As we turned for home, we paused to watch a pair of bald eagles take flight, the balsam fir shuddering as they leapt into the cloud-whitened sky, wingspans catching air, carrying them upwards in a silent ballet.
We had been on Lake Kipawa for three days. Our group of seven, from the brand new abitibi & co. team, were founder and president, Guillaume Leblanc, partner and marketing director, Jean-Daniel (JD), along with other team members, Mélanie Turbide, Éric Boucher, Katia Laszczewski, Sylvain Baribeau, Joëlle Harrison and photographer Guillaume Simoneau. Paddling in five kayaks and a canoe, we had dual purposes. Experience the lake as a group for the first time and capture footage for our communications materials as we did. Lake Kipawa covers 300km2 in southwestern Quebec. With an irregular shape, and deep bays and islands both large and small, it forms a sort of maze — both a joy to explore and a challenge to navigate. The weather wasn't on our side. Late September: autumn had set in with rain, mist and cold. We didn't just have to contend with the elements and focus on our paddling. We also had to move all of our photographic gear around safely, and capture inspiring images as we went. After a day of paddling with a backdrop of grey skies, we awoke on the second morning to a world bathed in white. Thick fog obscured the scenery, erasing the horizon and with it our sense of depth. Setting off at 6am, the warmer temperature was our solace. The thick air made the scene eerie and surreal. Paddling on the glassy lake, we quickly lost sight of the shoreline. Shrouded in a blanket of white, we were jolted by shards of blue lightning that illuminated the sky. The mist finally lifted. Paddling together we surveyed the islands, the craggy shoreline, the thick trees covering the world beyond.
In order to get the best images possible, JD had mounted a GoPro camera onto our new drone. It can fly for about fifteen minutes before returning to where it was launched, or at least, a range of twenty meters from its launching point. The only problem? We launched it on a tiny island that was far less than 20m in diameter.Terrified of losing it in the water, we set up a perimeter. There were four people on the island, tracking it and hoping it would touch down on dry land. Another person was in the water, ready to paddle for it if it went off course. As it began its descent we were all ready to leap. It landed smack in the middle of the island. A collective sigh of relief was breathed by all.We returned to the cabin at sunset, as the world was bathed in pinkish purple light, the lake mirroring the billowing clouds that filled the skies. Hoping to capture some better images, JD and Guillaume Simoneau headed to a nearby island. Drunk from the beauty of the surroundings, they were completely oblivious to the time.Darkness descended and the rest of us began to worry. The cottage was on a large bay, but once you got into the lake there were hundreds of islands. The maze of paths through the islets was difficult enough to navigate in daylight, never mind in the dark. Sylvain, a level four kayaker and the most experienced paddler of the group, went into rescue mode. Along with Guillaume Leblanc, he paddled into the darkness in search of the others. After a while, they found them. Despite the dark, JD and Guillaume S. had taken the right path.
Our evenings cemented our friendships and mutual pleasure at being together amidst the beauty of the wilderness. While we were out paddling all day, our dinner was slowly simmering, filling the cabin with rich aromas. Once back, we dined, swapped stories about our travels and adventures past and discussed our hopes and vision for abitibi&co. We connected without technology, enjoying the peace and quiet away from the constant bustle of city life.Our final day was rainy and grey, but we all set out for a last 8km trip, traversing the narrow island-filled paths before coming out into a huge open bay. We headed back to Montreal in the rain, not bothering to take photographs of the many lakes and rivers on the way. But at 7 pm, the clouds suddenly split in a blaze of colour right in front of us. It was the first sign of the sun in three days.
We decided to stop at the Cabonga Reservoir, where we launched the drone one last time. Looking up at the sky, filled with excitement, we watched it weave through the air, above the dazzling lake. We lost sight of it, caught up in the thrill of the moment, and figured that it would return to shore when it lost power. Scanning the sky, JD and Guillaume eventually caught a glimpse of it in the waning light. The red autopilot light was on and they high fived, imagining the great footage they would have for the final edit.
But slowly, the drone began to descend above the water. He was not going to come back to dry land; he was just too far away. JD then put on his underwear, then jumped into the ice water and swam with all his might. The drone descended gradually until it skimmed the surface of the water. Since it was not on dry land, it ascended while touching the water, being preprogrammed to land only on a solid surface. JD then swam as if his life depended on it, determined to reach for it before the battery died and the drone was a total waste. As he got closer, JD could see the indicator light, his only hope, suddenly extinguish. With a last burst of energy, JD grabbed the drone and lifted it into the air. The drone did capture some superb images, the very last being the face of JD, exhausted but relieved.