What kind of Gatineau River dipper are you?


by Nikki Mantell on June 24, 2009

Finally, it was hot enough this weekend for mere thin-skinned mammals over the age of 12 to jump in our Gatineau River.

(My friend Moses Haussler, who just graduated from Wakefield Elementary, likes to remind me that he and his friends are “always” the first in the river every May 24 weekend. This is usually followed by a request to be featured on the front page.)

This soggy summer has been foreseen to be the “coldest on record” (wasn’t that last year?) and so while boaters abound, bathers are still a rare sight.

But for those who’ve grown up marking time and our personal happiness index by the date and frequency of dips in our most treasured piece of Gatineau Hills geography, it should be well known that swimming in the Gatineau is marked by three phases.

Phase One – early to mid June.

Over on Kingsmere or Brown lakes, lucky swimmers may be lounging in near-bathwater temperatures of these shallow bodies, but in the deep-running Gatineau, this phase is reserved for 12-year-olds and masochists. If he happens to resurface, the Phase One swimmer can be identified by blue lips, and an inability to speak due to a general state of shock. After the initial taunting and cheering that got him in in the first place is over, shoreline onlookers should be prepared to treat for hypothermia.

 Phase Two – mid to late June.

This is the test for true lovers of the Gatineau River. They can be recognized by very particular calls, emitted immediately upon immersion. “Ffffuuh…. fffffffffuuh, ffffff.. ssssshhhhiiiiii…. j-j-j-jsus” – these sounds are hissed through the bather’s clenched jaw, teeth sinking dangerously deep into the lower lip. Strokes are short, choppy and extremely rapid, (the goal being heat generation rather than travel) until he regains his senses and makes like stink towards the shore.

Unfortunately, swimmers of this phase are undeniably faced with regret, as once on dry land females worry if they will ever be able to bear children, and males struggle with “Gatineau Groin” (which I’m told I would understand had I seen the very famous “shrinkage” episode of Seinfeld).

Phase Three – All of July to mid August

The sun is hot, the river so wide and welcoming, and it’s so close, in our collective back yard (and hopefully you can find access to it from someone’s actual backyard).

It’s these months that the long commutes and months of snow shoveling all become worth it. These are the best days for us locals, when we can bob up and down singing its praises to the blue heavens. As we doggy paddle about leisurely, there is just one phrase that sums up this phase of Gatineau River bathing. When our city visitors or tender-toed lake-swimming friends call in after us and ask “How’s the water?” our answer is always the same.

“It’s fine… once you’re in for a while. Really.”

Happy summer.