Thinking of going on a long, extreme canoe trip into the wilds of Canada? Here are a few tips on how to make the trip as comfortable (and dry) as possible. These are lessons learned from my recent three-week trip to James Bay along the virtually untouched Esnagami, Little Current, and Albany Rivers:
• You can never bring enough bandaids. Expect everyone in your party to get banged up in one way or another. Bring small, medium, and large-size bandaids that are waterproof, and bring a lot.
• Bring only 2 pairs of wool socks. It's not worth it to bring more because they'll take up space in your pack, and they'll be soaking wet within seconds of putting them on anyway.
• Neoprene booties keep your feet warm in the water only. In the canoe, wool socks work better.
• Fishing rods: The retracctable kind is best, as the regular type tends to snap in half, leaving you with half a fishing rod—not the best way to reel in a big fish.
• Bring waterproof topo maps, not paper. They cost about $3 more each. The paper maps, even if secured in a waterproof map bag, won't survive the inevitable dunking they'll receive.
• If you're planning on canoeing into a reserve or town that has many channels leading to it, get info ahead of time on which channels to take. For instance, Fort Albany, Ontario has a complicated entry with many channels, and you are bound to take the wrong channel, end up dragging your canoe upstream through rapids, and then realize you've missed the correct channel.
• Leave the expensive electronics, such as MP3 players and cell phones, at home, unless you're prepared to take them unexpectedly swimming with you. Hard Pelican cases help in most cases, but don't guarantee dry gizmos.
• Tie everything down before you run a rapid. Unsecured shoes, maps, and water bottles will sail on down the river if you dump, and may not eddy out for you to rescue.
• Take only top gear in excellent condition. Old tents that are semi-leaking will quickly degenerate into useless strips of soggy fabric, for instance. Pay the money and get good gear to protect your sleeping bag, food, thermarest, and books.
• Make sure you bring enough food! This means actually counting out and measuring all portions for all meals for the trip, and bringing two days' extra food. Once you run out of food, things can get dicey if no fish are obligingly hooking themselves onto your fishing lures.
• Even if you're packing for your trip in +35 degrees weather back in the city, bring lots of warm clothes such as long johns, fleece sweaters, toques, and fleece gloves. Summer in the bush is changeable, with one day sunny and boiling hot, and the next day miserable, cold, and wet.
• Ladies: Take lots of feminine hygiene supplies. Be prepared for your menstrual cycle to get out of whack.
• When setting up your tent in the rain, look for a site with good drainage. Hard-packed dirt and sandy beaches are bad. Moss and reeds are good.
• Build in a rest day every seven days for restoration of morale and muscles.
• If you like to indulge in alcoholic beverages after paddling, bring enough. Count out and measure 4 oz. of liquor per person per evening.
• Put your medications in small nalgene bottles with screw-top lids; otherwise, they'll smoosh together and turn into gel.
• Waterproof everything! And then waterproof it all again.
• Don't worry about your Canadian dollars getting water-logged. They're made of cotton, not paper, eh? Credit and debit cards also seem to survive dumping as well.
Email me if you'd like any info on canoeing the Esnagami, Little Current, and Albany Rivers.