After nearly 5 months of paddling and over 5000km we have made it to Montreal! This is the end of our trip! We are delighted, relieved, exhausted and emotional, and it is hasn’t yet really sunk in.
The weather forecast for this week was terrible, we knew that we had one good day leaving the dam at Carillon, then a storm was expected on Sunday with strong winds lasting through until Tuesday. We didn’t know what to do. The closure of the locks in the Lachine Canal left us with a few options: paddle around, portaging the Lachine Rapids somehow, hoping for a weather break; portage the last 15km of our trip along the bike path next to the canal, which would be amusing but not how we wanted to finish; or finish on the west side of Montreal, rather than the Old Port. Whichever way, we needed to get as far as possible from the dam.
We set off from the camp site at 7am and made the short walk to the boat launch through the delightful little town of Carillon, with its period French wooden buildings painted in cheerful colours. We had a small amount of current with us for the first few kilometres but this soon disappeared as the river widened. But the forecast westerly breeze was giving us a gentle shove in the right direction and we found that by coffee time we were only 6km short of Hudson Yacht Club, where we had thought we might spend the night if progress had been slow. We passed there before lunch and continued on, managing to narrowly avoid the start of a sailing race and thinking that even hoisting our sail probably wouldn’t make our presence on the course welcome. By lunch though we were staring at Montreal Island and the series of bridges under which we had to pass on our way to join the mighty St Lawrence River. Twenty-five kilometres still to Lachine, “can we do that before dark?” we asked ourselves. We thought it was worth a go, but identified a series of other city parks at which we could stop if we didn’t make it, once again blurring the line between camping and homelessness.
We were expecting the Ottawa to quicken as it approached the St Lawrence, but were surprised at how shallow it became as we each removed another millimetre from our carbon paddles. It was amazing to actually be paddling around Montreal, even if our finish was still over 40km away. But the uncertainty surrounding the weather was playing on our minds. We really had to get to Lachine tonight. The skies darkened behind us threatening an early start to the storm, but it held off and we quickened our pace. Cas’s shoulders were pretty painful by now but she didn’t say anything, took more drugs and soldiered on. When we joined the St Lawrence we floated for a few minutes and simply stared. The scale of the river here is mind-boggling, particularly when you’re sat in a 17 foot canoe. It stretches for around 5km across as the Ottawa joins, with large shipping passing along the distant shore. Despite its width it also has a noticeable current, at last! And so with failing light, tired, hungry and over 60km from where we started that morning we arrived at Lachine. We had a quick look at the park we intended to camp on but it was too public and difficult to get the boat up to, so we headed to the flat grass lawn of the Lachine Canoe Club, which was all closed up, hoping that if somebody did find us there they might be sympathetic. Our only disturbance seemed to be the party on the dock a few hundred meters away though.
So what to do? We checked the forecast again – windy for sure, and in our faces too, but maybe not so bad first thing….? And only 20km to do. We had to go for it, despite the apocalyptic rain that was also meant to arrive. At 5am the alarm went off, though we had both been awake most of the night due to nerves, loud music, and a sleeping mat that seems to be literally falling apart at the seams. I had been listening to the rain arrive and the wind build and had worked myself up for several hours, unsure if we were mad to be trying to paddle. But things always sound worse in a tent, Cas talked me down, and we left before dawn. Turning on to the main river once again we soon realised we were flying along in the gloom. The river narrows here until after the rapids and the current was strong. We even slowed ourselves down a bit to ensure it was light before passing under a series of bridges with their waves and eddies from the supports. We covered the 8km or so to the rapids in little time and started to see white foaming water being thrown around all across the river. We had identified a sheltered bay to catch us for our portage, but it was fairly near to the start of the rapids proper and getting there would be interesting. We hugged the left shore and got some raised eyebrows from the fishermen as we flew past. These rapids are massive. To have a spill upstream, or miss our get out, would be a disaster. We came around a point and could see people in the water! What on earth…? I’m not sure who was more surprised as we slipped along the bank past a surfer on a pretty decent wave! The GoPro footage should be quite entertaining. Chuckling at the bizarreness of this final day we slipped into the calm waters of the lagoon with the rapids roaring away to our right. Phew. Just a portage and some nice flat water paddling to the end.
The portage was easy, along a flat cycle path with the boat on the trolley. We stopped to chat to a few interested folk and put back in after the rapids had finished. We rode the current along the side of the 6km wide river and through a smaller channel around the île des Soeurs, rejoining the main river with only a few kilometres to go and the strong winds holding off. “It’s pretty boily” said Cas as we got spun around whilst avoiding a large eddy. “And that looks a little rough down there” I added, looking towards a bridge. And so we paddled the heaviest, roughest and most sustained moving water of the whole trip. We headed river left under the bridge, hoping to keep to that side and nip round into the marina. But more white foam near the bank, and the presence of more of our wetsuit-clad friends sent us way out into the middle of the boiling, swirling current. It’s around 2km wide here, but moving at 6.5 knots and in many directions. As we avoided these rapids in mid-stream my paddle spent a fair amount of time flat on the surface as boils came up underneath us threatening to turn us over. We worked our way left again through the wavetrains under another bridge only a few hundred metres upstream of the marina and, slightly sweaty and mightily relieved swung out of the flow into its welcoming arms. So that is why all the pleasure boats take the canal!
We paddled in between the launches and speed boats and found ourselves an empty spot in the marina, and were met by Debbie who was closing up for the season and who had helpfully told us about the canal being closed. And so this was it, where the fur traders would have stopped to unload their furs, and where we now end our trip. We sat on the dock, staring at the river and at Bertha, lost for words. We had done it. What an adventure.
We have a few more additions for the blog over the next wee while, but for now we are going to try and let it all sink in. We would very much like to thank everyone who has read our blog, helped us along the way and joined us on this incredible journey either in person or in spirit. The support has been tremendous and we wouldn’t have got here without it.