My decision to do the Full Missinaibi River Adventure is a bit of a long story. My kids and I have always been campers. Every summer they would go to an out tripping summer camp in Temagami and disappear into the wilds of Ontario for three weeks paddling down rivers like: the Sturgeon, the Dumoine, the Coulonge, the Harricana, and the Albany. Upon their returns, they would be full of so many stories of adventure, struggle and triumph. As they told their stories, I would sometimes listen in horror, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, sometimes all three. But the one thing that stood out to me was that though they had never travelled a river together, they bonded over their shared experiences. I wanted to be a part of that conversation….I wanted to share in their experiences. So I started looking for a river; it had to be about twenty-one to twenty-three days long, end in Moosonee, and one neither of them had paddled. The Missinaibi was an obvious choice and I loved the idea of taking the train to the put-in.
Then came the hard part… paddling the 500km from Peterbell to Moosonee. I have never worked so hard on a holiday. We had days where we paddled between 35km and 50km. One day we portaged more than we paddled. The storms were intense. The heat was real when we paddled into Mattice it was 40⁰C, the hottest place in Ontario that day. The bugs were unbelievably real. The wind was real, Tenty Mctenterson became the rock I would drag into my tent to keep it from blowing away. It was hard work. And I was tired when I got on the train in Moosonee and started home.
When I headed home, I was full of amazing memories. Like thermarest rafting down the Kwetobohigan River. Running down the portage trail, as the last person, with my life whistle in my mouth (because, you know, bears) and then looking up and seeing Meredith had come back for me. I have never been so happy to see anyone in my whole life. Sitting around the campfire with Prill each night reviewing our progress that day and the plan for the next day. The canoe rescues at Glassy Falls. The chipmunk at Bell’s Bay who was angry over the lack of food in my bowl. The ice cold Coke in Mattice. The stars at night. WOW! There were so many wonderful moments and images that come to mind when I think of my time on the Miss.
One of my favourite memories is the river itself. I loved watching as the river changed from the slow moving flow in the Peterbell Marsh to the rocky shorelines where the water rolled and thundered through the Canadian Shield. Then the river started sloping downward towards Thunderhouse Falls and Hell’s Gate Canyon, as if they were the grand finale as we departed from the Canadian Shield. In the Hudson Bay Lowlands, we camped on gravel bars, and the space was so large, and we were so tiny. We were visited by bald eagles, osprey, pine grosbeaks, sturgeons, moose, a black bear, beavers, turtles, grebes, sandhill cranes, we even had a wolf trot through our campsite early one morning. On the drive from Cochrane to Timmins, we saw a lynx and a merlin.
There were moments that made me laugh (digging trenches in our campsite to funnel rain away from our tents) and there were ones that made me cry (falling into a gully with a barrel on my back, I mean, even the mosquitos on my arms, back, face and legs seemed to be upset by that). I learned to make choices which reflected what I needed (the full rain suit on Hell’s Gate Canyon portage day. It was hot and steamy, but it kept the bugs at bay). I’ve done many hard things in my life, but I have never travelled so far while carrying my whole world in a giant blue barrel up and down rocky and muddy trails in bug infested woods. I never understood the strength it took or the physical, emotional and mental endurance required for this type of trip. As I stood naked on the side of the river with the hopes of de-pruning my body after wearing my rainsuit all day, I understood then. I understood my kids’ strength. I understood my own strength. And I learned that on the Missinaibi River with some of the most amazing people by my side. Our wonderful guides: Bethany, Ian and Meredith, and my fantastic travel mates: Herman, Jodi, Cynthia, Clarence and Bill and Prill. These people and my twenty-three days on the Miss will be forever connected to my relationship with my kids and myself. It was truly the adventure of my life.