Standing on his front porch across the street, the large older man with no shirt peered at us. He had a puzzled look on his face. I had just stepped out of my tent in a little park by the river in the town of Mansonville, Quebec on this July 13 morning. Twenty feet away, Jacob had also just awoken after spending a night sleeping on the floor of a pavilion.
We had just spent the night in the municipal park on the recommendation of a local outfitter. The man said the authorities wouldn't give us a hard time for camping in town if we had a canoe with us. The town loved tourists.
So when we arrived in the small town just before dark the night before without any idea where we were going to spend the night, we weren't too worried. We would find a spot in a town park and spend the night there.
Three men gather in a shaded park in the town of Mansonville, Quebec, just off the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
In the end, camping in the park didn't turn out to be an issue, but that didn't mean we went unnotticed. Just after 7 that morning, a man who worked for the town of Mansonville showed up in a pick-up truck to check up on us. We later speculated he had seen us on a survellance camera.
"Sleep here last night?" the man asked, leaning out his open truck window.
We replied that we did. He then asked if we slept well. We said that we did. Satisfied that we were harmless, he turned his truck around and left just as quickly as he had arrived.
Intent on Fort Kent
This is the fifth in a series of dispatches from Enterprise outdoors writer Mike Lynch as he paddles the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. The articles will appear on the Outdoors page every Saturday until the completion of the journey.
After the man drove off, we packed up for the long portage ahead of us. We would be doing the 6-mile Grand Portage, plus a couple extra miles because low water made the upper reaches of the North Branch of the Missisquoi unnavigable.
Our plan this morning was to walk up the hill to the park in the middle of the village. We would eat breakfast there. As we started walking up the hill, the man with no shirt stood in front of his door.
"How did you sleep last night?" he asked us with a smirk.
We replied that we slept well. Apparently, he was amused at the presence of two men wheeling a canoe full of gear up the road.
After another block, we arrived at the park in the middle of town. An older man, who we hadn't seen before, was sitting in the pavilion. He turned our way when we approached.
"How did you sleep last night?" he asked.
We slept well, we replied with a laugh. Apparently, our presence had become known in this small French-speaking town.
Soon the older man seated in the pavilion was joined by town friends of about the same age.
"What did I miss?" one said upon arriving at the pavilion, his head tilted our way.
Perfectly content to be the morning's entertainment for the locals, I decided it was time to get some breakfast so I walked across the park to a restaurant.
The door had a "ferme" or closed sign on it but I decided to try it anyway. To my surprise, it was open. I walked over to the counter, where there were several shelves of pastries. It was dark and there were no other customers around. I did, however, hear someone banging pots in the kitchen. After a few moments, that person entered the front room.
"Can I help you?" said a woman.
I told her I was looking to get some breakfast and wanted some ham and cheese croissants. She told me the restaurant was actually closed and the front door was only open for the delivery man, but she would be happy to serve me. The croissants weren't quite ready, though, she said. They had to be warmed up.
She did give me a couple cups of coffee for us to drink in the park while we were waiting. She also took Jacob's aluminum water bottle I had with me, filled it and put it into the freezer so the water would be cold while we were canoeing. The opening wasn't wide enough for the ice cubes she had tried to put into the bottle.
She told me she would open the door and would wave from the front door when the food was ready.
For us, the warm reception in this town was very welcome. We had just paddled upstream for roughly 75 miles on the Missisquoi River, starting at Lake Champlain. Most of the trip went smoothly but several stretches were slow going because of low water levels or strong currents.
There were also a few hiccups along the way. One of them was Jacob getting about 10 leeches on his ankle near Richford. The majority of them were small, but there was one that was particularly large and fat. It was about as wide as a quarter and three inches long.
In addition to the leeches, we faced several other challenges on the way up the Missisquoi. We had a hard time finding some of the portages in areas that aren't often frequented by paddlers. At one point, we accidently wound up following an ATV trail up an extremely steep hill.
At another section called the Abbey Rapids, we pulled out of the water and bushwacked up a hill with the canoe to a rail trail running parrallel to the river. The bushwack included fighting through vegetation about 8 feet high. At one point while we were carrying our dry bags up the hill through the high vegetation, both of us simultaneously fell over obstacles. I tripped over a large rock while Jacob fell over a waist-high fence hidden by the weeds. Then once on the rail trail, one of the tubes on the canoe cart wheels popped.
Things seemed to go our way in Quebec, though. Crossing the border, the customs officer gave us no problem. We found paddling the river easy and pleasurable. It was wide and slow moving for a signficant stretch.
Also, shortly after crossing the border, we received a warm reception from the owners of Canoe and Company, Frank Turcotte and his wife Rachelle Revesencio. We arrived at their canoe and kayak rental business around lunchtime and wound up getting fed a full meal of chicken and rice by mid-afternoon. It was a Phillipino dish made by Revesencio, a native of that country.
While visiting with the pair, Turcotte talked about the record-high water levels this past spring. We had seen evidence of the flooding. In the upper reaches of the Missisquoi, we frequently saw dislodged trees sitting overturned in the middle of the river.
Turcotte talked about the changing nature of this river. How it is prone to rising quickly because of its many feeder streams in the mountains. His house, in fact, is raised on posts to protect it from the high waters. His yard was slowly shrinking because of erosion, he said.
For Turcotte, the river is a double-edged sword. It provides him with a means of making money through his outfitting business, but its tendency to flood also means it periodically threatens his home and property.