Rafting in Desbiens

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I am ALWAYS up for a new adventure, so when I was offered the chance to go white river rafting, which I have never done before, I answered with a resounding YES PLEASE!

Desbiens is a pretty little town that hugs the coast of Lac Saint-Jean, with a view that lives up to its name, “Good” or “Well”. This is where we went for rafting!

A little south of Desbiens is a gorge carved out by ancient glaciers. It looks similar to the Elora Gorge – where I grew up – but much, much deeper, including the water. There are also more trees as well. All pine of course, as that is all that naturally lives this far north.

Before leaving for rafting, everyone was outfitted in a lot of equipment! There were two layers of heavy wetsuits (the water here is cold enough to give you a dose of hypothermia without them), boots, a very thick lifejacket and big helmets. Everyone walked around like penguins because all of that equipment was very difficult to move with! The wetsuits were skin tight too, so if putting on one wasn’t difficult enough, good luck trying to put on a second one!

We were broken off into groups of eight: seven students and a guide. Our guide, Alex, was a young guy who has been rafting for thirteen years as far as Asia and New Zealand. He seemed to be a good choice considering his energy and experience!

We finally got our raft down to the water after we had to carry the monster down some very steep, winding stairs. Alex spoke English first-language (an Anglophone is an endangered species here in Saguenay!) so he gave us all of the important safety points in English to make certain that everyone understood them thoroughly. Alex then asked who in the group liked adventure. Of course,I had no idea what was about to happen, but I was NOT about to let an opportunity pass me by! I volunteered and from then on, I was the copilot!

The front of the raft may get the most water, but at the back of the raft, the pilots get tossed around everywhere! This was especially difficult because on a raft, no one actually sits inside the raft. Instead, you sit perched on the edge of the raft with your feet inside. You have to jam your toes in where the inflated wall of the raft and the inflated floor of the raft meet and hope for the best. It was quite the balancing act!

Alex was a fantastic guide who knew the craziest rapids to paddle into and cheered “Ya-hoo!” a lot. One time during the course, we went right into the thick of a huge rapid, and as usual, Alex and I in the back got bounced into the air. The raft moved to the side before we landed again, and while I landed inside the raft, Alex landed in the water! The joke for the rest of the day was how our guide was the only one that needed to be rescued from the rapids.

Rescuing someone who’s in the rapids from within a raft is a challenge too. Whoever is in the raft offers the butt of their oar to the person in the water, giving them something to hang onto. Meanwhile, the rescuer gets the slippery blade to grab onto while trying to pull aboard the rescuee. It’s tricky but we managed to get Alex aboard once more!

There was a calm place between rapids where the group paused to do some cliff-jumping. The cliff was about 20 feet in the air, and the guides said that the water was more than 20 feet deep. Apparently what you see on top of the water is at least what you’ve got below.

Having never jumped into the water from anything higher than I could jump, I gave it a go. Jumping into water from that high is a very, very weird sensation. You actually have time to think “I’m falling…I’m still falling”. Your stomach has that weird anti-gravity feeling and then “splash!” you’re in the water. Every single person gave it a try, and it was fun to cheer everyone on. There were a few girls who knew they couldn’t get themselves to jump, but wanted to, so they got the guides to push them over. It was a lot of fun to watch.

Later on in the rafting, Alex taught us how to do a trick called “surfing”. This is where you face the raft upstream in the middle of a big rapid. The force of the air in the water (which makes the water white) pushing up to the surface creates a kind of circular current and the raft stays stationary in the centre. The front rafters become submerged under the rapid and breathe by turning their heads back. The guide and I are thrown forwards as the front of the raft gets pushed down. It was a lot of fun because there was a constant splashing of water. It was really difficult to paddle upstream in the middle of a rapid to do the surfing trick but it was definitely worth it!

Being the one person in our group who was ready to try anything, Alex decided to add to our surfing. This one was called “mermaid”. A coordinator from Explore, Pierre-Paul, took my spot while I went to the very front of the raft. My job was to be like those mermaid carvings on the front of old ships. There was a lot of water, and I felt like Ariel from the Disney film The Little Mermaid – everyone knows that part, when she thrusts herself up onto that rock and the waves crash up behind her (part of yourrr…WORLD!).

The rafting today was fantastic! Alex was a fantastic guide, and the weather was perfect for rafting. I would definitely try this again sometime!

(Photos courtesy of H2O Rafting, Desbiens.)

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