Last weekend I went to the end of the road and came back. And by the end of the road I mean I stared death in the eyes and survived…and I also went to the end of the road – highway 50 ends in roadblocks and a do not enter sign right after the turn off for the rafting place, and if you look at Google maps you will see Highway 50 literally just…ends.
We had planned to camp the night before rafting, and I was prepared to rough it. To my surprise, Nouveau Monde‘s idea of “roughing it” involves a restaurant/bar, a swimming pool with poolside bar, a jacuzzi and a volleyball court. We roll up to the camp site and see in the parking lot a guy selling firewood. Perfect! We don’t even have to go to the store to get any. Unfortunately, he tells us in an indistinguishable (to us North Americans anyway) accent (is he an Aussie, a Brit, South African…?) that each bundle is $10. No thank you.
My friend Nina and I go in search of firewood (and something to cook over our camp fire!) and pass by a guy building a house. We noticed a big pile of chopped wood (as if he had recently cut down a tree just to get it out of the way) so we stopped by and asked if we could relieve him of the wood. Turns out the (very Québecois) man is building the house along with his 7 brothers, son, and nephew and they’re nearly finished! He said we could take all the wood we want, and even led us to a pile of scrap construction wood and helped us pile it all in the car. We returned to the campsite triumphant, proudly carrying the wood past the wood-seller (who we found out is from Worcester, England)’s truck, only to realize we’d failed in our main mission – pick up Liam from nearby town Montebello and transport him to the campsite.
An hour and a trip through the parking lot of the “Castle” of Montebello later, we have food, firewood, and good friends hanging round the campfire. There was a beautiful pathway built of wooden planks that snaked through the campsite. In the dark, it was hard to tell, but there was a slat missing halfway to our particular site. We joked that someone must have taken it for firewood. The next morning we were cleaning up our area and noticed that a piece of our firewood (or rather, the remains of it) had a couple of nails sticking out of it and was about the size of a slat for the walkway…whoops!
An 8 am breakfast was included in our coupon (did I mention this whole thing was only $45 from Groupon!?) and we rolled out of our tents and up to the lodge to stand in a food line reminiscent of middle school lunch-time for a choice of eggs or French toast. I should also mention that as luck would have it, I was recently gifted two amazing tents from friends of friends Matt and Joanne, who didn’t need them anymore, saving me from an investment I can’t make at the moment.
After breakfast, we filled out our forms, fussed over wetsuits/booties/just wearing a bathing suit, then piled onto an old school bus with helmets, life-jackets and paddles in hand. We arrive at the launch point and discover that our guide is a Québecois guy who goes by the name Sou and has green plastic grass duct-taped to his helmet. Looks like we won the cool-guide lottery [insert witty allusion to Johnny Cash song, Boy Named Sue]. He starts off the trip by telling us that rules are made to be “used and abused.” He definitely followed that philosophy during most of the run, letting us “surf” in rapids two or three times in a row, as other rafts just kept floating downstream. At one point, he let us sit in the rapid for so long that the other rafts behind us started to line up, and we got several angry glares.
Sou led us through all the good rapids and most fun routes. At one point he tells us all to close our eyes and just to trust him as we ploughed forward. He yells “OK open your eyes!” just a split second before we run headfirst into a huge rock. “I didn’t used to say ‘open your eyes’ at all until a lady smashed her face once” Sou told us. We all chuckled nervously.
The only bad thing about bending the rules is the inevitable painful experiences. Our third time surfing a class four rapid, everyone except Yichao was thrown from the raft. I nearly stayed in except that one of the two people in our raft that didn’t come with our group, a middle-aged woman who told us she and her husband, also in our raft, had moved from Florida to Montreal to retire (sounds kinda backwards if you ask me), was launched from the other side of the raft and, perhaps in an effort to stay in the raft, caught me in the chest with her forearm and propelled me backwards into the water. The impact knocked the wind out of me, and I gasped immediately. Unfortunately I was already underwater at that point, so I just gasped in a bunch of water. The next thirty seconds were probably the closest to death I have ever felt (though realistically I know I had on a life jacket, there were trained guides all around, yada yada), and when I finally resurfaced, I still couldn’t breath because of all the water I breathed in. I kept doing the hiccup breath, unable to really draw in any air. I looked up and Sou was yelling at me to swim towards the boat, so I clutched my paddle (somehow still in my grasp) and swam like my life depended on it towards the raft.
After that experience, I was significantly more spooked about the rapids. “Are you scared?” the Florida woman asked me the first time we headed back into the class four, “nope,” I replied, and I meant it. Had she asked me the same question after that fall, the answer would have been very different. Towards the end of the run, Sou pointed our raft back into a rapid and positioned it so that we flipped over completely, propelling us through the air. This time I was more prepared for the subsequent turmoil. I let go of my paddle and tried to float on my back as I had been instructed. Somehow I managed to get stuck under the raft for a second. Let’s just say, being stuck underwater and feeling something preventing you from surfacing doesn’t exactly give you a feeling of joy. But I got through it, and in no time we were all back in the boat paddling to the next rapid.
At the end of the day, we returned to the compound, chilled by the pool and played some volleyball with some cool Quebecois guys and girls. On the drive back to Montreal, everyone napped. When I finally fell into bed that night it was the best sleep I’d had in months.
Unfortunately my camera got quite water-logged and is still recovering, so for now you’ll have to settle for the professional photos that we bought. Will add more pics as soon as my camera functions properly again!