I've always loved canoeing. I have lots of great memories with Dad when I was a kid taking the old Coleman canoe out in the Teeterville Pond, Big Creek, and my favourite, Deer Creek. Save for a few shenanigans in my early 20's, I've had a bit of a falling out with paddling and was long overdue to get back into it. For the last two years I had been dreaming of owning a canoe of my own, to take my kids out in and make our own memories in. That dream became a burning desire this winter and I couldn't ignore it any longer. After months of patiently waiting and watching all the usual buy & sell websites, I finally found a suitable boat for a good deal, a 16' Nova Craft Prospector.
As soon as the chance arrived, I loaded up and headed to Deer Creek. The conservation area is closed, so admission was free. I just had to portage the canoe and my gear the 250 meters from the front gate to the dock, no problem. I hopped in the boat and set off into the cool morning. The water was cold but not as bad as one would think for first week of April. This is the earliest I've ever been to Deer Creek and it made for an unusual sight with no green leaves in the trees. Still very beautiful and a hidden gem of Norfolk County.
I paddled my way around the reservoir, exploring the little alcoves that the feeder streams have cut into the landscape, eventually reaching my lunch stop at the old rope swing. I took my time, enjoyed my sandwich, and basked in the early spring sunlight, soaking up its warmth. A little exploring of the area revealed signs of the old campground that had been at the far end of the reservoir years ago. The remnants of an old dock and the faint overgrown lines of paths and forest roads dotted the area.
I headed back towards the conservation area dock and continued to explore everything along the way. The early season and lack of overgrowth made for a new experience and I got to see things I normally never would have.
With my first outing of 2017 behind me, I'm really looking forward to doing lots of paddling this year. I'm even getting my fishing license for the first time this year (I have not fished since I was a kid) so I can spend some time canoeing and fishing with the kids this year. I've also registered for a paddle making workshop where I will carve my very own custom paddle, and hopefully gain enough knowledge to build my wife and kids their very own custom paddles. You can expect to see more posts on my blog about canoeing / camping / fishing as I move from a cycling-only blog to a more outdoors style blog, rest assured though that you will still get all the Bric cycling shenanigans you can shake a stick at.
Many years ago I had an idea. It seemed like a great idea but looking back on it, I can't figure out if it was an idea forged from bravery or youthful stupidity. My friend Adam and I had decided to do a river run down Big Creek in my dad's Coleman canoe. We would leave from town and float our way down to the High Bridge. We had originally thought of canoeing to Lyndoch but figured that the High Bridge was just around the corner and would make for a nice extra hour or so of paddling. We dropped my car at the planned take out point and headed back into Delhi to start at Quance's Dam.
It was mid morning and the Coleman was in the water. I was doing steering duty in the back while Adam the greenhorn was the stroker out front. The ride from Quance's to the "Swimming Hole" was faster moving water and went by pretty quickly, all the while I was giving Adam tips and guidance so we would both survive the trip. Our first portage was just after the "Swimming Hole" and was an easy up and over type of log jam. I instructed Adam how to exit and pull the boat over, then watched a hillarious scene unfold.
Adam stood up in the front of the boat and reached his leg out to step in the massive log. He must have been a bit nervous because instead of standing on the huge tree in the river, he stepped onto a floating log about 12" long. He disappeared out of the front of the boat and beneath the water. A few seconds later his head popped out, arms frantically waving, and green floaty river scum stuck to his face and hair. It was one of those "America's Funniest Home Videos" moments.
After getting sorted out and over the log we carried on. The paddled through the beautiful Big Creek valley, through the old ruins of the Croton power dam, and into the Lyndoch stretch of river. This is where the fun began. We had numerous portages and where doing quite well at them. Just before the Lyndoch bridge we got a little too far sideways and collided with a tree, which rolled the boat under on the low side. Water started rushing in and we were sinking. The current sucked us and the canoe right under the fallen tree and spit us out the other side. We were lucky enough to have not gotten stuck in the log jam and drown, and the boat didn't get folded like a pretzel from the force of the water. Our new predicament found us both treading water, the Coleman was mostly submerged, and all our gear was floating to a little island about 150 feet down the river.
"What do we do?" Adam asked with a look of panic. I knew that we would not be able to lift the Coleman overhead to get the water out, as Adam had never done a wet entry in a canoe. We had no choice but to somehow get to that island to get ourselves right again, the river banks were steep and muddy.
"Get back in the boat and paddle to that island". I commanded him. He gave me a confused look, as the only part of the boat visible where the two ends sticking out of the water. We both did our best to get back in and paddle to the island. It must have looked hillarious. Two men up to their chests in water with paddles in hand trying to get their submarine to an island. I still laugh out loud when I think of it. Once at the island we got the boat sorted out and retrieved our gear.
"Shit, are you okay?" Adam asked looking down at me. A quick scan of myself and I realized that the top of my left hand had been cut open. I tugged the wound open an bit. It was deep. I wrapped my hand up in a sock and we carried on for the 'extra hour' segment of our trip. I still have that scar of the top of my hand, looking back at it, maybe I should have gotten stitches.
The extra bit of our trip turned into an excruciating 5 hours of portaging every 50 feet or so. By time we reached the High Bridge we could barely walk. It was getting late and we made it out just in time as the bush was just starting to get dark. Unbeknownst to me, the police had spotted my car sitting on the side of the road near the bridge and after noticing that it had been there for 7 hours or so, called my dad. He put the pieces together quickly..... missing canoe, car parked at the High Bridge...... he knew where we had gone and the terrain we would be in. He walked the bush as far as he could from the High Bridge up river yelling for us, but no luck.
I think dad was relieved to see us pull in with the canoe in the back of Adam's truck just as the evening sun was setting. I remember alot of "Are you guys stupid" and could see he had been a little on edge and worried about us being stuck out there overnight. We cleaned up the boat, had a few laughs, and I tended to my hand. Adam and I both vowed to never run the stretch of river from Lyndoch to the High Bridge again. Once in a lifetime was enough for us.
I've always held a special place in my heart for canoeing. It makes sense too as my dad had my brother and I out in his old aluminum Mohawk while we were still in diapers. I remember that leaky old boat well, and the short trips my dad would take us on along Big Creek near Quance's dam and out in the Teeterville pond. It wasn't long before he laid down some cash on a brand new (this was in the '80s) Coleman Ram-X 15' canoe. It was very bright red, heavy, and tough enough to withstand a nuclear blast. We made alot of memories in that boat and in my teenage years I took it out with friends and even solo a few times. At one point we also had a 14' fiberglass canoe so all four of the family members could get out together.
My dad has since hung up the trusty Coleman (which I still borrow on occasion) and bought a fleet of kayaks. When he offered a trip down Big Creek from Rowan Mills to Port Royal I jumped at the chance. I packed up my lunch and we hit Rowan Mills on the 3rd. My dad was paddling his trusty Ascend D12 and I would use my mothers new Wilderness Systems Commander. A good lathering of sunscreen and bug spray, a wave goodbye to the wife and kids, and we were off.
The lack of rain made for pretty low water levels. The waterline was a few feet below where it was a couple months prior. This made for some interesting sights, like the exposed roots of trees clutching the edge of the riverbank, and young bullfrogs digging into the mud looking for a nice damp cool place.
We also came across a number of turtles. I tried to get a photo of a baby snapper but he was too nervous and quick. The mama snapper wasn't scared by us and stuck around to have her photo taken.
We took a few stops along the way for snacks and lunch where the river bank would let us. You can see the high water mark across the river. Our relaxed pace meant that we had quite a few people pass us on the river, who most likely missed out on some of the animal sightings we came across. Taking things easy also allowed us to just enjoy the sounds of the bush and the occasional bloop of a paddle in the water.
Paddling my mothers hybrid canoe/kayak was a treat too, super comfy and easy to maneuver, these types of boats are the future for river paddlers who want something easy to get in and out of but with the comfort of a kayak. I can feel the urge for one of my own growing, the only thing holding me back is the lack of storage room. I'd have to get rid of a bike to make room and that sure as shit isn't happening. I'll just have to sneak out with Mama Bric's boat once in a while.
It was a great day on the river. I ended up with a sunburn on my legs and numerous bites on my neck but thats par for the course out here along Big Creek. I nearly forgot how much I enjoy a nice lazy paddle down the river as all my time has been used camping and biking in recent years. I can't wait to do more paddling this year and maybe I'll relive a few stories on the blog of canoe trips in years gone by.
As far as our route goes, this isn't the kind of place that greenhorns should make their first trip on. The banks are muddy and impossible to reach in alot of areas, not to mention that when you do get off the river, the bush out here is thick and has been called "Canada's Amazon". That should give you a good idea of what to expect. If you want more information on the Big Creek canoe route you can visit the Norfolk Trails website at http://www.norfolktrails.ca/trails/paddling/canoe-and-river-kayak-routes/big-creek-paddle-route.
The Bric...._ mountain biker, road rider, heavyweight gear abuser. Built like a brick sh*thouse. No bike is safe.