Catch the beginning of Darcy’s wilderness adventure in Paddling the Shelburne River: Part 1.
Here’s part 2 of excerpts from the diary I kept in a notebook that got nicknamed “the black box.” The notebook became my refuge from the constant company of nine guys gone feral on the Shelburne River in the Tobeatic Wilderness Area, the most remote part of Nova Scotia.
11 am – Stony Ditch Lake
Out of the pea soup – the humble headwaters of the Shelburne – and on into Stony Ditch Lake. This place lives up to its name. Hundreds of granite erratics or glacial deposits strewn across the lake like handfuls of boulders scattered from a big hand. On one, a pine tree grows short and nearly horizontal. We twist and turn among the glacial leftovers and recall the story of the aboriginal man who hid here in the 1800s after he was accused of murdering a white man. He picked a good place to hide.
5:30 pm – Sand Beach Lake
Tired, very thirsty, we camp in a pine grove on a narrow glacial ridge between the Shelburne and Sand Beach Lake. A cold wind blows. A loon calls. We talk around the fire about how this trip is like going back in time: navigating a historic waterway once an important trans-provincial route for the Mi’kmaq, travelling through country scarred by glacial action 10,000 years ago. We contemplate our insignificance in this landscape and how we’ve become more childlike and childish, more like boys and less like men. The cookouts and the sweating, the toilet humour and the beer contribute to the regression. The overdeveloped muscles of civilization are much weakened on the Shelburne. I realize I’m so focussed on the hard work, the majesty of the place and the map I’m following in my head that I’ve forgotten about my worries from home. I strain to recall them – something about money – but they have no relevance here.
After a hearty, near gourmet meal of marinated pork loin and couscous, we boil water for the next day, determined not to get caught short on drinking water again. Cael mixes his with peach drink crystals. The flavour – smoky peach – is nothing I ever want to taste again… but it’s safe.
Day 4: Sunday, May 7
6 am – Sand Beach Lake
Awoke to wind beating the sides of the tent, a dark sky, clouds driving in from the south. The first thing Lester said when he opened his eyes – and I was thinking it – “We should have crossed the lake last night.” We started a fire that burned like a furnace in the wind, and filled every bottle with the water boiled the night before. The smoky, swampy taste matches the repulsive brown colour, but it’s not as bad as the smoky peach. When we get on the lake, we discover our luck – the wind is with us.
9 am – Granite Falls Portage
The worst of them all, 1000 metres of hardhack whacking and boulders. One’s the size of a house and split in half so we can walk through it. The Shelburne tumbles through dozens of these boulders, logs jammed between them.
10:15 am – Peskawa Lake
We leave the Shelburne River with mixed feelings just before it turns south toward Irving Lake. From here to its termination in Lake Rossignol, the river boils with rapids, we were warned, frightening and dangerous. We turn into a brook that leads to Pebbeloggitch Lake and Kejimkujik National Park. We pass a cabin and a short portage to Peskawa Lake. Still a day from the nearest house, the sight of a well-kept cabin, a shed full of firewood, a landing, even a gravelled trail that seems a paved highway after all the kilometres of hardhack portaging, is at once disappointing and comforting. We are in Maritime Canada. The landscape changes immediately from spare to lush.
9:00 pm – Peskowesk campsite
At eight kilometres long, Peskowesk is the largest lake we’ve seen. The sun sets over Peskowesk inside a globe of solar fire. The globe lingers long after the sun drops below the tree line. After dark, the planes fly overhead in bunches on their way up the eastern seaboard to Europe. Like giant compass needles, vapour trails drift sideways past the stars toward the three-quarter moon. Getting away from it all is an illusion. But we’ve paddled and portaged in the grip of the illusion for days. It is powerful and has changed us. Lester goes into the woods with his cell phone, the first time it’s worked since we entered the Tobeatic.
Day 5: Monday May 8
1 pm – Mersey River at Lake Rossignol
We’ve done it. John tells us to make it clear to those who doubted us that we completed the trip two hours ahead of schedule. After breaking camp this morning, we started a three-hour ride down the tumbling Peskowesk Brook, the best run of the trip. Old hemlock, maple and pine lined the banks, half a dozen deadfalls challenged our skills. In one pool I saw a trout treading water, watching the traffic go by, making it official – we saw more trout than we caught. The run ended where the brook passed blackened tree stumps where the dammed Rossignol pushes up the Mersey River.
We build a fire and wait for our rides. The boys roast the last hotdogs and talk of the things they’re going to do when we get home: take a shower, take another shower, get on the computer. Steve dumps the rest of his ice—five days and he still has ice. John burns his pants in what amounts to a ceremony, the subject of my last photograph. I add enough duct tape to my own pants to get me home.
All photos by Steve Barron