Our expedition from Rossport in Lake Superior to New York City has come to an end but all good things have to finish sometime. It’s been a fantastic trip, we have seen some amazing scenery, been across some huge lakes, been through some extraordinary locks and been around and met the local boaties on these waterways at play. It’s been an expedition of multiple contrasts. Every day had its own challenges, every day the scenery changed, every day we learnt something about the country and the people.
It hasn’t been a doddle though we have worked hard to cover nearly 2800 kilometres in 66 days which was a day shorter than my original schedule. It was the continuation of a trip I started a few years earlier when I paddled 3600kms from the Canadian Rockies to Rossport, in Lake Superior, near Thunder Bay
It was probably an ambitious plan for a 66 and a 64 year old to paddle 2800kms ‘Across Canada’ but I had been paddling for 43 years and already successfully completed many longer expeditions in Australia and had paddled 19,000 kilometres on 5 long trips in North America so I had a good chance of succeeding. For my partner John, who had been paddling competitively for the last ten years and although this was his first long trip he had the stamina, the endurance and the will.
The route. Stage 2. 2017
To achieve our goal we paddled in 30 lakes and passed through 120 locks, paddled up rivers and down rivers. We fought against the current, the wind, the rain and a huge amount of boat wash and all these elements stirred up the water that we were paddling on. Some days though it was so calm and warm that with the glare of the sun I could have slept whilst paddling. Unlike in Australia where the sun goes from the east to north to west, in Canada and the US it goes from east to south to west. We were heading south and east most of the time so it was always directly in our vision.
The first and second stage of the trip across Canada
Although we experience so much and brought home so many great memories the fact that we were able to paddle 6 to 10 hours, 36 to 60 kms a day for 66 days at an age of 66 years and not feel any stiffness the following day is certainly one of the greatest things I have achieved. This would have been easier if the kayaks were empty but we had to be self-sufficient and carry everything. With all my clothes, camping gear, food, water, trolley and electronic safety devices I was carrying around to 80 to 85 kgs in the kayak and that didn’t include my own body weight. When we first started we carried 25 days of food (25 to 30 kgs) as there were limited opportunities to resupply. The difference between paddling an empty kayak, to one with 85 kilograms of gear inside was massive. Just to get the kayak moving was a huge effort and hugging it up the shoreline was often near impossible.
Some of the gear I carry in the Epic 18 kayak
Lunch time at one of the thousand islands in Lake Huron
My kayak was an Epic 18x fibreglass/carbon 19kg kayak with 3 compartments, and a rudder. I had used this kayak on the previous trip. John bought a plastic kayak in Thunder Bay. It had 3 compartments and a rudder and although it was at least 11 kilograms heavier it was more durable than the Epic when dragging it over all the rocky shoreline.
John and I in Lake Superior
To have John (64) on his first big kayaking trip by my side was great. Not only did he keep up the pace, he set the pace and he often drove us on further than we had planned to go. It was hard to slow him down and there were a few days that I wished he would stop paddling so we could camp earlier and give me more time to make camp, write my diary, post the days events on facebook, check the maps, have dinner and have a more relaxing evening before it got dark. He also appreciated the scenery, the people and everything around us which was important as there would be nothing worse than having someone with me being bored on such a trip. And appreciating everything around us helped us to keep motivated and interested in the trip.
One of our priorities was to keep healthy which really meant washing, reducing insect bites and looking after all parts of our bodies, as well as preventing blisters on our hands and looking after our feet which were in soggy booties for 66 days.
We wouldn’t get scurvy in the time we were away but our diet was important as we needed enough energy to get us through 10 or more hours of hard paddling a day. However due to the isolation we were limited to foods that would keep and that would stand up to being pushed into tight places of the kayak between the rest of our gear. Our diet consisted of cereal or porridge oats for breakfast. Tortilla flat breads, cheese slices, jam or peanut butter for lunch and instant pasta or rice meals for dinner. We usually finished with a small tub of fruit for sweets and sometimes some chocolate. Between meals or as an energy lift we ate muesli bars, nuts, raisins, trail mix and jerky. These were also used for lunch at times when we didn’t have any flat breads. John also enjoyed bananas and sardines. (We both lost weight during the trip. John lost 5kgs and I lost about 7kgs. John’s coming home weight was 55kgs and mine was 69.3kgs).
Nuts, dried fruit & muesli bars were often lunch and nibbles throughout the day
Pasta and rice dishes were not the most tasty of meals but they were quick to cook
For 66 days we were isolated from world events as we heard no news. We were truly in our own world, especially the days we saw no-one. It felt good but when we returned to Australia it was strange to catch up with all the local and world events but some news items we will never know it happened.
Lake Superior Cliffs
Every stage of our journey had something to offer, the first and second sections on Lake Superior and Lake Huron’s, North Channel and Georgian Bay it was the beauty and the isolation and not knowing what the weather was going to throw at us on these great lakes which seemed to have a weather pattern of their own. High cliffs, massive waterfalls, super clear lake water, calm bays, hundreds of islands, rocky outcrops and shores, rock formations, beautiful beaches and historic sites had us spellbound every day. We experienced thick fog, calm conditions, wild seas, sunny days and driving rain but we only lost one and a half days of paddling because of bad weather which was amazing considering the bad reputation that these lakes have. The majority of boat owners wouldn’t venture on these lakes, especially Lake Superior due to the threat of bad weather and suicidal conditions. Even owners with large power boats we met later couldn’t believe we paddled Lake Superior. It was as if it was this forbidden land. If we had only managed to paddle Lake Superior, the largest lake in the world, we would have been happy as the scenery was so stunning, the beauty so overwhelming, it was like an expedition of its own.
The calm of late afternoon on Lake Superior
Rocky outcrops on Lake Superior
Lake Superior Cliffs
Cascade Falls, Lake Superior
Lake Superior Cliffs
Denison Falls, Lake Superior, Nimoosh Provincial Park. Closest town Wawa.
Devil’s Chair Rock Formation, Lake Superior
Lake Huron’s North Channel and Georgian Bay weren’t as dramatic as Lake Superior but the beauty was exceptional in a different way. Smaller cliffs, smooth low and high rock islands in their hundreds.
We had just crossed a very windy, rough bay so it was good to shelter behind such a beautiful rock in Lake Huron
Camping on the smooth rock was just heaven, although a little harder to erect my tent
A calm evening on Lake Huron
We only lost one and a half days because of rough weather. Lake Huron
The third and fourth sections of our trip were on the Trent/Severn Waterway and the Rideau Waterway which were a group of rivers and lakes joined up by canals and locks. By using these waterways meant that we didn’t have to portage once to get from Lake Superior to New York which when you think of the terrain and distance was quite remarkable. The Trent/Severn was entered at the south end of Georgian Bay, in Lake Huron. The Trent/Seven was 387kms with 45 locks and the Rideau was 202 kms with 45 locks. It was a 110km paddle in Lake Ontario to get from the south end of the Trent/Seven to the start of the Rideau Waterway. The two waterways and the locks were slightly different and because most of the locks were manually operated and on the National Heritage list they all had 4 or more young people working at them, most in their university holidays. All locks on both waterways allowed camping for $4.90 which was certainly a highlight for us as we knew where we were going to camp that night and not have to search for a suitable camping spot. Allowing camping also encouraged the local paddlers to use the waterway for a weekend or longer. Canoe camping sites is something we lack in WA. Finding camp sites was certainly our biggest concern once we left the real wilderness areas. So much of the lakes and rivers in Canada are occupied by cottages or private land. (Camping at locks in Quebec though was not allowed. Same country but different provinces.)
It was just great camping at the locks
Trent/Severn Waterway is a number of lakes and rivers joined together
From the Trent/Severn Waterway to 110kms to the Rideau Waterway
Rideau Waterway is a number of lakes and rivers joined together
These two waterways gave us the opportunity to meet more of the local people, as well as experience and go through some of the worlds most unique locks like the Big Chute marine railway, (it works on an inclined plane to carry boats in individual cradles over a hill, a change of height of about 60 feet (18 m), the huge lift lock at Peterborough (which lifts boats vertically 20m, 65ft) and Kirkfield (lifts boats 14.9m) and the several flight locks (where more than one lock are joined together, (Ottawa having 8 locks in one section).
Big Chute Marine Railway carries boats over the hill
Every day the scenery and the waterway changed
Peterborough Lift Lock lifts boats 20 metres
I will always remember when we finished the Trent/Severn Waterway. Not because we had gone through 45 locks and paddled 387kms in 8 days and 5 hours, roughly averaging 45kms a day, but because Ian, who opened that last lock gate at Trenton played ‘Men at Work’s’ song, ‘Down Under’ over the loud speaker as we left the lock. It was one of those moments that I will never forget as it was such a perfect ending and such a touching moment to a great paddle through the waterway. I was all choked up and emotional as I left the lock.
‘Men at Work’s’ song, ‘Down Under’ was played over the loud speaker as we left the last lock on the Trent/Seven Waterway.
Sunrise on Lake Ontario
John at the bottom of Ottawa’s 8 flight locks that bring boats down from the Rideau Canal to the Ottawa River.
Our fifth leg, which was 401kms from Ottawa City to the US border we used the Ottawa, Saint Lawrence and the Richelieu Rivers. The first two were big rivers, sometimes like lakes and were just as rough when the wind was strong. We had 17 locks in Quebec that stood in our way to the US border but unlike the locks in Ontario we couldn’t camp at the locks which we found to be strange as they were still in Canada but Quebec, which was mainly French Canadian did feel as though it was a different country, less relaxed and more regulated, although the ordinary people we met there were still friendly.
Leaving Ottawa. The impressive Chateau Laurier hotel on the left and Canada’s Parliament buildings on the right
Before passing through Montreal we had to paddle 15 kms through 5 locks on the Lachine Canal which avoided the rapids coming into Montreal. By the time we had passed through the last lock which opened up into the harbour it was gone 1.00pm on a Saturday afternoon. It was relatively calm and we had great views of the city but once we left the safety of the harbour all hell broke loose as the river went crazy with jet skis, power boats and a wild current.
Although the current was extremely quick and scary it was the power boats that created an amazingly uneven turbulent river. All of a sudden 10 jet skis passed by and then the boats started coming at us 6 to 8 at a time and going as fast as they could, the wash creating a washing machine mountain of peaking waves that came from all directions. The back wash waves from the vertical walls were massive and created hell. It reminded me of the times I fought the tidal currents around the vertical cliffs in the Kimberley. At least there were no crocodiles!
Just about to leave the safety of Montreal Harbour
When there was a tiny break in traffic we moved over to the right hand side where there were no vertical walls, just shoreline. We ended up near a Disneyland Park and the people on the ‘wild mouse’ roller coaster were screaming their heads off. I think it should have been us screaming though! We eventually got away from all the crazy boating people and started crossing another section of river where the ships came out of the lock. Crossing it was another mammoth challenge as the current was fast and turbulent but we eventually made it into smoother waters.
We then paddled 74km down the St Lawrence River sharing it with several big ships which were less of a problem than the power boats. Once we got to Sorel and the Richelieu River we then had to head 126 kms south against the river current and pass through another 10 locks and reach the US border. Just as we entered the river there was a fleet of power boats race up and down the river. The river was quite narrow at that point and parked ships and vertical walls increased the backwash as the river went crazy, it was Montreal all over again. It was a Sunday afternoon so every boater around Sorel was out enjoying the sun and the water.
A ship passes but it leaves little wash compared with a power boat
It was certainly a slower journey up the Richelieu River against the current, through the 10 locks but we finally made it to the US border and Lake Champlain and entered the last section of our expedition. Crossing the border meant my mobile phone and iPad contracts ceased so from then on paddling through the US section I had to rely on my satellite phone and ipad wifi to communicate. It was about 535 kms from the US border to New York City and our finish point.
An island on Lake Champlain
Although Lake Champlain wasn’t the biggest lake we had paddled, it really tested our skills and stability as the wind howled and the lake went into a frenzy. It was also more beautiful than I had imagined. Pleased to have survived the wider lake we paddled up the narrower section and reached the Champlain Canal which had 12 locks on it and joined Lake Champlain to the Hudson River. The canal was the highest point and the watershed between these two points and it was the third watershed we had crossed on our journey.
It was a cold, windy day but when we came across a restaurant John was particularly happy
It was wet and extremely cold when we went through the first lock at Whitehall. We however had a hot meal and did some grocery shopping which helped us get through the awful day. The locks were much bigger than most of the Canadian locks and were automatically operated only needing one lock keeper. Again the lock keepers were friendly and had no issues of allowing two kayakers through.
Even the Champlain Canal had some beautiful areas
and some interesting features
Once through these locks and into the Hudson River there was no stopping us although we did have to fight the tide on the Hudson when it was coming in as it was tidal from Albany to New York. The Hudson River and Lake Champlain surprised me with their beauty. I thought the last part of our journey the scenery would be pretty average, however there were cliffs and hills right up to the New York skyline which we really enjoyed.
John enjoys the changing colours of the trees and the moss covered rock
An grey egret sits on a rock shelf
Just when we thought we were safely home we had a fight for survival paddling through New York. We packed up in the dark and had breakfast at 4.30am as we wanted to get away just before light to get the most use out of the outgoing tide. We had about 36kms to get to our final destination just beyond the Statue of Liberty. The breeze was pretty strong which proved to be helpful at the start. The cliff line for kilometres was stunning even in the little light we had at first.
Cliffs just a few kilometres upstream of New York City, just before the George Washington Bridge
We could see the George Washington bridge and the New York City lights behind it but it was still a long way off. The tide and wind helped us along and we were soon paddling under the bridge and entering the New York City zone proper. It was still quite early but we had several kilometres to paddle before we hit the real busy part. The wind was now becoming a nuisance as it was more of a cross wind and making the river rough. We could cope with that as we have done so on much of our journey, but it became concerning when more boats hit the water and to capsize in New York was not the thing to do.
Passing under George Washington Bridge
The city seemed to go on forever. Jersey opposite NY which I thought used to be more grubby looking was really smart with many new apartment buildings lining the river, although what it was like a kilometre in I couldn’t see.
We could now see the ferries zipping across the river at high speeds. We stayed close to the New Jersey side to keep away from the main river traffic but we still felt all the boat wash from the other side and we still had to cross the paths of the different ferry pick-up points on the New Jersey side. It was a little concerning when we got closer to them and then had to take care to stay well out of their way which was quite hard as they were so fast.
The city sky line
We started passing the main shopping district and the ferries were now at full swing making wake that did create concern. The large ships and barges were creating little wake compared with big power boats and the fast ferries. The wind was still blowing hard creating its own waves so there was little let up for 15 kilometres.
Helicopters, ferries, barges and boats start to move as the city wakes up
While all this was going on around us I was trying to take photos of the city. I risked capsizing several times to get shots whilst bouncing up and down. The Epic 18 is not the most stable craft to take photos from in rough conditions.
Piers and old timbers forced us to go further out into the river than we really wanted to go. It was impossible to hug the shoreline which would have been much safer. The rebound waves off the piers and wharfs were annoying especially when the wash of a boat was hitting us at the same time. Fishermen cast their lines from some of these piers which again created a problem because they cast them way out into the river which we had to avoid. John managed to catch two lines and had to back up and untangle and cope with the wash.
Although there were hundreds of apartments on the New Jersey side there was no one sitting on their balconies enjoying the morning sun. It was so strange, it was as if they were all deserted. There were however lots of runners and cyclists pacing the river paths.
We had a bit of relief from the ferries for a very short time between the city and the business district where the tourist ferries go to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Then all hell broke loose. Pleasure boats and yachts had now joined the barges, ships and ferries so the river was quite a spectacle if you were viewing it from land.
If the wind hadn’t created a rough river in the first place it might have been a good paddle but I must admit I was feeling a little guilty paddling through the area with so many ferries around but we had organised our pick up point to be 2 kms from the Statue of Liberty so we couldn’t just pull out, which was just about impossible anyway with the high concrete walls. The last time I paddled in New York and around the Statue of Liberty and beyond, it was a lot easier with less traffic.
The Central Railway of New Jersey Terminal building was constructed in 1889 but was abandoned in 1967. The Head house (pictured) was later renovated and added to the New Jersey Register of Historic Places and incorporated into Liberty State Park.
We were willing to paddle to the back of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty Island to get away from the ferries but the area was littered with security buoys keeping all river traffic from going into these areas so we were forced to go around them and around the Statue and in the area of the ferries which didn’t slow because we were there. I would have loved to have got lots of photos at this point but it was near impossible as the water was so disturbed.
The Statue of Liberty
Then after we had rounded the Statue relief came as we moved away from the river traffic and into a calm bay where our pickup point was located. We had been paddling for 6 hours, 3 of those hours were very stressful through the city area, which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone unless it was flat calm, you are in a very stable kayak and there are no ferries around.
Around the Statue of Liberty and into calmer waters
We hit the boat ramp and all of a sudden our trip was over. After sixty six days and the stress of the day, it was now what do we do? We shook hands but we were really lost and emotions confused. It wasn’t the great, excited moment that you get when you finish a race that you have won.
Soon after Jenny’s sister Elaine and husband Dave were there to collect us, give us some normal food and fruit and whip us to their home where the comforts of home were waiting.
Many thanks to my wife’s sister Elaine and husband Dave for being there at the end of our trip to take us to their home in Princeton and let us eat, drink and be happy whilst waiting for our flight home and be driven back to the airport a week later.
Many thanks to Dan & Cheryl in Thunder Bay, Canada for putting us up and looking after us whilst getting ready for our trip and taking us out to the start of our trip.
For more photos go to Canoeing Down Under Facebook.
Rivers & lakes paddled in North America
I have also cycled 10,550kms and backpacked 1,200kms in the USA