Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Canoe-tripping with Terri

After a decade in Canada, I feel qualified to say that the most Canadian (hmm, Ontarian?) summer activity is canoeing. That means that when I got an out of town, province, country and hemisphere, visitor, Terri, canoeing was at the top of my list of duties as tour guide and organiser. What follows is of course the recounting of perfectly planned and executed canoe trip.

The week prior was spent arranging to borrow gear - little things like a canoe and stove (thanks, Geoff & Lin!), tent and compass (thanks, Noah!) and car (thanks, Wallis family!). Without time to leave Friday night, and nowhere to store a canoe overnight, we opted to pick up a canoe from Geoff's on Saturday morning, on the way out of town. Then we decided we should get a map of...err, where are we going?...and some fuel for the stove. So we drove back downtown, along with several thousand Blue Jays fans, through inevitable construction sites and lane closures. Once Terri bought maps of all the possible parks we might be going to, and fuel, and whatever other essential details I'd forgotten (while I drove around with a 16-foot water craft on my roof, looking impatient and out of place), we headed north.

Terri called for camping permit availability on the way there, after we decided Algonquin was the place to go. Somewhere near access point 3... I was momentarily distracted by an errant foam block coming off the car roof & canoe and bouncing into traffic, which required taking the slightly less than ideal Hwy 427-Finch-Hwy 400, route and the creative use of a towel, but other than that, smooth sailing all the way to Kearny.

Kearny has a backcountry camping permit office (for the spontaneous canoe tripper) and is nicely situated a few minutes outside the park itself. The lady who took our reservation cautioned us that since the paddle to the far campsite of the closest lake (Rain Lake) may be 3 hours, and it was now (ahem) 5pm, we shouldn't dilly dally, we took off with a renewed sense of haste. 30 minutes later we were unloading the canoe at the put-in, and another 15 minutes or so had us on the water. We were happy to see the first campsite after just a few minutes, and that it was not occupied, but we decided to keep going. Half an hour
Starry sky
later, we'd paddled half the length of the lake, found a ideal campsite on a point, with a tiny beach and one of those perfect rocks for walking into the water or perching on the edge of while collecting water, watching the stars, and/or feeding mosquitoes. Good thing it was a quick paddle...after a quick swim and the initial stages of dinner prep, we were back in the boat to retrieve the matches "somebody" left in the car. :) But really quite an amazing evening: almost-hot weather, a slight breeze to keep the bugs away, deliciously cool water, and after a great sunset, clear skies for star gazing and watching the fire flies.

The next morning was just a touch misty, but cleared to more blue skies and warm weather. After the requisite bacon and eggs, we scoped out a loop on the map, counted the hours back from the desired time to return to Toronto, and made the schedule fit accordingly. I figured Terri needed to try a portage or two, to get the real canoe-tripping experience, so I found a route with six portages totalling 3-4 kilometres...more portaging means an even real-er experience, right? We set off.

The portages were generally easy to find. The first involved stairs up a brutally-steep hillside, but as Canadian ambassador to the Australian tourist, I wasn't about to indicate a diet of double-doubles and donuts makes even a half-Canadian soft, and I threw the canoe on my back and charged up. About 500 metres of balancing a few dozen kilos on my C-6 vertebrae, I requested a change in back-packs, but otherwise we knocked of the first 780 metres of portaging with a minimum of fuss. We stopped for a break on another rock outcrop, and enjoyed some terrific paddling.

The bugs seemed to call ahead to each portage, and the swarms of horse/deer flies buzzing about us as we lugged our boat and gear were somewhat reminiscent of a circling biker gang, striking
unwatched/unreachable locations (of which there are many while carrying 4 bags or a canoe) with impressive skill. We also had a slight diversion in a portage easily seen from the water, but once we lodged ourselves in a marsh full of carnivorous plants (cool!) and shoe-theiving weeds, became hidden. But all part of the fun.

Terri knocks off a canoe-toting portage

Pitcher plants!

All these travailes prepared us (or had us dreading) the final 1810 metre portage from McCraney Lake back to Rain Lake. We doused ourselves in DEET and alternated walking and shuffle-jogging, while swatting vigourously and swearing, and even more so when the trail walked BESIDE the destination lake for far-too-bloody long, but reached the end alive, and made us all the more grateful for the cool escape as we dove in for a swim.

That was pretty much it. We retrieved our tent we'd left at the campsite, paddled back to the car, and made it to a river-side patio in Huntsville in the daylight, for Terri's first poutine, while sitting with well-to-do and decidedly less-scruffy-looking locals.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a car to return. :)