The Rupert River in Quebec is a great Canadian river, offering a wealth of growth and adventure. The Rupert has been used for many years by the Cree people of the James Bay area. It is known for it’s gigantic waterfalls, tough, technical portages and campsites lined with beautiful teepees. In September 2001 a group of students participating in an intensive whitewater leadership development program spent an exhilarating week on the Rupert. When a group of people set out on a journey of this nature, there is bound to be growth. Growth is enhanced if the group is secure and nurturing and even more so when the environment is rich in natural beauty and isolation. With the new road accessing Waskaganish, getting there by car is now possible. So on September 20’*’ the W.I.L.D. group loaded up their gear and embarked on a journey that would alter their lives forever. The drive from Davidson, Quebec is 12 hours of rich forest, taking you around pristine lakes and into the Hudson Bay lowland which is flat, straight and filled with black spruce. Arriving at the James Bay highway bridge, just as the sun was slipping behind the tips of the trees we caught a glimpse of the raging Rupert flowing below. The power of the river and its soothing sounds sung us to sleep.
The Rupert River has breathtaking waterfalls, the earth literally crumbles away as the river races downstream, colliding with the boulder strewn river bed as gravity pulls it closer to the ocean. The river is a symphony of chaotic beauty. Thousands of sounds; water colliding with earth. The immensity and power of the river surpassed our wildest dreams. We had brought a fleet of state of the art whitewater canoes. Practiced extensively on other rivers, but still we had to portage much more than we expected. Steep, muddy embankments, wet. slippery rocks and dead fall are common along the boulder filled trails that follow the river. The life of a voyageur is far from easy. Its challenges are demanding often sending you on simultaneous journeys through the mind, body and soul. This “other” journey is met on cold rainy days and on these difficult portages. You never truly expect it. In these times of great difficulty I believe the most wonderful outcomes are attainable. People going through their simultaneous journeys, sometimes shed tears, other times are quiet and determined. I heard people talking about the youth brigades from the town of Waskaginish traveling these paths, not only going downstream, but also upstream. The thought of such an achievement helped us keep moving and fueled our alternate journeys.
There are flat sections of the Rupert, where a slight current floats beneath your canoe, enabling you to relax and relish in the sameness of a landscape winding for many kilometers. Often only changing ever so slightly. It is this simplicity that I value on canoe trips. I soak up my surroundings without being distracted or overloaded. These moments of appreciation for the land, often found while paddling long flat stretches, standing beside a rapid or watching the sun go down, take you into your alternate journey. This is where any cracks or holes that might have appeared during the day are mended and strengthened.
The Rupert flows into James Bay. Here the river meets the sky and here at the town of Waskaginish, our physical journey ended. Once the experience is over it is then possible to look back objectively and notice the changes in one’s confidence, self esteem, interaction with others, etc. I believe these wonderful outcomes are possible when fear is pushed aside allowing passions and dreams to become direct manifestations of your own actions. While on a canoe trip you can’t realistically fear failure, because life is happening right now. You don’t have time to imagine fear, for the moments are too real and you are overcoming challenges just by being able to smile, breath and laugh despite things being so tough. Your actions allow you to finish the hard portage; your actions allow you to push on through rain, wind and cold and your actions allow you to relish the satisfaction at the end of a day knowing that you brought yourself there.
The Rupert River happened to be the setting for our growth and adventure. The towering pines, the powerful water and the vastness of the land lent a helping hand in our development. It was the catalyst needed to speed our growth. And just because the trip is over, the journey continues, the river runs through us.