After paddling for several days, my pre-trip anxieties about being able to keep up with the other paddlers had pretty much disappeared down the whorls my paddle made at canoe-side. We were aided by the friendly current that meant that even when we stopped paddling and rested with all the canoes abreast and joined by paddles laid from canoe to canoe, we still continued down river at a fair pace. Being the least experienced paddler in the group of twelve women, I rather looked forward to the times when we just drifted along and found ways to share snacks and drinks across the bows of six canoes. Trail mix and red licorice are, to my mind, always things of beauty, but in the cool, sweet air on the river and after a couple of hours of paddling, the appeal of nuts, seeds, and strawberry licorice rises to a whole new level.
As a thoroughly professional trip leader, Lin made sure I and everyone else had the basics of paddling strokes, eddying in, and eddying out before she loosed our little flotilla of canoes into the central current of the river. So now straight-arm paddling and landing and launching manoeuvers were challenges I enjoyed meeting – that is, with the various experienced sternswomen Lin made sure were in the canoe I was in. There’s nothing quite like watching the northland slip by, salted here and there with mountain goats, moose, and beaver, and sprinkled on top with eagles, ravens, and other large birds intent on the territories they hovered over in their hunt for food.
We didn’t have to hunt for ours, and every mealtime was carefully planned and, in the open air, pure delight. Happy hour before each dinner was a special treat, and groups of four took turns preparing the meals, a different quartet having clean-up duty. Every evening, a different member of the group was responsible for dessert, and it’s amazing what some women managed to cook up over a campfire. One night we even had chocolate cake!
One morning, just when someone called out, Lin instructed those in the bows of canoes about something in the water ahead. It looked like a particularly large log floating in the river a few hundred yards downstream. The closer we got, the odder its drifting pattern seemed to be—more across the river than carried along by the current. Then Lin called a halt to our paddling. The log turned into a bear in the water. I felt a little frisson of anxiety wondering about how a powerful animal like this might react when already pushed out of its traditional feeding grounds. Might it see the river as a great provider that floated these delicious little human canapés its way at a time of need? No need to worry. The bear was far more concerned about getting across to the opposite bank than it was in detouring for river appetizers. A lot of huffing and snuffing when it reached the far bank did let us know that this part of the forest wasn’t welcoming human guests at the moment, thanks, and we continued on our way, heading for yet another great meal that I relished all the more for not having been part of an impromptu bruin buffet!