Monday, July 06, 2009
Paddling with an accent (Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles)
On Sunday morning, admittedly quite a bit later than I had originally intended, I tossed a bunch of stuff including a pack lunch and a water bottle into my mesh MEC bag, and headed for Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles in Laval, an hour away by bus and Metro. Quite a straightforward trip, out to the Cartier Metro station, and transfer to the STL bus number 73, only hitch being that since it was Sunday morning, the service was hourly. Made the transfer, with room to spare. Fortunately when I saw two different entrances to the Parc, one for summer, one for winter, I had the wit to check with the bus driver, which was just as well, because the bus was on a detour and hung a left about 5 minutes walk before the Parc. So I hopped off the bus, climbed between the concrete bollards and across the stretch of denuded road and continued as directed, and found the Parc, the Interpretation centre, and signs to the rental centre, all right beside the road.
Skipped through the Interpretation centre, already seeing water and many boats of various colours and morphologies, joined the rental queue and managed, between my basic French and the agent's basic English, to acquire a paddle, a life jacket, and a slip of paper that I was to take down to the water side. Slip of paper was shortly exchanged for a Boreal Kasko, orange plastic, at which I admit I looked a little askance, as it looked like it had been rode hard and put away wet, and I had doubts about the grey putty on the tip of the keel and the bulge aft of the seat. But the seat was comfortable, the foot rests needed no adjustment, and hey, it was a kayak and it was mine, all mine (at least for the next few hours). Once on the water, it felt not unlike my much-missed Kestrel.
I launched off a nubby dirt, stone and root patch no longer than the Kasko. There was a dock for the larger kayaks, multi-person canoes, and pedal-boats. I was offshore before I realized I couldn't feather my paddle - it wasn't going to twist that way - but I didn't have any trouble adjusting. The launch was in a kind of lagoon  - looked as though a gap between two islands filled in at one end, so first I had to work my way out of the lagoon, around the corner, into the bay. It was already near lunchtime, and a bit breezy, so I paddled into the lee of an island, and parked in the shade of a willow tree to eat , periodically adjusting against the slight current and watching other craft go by. From the perspective of the single kayaker, there is something unintentionally hilarious about the sight of one canoe with 9 paddles all wagging at different rates and different angles. The high was forecast to be 23 C, the sky was piled up with big plump clouds, the sun was unfiltered by smog or moisture, and - only hitch - there was a breeze of up to 40 km/h forecast.
After lunch, I followed the route that all the other boats had taken, through a narrow gap between islands and then across through a channel between islands . Dragonflies aplenty, from modest sized black ones, to the large metallic blue ones, all as impossible as ever to photograph. Went all the way through, decided I didn't want to wind up back at the start quite yet, so doubled back. As I came around the side of that island, I met the strongest gust of the stiff wind that had been forecast, and for about 10 minutes made very little headway, but the wind gave up before I did , and I crossed over and worked my way up the side of Ile Lefebre, hugging the edge and watching the reeds. At one point I noticed some reeds almost at the shore twitching and thrashing as though there were a fight going on between a couple of somethings in there. Couldn't see what, so hung around, watching the twitches getting closer to the water, thinking must be a water-bird but surprised, as it got closer to the water, that I was still seeing virtually nothing. Then just at the edge of the reeds, the water suddenly heaved and a curve of grey scale briefly appeared as the fish slithered over an underground obstruction. It was a large carp, at least a foot long, with a long orange-rimmed maw. Tried for some photos, but you'd need imagination to believe that smear was a fish's spine, and I wasn't going to sink the camera into these waters. Remember those carp. They're going to come up again.
So I kept paddling along, up a stretch that was reminiscent of the stretch of the Gorge above Selkirk Trestle, with houses and docks along the water's edge, up and around a rather posher-looking stretch , and one of my two panoramas, and into the area marked 6, which is shallow waters, reeds and wetlands, site of the second panorama.
The first part of the paddle had proceeded to the constant accompaniment of heavy traffic over the bridge, but in the wetlands the traffic noise had faded to a subliminal hum, and the main sound was birdsong, especially the red winged blackbird. It was possible to nudge the kayak gently through the reeds, deeper into the marshlands. I caught periodic glimpses of waving paddles above the reeds, encouraging me to keep going. I found my way into a small clear area, full of lily pads, and was so intent on the few lilies that I nearly missed seeing the heron, by which point the heron had assumed that stretched-neck on-point posture that told me it was disturbed. I shipped the paddle and drifted, trying to look like a (friendly, big, orange) lily pad, but the big bird had had enough of my ill-manners and flew off in its slow, stately manner. So I started working my way back towards where I'd seen the paddles, following the voices, and screeches and squeals of fright. I met the group coming back through the reeds and the first thing the lead paddler asked me was had I seen the carp. Yes, I said, a little bewildered, but not here. I soon found out what she meant, and why the shrieks. I'd be innocently paddling along, and from the side there'd be a watery thunk and a great swirl as a bolt of fishy muscle turned on its tail and plunged into the reeds. Oh yes, it would make a great opening scene, under a bright blue sky with big fluffy clouds, what could be more innocent, kayaker paddling peacefully through the reeds, glancing curiously at swirl in the water, sudden truncated scream, shot of empty kayak drifting away ...
Well, nothing et me, since I'm here to report. I followed some channels through the reeds, hoping to work my way round the island in the centre, but reached a point where the channels disappeared and the reeds continued. At which point I spotted something white flickering deep in the reeds which I made out as the head of a heron. While staring at that one, I initially missed seeing the second, more visible, heron off to the right of me, long neck extended, showing the white stripes up its neck and white flash above the eyes. I was determined to show some manners this time, and very carefully turned the kayak around in the reed channel, and tiptoed, kayak-style, away through the reeds and small trees, out into the main waterway. Then I wandered off down a channel that I thought should take me back in the direction I wanted to go, only to meet a bridge that I was sure I had not come under: it was far too narrow, and people were fishing off it, and I have a horror of fish hooks getting stuck in any part of me . So I turned around and slogged back, meeting the breeze, reassuring myself I still had over 2 hours to find my way back before the rentals closed, found the floating lookout station, and worked my way around to the channel I knew I had come up and the bridge I had come under. The open waters were much busier now, with power-boats and jet-skis doing their thing, and a bit of wake to bob around in. By then my shoulders had quit merely grumbling and were threatening concerted industrial action, and I had been out on the water over 3 hours, so I paddled my way back to the lagoon, and turned in my boat. I'd been out long enough to graduate from the $11/hr to the $37/day rental. I had to pass through the Interpretation Centre at a gallop, only long enough to murmur appreciatively towards a grass snake that one of the attendants was showing off, to make my (hourly, remember) bus. Which was a shame, because I would like to have checked up and been able to put names to what I'm seeing. But I am most definitely going back.
Here's the site for the Parc, en Francais. I tried hacking around the URL to see if I could find an English version, but there doesn't seem to be one.