No bus? No problem! 15 year old paddles over 60 km to school during bus strike

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Gabriel Deschenes is ready to embark on his 3 day kayaking trip to school, to draw attention to the recent school bus strike.

RAPIDES-DES-JOACHIMS – Since May 1, hundreds of students from the MRC Pontiac have gone without bus transportation due to an ongoing strike between the school bus driver’s union and their employer. Some students have to travel over 70 km to school, with many unable to attend at all.

But for 15 year old Gabriel Deschenes from Rapides-des-Joachims, no school buses were no problem. In hopes of expediting the strike resolution by bringing attention to the issue, he challenged himself to paddle to school via the Ottawa River, departing from his home on June 3 at 6:30 am and arriving at his high school, Jeanne-Lajoie in Pembroke, on June 6 at 8:24am; 64 km in three days!

The journey

On his first day, Gabriel paddled 24 km against the wind and quickly realized the adventure would be a real challenge. Despite the heavy presence of mosquitoes, he set up his camp and hiked 5 km up Mount Martin to enjoy a beautiful view of the Ottawa Valley. His second day was shorter, paddling 9 km to Oiseau Bay Resort.

Leaving early Monday morning, he embarked on his longest paddle, 29 km to Pembroke. Through thick smoke from the forest fires and gusting wind, he made his way to the mouth of the Petawawa River for a quick kayak surf on the river’s rapids. He spent the night at the home of family friends.

On his last day, Gabriel had a short 3.5 km paddle to school.

Gabriel listed numerous highlights from his journey such as discovering new places and spectacular views, meeting new people and learning about the history of the rich region; receiving wonderful words of support from friends, classmates and family; exclaiming “this is so cool!” and hearing a clear echo reverberated back from a cliff; and laughing at his new favorite quote “Have you ever hit a deadhead before?”.

Gabriel has been kayaking for 3 years, mostly whitewater, and also enjoys exploring, fishing, boating, and swimming. He prefers to travel and explore using non-motorized means and follows a “leave no trace – take only pictures and videos” ideology to minimize his environmental impact.

During the summer of 2023, Deschenes, who is also a member of the MRC Pontiac’s Youth Council, plans to work as a video kayaker and bike trail maintainer for Wilderness Tours. His future ambitions are to promote active outdoor activities to improve the economy of the MRC Pontiac and western Quebec; kayak the 19 main tributary rivers of the Ottawa River from their source to their end, and once completed, kayak the Ottawa River from its source, Lake Capimitchamga, to the St. Lawerence River (1,271 km); and paddle the Zambezi River in Africa and the Grand Canyon. However, his biggest future ambition is to just have fun kayaking!

Brent Cooper
Rapides des Joachims