The Complete Wilderness Paddler by James West Davidson and John Rugge has been on my shelf for decades, but I hadn’t cracked it open for a long, long time. Last week when I assigned it as homework to a beginning canoeist, I decided it was time to reread the book myself. It is a compendium of wilderness paddling information wrapped in a wonderfully told true adventure of canoeing the Moisie River in Labrador. It’s a good read for anyone. Upon opening the book’s covers, memories flooded out. I packed this book the first time Tim Ellis sent me off as an inexperienced co-leader on the Mistassini wilderness trip: five weeks of paddling in central Quebec with seven Old Town canoes filled with older campers, trip leader Mike Heath, Cree guide Daniel Blacksmith, and several hundred pounds of food and gear. The trip started with a 100-mile paddle up the length of Lake Mistassini and continued upstream on the Temiscamie River for 50 miles of paddling, poling, and portaging as the river grew ever smaller. In the upper headwaters, we pulled over a last few beaver dams, portaged over a height of land, and found ourselves at the headwaters of a new watershed. This was the Mistassini River, narrow at the top but powerful and wide when we finally pulled out 150 miles downstream two weeks later. We had lots of opportunities to practice many of the techniques described in the book: lake paddling, paddling and poling upstream, paddling on flatwater rivers, scouting and running rapids—and knowing when not to run rapids. And portaging: the 350-mile trip included 35 portages. Portage #28 was renowned. A 1.5-mile trail over a mountain to get around Hundred Foot Falls, it had a nickname all its own, and it was not a nice one. From the day we first met our campers, rumors of Portage #28, passed on from earlier trippers, had mounted, and a hint of dread had hung over our heads the entire trip. Finally the day arrived. We pulled over to shore and split up the gear. Half of us swung canoes over our heads, the other half heaved packs onto our backs, and off we marched. In a surprisingly short time we were atop the mountain, with the sound of the falls thundering on our left. Then we were down at the campsite at the far side, with only a quick trip back to pick up the remaining gear. Hey, that wasn’t so bad! There was plenty of time left to explore the falls, bake celebratory Dutch oven pizzas, and finish off with Dutch oven chocolate cake and congratulations all around. We were all surprised at how easy the portage was. We hadn’t thought, way back at Chewonki as we sorted gear and packed the vans, that we would have 27 portages to practice on, and a solid month of physical training to build our muscles and our stamina, before meeting Portage #28. And, as often happens, when we met her, she wasn’t nearly as fearsome as her nickname had implied. In fact, the group rechristened her The Lovely Lady of the North. When Mike and I met the next set of trippers the following summer, we recast that monumental portage as a challenge to work toward, rather than an obstacle to be dreaded. That trip, and subsequent ones, had an entirely different tone. Yes, Portage #28 would be a big challenge, but we’d be ready when the time came, and each summer we were raring to prove ourselves by the time we met The Lovely Lady. Bio: After graduating from the University of New Hampshire, Chris “Crow” O’Brien bounced back and forth between environmental education and wildlife rehabilitation in various parts of the Americas for 20 years. She currently lives in southern Idaho with her husband, two dogs, five hens, several thousand composting worms, large gardens, and a well-used canoe. In her spare time, Chris is a quality analyst for a multinational corporation and writes a monthly natural history column for a local newspaper.