The horses. Oh the horses. We felt as though we’d been teleported to a completely different world. This was the Shin-Hidaka world we’d vaguely heard about, but never actually experienced till now. We felt like typical obnoxious tourists, stopping by the side of the road, taking photos of all the curious thoroughbreds.
We had plenty of time to gawk at the horses, as we would drive this stretch of road three times – once to get our canoe to the put-in, once to drive back to the take-out, and another time in a taxi back to the put-in. Quite the palava, this river padding business.
Once we were finally on the river, we were a little taken aback at how busy some of the swifts were. We were paddling the river at a fairly low level, and this meant that in order not to scrape the bottom of the canoe too much, we had to stick to the deepest flow part of the swifts. These would often be flowing close to the side of the river. This inevitably meant getting a bit close for comfort to low-hanging branches on the sides of the river.
Overall, however, we soon eased into the relaxing, pristine feeling of the river. The hairy swifts were soon few and far between, and we were simply paddling along a good solid flowing river. The water was quite clear. The salmon were running.
We’d heard rumours that if canoeists were lucky, they’d see horses being led across the river from one paddock to another. We kept our eyes peeled.
“Hey! Are they…? Ah, no, they’re cows,” said Haidee as we rounded a bend. Along with the cows, we heard a bell ringing. Peering along the bank, we saw a person with a hand bell, ringing it every now and then. The cows appeared to be happily trotting along the top of the stopbanks towards their human, presumably to be milked. Curious beasts as they are, a few paused here and there to peer at us. Clearly we were a novelty in their day.
Soon we came upon the single weir of the trip. We pulled up on the river right and had a scout. Mercifully the weir was lowered. Had the water level been just a little higher, we would have been game to run it. As it was, there didn’t seem to be quite enough support directly after the small drop to stop the stern of our canoe from hitting the concrete bottom. We opted instead to ferry our gear across, and then line the canoe down.
At some point in the trip, we started to feel the grind. At almost 25km, this is a pretty hefty river trip. The surroundings were nice, but it was a bit of a dull, grey weather day that was putting a somewhat subdued vibe to the trip.
But then the horses once again made the trip more interesting. We saw a wooden fence from the river. Hoping to perhaps have some interaction with the horsey locals, we pulled up on the riverside and walked up the bank to the fence. Way off in the distance, we saw two fine-looking horses. They also seemed to notice us. They seemed a bit skittish and not immediately keen to come over our way. They took a few steps towards us, and I gave them a whistle. They stopped. “Let’s just pretend not to notice them,” suggested Haidee. This seemed to do the trick. They started cautiously towards where we were next to the fence.
They inched their way over to us, stopping every now and then to observe what we were doing.
Soon enough, they clearly decided that we weren’t a threat, and quite confidently walked right up to the fence. Chin scratching ensued. Great massive beautiful horses. We were thoroughly friends by the time we left to get back on the water.
It wasn’t far from the horses to the take-out point. Mercifully, there was a decent flow in the river until quite close to the take-out, only grinding to a halt as we entered the large pond-like area just before the outflow into the Pacific Ocean. We paddled past the take-out to a small beach just inside the river mouth. We pulled up, dragged the canoe a decent way up the beach (or so we thought) so as to not have it dislodged with one of the larger waves, and went to take a look at the ocean.
It was a rough, wild sea. Waves crashing up on the beach with great ferocity. Haidee took the camera and took some photos as my feet got washed by the sea.
A few moments after Haidee took this photo, I heard her scream.
“The canoe! It’s floating down the river mouth!” she cried.
She was already running back to intercept the canoe. I followed, watching the canoe slowly get pulled down the river towards the raging waves, wildly chomping at the river mouth.
Haidee dropped the camera and without hardly a hesitation launched into the river and swam out to the canoe. Being the ex-competitive swimmer that she is, she quickly had the situation under control, pulling the canoe back into shore using one of the attached painter lines.
An exciting story, happily for us with a wet but positive ending. Looking back at the photo of where we left the canoe, we were clearly naive about how much the ocean swell was causing swell inside the river mouth too.
We paddled back to the take-out upstream, and got on our way back to Sapporo. Via the onsen, of course.