Monday, December 1, 2008

National Canoe Day Paddles

Becky Mason hands over her paddle 085 Christmas morning!
I have finally and belatedly passed on my good friend Paddle 085. On the morning of December 25, 2008 it mysteriously appeared in the Christmas stocking of Glenda McLachlan, Executive Director of the Quetico Foundation. This year is Quetico Provincial Park's 100th anniversary and it seemed to me that passing it on to Glenda was a perfect way to kick off the centennial celebrations of the park as well as sending 085 off on new and exciting adventures. So, dear 085, you're going to love Quetico, it's an amazing place.

James Raffan presents paddle #085 to Becky Mason, 2008

The Canadian Canoe Museum has distributed a limited number of special 'National Canoe Day Paddles' across the country. These paddles are to be used by canoeists and then passed on, randomly, to other canoeists. I was lucky enough to be given one of these special paddles and I took it on my canoeing adventure which I've written up.

Memory Sticks. The First Story of Paddle 085

Every once in a while when I pass one of the many paddles I have scattered about in my house I have to stop short and stare at it because I am transported back to a specific moment, place or feeling from a trip we have taken together. These memories flood back and serve as a reminder me of how important it is to take the time to slow down and drink in the natural beauty of the land. Our paddles, these objects that propel us and connect us to the wilderness also become touchstones for our past experiences. This may well be the reason that it is now December 1 and, after having it for 4 months, Paddle #085 has not been passed along but is currently hanging on a rack in my living room with my 2 wedding paddles. It's tough to give away a touchstone to the memories of our spontaneous little trip we took with 085 down the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park this October.

This is one of my favourite rivers of all time if only because I have had so many formative moments on it. I paddled it as a little kid with my family many times, spent an unforgettable week on it painting with my Dad, guided trips down it, and honeymooned on it with my husband Reid. Keeping this all in mind it wasn't a big surprise when, with our life just getting too crazy after a summer of too much stress and not enough paddling, Reid said one crisp October morning "we should get away for a few days, it's either go now or wait 6 months". We were on the road the next morning, hoping we had remembered everything but knowing that for a mere 3 day trip there wasn't a lot we couldn't live without. Our worries slowly diminished in importance as our destination approached. A perfect mirror like calm and crisp blue sky greeted us at Lake Traverse and followed us for much of the trip.
Photo credit: Reid McLachlan

We worked out the rust on the first rapid, Big Thompson, and quickly determined that ol' 085 might not be up to the challenges of the low water levels that so frequently accompany late season white water paddling, so we stored her for the flat water sections later on.

Photo credit: Reid McLachlan

We floated our way downstream, soaking up the sun, dodging rocks and stopping to play in the rapids when we felt like it. We were in no hurry to go anywhere very fast.
Photo credit: Becky Mason

With the sun setting we cautiously eddied out at one of the classic camp sites on the river, Crooked Chute. There is nothing more soothing than listening to the sound of rapids. It lulls me to sleep and wanders in and out of my dreams only to wake me in the morning, its never ending song filling my ears with contentment. The temperature dropped to about -6 that night and although the water in our pots froze we were snug as bugs in our tent.

Photo credit: Reid McLachlan

The next day brought both excitement and outrage. Downstream from Crooked Chute is Rollway rapid. It is always a challenge and not a run to be taken lightly at any water level. Well known journalist and paddler Blair Fraser had died here in 1968 after apparently missing the take out. With that sobering thought in our heads we shouldered our packs and took to the portage with the plan to scout our run on the walk back. Although we had been forewarned we were still shocked and angered to see that a small memorial cross that had been discreetly erected in Mr. Fraser's memory shortly after his death had been hacked off and disposed of. We later found out that the act of vandalism was perpetrated by a disgruntled activist who had decided a park was no place for any kind of memorial. Although his opinions may have some validity today I don't think that these views should be retroactively applied 40 years (or 400, or 4000) after the fact. If there is a line to be drawn don't draw it and then step back over it in a misguided act of righteousness. With our hearts heavy we walked the trail back to our canoe while scouting a technical route through the boulder strewn rapid. Our dismay quickly turned to trepidation and then to elation as the current gently tugged us into the main flow of the river and we successfully manoeuvred our way down the 800 m set with out mishap.

The day clouded up during our obligatory lunch stop and hike at the Petawawa cliffs and briefly showered on us as we loaded up and headed down stream. 085 came out of storage and joined us for the rest of the trip as things were plain sailing from here on down. The rain started in earnest as soon as our tent was pitched along Schooner Rapids but it conveniently stopped around 7 am as the sun rose from behind the clouds and mist.

Photo credit: Reid McLachlan

This day was glorious, perfect fall paddling weather. Bright sun, cumulus cloud and stunning fall colours, oh, and a tail wind too! We arrived at the take out deliriously happy rejuvenated and ready to take on the world again!

Photo credit: Reid McLachlan

After a relaxing hike into the Barron Canyon we headed home to our travails and hung up 085, conveniently forgetting to pass it along. I think we will have to take it out for our last paddle of the year (which also inevitably involves some skiing) and then look for a willing partner for it so it can continue on its journey. Until then it still hangs in my living room and remains a wonderful memory stick of our 2008 fall trip on the Petawawa.

You can read about lots of other adventures that the special paddles have been on at
Becky Mason

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wilderness Women's Weekend spring 2009

Wilderness Women's Weekend, April 24th-26th, 2009! at Camp Kawartha, Lakefield, Ontario. (near Peterborough) I'm told the focus of the weekend is on the wilderness and the organizers are still looking for facilitators. I'm going to be presenting my Classic Solo Canoeing class. I do look forward to checking out the other workshops too.

I've never attended this festival but judging from their past workshop topics it looks to be a fantastic weekend of exchanging ideas and skills. The past workshops have included canoeing, wilderness women writers, working in the wilderness, wilderness tripping with kids, yoga, felting, creating fire, conflict
resolution on wilderness trips, homeopathic first aid and wilderness cooking.

Workshops should have a connection to the wilderness. If you would like to lead a workshop please contact as soon as possible.

Workshops are 1 ½ hours and they say you'll find participants very supportive and enthusiastic. Extended deadline for workshops is December 15th, 2008.

For more information how to sign up and the fees on the women's wilderness weekend, go to


Friday, October 17, 2008

Happy Paddling this Halloween!
Reid and Becky