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At 3:30 am, we wake up. We are camped on the narrow bank of the Harricana River in northern Quebec, with the great opening of the Hudson Bay before us. We pack our dry bags, put our wet shoes and socks on, take down our tent, load our canoes in the water. We do this by the light of our headlamps and take intermittent bites of the breakfast we baked the night before. The tide is coming in and we must catch it and ride it out, away from shore and into the base of the Arctic Ocean. We push off. The moon is above us, the air is salty, we are mostly silent as we paddle like this without rest. There are 13 of us and the sound of our paddles dipping from the air into the water and propelling us through low waves feels like our collective heartbeat in its rhythmic harmony. The moon begins to set and the sun to rise and in the few moments where both sit in the sky, I feel an unparalleled sublimity.
Crossing James Bay took us two days. We paddled our canoes through swells, we walked in ankle deep water and pulled our canoes behind us, and when the tide went out fully and we found ourselves beached, we portaged across the flat expanse, endless horizon on three sides. We arrived in Moosonee 19 days after we had put in on the Harricana in Amos, Quebec, three weeks into our wilderness canoe trip with Northwaters. Though those were the most physically challenging 19 days I have experienced, I found such satisfaction in the exhilaration of overcoming the physically trying that results from running white water sets and portaging on unmarked trails through such remote and wild land. I’ve never felt so humbled and so empowered from one experience.
That is why I canoe trip. Why I remove myself from the urban world and culture, which I find such stimulation and enjoyment in, and replace the city skyline with that of the rocks, water, and trees. It’s my way to get primal, and get in touch with a version of myself that is determined by the quality of my character, my integrity, my courage, candour, and ability to communicate. The things that define my identity just about everywhere else, prove to be largely irrelevant when I’m out on the trail. It is this internal journey that mirrors the arch of the external one, this tandem, that pulls me into the woods.