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For the past few weeks I’ve been watching the snow disappear from the High Peaks and the river rise at the Falls in Wadhams, mourning the end of ski season while eagerly anticipating paddling once again. The Boquet river runs out of Elizabethtown as a meandering, innocuous looking stream, disappears into Steele Woods where it becomes a raucous class 2+ ride and then emerges at Brainards Forge looking relatively innocent, giving few clues of the good times had out of the public eye.
Thanks to the gentle prodding of my friends, I find myself standing on the edge of the river in a cold drizzle, dressed in a hastily thrown together assemblage of gear, including a drysuit that inspires my buddy Jeff to say I look rather like a very large blueberry. While trying to maintain an air of competence, smiling and joking as we loaded boats and made final adjustments, I fight the inner emotional battle which precedes so many adventures. Why, I wonder, after more than half a lifetime of fairly regular canoeing, do I stand at the edge of a river and feel like I know absolutely nothing about paddling? The same thing happens predictably at the summits of mountains, even those I’ve skied many times before.
Once we shove off, all those thoughts are pushed to the back of my mind as muscle memory takes over. I am reassured by the familiar rhythm of the paddle and the feel of the boat in the water. As we round the bend and the road disapears, I am embraced by old friends. The river is at once familiar and different. Banks have tumbled in, log jams have shifted, channels have opened or closed, boulders have been rolled by the massive chunks of ice carried by the spring freshet and yet, she is my old friend.
A few miles in, deep in a hemlock wood, ice and snow stubbornly cling to the edge of the river. Every time I get to this place, I feel as if I’m someplace truly remote. For a moment, I’m on the Dumoine, or perhaps the Temagami river, days from the nearest road. It’s magical.
All too soon, it’s over. Before I know it I’m home, darkness finds me warming myself in front of the fire, reliving my day on the river and dreaming of adventures ahead. I remember now what canoeing can do for a person and the incredible possibilities awaiting just around the bend.
Back in th office, my day on the river brings meaning and importance to the rather mundane work of an off season camp director preparing for a summer full of adventure for several hundred lucky kids. The Journey is everything.