|Roughing it on The Nepisiguit|
Every time I'm on the water is magical to me, another escape from the cubicle farm and the rat race. Yet I still feel the sweet pang of nostalgia for the old days, when I first began running the small creeks around my home.
Back then all I had was a crooked Coleman, a leaky tent, a thin sleeping bag and a twisted cooking grate. My supplies added up to a few cans of whatever stew was left over downstairs in the pantry, beans and wieners, and beer. Yet our adventures were vivid and meaningful. It seemed there was something new and unique at every bend in the river.
This spring marked our third annual trip to the majestic Nepisiguit river. As usual, we stayed in Scotty's lodge at Indian Falls. The government no longer grants leases for camps on this river, but since Scotty's lodge dates back to the 1920's, it enjoys grandfather status as the only legal lodge on the river - save one, which I will mention later on.
The lodge is not like the sprawling pleasure palaces on the Restigouche, with all the creature comforts for visiting salmon-fishing tycoons. It is beautiful in a rustic, spartan way, with a fine view of the ledges of Indian Falls and the sprawling trout pool below. Scotty says Babe Ruth and his Yankee buddies used to come here back in the days when the lodge was a business and not yet a family retreat, and trout were still plentiful.
There were eight "boys" on this two-day run from Bathurst Lake to Indian House Pool above Indian Falls this spring, three from the town of Bathurst and five from Fredericton. The boys from Bathurst made it clear at the beginning that they wanted to show us out-of-towners a good time on their "home" river, determined that we would want for nothing.
Scotty's father and uncle showed us the first kindness, by shuttling us and our gear to the lake, and returning our vehicles to the take-out point. After the ritual of unloading the trucks and reloading our boats, we pushed off under the brow off Mount Carleton into the calm waters of Bathurst Lake. It was here that I got my first gentle reminder that the good old days were gone … the motor.
It was just a little two-horsepower putt-putt on the stern of Dick and Tracy's boat, but it whined worse than the no-see-ums at dusk. The gas fumes downwind were nauseating. Dick invited us to hook onto his boat's gunwales and take a tow ride through the chain of lakes. Paul and I in one boat, and Laurie and Billy Bogan in the other, declined the offer.
One boat grabbed on, and within minutes the tandem rig slipped through the deadwaters and into the next lake. Ahhh, silence reigned anew. Fluffy cloud towers of billowing pure white skudded across the shocking blue sky and slid behind the green hills. As much as I enjoy moving water, there are few joys as tranquil as a peaceful lake in the spring breeze.
Soon we eased our way through the chain of lakes and entered the river proper. We paused at Moose Brook, and climbed onto the narrow walking bridge. From its railing one can look back upstream and catch a last glimpse of Mount Carleton peeking over the shoulder of Sagamook, respectively the two tallest hills in New Brunswick.
The rest of the day was spent gliding between steep green-clad hills down the swift and narrow stream. There are no rapids to speak of, and at only one turn was our passage slowed by a fallen tree. With a little elbow grease and timing, we were able to twitch through without having to leave our boats. The scenery in this narrow vale at times beggars description.
We made our ritual stop at the Little South Branch bridge, and climbed the hill on river left to admire the panorama of the joining of the tributaries. The three tendrils gathered in a sheen of sparkling blue, snaking in to merge at the foot of our cliff from between the high green hills in the muted glow of the late afternoon sun.
When we arrived at our campsite shortly thereafter, I was the first to climb the bank, and noticed the two imposing vehicles. A large camper-trailer and a muscle truck were parked at the edge of the clearing.
I asked Dick, "Hey, guys, who owns those? We got company?"
"Oh, they're ours," said Dick. "I got my buddy to drive them in from town."
He got up, pressed a small button, and the trailer inflated with a soft electric whirr, to reveal four beds, a table, a fridge, and kitchenette. Within minutes, the awning was mounted, and a fake-grass welcome mat six feet square led up the steps of the cozy behemoth. All was missing were the painted patio lights.
Next, he ambled over to the truck, opened the tailgate, and he and Tracy hoisted down a full-sized barbecue and several hefty coolers. To finish off, he opened the passenger side door, and turned on his disk player. The melodic strains of cry-in-your-beer country tunes wafted over the river valley.
"We know how to do it up right here, boys. We'll show you Fredericton guys how to have a good time."
Soon, steaks, sausage, and pork chops were sizzling on the barbie, and cans of cold beer by the armful emerged from the coolers. The party went on until we were too full to do more than waddle … I think we even stayed up till it was dark, not bad for a bunch of guys who were several decades past the prime pig-out years of the twenties.
The next day on the river was more of the same as the day before … hypnotizing scenery, serenity, fast water with a few rock gardens but no daunting rapids. We invented a new game … the collective. No, unfortunately, Jeri Ryan wasn't there.
We joined our four boats in one straight line across, and pretended nothing could tear us apart. We drifted over rocks that would have tipped a single boat, but by holding on, we were able to pull over them with a grinding and banging "damn-the-torpedoes" attitude. In several places, the outermost boats were raked over by low-hanging branches as we swung round a tight turn, but we still pulled them through. My prime responsibility as bow man in one of the center boats was to manage the coolers, and I took my duty very seriously, I assure you.
This worked well, until we finally broached on a rock and Scotty and Ralph went over. We hung together to the very end, but the current proved too strong. All we could do was sit in an eddy downstream and collect their loose cans as they streamed past. Nothing was lost but a little pride, and that's easily recovered on the river.
We paid a stop at Governor's Inn, an all-seasons bar-restaurant that sits on a turn near Popple Depot. It caters to the endless (I almost typed mindless) stream of all-terrain vehicle drivers who cross paths here near the park at Mount Carleton. You can order meals, beer, hard liquor too, and probably find a place to sleep as well. So if you think you can escape civilization on the Nepisiguit, you've got another think comin'.
My experience on the Nepisiguit got me thinking back to the old days, when Biff and I headed out with our gear in green garbage bags, using thin sleeping bags and a leaky tent, with innocence and ignorance guiding us into vivid adventure. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the decadent comforts of this trip on the Nepisiguit, every last one … but bring back the days of beans and wieners over a fire of driftwood in a dark and lonely corner of the woods.
Just once more ....
Poling upstream is the essence of expedition canoeing, and for Scooter, it is a way ... in the spiritual sense.
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