I cook better than I write

Monday, November 27, 2006

Down the Richelieu River Part 1

Our 7 days trip to the Chaplain Lake started on the bright Saturday afternoon. We drove to the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and put our kayaks in the water next to the St. Therese Island. The day was warm, the sun was up high, and we were impatient to discover the beauty of the lake.

According to the calculations we would get to the border the next day and spend the whole week paddling among the islands, visiting Plattsburgh, and crossing to Vermont. The paddle down the canal was calm and effortless. The sun was still quite bright above our heads, the weather was wonderful, not too hot or too cool, the water was calm, and the people walking on the shore were friendly and smiley. After couple of hours of paddling we snacked on “Clif” bars and decided to keep going despite the approaching evening. After couple of more kilometers we saw ….. the locks!!! Jean-Claude warned us that there were 7 locks on the Richelieu River. Starting as low as the St. Therese Island we were sure to clear all of them, but … alas! …. we couldn’t go any further and had to portage!!!! It was the first portage in my life (kayakers are not as used to caring their belongings as canoeists) and I hated every second of it. The boats were very heavy, still filled with all the food, and I was pretty tired. I tried to “cheat” and most of the time Eric was carrying 80% of the boats’ weight (but hey, he is the guy, right?) ;)

The portage was done and the river opened up in front of us; the big marina on one side, motor boats anchored next to the shore…. The sun was going down but we decided to paddle “just a bit more” until we would find a nice place to crash. The river at night looks almost mystical. At one point the light mist raised over the water and we would try to guess what was coming up in front of us judging by the dimmed lights.

It was getting darker and colder and we had to stop for the night. On the shore at our right we’ve noticed a street lamp…. Yeah a street lamp in the middle of nowhere. It turned out to be the end of the road with a huge house on one side and an empty lawn on the other. The house was dark and uninhabited so we assumed that our “squatting” for the night would not cause any problems.

The temperature dropped significantly and as soon as we stopped moving we felt chills. We changed in the set of dry clothes, and while Eric was putting up the tent, I made a big pot of chili to keep us warm and full. Before we knew, the chili was eaten and we were both crawling in to the tent, half asleep.

“Is everything OK?” – a man’s voice woke me up in the morning.
“Yeah, we are good. Is it your terrain?” – answered Eric.

It turned out that the owner of the house came home late last night and did not notice us on his land. He had nothing against us staying for couple of days. He even explained to us that the apple trees were sick and apples were not very good, whereas plums were much nicer and we should feel free to pick as much as we want.
Eric went to pick some plums and I started the breakfast:
Orange juice followed by fried potatoes with mushrooms and vegan sausages. And definitely some coffee.

It was getting nice and warm, we didn’t want to waste any more time so we packed our belongings in the boats and set off. Our next destination was the American boarder.

Paddling on the river is quite different from paddling in the canal. You have to pay attention to upcoming boats, to the coast line, to the bottom that could get shallow pretty fast. Moreover, you should not paddle anywhere but stick to the canal, separated by green and red buoys. But the best part of paddling in the river is the WAVES that passing boats leave behind. We would stop every now and then to bob on the waves, or to cross them perpendicularly.

Once again, we were taking it easy and before we knew we were passing the Lennox Fort. Checking with the map Eric announced that we would still not make it to the American boarder today, and the Fort would be an ideal place to stay for the night.

The sign said “no camping” but the island was empty, so we decided to go in the Fort and ask if we can camp for one night. It turned out that the offices were closed and the only man we’ve met said that during the off-season period we would not bother anyone by pitching the tent in the corner of a huge field.

The field was big indeed with picnic tables, trash cans, and nice access to the water – a true heaven for kayakers. We made the camp and I slowly got to cooking. This time it would be a light soup from the “Thai cuisine” and to stay faithful to the Asian cuisine I made stir-fry vegetables with rice noodles.

Amazing part of camping in autumn is the speed of weather and light change. Early in the morning you don’t want to get out of the tent because it is quite chilly outside, but once you stay in the sun for two-three minutes you get warm and even hot. The sun keeps working hard the entire day and the temperature rises significantly but towards four-five o’clock it gets cooler again and when the sun sets you have to put on your warm fleece, hat, and gloves. It all happens very fast because the sun sets in the matter of an hour or so and the darkness falls fast.

Once the supper was finished we made some hot tea with Marzipan “Ritter Sportchocolate – our favorite dessert – and we were both ready to get in our sleeping bags.

to be continued .....

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