It might be the long weekend in May on the Miramichi ... April ice-out on the Pollet ... or the first weekend on the Restigouche. And just about any summer week on the St. Croix.
That's when the perennial paddler comes out, the enthusiast who hauls out his boat and gear on that one sacred weekend every year to re-unite with his paddling buddies and run the same river as he did the last several years ... but who's counting?
The gang gets together to visit the same old campsites, tell the same oldie but goodie stories around the campfire, and in some cases, swamp their boats at the same old turn as they did in years gone by. It may be the only time they sit in their boat that spring, the only river they run that year or ever, but it's a tradition that must be upheld, come heck, high water or almost any other calamity.
I'm most familiar with the Miramichi river gangs. There was one crew my brother and I used to call the bros. We'd see them year after year. Sometimes they would be sitting on a riverside sandbar grilling burgers on their portable gas barbecue, soaking up the sunshine in their folding chairs and clutching cans of cold beer in their hands. They would look back at us as we floated by, and exchange the same nods and smiles of familiarity.
Then there were the fellers with the flags of various countries hoisted in the sterns of their canoes. One flag I remember well was that of the Kriegsmarine, with its black swastika on white and red. I wondered where they got it. Was it the real thing, and did they know it was proudly held high by the fleet ships of Nazi Germany?
Then there was the Perth-Andover gang. Their boats were always loaded to the gunwales and higher, with rocking chairs, tables and huge blue plastic barrels, the ones used to import orange juice from more southern climes. These barrels would be full of ice, and enough beer for an army. The Perth-Andover gang would be at least six boats strong, and they took their sweet time rolling down the Miramichi.
I remember one of their gang who certainly didn't take his sweet time with his beer. He'd poke a pinhole near the bottom of the can and then flip the top tab. The beer would spray out the pinhole in a jet, and he would suck it all back in two seconds flat. I'm not sure about his technique, shotgunning I think it's called, I've never tried it and I don't think I ever will.
We would see them again the next day, as we made the obligatory pilgrimage up the ravine into Falls Brook Falls. Their jaded lack of enthusiasm, (there's a fall up there) they would mutter as they came off the hike and shambled back to their boats, showed that they had made the hike up to the cascade many times before, and would many times again in springs to come.
Then we'd see them one last time, at the wide and welcoming Trout Brook campsite. There always seemed to be room for one more tent on the flat beneath the spreading trees. Buddy would take out his guitar and we'd sing along a bit now and then, the other feller would be fast asleep in his hammock after a hard day of paddling, and search parties would be scouring the woods for any twig or trunk to feed the blazing bonfire. There was always a hard-core group to keep the party going on into the wee hours.
The next morning would see everybody climb into their boats and head downriver towards the takeout and homeward bound until same time next year.
I haven't been on the Miramichi for the Victoria Day weekend run for too many years. Next year for sure. I'll be looking for the old gang. Who knows, maybe they'll be looking for me too.
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