Friday, August 28, 2009

tPP Out! - (for a bit)

"So that's why I couldn't see anything?!!"
Photo: Dimitry Sapon

I hope everyone is enjoying the blog on the Romaine. I've got lots of positive feedback and appreciate it. I'm trying to keep the posts coming but I'm going to run into some delays. September/October is my favourite time to paddle, which incidentally is also a great time for photos. Therefore unfortunately I won't be around much to write. I will definitely get back to it asap, but for the next month (or so) I have a very tight schedule between long hours at work and heading back out on the next trip so please bear with me for awhile. Thanks again for all you support and your willlingness to listen to this paddler ramble on! Off tomorrow morning on a 4 day solo! Be in touch soon!

*Quick side note, I appreciate the odd comments I get on the blog. A few times I've also had inquiries. Because the blog doesn't allow me to respond back, (I tried) I would actually have to respond back on the "Comments" section instead of responding back specifically to you. Maybe you'd like to remain anonymous which is fine, but if you'd like a response back please just email me at and I'll respond back. Don't worry, I won't phish, spam, or cyberstalk you, despite what my previous ex's say!! (joke! - really!! )

Hope everyone has had a great summer paddling!!


"This little piggy went to market, and this little piggy..."
Photo: Dimitry Sapon

Monday, August 24, 2009

Romaine River Trip - Sand

Sand was everywhere on the Romaine River,
whether we liked it or not!

We humans are finicky and temperamental - when its hot, we want it to be cold. When its cold, we can't wait for the heat. We are never satisfied unless its perfect, - even then! Being out in the wilderness far from many modern day conveniences, we are subject to the whims of nature. We try to prepare as best we can, but it doesn't always work out. Kind of like the first few nights of the trip. It was really cold. The temperature dropped below 5C and I was huddled in my sleeping bag rated to guess what?!,...5 degrees Celsius! Lovely! Didn't brilliant moi sleep in my underwear and T-shirt with no socks that night?! Even when the long johns, socks and fleece top was donned, I was still chilled. (Rob, you want to cuddle?) I wished it was warmer. Then fast track near the end of the trip where it was 21C in the friggin tent! It was a sweat lodge! I slept atop the sleeping bag with just my underwear! (Rob preferred that I keep them on) Yes, damn right I wished it was cooler!

We took the opportunity to climb a few eskers - the
sand was fine like talcum

The view from atop this esker was breathtaking!

Well, I admit, we were those temperamental humans, especially when it came to sand. It was definitely a love and hate relationship on this trip from the moment we were introduced! At first we loved the sand beach campsites. They were gorgeous, scenic, and great to camp on. It feels great under your feet, easy for digging firepits or inserting poles, comfortable to sleep/sit on, drain well, good to scrub pots with and even to draw on! (I will refrain from describing the images - lets just say it wasn't SOS!) There is no doubt sand gave us much enjoyment. Whether in the water or on land, we appreciated the textures, subtle shades, and the delicate forms resulting from wind and water action. Some of the many superlatives from this trip included the vast sand flats and eskers on this river. It was mind-boggling to see so much sand in the boreal forest! Who would have known that they co-exist? However, that's where the buck stops.

The sand helped us to identify the local
fauna - bear in this case

Digging fire pits in the sand for cooking over was
easy and very effective

After camping all of 3 nights on sand, it started to grate on us. (literally) When the rare opportunity presented itself, we sought out non-sand campsites as it got in anything and everything we had. There was no where to hide. We couldn't shake, wipe, blow or wash enough to get all the sand out. The rare time when you were dry you could shake most of it out, but some of it was as fine as talcum and it stuck to you regardless! And let me tell you, when it was wet, forget it! Mornings were the worst as it was regularly misty/foggy making most things wet or damp. I don't know why we bothered but if it was nice the previous day we'd dry everything and shake all the sand out. But come morning, we'd be back at square one! (we had to believe we were making progress) You just knew you were packing heavier that day with the combination of sand and water!

A great beach campsite with an amazing view!
Photo: Dimitry Sapon

The nice level sand flats were great for camping on!

Sand loves tents - especially the inside! It always seems that just when you were about to go in, they'd find a way to hitchhike in with you. Arrrgh! We'd all shake the hell out of the tents but it was useless. There was no way it was coming out. And if it did, you ended up with it in your hair, which ultimately ended back in the tent! By the way, shaking the tent is overrated. When you shake it, sand gets stuck in the damp mesh walls. Guess what rains in the tent when you set it up that evening and hit the tent wall trying to kill a mosquito?! There were also "sand" rules that we tried to follow in helping us deal with it, which included the obvious (not always!) such as closing your mouth and eyes when shaking things, walking downwind of the food, placing your gear on other people's stuff when packing, and not putting the toilet paper on the sand. Of course these only alleviated the problems temporarily. Unsurprisingly, sand even became part of our daily food group supplying many essential minerals and fiber! (I'm sure Health Canada doesn't know about this one!) There's nothing like a crunchy meal when the cook states that it shouldn't be!

How about a friendly competition of sand-pizza
flipping contest!

We'll admit, sand bottoms are much better to wade
through then rocks, mud, or bog!

It was the one battle we lost and admit we couldn't defeat. Its insatiable desire to be with us even out did the black flies and mosquitoes! Everything we packed whether we liked it or not, included the ubiquitous sand. As much as we loved it, we hated it and it was one part of the Romaine River trip we didn't want to take home with us.We dearly missed pine needles, flat rocks, and soil, but then again if that was all we had, we would want sand wouldn't we?!!

Sand - just one of the things that the Romaine River
will be remembered for!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Romaine River Trip - Finally On Our Way

The Romaine River Crew (RRC) ready to take flight!

I got up at 06:30 wondering if we would fly today. I stuck my head out to to find heavy fog everywhere! My heart sunk wondering if the delay would continue.With time to kill, Ben and I eventually drove back to the St Lawrence to see low tide and go for a walk. The rising sun and gentle breeze slowly began to dissipate the fog and gave us hope. We eventually headed back and packed at a snail's pace soaking up the sunshine. We didn't want to get too excited, but the reality of flight buoyed our spirits. After stuffing ourselves of mismatched food that needed to be finished for breakfast, we loaded up and drove to the airbase. Ben came out of the same office he went into the day before, except this time with 2 thumbs up! It was all systems go!

While waiting for the Single Otter from another flight, we got our gear together and nestled the canoe. We also had to weigh everything, including ourselves. When the attendant remarked "That's all!", when the four of us were weighed, we knew we were well under the limit. (thanks to Ben's 118 pounds soaking wet with keys and pockets full of coins!)

Our 2 packs, 4 barrels and accessories weighed 472lbs!!
Yikes! The big "hurt" is coming!
Photo: Dimitry Sapon

When the Single Otter finally did arrive, (12 at this time, if you are counting), the pilot went to lunch! The long delay was frustrating but we had no choice. Actions sometimes speak louder than words in a rare show of solidarity of our annoyance. Waiting patiently and holding back the anticipation of the trip tends to stir your deep inner bowels. Like clockwork, we promptly one-after-the-other filed into the one room office with a bathroom and released that pent up pressure. It was funny to see everyone come out of there with the same smug look! Based on the expression of the person behind the counter, I'm sure he didn't share our sentiment!

I've always heard about pilots flying these legendary rock-solid De Havilland Beavers and Otters. But when the pilot tells the attendant who has already filled the tanks, to then re-fill them until the fuel spills out, it kind of makes you curious? Then he tells the attendant to the fill the other spare tank. (the third) Hmmm? On top of that, he calls the mechanic over to investigate a leaky gas tank. We all looked at each other and wondered if we should skip the flight when the mechanic said it was still okay to fly with the leak!! I didn't want my first experience in an Otter to be my last! Needless to say, we finally left at 13:30!

Is there any reason not to be excited about
starting a big canoe trip?!!
Photo: Dimitry Sapon

The stark interior of a Single Otter - Where's the drinks
and the hot hostess?!!

The view of the boggy landscape around Havre
St Pierre soon after take-off

We began seeing the frothing whitewater in the canyons
far below on the Romaine (gulp!)
Photo: Ben Albert

There was an amazing display of reindeer moss and spruce
covering the harsh landscape below

The almost 2hr flight went smoothly. So smoothly that all 3 of us in the back crashed while Ben himself tried to stay awake while keeping the pilot from falling asleep! But that's another story!

The weather turned for the worse at our arrival at Lac Marc,
just in time for the pilot to turn tail and leave us!

Landing on the shores of Lac Marc, we quickly unloaded and said our farewells. The immediate silence out in the middle of nowhere was deafening. It was almost eery. But there was no time to ponder since we had to assemble the Esquif Canyon before setting off. The grey cloud cover and the approaching rain hastened everyone's efforts except Ben. For some reason, he started to feel ill. Nausea, dizziness, and a headache immediately overcame him as he staggered to find a place to sit. Like a pregnant lady in her first trimester, he began throwing up everywhere. (shredded carrots anyone?) He thought it may have been the noise of the engine (very loud) but it seemed more like motion-sickness to me. Nonetheless, even trying to get Gravol down his throat was a challenge as he just threw it back up! There really wasn't much we could do but let whatever get through his system while closely monitoring him.

If you look closely, Ben is tucked in the bush on the left, and if
you look even closer you may see goodies
that he left behind!
Photo: Dimitry Sapon

Once everything was ready to go, we decided that we should make camp as close as possible and call it a day due to Ben's condition. He insisted he was okay to paddle, (well of course, he is only just throwing up his guts!) so we decided to head to the first documented campsite 5-6 kms away. Did he just not paddle from shore to then throw up over the side?! We continued on. When we finally got to the campsite, it was unfit for tenting. The sandy shore was very wet and mushy. Unfortunately we then backtracked to a small cove with an even smaller spit of sand just enough for our tents. Once the tents went up, Ben squirreled into his sleeping bag and crashed while the rest of us got supper going.

Our meagre but adequate campsite on the shores of Lac Marc
Photo: Dimitry Sapon

The trip was finally on its way, maybe not to the best start but we were now out here! All the effort, planning, and hard work had finally all paid off! We were now in our element!

Taking in the first of many beautiful sunsets on the trip!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Romaine River Trip - Flight Delayed!

The delay was hard to deal with!
Photo: Dimitry Sapon

We should have known once we got into Havre St Pierre. The signs were all around us. After dinner as we got our stuff from the car to take into the hotel, the rain just dumped on us. Not only did we get soaked but we even had to wade through small lakes to get in the front entrance! Then of course the room we got was not even made! Sheets all over the place and windows opened - we won't even guess what went on in there! Then to top it off, the drain in the bathtub was partially clogged! Guess who showered last in the "pool"! (no one better have peed in there!!!)

Always being the first to get up, I immediately peered out the window. It was still grey overhead, but bright and promising. At least I thought. We had a great breakfast at a seaside cafe and set out packing with anticipation. We were all hyped and ready to go until we got to the airbase. Despite what we thought and could see into the distance, the area we wanted to go was covered in fog and mist. Not only that, Air Saguenay was 2-3 days behind in flights due to bad weather! Talk about instant dejection! Tomorrow at 11:00 was given as the next opportunity to fly out. We left "under the weather".

The beautiful north shore of the St Lawrence
Photo: Ben Albert

We decided to visit the St Lawrence (ironic that we visited her at the beginning rather than at the end) and release the pent up energy. Surprisingly, we were all pretty entertained - like kids in a big sandbox!

We became "engineers" and built a dam signifying the fate of the
Romaine. A submission will be made to Hydro Quebec
suggesting how effective sand dams would be.

Shhhh! That's our secret!!!

The male ego is the best way to burn unnecessary calories through competition - The Chasm Spanning Long Jump! Rob Dale representing Canadian Anglophones and Ben Albert representing Canadian Francophones

Rob's approach...

...impressive execution...

...picture perfect landing!

Ben's approach...

...his execution (yawn)...

...his pitiful landing! (ouch! lol!)

Later in the afternoon we drove further east to Baie-Johan-Beetz just for the hell of it. We probably should have driven to the end of the road at Pointe-Parent but we had enough of driving and turned back after visiting a Canada Parks office.

Between the small towns it was pretty barren out there.
But at the same time a mesmerizing landscape!
Photo: Ben Albert

Ben, get it together! Your jump wasn't really
(cough, cough) that bad!
Photo: Dimitry Sapon

Back at Havre St Pierre we got some groceries for supper before heading to a hilltop overlooking the town to set up camp. The air base was nearby and it was the best place considering most of the surrounding area was wet bog! Plus we were wary of the hotel!

As funny as it sounds, all four of us clowns crammed into a 2 man tent and played cards while polishing off the remaining beer. As expected, the hard day got to us as we eventually laid our heads down and actually all fell asleep! (trust me, no funny business here despite how we were positioned!) So much for day one of the "Romaine River trip"!

Finger crossed for the flight tomorrow!

Yes, this tent was the one. No!, we were not
on top of each other! Shesh!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Romaine River Trip - Getting There

I know everyone is patiently waiting to hear the details of our trip, especially about the dramatic end. First off, it is impossible to write about all the incredible things on this trip as there is way too much. I am having a hard time deciding on how to relay this trip to my readers without going into too much detail, but at the same time not wanting to leave too much out. Secondly, I cannot give justice in words or photos to the experience and grandeur of this unique river. The Romaine River just has to be experienced to be totally understood. But since we cannot not all go there, I will try my best to share our amazing experience.

I decided that I will touch briefly on various topics/subjects regarding the trip to give you an overall idea of our experience. In the near future we are planning to do a presentation as well which will probably go into more detail and showcase many more photos. So without further delay, let's start!

Two red canoes on two Toyota's heading for the Romaine
Photo: Dimitry Sapon

I won't beat around the bush. The drive to Havre St Pierre is damn long. It took almost 2 whole days and approx 24hrs on the road. As there were 2 drivers per car, we took turns, stopped only when necessary (does stopping for alcohol in Quebec count?) and made good distance. We stopped outside Quebec City the first night.

Hotel antics - when you have a camera, almost anything
is fair game. Eh Dimitry!

The second day of driving was amazing as the scenery was stunning. We passed through deep valleys and towering hills shrouded in mist beside the St Lawrence. Of course crossing the Saguenay River on the ferry was pretty cool too, despite being fairly short.

The ferry took just 15mins - barely enough time to stretch your
legs. Can you spot the 2 red canoes?

The last part of the road trip gave us a clear indication of the weather and the remoteness of the area. The approaching storm brought strong gusts of wind and rain that had huge swells breaking in from the St Lawrence. Not to mention the trees that were being bent over and our canoe-topped vehicles constantly rocked!

We decided to briefly stop and admire the dramatic scene that
was unfolding, as Rob wished he was surfing his kayak

As there was hardly any vehicles on the 2 lane road including any signs of civilization, we cringed to think what it would be like to be stuck out here. (OnStar would be good about now)

All there was on this stretch of the road was lots
of scrubby bush, trees, and bog
Photo: Ben Albert

Or course we had to stop when we crossed the Romaine River bridge where we thought we would be passing under. Little did we know we would never get there.

We had hoped to continue under the bridge on our way to the
St Lawrence and dip our paddles in the salty water.

We finally ended our driving marathon at nightfall, thankful to get lodging in Havre St Pierre. (there isn't many choices) We quickly celebrated the occasion by eating at the local restaurant (closed at 10) with local seafood and a couple pitchers of beer. We were all now more than ever excited and nervous. We just hoped the weather would improve for the morning flight out.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Back Home Early

We are all home safe and sound. Other than the multitude of scrapes, bruises and minor injuries that were sustained on the trip, we are all in good health. Unfortunately, our team was unable to finish the trip due to a boat mishap and had to abort the trip prematurely. We arrived home Wed evening back to Toronto 4 days before the actual scheduled end. I'm sure everyone is curious to hear the details of the dramatic end, but we will be taking some time to debrief our family and friends as well as our sponsors before providing more details in the near future.

The Romaine river was true to form - incredibly challenging but alluringly enchanting. It is certainly a river of extremes which demands nothing less than your full respect and attention. We were all haunted, moved, touched, and awed by her. It was an incredible experience bar none. We don't have any regrets. We came back with more that we expected - full of appreciation and gratitude.

Be in touch soon.