“The water is quite low. In some areas it can be between 6 inches and 12 inches lower than normal levels for this time of year.”
With many people still in bed early Saturday morning, paddlers gathered at Olmsted Beach, located on North Bay’s Trout Lake, with the goal of completing the Mattawa River Canoe Race.
The first flight departed from the shores of Trout Lake at 7:30 a.m.
The 64 km race, organized by the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority, is back after a two-year hiatus due to COVID.
Paddlers may find the current water levels problematic.
“The water is quite low. In some areas it can be between six inches and 12 inches lower than normal levels for this time of year,” race coordinator Paula Loranger said.
“It’s probably going to make them (paddlers) do more portages, instead of being able to run rapids in some spots. It’s a rocky road to start with so you take some of that water off and it gets really rough for them.
The course is made up of 12 portages, 5 of which are compulsory.
“So for some, they can do seven extra carries, which could really impact their finish times,” the race coordinator pointed out.
Participating in her first canoe race on the Mattawa River, Danielle Holdsworth is ready for the challenge.
The London, Ontario resident may be traveling the same historic route used by Indigenous peoples and travelers, but her method of water transportation is quite different.
Holdsworth is one of three stand-up paddleboarders who decided to make their way along the long-distance route.
“I’m really excited about the stand-up paddling marathon, having done the Huntsville 110 last year. Ultra-marathons are really adventurous and exciting, so Mattawa was the perfect choice to continue the marathon,” Holdsworth said of his decision to enter this particular race.
Completing the course on a stand-up paddleboard takes a lot of stamina.
“It’s a lot of ground work, a lot of leg work actually. And that’s a lot of time on the water just to put in the miles. Carrying will benefit my weightlifting experience. I also do a lot of Olympic weightlifting. I compete in Masters International weightlifting competitions so the legs are well conditioned to climb, bend and carry over rough terrain,” Holdsworth said.
Staying hydrated and nourished throughout the course is also essential to reaching the finish line.
“I’ll take four liters of water with me and then plan to fill up halfway through the race. In that water I will have electrolytes and basically liquid nutrition for events like this,” Holdsworth explained.
“And I pack peanut butter and honey sandwiches in case I want to bite something, and that takes care of the nutrition for me.”
Previously, the longest distance she had walked was 110 km in Huntsville last September.
“It took me 16 hours and 11 minutes. I was the first to cross the line, so it was pretty exciting. And it was the same nutrition plan for that one.
Holdsworth is aware of the current challenges posed by low water levels.
“I would love to finish this in eight hours. I know the water is running pretty low right now, so we’ll see. If I have to slow down during the portages, anywhere between eight and nine would be a great finish for me. .
Matthew Trask of North Bay is also competing in his first canoe race on the Mattawa River.
His means of transport is his Kayak.
“I didn’t originally plan to do this, but my landlady pretty much told me everything to expect and I was all for it,” Trask said.
“I had a better, lighter kayak for racing. I trained a lot last month. I haven’t done the whole trail yet but I’ve done most of it. I can’t wait to see my friends from work in Mattawa, and I just want to do it in one piece and have fun,” laughed Trask.
The portages will be the most taxing part of the journey for this paddler.
“I’ve done most of them, but I know they can be a bit of a challenge.”
The overall number of competitors is down slightly from 2019.
“But after a two-year break, we are happy. We have 44 boats in the full race,” Loranger shared.
Paddleboards, pro boats, recreational boats and kayaks will be out on the river heading for the finish line in the Mattawa Island Conservation Area.
The full race is 64 km and the family/youth race from Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park is 13 km. The shorter run is a good introduction for families or for people who just want to share the experience.
“We have nine families going out and two other canoes going out and they’re just doing it for fun. So adults getting out on the water and being part of the event,” Loranger said.
The youngest participant in the family race is four years old and the oldest competitor in the 64 km race is 78 years old.
The time to beat before Saturday’s race is five hours, 27 minutes and 53 seconds, down from 1995.
“I don’t think this year will be the year we get close to that,” Loranger added.
Like many other activities experiencing a resurgence after the COVID protocols were put in place, this race has also undergone some changes.
“We put everything online. All pre-registrations had to be done online. We tried to reduce contacts a bit. We removed the banquet it’s a shame but we set up a small village of paddlers on arrival. We are going to have snacks and the ability for people to mingle safely,” Loranger said.
Participants arrived from near and far, eager to get out on the water after a two-year hiatus, ready to take in some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable.
“We have someone who is here from Pittsburgh, PA. After speaking with him, it seemed like they had heard about this race and thought it would be a good adventure and experience Northern Ontario at the same time,” Loranger said.
“And we have someone here from New Brunswick, and a lot from southern Ontario and the Ottawa area.
The Mattawa River is designated a Canadian Heritage River System.