|Trip Report by Craig Stewart|
Here's my report on my solo trip down the Little Tobique and Tobique rivers.
I've come to the conclusion that were I to wait for everybody else to get time off, vacation, spouse approval, I would not actually get more than one trip in per summer. I therefore decided to tackle the Little Tobique solo while I had some time off.
Thursday morning dawned bright and early, as it usually does. My alarm had gone off, however, at 4:30 AM. This is the time of morning known alternately as Oh-God!-thirty or Oh-Dark-thirty as well as other less printable names. I had loaded my gear into the Red Menace, my dilapidated old Trooper and I was on the road about an hour later than I wanted to be. I had fortunately allowed some slip into my schedule and was pessimistic on my driving time requirements. I was pointed in a northward direction by 6:30, heading to the great metropolis of Riley Brook.
I got in without incident, and proceeded to rent an Old Town Guide from the great folks at the Riley Brook General Store. This is in keeping with my philosophy of using a rental on my first trip on a strange river. Rentals are usually heavy, plastic and the next best thing to indestructible. We secured the rental on top of the Menace, my host jumped in beside me, and we once again pointed ourselves north. The conversation revolved around expected conditions, the lack of awareness in general about the natural treasures we live amongst, and other things...
We arrived at the put in point, the bridge over the Little Tobique outside the Mount Carleton park. We lugged the gear and canoe down to the water's edge, I took one last look for items that I'd forgotten, and found the bug repellent! Leaving that behind would have been bad. I waived adieu to the shuttle driver, and the Red Menace was off down the road. I started packing the items into the bow of the canoe, trying to put the most weight forward. The rental had the moulded plastic seats, which while are probably a boon when canoeing tandem, are not so great when canoeing solo. I sat pushed off, and set off down stream. I tried to sit on the stern seat, and ended up doing a wheelie! This didn't bode well. I shuffled forward and knelt just aft of the yoke at the midship point and proceeded to dive into the green canyon.
I had been told that the first 45 minutes on the Little Tobique would be the worst. I now understand why I was told this. The river breaks up into small streams, some deep, some shallow and runs around little islets. If it weren't for the current carrying me down stream, through alders reaching out from both banks, shallow gravel bars, fallen logs, overhanging trees down... You get the drift. When I came out the other side, my canoe handling skills had been developed by the most brutal school of all: self preservation! It seemed worse at the time, not knowing if I was going to be dealing with these conditions for the whole trip, when or if the green tunnel would end, or if I was completely insane for even attempting this trip solo. Needless to say, the river came back together, broadened out a bit and I was breathing many sighs of relief.
At this point, I decided to sit back down on the stern seat, and up popped the bow again! Argh, I would HAVE to resolve this issue. I pulled out on a gravel bank on the inside of a bend that showed signs of habitation, the remnants of a camp fire. I set up my fishing pole, opened a beverage of choice, and proceeded to amuse the trout while enjoying the sun on my shoulders. It so happened that the trout decided to amuse me. Since it was too early for lunch, and I didn't have anything really to keep the fish in (once a fishing cooler, ALWAYS a fishing cooler) I tossed them back.
I continued my journey down stream, and I seem to recall wondering about all the log jams people warned me about. As if summoned by my thoughts, as I came around another bend in the river, I came face to face with a solid mess of trees, sticks, branches, and I assume many other pieces of flotsam and jetsam that the river had swept downstream. I quickly pulled into shore to better observe and ascertain the extent of the problem. Since I had a borrowed GPS unit with me, I made note of the location of this pile as 47° 27' 20.82" N x 67° 3' 23.22" W. There was a small channel cleared on river right that allowed me to line the canoe into it, hop in, and move around the worst of the debris. The outlet though, I did something stupid. I clambered over the springy, loose pile of wood and scrambled back into the canoe. I got thinking that if I fell and gashed myself on one of those pointed sticks....
My trip continued down stream and I lunched on the bank where a number of people had rather nice cottages. These weren't the million dollar abodes that you see on the Restigouche or other more populated rivers. They were the sort that normal people would have.
Back on the river and a couple more snags (47° 24' 40.74"N x 67° 6' 41.52" W and forgot to record the rest) around which I had to portage. After the third time in thirty minutes of untying everything, lugging, reloading and retying, I stopped using rope. I know I was tempting the river gods but I was so sick of playing polypropylene spider it wasn't funny. I did manage in all this to reverse the canoe, and load it so that it was trimmed better. I will say this to any other solo trippers: moulded seats are a pain in the posterior, LITERALLY!
It was getting late in the afternoon, and I had planned on camping at the Green Bridge camp site. I started to press on, and fortunately the only other snags I found had clear paths around them. I passed a number of good camp sites, some with old fire pits, and some had wood neatly piled for the next group. Had I been with a group and playing the Bourgeois again, I would have probably stopped earlier.
I arrived at the camp site around 7:30 in the evening. Subtracting about an hour of fishing and 30 min or so for lunch, I was on the river or pulling around snags for 8 1/2 hours. Upon arriving at the site, I found a crowd of people there. It turns out that these folks were doing their annual early summer camp out. They invited me to join their repast, payment for which I pitched in and helped out with the dishes. I didn't have the solitude at the camp site I expected, but it was more than compensated for by the hospitality these gentlemen showed a complete stranger. Gentlemen, if any of you fellows are reading this, many thanks!
The next day broke cloudy and quite a bit cooler. After breaking my fast, tearing down the tent and repacking the canoe, I struck out down river. I knew I didn't have as far to go the second day as I did the first, but I didn't like the look and feel of the weather. I didn't stop to fish as a sense of urgency to get down river and under cover seemed to be there most of the time.
I came down along to where the river winds between two fairly rugged hills. The bottom changed along with the landscape. Instead of pea to fist or head sized river stones, it became tortured and rough ledges. The banks became steep and fell into the depths of the pools as opposed to flat and running far back from the river. My father, who is somewhat of an amateur geologist, called the upper part of the river an old age river while this part was geologically young. I know that as I came through this section, there was less dead fall on the turns, the banks steeper, and avian wildlife appeared to be more prevalent.
In the vicinity of Four Mile Brook, I had my only bad experience on the trip. There are a series of ledges here that are somewhat broadside to the flow of the river. I say somewhat since I didn't realize until I was at it that instead of surfing straight over them, the water was being forced cross wise to the flow. I bumped, got the stern stuck, and started going around and over. A serious shot of adrenaline to the system, and either by good luck or good management I got my tail off the ledge. All things considered, it wasn't that bad, I didn't ship any water, I didn't lose anything.
A brief pause to explore another camp site marked on the map and a continuation to the Forks of Tobique. Here the Memzekel, Sisson, Serpentine and Little Tobique rivers come together to form the Tobique proper. I had lunch at the forks, and explored a series of cottages on the right bank. I chatted for a few minutes with one of the owners, got an estimate on the length of my trip remaining, and continued on.
The Tobique is wide in comparison to the Little Tobique upon which I had spent the last day and a half. While still a quick moving river, I was driving into the eye of the wind the whole way to Riley Brook. This stretch was unfortunately a chore, and I was glad when I came around the turn to see the bridge at Riley Brook. I took out just beyond, crossed the road to the store, and my first solo trip as well as my first trip on the Little Tobique/Tobique rivers came to a close.
I did decide I had a horse shoe in the seat of my trousers though. Just as I was getting into the Red Menace to head back home, the rain started and continued throughout the rest of the weekend!
I am going to wax philosophically a bit here, seeing where this was a solo trip into the not quite howling wilderness. A number of people commented on being surprised that I was making a run for the most part the whole length of the Little Tobique solo. Comments like "trying to find yourself" were offered. I simply wished to get into our lovely New Brunswick nature that surrounds us even when we know it not. There were no deep reasons that I wished to do this. The river taught me a valuable lesson anyway.
When you are out, on the river, in the wilderness alone, without support, you are without support. That statement may seem trite or redundant, but you don't realize until you have truly cut yourself off from all outside help that you are completely on your own. In today's hyper connected and ultra fast world, I don't think anyone understands how un-self reliant we are. I know, that's not really a proper word, but it expresses what I meant. Even with travelling with a companion or in a group of 4 or 6, we are not dependant totally upon ourselves. There is no help, no second chances. If you do something stupid, you are on your own to get out. It is a humbling experience, and tends to put things like nattering bosses and work stress into perspective. It was a great confidence builder. I did it. I enjoyed myself. I learned. I, I, I... No we...
I would recommend a solo trip to anyone who feels they have the skills. If you run a river you know, you will see it through new eyes. If you run a new river, enjoy it.
I loved every moment of it. I'll do it again in a heartbeat.
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