Expeditions: Lewis and Clarking It

Discover the real frontier on Quebec's Bonaventure River

Jul 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

AHH TABERNAC, I swore, as my boat ricocheted from one rock to the next, pinballing its way down the snaky headwaters of the Bonaventure River. It had been less than an hour since the put-in, and already I was spinning 360s and popping water-wheelies in my solo canoe. "Tricky little devil, eh?" said Claude, one of the two French-Canadian brothers who were my guides. "Look dar," he said, pointing. "An eagle."
Sure enough, a bald eagle with a wingspan the length of my paddle was glaring at me from a low stump. I swear the bird cackled when, in the nanosecond I took my eyes off the river to watch it take flight, I heard a thunk and was whipped over the gunwales. The next thing I knew, I was bobbing boatless through Class III froth. They don't call it the Bonaventure, or Good Adventure, for nothing.

True, you'll find more harrowing whitewater on, say, Quebec's Magpie or Rouge, and the Feuilles has bragging rights to the most Arctic wildlife. But the Bonaventure lays claim to an eerie timelessness; you half-expect to see tepee settlements from 16th-century Mi'kmaq Indians lining the shore. I felt almost silly in my fire-engine red canoe and wanted to trade it in for a birchbark version. In the six days it took to paddle 76 miles to Chaleur Bay, we passed only 12 other humans: seven fishermen and five paddlers. And that's a crowded week. Fewer than 100 people paddle the Bonaventure River each year.
By the fourth day, I had reached the most Zen-like state of blissed-out harmony I could achieve while still being lucid enough to paddle. The river lacked the things that can turn canoe trips into heinous nightmares: mosquitoes, portages, and hypothermic weather. But it still proffered up enough of the raw elements—icy whitewater, old-growth forests, and guides who stood up in their boats while navigating the fray.
Other than my clumsy canoe exit, the only catastrophe was losing four bottles of chilling chardonnay to the swift current. The loss would have put a dent in cocktail hour that night, but Ulysse, the other brother, pulled out a bottle of cognac left over from the chocolate flambé he'd prepared earlier in the trip. "You gotta have that French taste on this of all rivers," he said, winking.
DETAILS: Quebec Adventures (888-678-3232; www.quebec adv.com) runs six-day canoe trips on the Bonaventure from May to early July for $995 per person.

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