Quebec 2016: Richmond Gulf

Like last year, the last leg of our trip was on Hudson Bay. However, whereas last year we paddled on the open coast, this year we had about 70km to cover on Richmond Gulf. Somewhat surprisingly, we found the open coast a lot more hospitable. The Gulf is plenty big enough to be easily windbound, but lacked the canoe friendly landings of the open coast. Whereas the coast had big beaches separated by some rock points the Gulf required some decent crossings of a couple of kilometres and was characterized by high cliffs with few landings #foreshadowing.

Rather than follow the Rellot all the way to the Gulf, we did a short portage over from Rellot Lake. We camped at the portage, arriving mid-afternoon, and were stuck there one extra day due to heinous weather.

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First view of Richmond Gulf

 

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Big cliff, little tent. Freshwater side of the portage to the Gulf.

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View of “The Castle” at the Gullet, where the Gulf meets the open coast

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After one day on shore the winds calmed, and we decided to try the early morning strategy – up at 5am, on the move before 6:30.First stop was on Ile Cairn to fill a waterproof duffel with water from a river source. Unfortunately it was a really low river, and although we thought we went up far enough at the time, our barely palatable cups of tea later in the day let us know that we hadn’t quite attained pure fresh water. Blech.

Anyhow, we covered about 20km by lunch, set up camp early and chilled out for the afternoon.

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The next day we started with the same alpine start strategy, covering about 20km and then pulling off in our anticipated camp site on the western shore. It was a pretty nice paddle, with a northwest headwind that came and went. A highlight was finding a small waterfall, 100% untouched by salt water, tumbling down a cliff into the ocean. We took advantage to dump out our brackish water and refill the duffel with gloriously fresh water.

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The weather was starting to take a turn for the worse as we pulled into shore, with the fog rolling in fast, the rain starting, the wind increasing, and the temperature dropping. Lovely. Set up the tarp for a bit of shelter while we dined. Although we had every intention of staying put, we decided it would be prudent to check the forecast (thanks for satellite texting us the weather Dad!) and consider moving if South or East winds were forecast, which could easily pin us down.

Forecast was for strong SE winds by midnight… damn. Pretty much guaranteed to be stuck if we stayed put, so made a thermos of tea, packed up the tarp, and hit the water again. Immediately wondered if we were making a mistake given the overall miserable conditions, but once you’re on the water it’s hard to turn around… It was an interesting paddle because it was kind of the opposite of what we expected, in terms of easy/hard parts. We’re used to big headlands being the biggest obstacles on windy days, whereas here the points were ok, but the wind came whipping down the steep valleys katabatic style straight onto the water, so those areas gave us a run for our money.

All told the conditions weren’t huge, but the combination of fog, rain, cold, and wind turned it into a real death march. The wind direction was hugely variable as it wrapped around different landforms, but was predominantly a headwind, and the last few km felt like a particularly torturous treadmill.

 

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We ended up pushing straight through the 25km to the take-out. We were hoping to camp close to, but not quite at, the take out to avoid camping at the end of the road. But as previously mentioned, decent landings are few and far between, and we also didn’t want to pick a spot where we wouldn’t be able to launch in a SE wind, which further narrowed the already limited options.

So yeah, we pulled up at the access road in the early evening, fortunately at high tide so we didn’t have to hump the gear across a mudflat. Conor was on the edge of hypothermia before we landed, and I started to disintegrate as soon as we stopped and weren’t paddling hard anymore. We set up the tent as quickly as possible, running (literally) around to find big rocks to peg it down in the wind, and then dug into the food duffel to pull out granola bars for supper. Satisfying. We were thankful we’d make the thermos after lunch!

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Dear Diary, next year we’re going to Mexico.

 

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The positive impression we got of Umiujaq was further solidified this year, with lots of people checking on us to make sure we were ok (trucks cruise the 10k from town frequently, so presence was known quickly). Our visitors included a couple of elders that we met last year, and the mayor. We could have easily had a place to stay for the night, but as we were all set up and had warmed up we were happy to stay put for the night and get a ride into town in the morning.

And to end the post, one of a mini series of Conor giving the space cadet tourist wave. It makes me laugh a lot given the backstory, but it would lose something in an internet retell… so you can just chuckle at the picture, and ask me in person for the story if you’re curious. Although it’s probably not that funny if you weren’t there. But it’s my blog, so my picture choice. Peace out.

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Quebec 2016: Camp Life

Didn’t swim quite every day, but close.

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Primo shower at the base of a 44m falls on the Rellot River

 

A few of our campsites.

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One of our favourite sites on the Little Whale.

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Beauty evening, beauty swimming spot

 

 

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Lots of reading. My e-reader was a lifesaver!

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And we both kept a journal daily.

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Food glorious food!

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Enjoying an evening tea on the rock to try to escape from the bugs.

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Hot beverages are key to happy campers.

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Pizza night is a good night.

 

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Fishfishfishfishtrout

 

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Something delicious baking… bannock? Pizza? Quiche? Muffins?

 

Conor remained dedicated to his daily harmonica practice.

 

 

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Map work every evening, writing notes from the day and looking ahead to what’s coming up.

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Feather stick for fire starter.

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Lots of caribou sign, only 1 caribou. During the summer they mostly hang out farther north.

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An old Hydro Quebec marker from when the James Bay project was just beginning – they didn’t get this river!!

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Waiting out some morning rain.

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Reinforcing a tump line.

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Quebec 2016: Portaging

An integral part of canoe tripping, and something that really differentiates it from sea kayaking, is the portage element. Portages typically fit into one of two categories. First, you can be traveling from one body of water to another (for example, lake to lake). Second, they can be used to get around an unnavigable stretch of a water body, such as portaging around a big rapid, or a section that’s too shallow and rocky to paddle.

On this trip we portaged 73.5 times. No, the half is not a typo. For my record keeping a full portage is one where we carry all the gear and the canoe. A half portage is where we carry all (or most) of the gear, but then float or paddle the canoe through. This could be a section that’s too shallow to float the canoe until it’s unloaded, or a rapid that’s significant enough that we’d rather run it empty. The portages ranged from 5h mountain epics to easy rock lift overs, and everything in between. I wasn’t quite obsessive enough to track lengths, difficulty, etc.

Only other thing worth noting is that this route is not a formal route, and therefore there aren’t any actual trails. Occasionally we enjoy smooth rock carries, other times we follow caribou trails, and other times we have to do so much trail clearing and alder crashing that it feels like we’re in the jungle. We don’t really like those ones.

Ok, that intro is longer than any intro should be. So here are some pics!

A couple of the many boulder gardens we had to cross.DSCF0166

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This particular portage was one of the worst alder crashes, cutting across a point to get around a shallow, rocky narrows. We had to carry the gear out to a point where it was deep enough to load the boat.

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The portages on the Little Whale River were generally easy walkers – rock lift overs and open terrain criss crossed with caribou trails.

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Then we got to the Guerin River. These portages were NOT easy walkers. They were steep carries through dense forest. Here’s a representative downhill (we spent about 1.5h clearing this trail the previous evening. So this is the improved version).

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The start of the Guerin was km upon km of continuous rapids…rapids that were juuuuust too shallow too run. Thus, we spent our time portaging and wading. I believe we made it a grand total of 5km on this particular day.

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The Guerin was also home to the 5 hour epic Doozer’s Doom portage. Very few pictures because we were mostly focused on our misery, but mid portage we did pop out on a bedrock outcrop with fantastic views.

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After the Guerin we were onto Hudson Bay, so no more portaging, and consequently no more portaging pics.

Quick note about photos  – all of the pictures I share are mine, except for the ones of me, those are Conor’s. Otherwise I wouldn’t be in any of them!

Still to come: camp life, on the trail, and Hudson Bay.

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Quebec 2016 – Flora and Fauna

This summer was our third summer canoe tripping in northern Quebec. This year we were on the trail for 32 days, traveling on 5 river systems. Rather than spew out a bunch of pictures at once, this year I’m divvying them up into themes. I still have a lot of sorting to do, but as a start here are some northern plants and animals, as captured by my cameras.

This caribou came crashing out on the opposite shore while we were having lunch and plunged straight into the water, no hesitation. It generally veered towards to opposite shore, but overall seemed a bit frantic. Mystery was solved a few minutes later when a wolf popped out in the same spot on the far shore. It sniffed a bit, stared us down, lay down in the water, and eventually retreated back inland. Score 1 for the caribou!DSCF0112 - Copy

But let’s be real, black flies were the most prolific wildlife. Here’s a healthy population in our vestibule.DSCF0137

Croak.
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Mid-portage fireweed.DSCF0178

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Labrador tea after some rain.
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Some sort of lichen. To be honest when I took this I was just experimenting with the macro setting to try to kill off a nearly dead camera battery before switching it out for a new one.
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Loons.
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Seal! We saw this character on the Guerin River, and he would have had to navigate coming up 25m of drop to get to this spot. Impressive! He swam with us for awhile, until we stopped for a floating lunch and he headed back upstream. I guess he wasn’t too into bannock and peanut butter.
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Porcupine at our campsite at the jumping off point for the final ocean section of the trip. He sat here for awhile, then munched a chunk of bark and lumbered off. We were huddled under the tarp hiding from wind, rain, and cold so could keep a good eye on his activities (although there wasn’t much to watch, porcupines are not exactly fast movers).
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The islands in Richmond Gulf harbour a lot of black bears. Here’s one of the three we saw (all while paddling, thankfully).
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Daisies in Richmond Gulf.DSCF0815

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A Change in Focus

The past couple of months have been all about the ski race. Hitting crossfit about twice a week, but focusing on skiing. Now that the race is over and more or less all our snow has melted in a sudden onset of spring, my focus and goals have changed. The focus is one I’ve theoretically had before, but have never been good at actually following through. For some reason I can go ski 40km, but I can’t walk downstairs to the basement for a strength circuit. Yep. So maybe if it’s public it will happen? Or maybe not. And by public I mean that no one will read it except me, but I can pretend I have an audience of thousands, hahaha. Anyways, on with it.

Overall I want to work on bodyweight strength, along with more moderate endurance stuff. The bodyweight focus is for a couple of reasons. Mainly, I’m just more interested in being adept at bodyweight strength moves than hefting huge weight. I think that sort of strength-to-weight ratio is more aligned with the other sorts of things I like to do, like canoe tripping and cross country skiing and running and backcountry skiing. Although I will admit that a certain degree of strength would mean that less creative methods of picking up ridiculously heavy canoe packs would be required…

Plus, even I did want be able to throw massive weight around, I can’t because I still have to be careful with this @*^%#!^ back that randomly gave out in August, and still likes to make its presence known. I’m 100% not interested in pushing my luck with that and being totally out of commission again.

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Strength-to-weight ratio

Before Christmas I did a nutrition session at the gym, and was really bang-on with it for a couple of weeks… and then I wasn’t. Although not officially a vegetarian I have little interest in meat so end up eating a lot of carby stuff when I’m not paying close enough attention. Need to dial this in again to get to where I’d like to be.

Pull ups

I can get a kipping pull up. Sometimes I can get 2 or 3. Once I got 5 but I have no idea how. Need to focus on strict strength to really start making headway with these.

Ring dips

I can do negatives in a nice, slow and controlled manner. A couple of coaches have looked and been convinced that I should be able to push up and do the full thing. But I try to push… and nothing happens. So clearly I’m not there yet.

Toes to bar

Ooooh the ol’ toes to bar. After months and months of trying finally started to get them in the fall. On a good day have strung together 2 or 3. On a bad day can’t get 1. In the open WOD 16.2 got a disappointing 2 in 4 minutes.

5ks

No major distances planned, but have a couple of 5ks in mind before heading off on this summer’s canoe trip. Last year I got a PR of 22:04, so it would be amazing to get a time under 22min. Last year I was in Wawa so running without the dog though, so it’ll be trickier to get in good runs with a dog-with-an-attitude on the end of a leash.

Overall plan

In addition to running and crossfit classes, throw in some extra strength work at home 3-4x a week. Basic pull up work, dip work, push ups, and core stuff. Toes to bar practice will have to happen before crossfit classes, as they’re impossible in the basement. I have never been consistent with at-home stuff, so that’ll be the key to making any of this happen.

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Gatineau Loppet Race Report

A couple of weeks ago I flew down to Ottawa for the weekend. The main impetus for the trip was the Gatineau Loppet ski races, but it was also a weekend of visiting high school friends from Newfoundland who are now in Ottawa, and undergrad friends from my university years in Ottawa. A lot to pack into less than 48h.

The plan was to arrive in Ottawa around 10pm Friday night, race the 27k classic race at 9am on Saturday, and the 52k skate race on Sunday morning, then fly home Sunday night. Also included in this plan was having a Newfoundland-friend-currently-living-in-SSM fly down with me and also do the classic race.

Of course, when do things ever go as planned? Katie had to bail on the entire weekend (we missed you!), and my flight leaving Soo City was late, resulting in a missed connection and a Friday night spent in a Toronto hotel (at least it was on Porter’s tab). This meant missing the 27k classic, but with some late night scrambling in Toronto we figured out an alternative, and I got a ride straight from the airport to the race headquarters, and was able to do the 15k classic that left at 1pm.

Ironically, this left our friend Diane as the only one of the original 3 doing the 27k classic. It was my idea, Katie got on-board with it, and Diane somewhat unenthusiastically figured she might as well do it too since we were both flying in for the race and staying with her… and then there she was, racing it all by  herself. Good job Diane!

15k went decently. Temps were hovering around 0, and I was a super lazy waxer and just slapped on some orange a few minutes before start time… quickly discovered that I had no grip, and stopped to add on some stickier stuff a couple of km in. Of course, I was a little overzealous with this application because I was frustrated with sliding backwards, so then I had TOO much grip and was worried about hitting a leaf on a downhill and coming to a dead stop. But at least I could run up the hills like a sticky-footed gecko! By about km 8 enough wax had been worn off by the icy track that the grip was good for the second half of the race.

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15k classic

Ended up with a second place finish in my age category. Sarah, another Newfoundland friend now in Ottawa took first in our category. While we were dominating our category in the 15k, Sarah’s parents were killing it in the 27k classic. Unfortunately Shirley wiped out on a hill a km or so from the finish (pretty much any hill with a curve in it had turned into nearly bare ice. sketchy.), broke her arm, single poled to the finish, and still took second place in her category. Epic.

Avalon Nordic REPRESENT!

Avalon Nordic REPRESENT!

That evening we hit up the Byward Market for supper with a conglomeration of high school and undergrad friends. Not a wild and crazy night given that I had 52k of skate skiing looming…

Start time was 9am Sunday morning. I was stuck in the last wave, which led to some major bottle necks in the first 10k. I don’t except everyone to stop whenever there’s someone behind them… doesn’t make sense when you have a long line of people… part of the sport is trying to get a good position. But the one guy holding up a looooong line of people… literally forcing us to come to a dead stop on uphills… he should have stepped aside. Then he wiped out on a downhill, and with a quick check that he was ok we all took the opportunity to pass. Seeyabye!

A race this long is all about the mind games. First order of business was to get 10k out of the way without really thinking about it. KM 10-30 were definitely the toughest. At about km 20 I saw that we were turning onto the Penguin trail… I don’t know the Ottawa trails that well, but I know them well enough to know that the Penguin trail is infamous for its hills. So yeah, that section sucked. My forte is the long, grinding uphills on the parkway. The steep hills, one after another on this section just about did me in (*note to self: do more hill training next time!). The timing also made it hard – at 20k you’ve gone far enough to be tired, and yet you’re not even halfway done. Yikes.

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At this point I was questioning my life decisions and trying to come up with gracious ways to bow out of the race. Fortunately I was unsuccessful with this, and managed to switch my focus to the 31km mark. Told myself that once I got to the 31k point I had only 20k left to go, which is WAY less than the 31k I would have already completed… so no problem!

Eventually I hit the 31k marker, and by this point had also left the evil Penguin trail behind, and the final 20k went well. I think the last 10k were actually some of my speediest (helped that there was 2k of straight downhill, admittedly. A quad burner, but a break for the lungs).

The other mental trick for this race was measuring it in Pinder units, the Pinder being a 10km long easy trail system on my home trails. So when I hit 31k I also started Pinder-izing the distance. 20k left? That’s just twice around the Pinder. Easy! 10k left? Once around. 40 minutes. Nothin’. 6k? The main loop and the first extension. Walk in the park. Etc.

There was one little surprise at the end of this supposed 51km race… hit the 48km marker… then the 49km marker… then the 50km marker… but then… a km later… instead of crossing a finish line came to a “1000m to go sign”?! So yeah, the 51km race was actually 52km. Marked as such, and verified by others’ GPS watches. Fortunately (?) I wasn’t going to hit my goal time anyways, so it wasn’t too disastrous.

Inga, Karl, and their kiddos (more Newfoundland friends, yay!) picked me up after the race. They seemed to think I might fall over at any point (Do you need food? Do you need water? Are you ok? What do you need? Here’s a chair. Here’s some food. Are you ok??).

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Inga and Celeste watching… waiting…

Later I learned that right before I crossed the finish line they saw someone taken away in an ambulance. So they really did think I might be on the verge of death.

Tired, but not actually facing imminent death

Tired, but not actually facing imminent death

Back to Diane’s for lunch, quick stop at Chapters, and back to the airport. Home at 11, back to school Monday morning. Whirlwind, but a good whirlwind.

And just cause I like this pic

And just cause I like this pic

 

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Fear Part 1

I was flipping through old trip journals the other day and came across the piece below. If memory serves me correctly I wrote it sitting in the Kuujjuarapik Airport, where we spent the better part of two days waiting for our flight out after paddling the Great Whale/Coats Rivers. Although I might have written this earlier on the trip… Part 2 was definitely written in the airport… anyways, doesn’t matter. Not long after getting back I was talking with a friend about fear, and said I’d share my thoughts, and then never did. But anyways, here is part 1. Mainly for that 1 friend. Also, I spent zero time editing or improving this. So yeah, stream of consciousness rambles from northern Quebec.

 

Fear is an odd, confusing thing that I often struggle to deal with. I don’t like to feel fearful, and yet, I often do. What’s hard is figuring out when fear is something to push through, and when it is simply something to accept, not to fight. It can be tricky to distinguish between when fear is stopping me from something I really want to do, and when it’s simply a part of who I am, not something that needs to be ‘fixed.’

For instance, I’d be scared to try high speed downhill biking. And so what? Not everyone needs to be an adrenaline junkie, and there’s no reason to pretend to be someone I’m not. Conversely, I’m sometimes intimidated by whitewater, but falling prey to this fear stops me from progressing as a paddler, which is something I want for myself, even if the path to that goal is intimidating at times. Thus, this is a fear worth pushing through.

Of course, not all fears relate to physical risks, but for me personally that tends to be where I most often feel that fear is holding me back. In all cases, the challenge is distinguishing between fears that are a natural part of me that should be accepted, and those that are holding me back and should be pushed through. Not always an easy line to define!

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