It was a monumental occasion. Both of my sister-in-laws had returned home to Nova Scotia for a visit. Kyla had moved home from Dryden, Ontario and was gearing up for a year-long stint working with Doctors Without Borders in Iraq. Lea was home from Calgary to sort through some old belongings in preparation for a move to Edmonton. With some pretty significant life changes in the works (and the rare occasion that we were all in the same place at the same time) we decided to get together to do something special.
Sometimes agreeing on an activity that all will enjoy can be difficult. But in our case I was amazed at how little discussion was involved in making our decision. It was unanimous. We must go tidal bore river rafting! Although Sara and I had gone many years before we were thrilled to have the opportunity to do it again and share this first time experience with Kyla, Lea, and our son and daughter Jaden and Lienna.
We enjoyed the scenic and windy road from Truro on our way to the historic village of Maitland where we would be rafting with the Shubenacadie River Runners. The River Runners are located right at the mouth of the river where the action first begins and with over 21 years of experience we knew we were in good hands.
As we arrived at our destination an hour before our departure I was surprised to see how full the parking lot was already. With the full moon the tides were going to be more extreme than usual therefore making it a popular time for those seeking the ultimate ride. We proceeded to check in and to sign our waivers and I laughed to myself as I handed mine in. I was so excited to get to the action that I just initialed and signed everything without even reading the fine print. For all I knew I had just signed over my life savings and the deed to our house!
Excitement was mounting as we picked up our fancy yellow rain gear and life jackets and as Kyla and I secured our glasses with string to avoid losing them overboard. After a quick photo in our stylish rafting attire, we soon met our guide Angus and the rest of our “river family” Randy and Carla from West Virginia.
I’d have to say, Angus was ideally casted for the role of rafting guide. Beyond the classic Tilly hat, Angus was a buff and charming young lad with a perfect smile. His life jacket was also much cooler than mine, but I am sure Sara and her sisters didn’t notice any of this. In addition to looking the part, we soon learned that Angus was more than just a pretty face. He was the real deal with several years of experience on the river and a wealth of knowledge to share.
Walking to our boat I took a moment to marvel at the day. The weather was perfect and the views of the river and the bay were stunning. The funny thing about tidal river rafting is that at the beginning the tide is quite low and the river is incredibly calm and peaceful. We watched a bald eagle sit stubbornly on a sandbar as the incoming tide eventually forced it from its perch – a sign that the river was changing and that the peacefulness would soon be interrupted.
With the wind in our hair we were all smiles as we zoomed upriver in our motorized Zodiac en route to our own sandbar perching experience. We briefly disembarked to a large and rippled plot of sandy mud in the middle of the river. We barely had time to snap a few pictures before we noticed the sand bar disappearing around us. It wasn’t long before water was rushing past our ankles and we could feel the sand washing away from beneath our feet. Seconds later the water was up to our knees and that’s when we realized that it was time to run back to our boat. The fun was about to begin!
Angus told us that the flow of a single Bay of Fundy tide is greater than a year’s total flow at Niagara Falls. Now that’s a lot of water! When the massive Bay of Fundy tide collides with the out flowing Shubenacadie River it forms a visible wave of water called a tidal bore. The bore moves up river, temporarily reversing the river’s flow and as it passes, the rushing water behind it generates rapids at several points along the river.
I wanted to take some photos and video to document our day, so I hopped aboard a separate support-boat that would stay on the periphery of the rapids to oversee the group. I am not going to lie - it was incredibly challenging taking photos of a moving target while in a moving boat. Thank goodness for digital cameras, because I had to take multiple shots to have even one or two usable photos. I also have to apologize in advance for anyone who gets motion sickness from watching my choppy video footage!
With a few sets of rapids to go (including “high voltage” and “Anthony’s nose”) I rejoined the group to get a taste of the action first-hand. As it turns out the action tastes a lot like mud and salt water. Our hysterical laughter and screams were the perfect opportunity for the relentless waves to crash over the boat and into our mouths. Of course, the waves were not the only ones to blame as Angus definitely played his part in ensuring that our thirst for adventure was quenched.
Our friend Randy made the mistake of betting Angus that he couldn’t knock his hat off during the trip. I could see the competitive glint in Angus’s eye as he tried to prove him wrong. For the remainder of the trip he pounded us through the punishing rapids in search of the perfect wave - and we were loving every minute of it! Just when we thought Randy’s hat was actually glued to his head a gust of wind came out of nowhere to finally blow it off. A winning smile appeared on Angus’s face as the rest of us cheered in celebration.
As the tide continued to rise and the waves began to dissipate we took the opportunity to go for a quick swim in the river before the journey back to our home base. During our trip Angus told us that he had seen a 6 foot sturgeon breach on the river earlier that summer. As we bobbed in the muddy water, with our feet well out of sight below the surface, I thought it would be the perfect time to ask Angus to tell us more about what other creatures lived in the river. I don’t think my daughter Lienna appreciated the joke about the child-eating monsters as much as the rest of us did.
On our way back down the river we reflected on our experience and how much the river had changed from when we started out that morning. We were all soaked to the bone when we got back to shore but were grinning from ear to ear - all happy to have enjoyed the ultimate one-of-a-kind adventure together. Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy is the most extreme tidal environment on earth with an ever-changing landscape and endless opportunities to explore.
To Kyla and Lea I raise a glass of Nova Scotia Tidal Bay wine and say “Here’s to change and new adventures. Our thoughts and prayers are with you in Iraq and Edmonton.”