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scenic or casual paddling novice paddlers 1 day
Little Mississippi River
Saturday, October 4, 2003
length: 30.0km, 1 day
difficulty: novice

leader: Peter Carmichael
organizer: Outing Club of East York
participants: Karonne Lansel, 3 tandem canoes, 2 solo kayaks

Being reluctant to spend 7 hours driving up and back in one day, I had resolved to go up Friday night and stay at the Bancroft Motor Inn in relative comfort. But before leaving home, I told my partner, Mark, about the nasty weather forecast I had heard for the area, and offered him a chance to back out of the trip. Frankly, I was hoping he'd take me up on it, as the forecast was really quite alarming. He's not normally one to go looking for hardship, but this time he didn't want to back down. And if he wasn't backing down, then I certainly wasn't! So, driving through gale-force winds that I feared would rip the canoe right off the roof, we made our way to Bancroft.

In the morning, our group assembled: 3 tandem canoes and 2 solo kayaks. After completing the car shuttle, we set out at 11:30 on a 7-hour paddle, including a half-hour lunch stop. The temperature was 2 degrees Celsius and a light rain was falling. As we paddled through the day, the temperature never got above 4 degrees, and pretty much the only time it stopped raining was twice when the wind turned savage and we were pelted with hailstones instead! It was the worst weather I've ever had to spend a full day paddling in.

I've done the Little Mississippi once before, and it's very pretty under more normal circumstances. There's a pleasant, mostly flatwater current. The first third of the trip is slow going due to lots of deadfall and beaver activity requiring numerous liftovers and tight manoeuvers in current, but some of us enjoy those games. On this day, since there had been quite a bit of rain, the water levels were high, so the liftovers presented very little difficulty and we charged over most of them without having to step out of the boat.

When it's time to stop for lunch, finding solid ground is a challenge, as the river flows through a marshy wetland area. One of the kayakers flipped trying to get out, and hadn't brought any dry clothes. Big mistake, in those conditions! Fortunately others had come better-prepared and were able to bail her out.

Further along there's a class 1 rapid just after a tight curve; we all made it through without incident. Then there's a man-made chute that we portaged around, but realized after looking more closely that we could have run it. While we were there, in a surreal moment ten horses came galloping out of the woods! Apparently there's a network of trails in the area that local riding clubs use and maintain. The riders were as surprised to see us as we were to see them!

After the chute, the river widens out and the land becomes more marshy and treeless, revealing beautiful views of the surrounding Amalguin Highlands. Even through the wind and rain, we were able to appreciate the splendour of the fall colours on the distant hills.

At around 6 pm. we became cognizant that daylight - or at least that low gray luminescence we'd had all day - would soon be fading, and we started to wonder if we'd reach the take-out before dark. All day my partner and I had been stopping to wait for the others to catch up, but now we decided to push ahead and find the cars. If the others didn't show up soon after, we could go back for them.

And so it was that at 6:30, cold, wet and tired, we arrived at the take-out. My partner got out of the boat, gave me a funny look, then keeled over onto his back and just lay there. I thought he was joking, but quickly realized he wasn't. His legs had gone numb and he couldn't walk. I helped him to his feet and we staggered to the car. Once inside with the motor running, the seat heaters on, and the fans blasting (does it always take this long to get hot air?!!), I began to shiver violently. I knew I was dehydrated because whenever I had wanted to take a drink during the day, the icy water so chilled my insides that I hardly drank any. So now I made myself drink as I sat and shivered my way back to a better body temperature. My partner, Mark, normally a pretty chatty guy, was unusually subdued.

About 20 minutes later, the others began arriving, and as you can imagine, they were in worse shape than we had been. Everyone had to just sit in their cars with the motor running, getting warmed up and rehydrated for about half an hour before they were even capable of driving away. What a day!

Once we had assured ourselves that everyone was going to be okay, we said our goodbyes and began the rainy 4-hour drive to Toronto. Mark and I stopped at Vito's, the Italian restaurant in Bancroft, for a hearty dinner and felt much better after that. That night after finally arriving home safely, I think we slept for 12 hours!

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