I have been on this expedition now for seventy five days during which I have paddled over 2300 kilometers. Counter to my expectations, as I approach the last third of this trip my kayak feels almost comfortable, the kilometers pass with ease and days seem to fly by, sometimes blurring together to the point where I cannot even remember the day of the week or how long it has been since I passed Montreal. My life and this journey have melded to the point where I sometimes forget that this trip will have an end. I find myself surprised that this trip does in fact have an end and that is almost as worrisome as it is something to look forward to. Almost.
These past two weeks have been really special. I have found my groove averaging fifty kilometers a day due to good weather, tailwinds and the current of the St. Lawrence. I left Ottawa on Canada Day and that night after being surrounded by jubilant sea-dooers and powerboat enthusiasts all day I was treated to not one, but a multitude of Canada Day’s firework displays within one town. Soon enough I found myself passing through Montreal, meeting up with some friends who provided me with montreal bagels, sherbet and company in Atwater Market. Passing through the locks in the Lachine Canal was extremely significant as once below Montreal the river now runs unimpeded by man, racing at astounding speeds in its descent to the ocean. It runs so fast that paddling over 10km/h became common and at one point I hit a record high of 23km/h, and a day long total just shy of eighty kilometers. From this point on, I would be travelling on the “Fleuve” as many Quebecois affectionately call the St. Lawrence River, the waterway that directly connects Thunder Bay to the ocean.
I found myself using french way more than I had anticipated, a definite highlight of this trip. In my opinion Quebec is so far ahead of the rest of Canada in respect to creating tourism infreastructure promoting human powered travel. Bike lanes and trails are everywhere spanning the entire province as well as a maritime trail following both sides of the St. Lawrence ensuring campsites and facilities for paddlers in urban and settled areas. Quebec hospitality has been so welcoming, I ended up staying with two paddlers who I met on the water who gave me a warm bed, hot shower and lobster dinner! Passing fisherman have supplied me with beer and having poutine shacks lining the banks has ensured I get enough calories every day.
The ocean, in some visceral sense, feels like home. It contains more life than any lake, being home to a vast array of sea creatures. Fat seals lazily lie about on rocks and Beluga whale sightings are almost assured in the next couple of days. To paddle on the ocean is to interact with this life force and at any moment an unexpected marine wildlife encounter could occur, a welcome change after the river systems I have been travelling on. For the days leading up to my arrival to the ocean, I would dip my fingers in the water and bring them to my mouth, checking sometimes every hour for a hint of salt. For a while, all I tasted was the somewhat unpleasant river water of the St. Lawrence but then there it was, a hint of saltiness brought in on the high tide, a small token of what was to come. It was this moment in which I knew I wanted to revert to my original plan of paddling around the Gaspe instead of down the St. John River. It would feel anticlimactic to leave the ocean after only three days of paddling. That decision means that as of today there are just over a thousand kilometers to go still, placing me at home roughly August 15th. Doing the route I originally had planned feels right however, and the challenges of paddling around one of the windiest, most exposed coastlines on the eastern seaboard is something I am looking forward to.
So here I am, in Riviere-du-Loup with my parents who have driven up from Rothesay to see me. A six hour drive for them hilariously equates to a month long paddle for me. Food has been packed for the next two weeks, another patch was put on my boat, and a days rest with great food was well received. When perusing the liquor store for a bottle to keep me company, I was drawn to one with a boat on it, appreciating the nautical theme. Reading the label of Cutty Sark, I was astounded when it read “The spirit of adventure lives in us all. It is the courage of our convictions, the mark of true character and the desire to be different.” Obviously the right choice for this trip. So from the coast of the Atlantic, cheers to you all.