

M: Cheryl is from Barrow in Furness, a true Barrovian who can simultaneously punch bouncers, down Bacardi Breezers and scoff chips. They make them hard oop north. Despite Cheryl being a complete novice, it was clear that she was determined to get some whitewater done. Hmm, that wasn't in the plan

H: The next day (nursing margarita hangovers) we headed to the Rouge River. Mark told me that I would be 'just fine' on it (I've heard that before!) but I was convinced that it was too hard for me. I did the wimpy thing and put the tent up instead of paddling. Mark and Simon returned a bit under whelmed by the river (a sure sign that I would have enjoyed it) but it was too late to go and paddle again.

M: First stop was the Rouge River; I tried to persuade Heather she'd be up to this but frankly, I had no more idea what it was like than she did. She wisely declined. Si and I did a run enjoying super-warm water and rapids which were powerful and continuous but well, easy. The Rouge ends with some big waterfalls, sadly needing lower water to paddle and survive. Not a bad trip though, and how nice of the girlies to shuttle us.

H: The next day we got directions from the friendly people at the rafting company where we camped, and plodded across country to the next river; the Gatineau. I had already read a nice internet guide containing a scarily adrenaline packed description of this river and convinced myself that no way, Hose, was I ever going to paddle it. No way at all. Not ever.

M: A breathless rafter directed us to the Gatineau, raving about huge grade 4-5 and epic beatings. All of the bumf we had confirmed his account, and Si and I mentally geared ourselves up for some full-on gnarly boating.

H: I said "No thanks, I'll put the tent up". Do you see a pattern developing? Cheryl said, "We'll make 'em paddle something flatter later." We camped at the end of the white water section of the Gatineau. I walked up the last rapid (grade 4 according to the scary guide). On one side, there was a lovely wave train and on the other a fluffy stopper. I could do this, I realised. It put the rest of the river into perspective. And it was hot. And it was sunny. And ten small children in buoyancy aids had just swum through the rapid!

M: Again the girls didn't want to paddle, everything was going to plan. We launched onto flat water, and a few things became clear. The geology of Eastern Canada means that 'rivers' tend to be lakes linked by short rapids where granite ledges intrude. The Gatineau had endless, unbelievably long sections of wide flat water. The rapids when they came, were big drops into wave trains and rather enjoyablebut grade 3. Never trust rafters.

H: Eventually, Mark and Simon arrived. They were moaning about how flat the river was and how easy it all was, this sounded hopeful! We spent the afternoon on that last rapid of the Gatineau. Cheryl bobbed down it repeatedly and proved that flat water star test training is a very good foundation for white water paddling (or maybe they do breed them tough in Barrow!). I felt confident enough to run the rapid alone while Mark took photos.

Heather on the Gatineau.

Cheryl's first rapid!

M: The Flatineau had saving graces; there was a decent playspot beside the campsite and the beach where we camped was truly idyllic. The girls both paddled the rapid; it was certainly friendly, but I wouldn't have thought of it as a beginner's spot. This didn't seem to trouble Cheryl.

Camping at the Gatineau

Gatineau campsite wave.

H: On that hot afternoon it began to sink in that this was going to be a different paddling holiday. I was going to be able to paddle these rivers. This was going to be fun!

M: Hmm.

H: The next day we all set out to run the Gatineau. I think it's time I told you about the voices. Don't tell anyone, but I hear voices. They usually say things like "That looks scary" or "I know you can see the line on that rapid, but I can see the hole just beside it AND I can see the portage path around the rapid" or plain and simple "You can't do that". I'm not very good at ignoring my voices even though they are usually only negative. But somehow the sunshine and the fact that it was too hot to wear a cag made them a bit fainter and less convincing.

M: Surprisingly, the girls were both up for the full trip the next day. We still had to go through the usual melodrama, introspection and indecisiveness that girls seem to need before so much as leaving the housebut there we all were, launching together on the Gatineau. I was chuffed to see Heather taking on something which would challenge her at her level, but I wasn't too sure that Cheryl was in the right place.

H: Off we set. The rapids were very spaced out. The first rapid was a bob and a splash and then done. But the next one (the voices reminded me) was named after the Devil. I couldn't ignore this and a careful inspection led me to conclude that they were right on this score, the hole and the line were just too close together. I'd get them muddled up! Anyway, portages are much more exercise and I needed to get fit. Simon warned me about a snake he'd seen while he was carrying Cheryl's boat but didn't tell me it was in the river until after I had got back into my boat. He thought I was very brave getting in just by where he had seen it swimming. I thought he was very stupid not to have warned me that he saw it swimming rather than just sitting in the sun as I had imagined.

M: Double standards. Si was deemed 'a sexist git' for suggesting that the girls should do the shopping on this trip. So why was it, that he was expected to carry Cheryl's boat when she portaged?

H: The silence and vast solitude of the forest was broken only by Simon's moans about the length of the flat sections and how his feet hurt. The following rapids are a bit of a blur for me now but I do remember one long rapid. Mark said, "It's bouncy, follow me and you'll be fine. It was indeed incredibly bouncy and I did follow him closely and I was fine. I was better than fine, I was fantastic, ecstatic, this was why I paddled, the moments like this when I could ignore the voices and enjoy the bounce and taste the splash and feel my heart beating with excitement rather than terror. I wanted to stay in Canada forever. I turned to watch Cheryl following Simon down the rapid. She too bounced and followed and whooped.

M: Si and I had one remaining ace up our sleeves; all we needed was for one of the girls to have a beating and bad swim, and they'd both shun the rivers for the rest of the trip (trust me, it works). However, it became depressingly clear that this wasn't going to happen. They were paddling with worrying competence and our 'novice' bizarrely turned out to be quite skilful. Cheryl even paddled a waterfall that Heather portaged, what was that all about? She made the mistake of whooping below a rapid however, and the River Gods punished such uncool behaviour with a swim. Cheryl wasn't fazed in the slightest though, so much for that plan!

H: That afternoon we set off for the Ottawa River. The Ottawa is extremely popular and for the next few days, we shared our eddies with weekenders and locals and tourists. Every rapid has a name and the names are part of the folklore of the riverthe guidebook takes over 100 pages to describe the river! But, following my delight at the Gatineau despite the horrors described in the guides, I now realised that the famous Ottawa would be manageable and enjoyable for me. The names and reputations of the rapids on the Ottawa do indeed inflate their modest difficulty and challenge. But why else do you go to the pub after paddling, if not to talk about how big and scary it was? The guidebook listed many other rivers in the area of similar difficulty. Good news for Cheryl and me, bad news for the boys! I was now looking forward to lots of paddling over the following days, something that hasn't happened on many whitewater trips with Mark. Sorry boys!

M: Aaarrgh, our tried and tested formula had failed us! The rivers of Ontario and Quebec had turned out to be ideal for the girls, and they were hooked. They were eager to paddle as many of the local rivers as they could; and expected our full support. Well, it could have been far worse; the Ottawa with its two different channels (one harder. one easier) meant that all of us could get something out of it; as long as Si and I didn't mind paddling the whole distance twice a day! The other rivers we conquered in the following days also turned out to be rather pleasant, although I did hear Si's teeth grinding on the Madawaska. What can I say? Our evil plan failed, but the girls' paddling came on in leaps and bounds. We didn't get our dose of hard paddling in this holiday, but there were enough playspots to keep our whinging to a minimum. So get yourself and your partner to Eastern Canada; but not if you're planning to put him/ her off boating!

Mark and Heather's Purely Subjective Guide to Ontario and Quebec Whitewater

Slugs and Snails
Sugar and Spice
Rouge River, QuebecMostly big volume grade 3, long section of grade 4 at the end before portaging around the 'Seven Sisters' waterfalls."Pretty good, but shame the water levels were too high for the waterfalls.""I'm not paddling that, the guidebook says it has waterfalls on it."
Gatineau River, QuebecPool drop with big complex rapids, all of which have grade 3 lines and easy portages."Okay, but more playspots would have made it easier to forgive the epic flat sections.""Beautiful and bouncy, who could ask for more?"
Ottawa River, Ontario (McCoys Rapid)A long grade 4 rapid at the start of the Ottawa, before it separates into different channels."Several great playspots, but ridiculously crowded.""Look at the size of that stopper, I'm portaging."
Ottawa River, Ontario (Middle Channel)Mostly flat water with several grade 3-4 rapids. One large 4-5 fall 'Garvin's' which is a simple portage."What is all the fuss about? The Main Channel had better be more interesting than this"."With raft sized portage paths, I can pick and choose my rapidsnice."
Ottawa River, Ontario (Main Channel)Marginally less flat water and longer more challenging rapids, up to grade 4."Much better than the Middle, with two first-rate playspots.""Not for me, thank you"
Petawawa River, OntarioA trip through the town of Petawawa into the Ottawa River, with numerous grade 4 ledges and reef rapids."Some nice drops - but how come the men had to walk the shuttle whilst the girls sat on the beach?"

"Really enjoyable at the low un-pushy level we had, I portaged a couple of the bigger ledges and had fun picking my way down the rapids."

Madawaska River, Ontario (Palmer Rapids)A kilometre long series of grade 2 rapids which are a popular coaching spot."A great spot to coach WW skills. But not much else.""At last; a playwave on a scale I like, why does it have to be 3000 miles from home?"
Madawaska River, Ontario (Snake Rapids)A long wild trip which begins completely flat, but has a series of eight pool drop grade 3 rapids in the second half."I can feel my will to live going. Are you sure we aren't paddling upstream?""The beauty of the stretches of deep, black, flat water dotted with water lilies and damsel flies deep in forests unreachable by foot. I'm in heaven."

Much more reliable info: 'Ottawa River Whitewater' by Jim Hargreaves (second edition 2003) includes guides to all of the rivers mentioned here -

Mark and Heather Rainsley thank Si and Cheryl for enduring our company. Thanks also to Perception Kayaks and Nookie Equipment for splendid boating gear.

Garvin's chute on the Ottawa, the only tricky rapid.

Hole Brothers playspot on the Black River, NY State..we spent a day here en route into Canada.

Heather on the Petawawa River.

Mark and Simon on the Ottawa.

Cheryl on the Petawawa.

Heather - lame roll attempt.

Palmer Rapids, Madawaska River.