We left the Sunset Inn and paddled the remaining 5km or so towards North Bay, coming off the water at a beach shortly before the main dock to get out of a bitterly cold northerly wind. Putting the boat on the trolley we headed through town, with a route planned to take us past a supermarket to pick up some things we couldn’t get the day before. This route also took us past a Saturday morning farmers market, though we resisted the urge to wheel the boat right down the middle of it. Eventually, after stocking up on Clif Bars, we found our way to the North Bay Canoe Club, our launching point onto Trout Lake. There were several canoes already out on the water, with a lesson clearly underway. We were hoping we might be able to sneak into the class and learn a thing or two, but were spotted unloading our gear by Jen and Otto who were instructing. They were teaching Jen’s Eco-Tourism students, and invited us to come and speak to them all about our trip. It was great fun chatting to this interested bunch and describing the highs and lows of our adventure. We reckon as eco trips go it’s probably not bad, once you discount the air travel to get us here.
Sadly we had to keep going though (but not before eating their delicious banana bread) and we left the beach and headed out across the lake. A small lake, not some monster with attitude! What a joy! And we had a tail wind, so we covered the 11km to the Mattawa River, and on to Turtle Lake, with ease. The Portage de la Mauvaise Musique through to Pine Lake was less easy to find, but after lifting over a beaver dam, with the water seemingly flowing the wrong way, we found it. A short paddle, another short portage and paddle on into the twilight and we camped for the night on a low spit of land, listening to coyotes howling across the lake.
We woke the next morning and looked out into….nothing. The fog was so thick we couldn’t even see the lake, and we were camped only 5m from it. We got on the water and took a bearing, heading for the far shore. This was easy. Following the edge of the lake towards a portage you know to be above a significant waterfall was a little more nerve wracking, but the waterfall turned out to have a dam above it and the portage was again obvious and well marked. It was a rocky path though, with a particularly high step our friend Paul described as a “hernia maker”! Not this time, but I’d be nervous if I was 10 years older. This second half of the Mattawa turned out to be great fun, with numerous short and runnable rapids and some larger falls and a dam, which need to be portaged. We made great time down this pretty, playful little river, which is lined with cliffs after the rapids giving a wild-west canyon feel. It also passes the Port de l’Enfer, one of only small number of aboriginal mines that go underground, though we didn’t stop to investigate – next time Paul!
At 4.30pm, in the evening sunlight and falling wind, we paddled out onto the Ottawa River, which will take us all the way to Montreal. Quebec City, or Montreal to finish the trip? That question has been on our minds for longer than we’ve been on the water here, and we’ve discussed it many times in the last few months. Quebec City is where the St Lawrence becomes tidal, but there’s at least one more time zone before you actually reach the Atlantic. Montreal is where the Voyageurs stopped, unloading their 3.5 tonne cargo from their “Montreal Canoes” and sending them onwards to Europe by ship. This sense of history combined with the lateness of the season, our tired and variously broken bodies, and little appetite to dodge tankers on the St Lawrence, means we will be finishing in Montreal. We also might get to make a short trip to Newfoundland, where my (Mike) late grandmother was born, 100 years ago this month.
So, just 500km of downstream paddling to go then. And the Ottawa is a river, right…?