Kayaking in Quebec / Meeting Bill Nedderman

Kayaking in Quebec / Meeting Bill Nedderman

August 2013

Steve on Meech Lake Steve on Meech Lake in the Gatineau area of Quebec, 2013-08-16.
(Photo by cousin Joe)

One highlight of our August 2013 trip to Quebec and Ontario was my first two times in a kayak, both in Quebec within a three-day period.

My first kayak adventure was on 2013-08-13 with my first cousin Robert on Lac Saint-Louis, which is where the Saint Lawrence River and Ottawa River meet near Montreal. We paddled out to a 4-acre island called Dixie Island and were enjoying the peace and quiet (I won’t say solitude given that there were two of us!) when I spotted another kayaker paddling downstream toward us. My cousin, being a friendly sort, yelled hello and the stranger responded, “Oh, you speak English! I wasn’t sure whether you would.” He came ashore and we started talking.

We asked where he was from and he responded, “Iowa.” Thinking we'd misheard (Ottawa?), we asked again and he gave the same answer and added, “I’m tracing the routes of the fur traders.” He started in Grand Portage, Minnesota in early May and paddled along the north shore of Lake Superior, into Lake Huron and then Georgian Bay, then up the French River to Lake Nipissing. He portaged to the Ottawa River and then paddled down to where we met him. He planned to camp on Dixie Island that night before heading through the Lachine Canal (to avoid the Lachine Rapids), back into the Saint Lawrence River and then down to the Richelieu River, which leads to Lake Champlain and eventually the Erie Canal and Lake Erie. From there he planned to travel various U.S. waterways, aiming to arrive in Texas by Christmas.

He told us that he’s been doing this kind of long-distance, human-powered traveling for more than 20 years (he appears to be in his early 50s). He usually camps, refusing to pay, and looking for what he calls “low-profile campsites.” On this trip he had slept in beds (staying with friends) only two or three nights of the 100 or so he'd been on the water. I was about to ask, “What does your wife say?” but then I thought, “No, there’s no wife—if there ever was, she lit out many years ago.” He has no Web site, no sponsors, keeps no journal, and is not writing a book (refreshing!). His traveling is an end in itself, not a means to an end. His kayak is old and his equipment minimal. Although he had a smart phone for the first time (he took our picture and got us to enter our e-mail addresses), he navigates with old-fashioned paper maps. When not travelling, he lives off the grid in a small cabin in Lovilia, Iowa, and installs business phone systems to earn what little money he needs. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!

We talked to him for over an hour but then we had to be on our way (dinner plans had been made). Although he obviously enjoys his own company, he is friendly and sociable, and engaging enough that we hated to leave him. His name is Bill Nedderman and it turns out he’s a well-known, long-distance paddler (canoe and kayak, one of his trips was a 6,000 mile Great Loop!), bicyclist (has biked across the U.S.) and hiker (has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail three times each). If you’d like to learn more about him, you can Google his name. I am gobsmacked that someone could/would do what he does. This was my maiden voyage in a kayak. How many more kayak trips must I take before I meet as interesting a fellow as this?!

My second time in a kayak came three days later when another first cousin, Joe, and I paddled Meech Lake (where the infamous Meech Lake Accord was hatched), in the Gatineau region of Quebec not too far from Ottawa, Ontario. I love kayaking and highly recommend it—of course I've always been very comfortable in the water. I regretted not bringing my camera.

Update 2013-10-01:

Bill Nedderman sent e-mail reporting his current position: Since we left him on Dixie Island on August 13, he has paddled down the Saint Lawrence River, to the Richelieu River, entering the USA on August 21. He made his way down Lake Champlain and the Champlain Canal, then west on the Erie Canal to Lake Erie. He left Lake Erie at Westfield, NY and portaged to Lake Chautauqua, and then portaged again to Conewango Creek, which led to the Allegheny River. On October 1 he was on the Allegheny north of Pittsburgh, where he planned to enter the Ohio River, which leads to the Mississippi River. In a couple of months he will reach the Gulf of Mexico.

Revised 2013-10-03