Thursday, July 30, 2015

Our New Canoe

We went to Trailhead in Ottawa on April 25, 2015 because LT wanted to buy his own paddle.  How many stories start off that way, "We were only going to get X, but ended up getting X, Y, and Z!"

What a coincidence, it was their spring sale!  There were a variety of vessels outside on the ground in the parking lot.  I got there first and scoped out all the canoes on sale.  There weren't a lot of them.  It almost appears as though the store is stocking up on the newest water trend, SUP or stand up paddleboards.  The second most popular item is the kayak.  Canoes are always popular, but they do seem to be that item that you buy once, use a bit, then relegate to the cottage or the rafters of the garage or shed outside.

Two canoes were of particular interest:  a black canoe and a yellowish canoe -both made of kevlar.  LT arrived and we went into the store.  He was checking out paddles, staff were busy dealing with the influx of customers on a spring Saturday with a major sale in progress.  I dragged him into the basement to look at the canoes in stock, then I dragged him outside and showed him the 2 canoes I had spied.

While outside a staff member came up to see if we had questions.  Yes, why are these 2 canoes so cheap for kevlar canoes?  I love hearing a story and he wove a good one.  These 2 canoes were made by their supplier as a sample for them to see if they were interested in selling them.  Both canoes were branded wih "Trailhead Canoes".  But alas they had decided they were not going to carry either of these canoes.  So the samples were on sale as they did not want to have them in stock, only confusing people.  And the yellow one had a larger discount applied to it.

LT takes a while to make a decision about anything and he wasn't quite sure which paddle he wanted.  He suggested we walk over to MEC to check out their stock, so we did.  He didn't see anything there either that struck his fancy so we went for lunch.  

I spent the lunch hour pleading the case for the canoe.  It was almost half the price one would expect to pay for that kind of canoe.  It was exactly what he was looking for, a 16' Prospector.  It was 45 pounds in weight.  The canoe under discussion was the yellow one.  The black one looked cool, but would be just the opposite in the water with the sun on it.  

LT was planning to purchase a canoe eventually, but it was on the list for next year.  There were other things he needed this year (a new washer/dryer).  So we came to an agreement.  I would contribute half and we would co-own it for a bit with him eventually paying off my half and becoming the full owner. That is IF no one else had bought it while we were having lunch.

We walked back to the store and I quickly scooped up the data sheet on the still-available canoe bringing it into the store to claim the boat.  The pressure was on now for LT to pick a paddle and he did.  I was holding onto the data sheet like it was a winning lottery ticket.  A staff member working in the section helping LT pick out his paddle noticed the page in my hands.  "Oh you're buying a canoe, which one?"  I mentioned the yellow one and asked him why it was so cheap.  Another staff member piped up and gave us the best explanation so far.

The canoe we chose did not have any paint on it.  It wasn't pretty red or green or blue.  Paint, believe it not, can add 4-5 pounds to the overall weight of the canoe.  Yellow was the natural colour.  However, the clear finish allows for the view of the kevlar underneath and some of it had slight folds or wrinkles. These folds do not affect the strength of the canoe, but aesthetically can bring the price down a bit.  And I think there was a scratch.

That sounded more plausible and we ended up going out and examining the canoe much more closely this time.  We decided to buy it. The sale went through, I took out my magic plastic card, and LT had to go home while I waited behind, so that he could get his canoe straps and foam blocks, things he had bought last year to have one less thing to rent.  

The new baby going home for the first time!

Canoe Selfie!
It's been out on 5-6 trips now and it's got its fair share of nicks, dents and scratches.  But it's holding out great, it handles really well and we're both very happy with the purchase.

The mushroom's point of view

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Paddling the Hillsborough River with Gators

A few years ago while on a trip to St. Petersburg, I had the fortune to spend some time canoeing in a local river with alligators.  Now that sounds pretty scary and the first one I saw - well, I actually thought it was an old tire that someone had tossed away, so okay the second one I saw was very frightening.  But after a while I was all like "Oh yeah, there's one over there too....let's get closer!"
Being dropped off

The canoe we used was rented from an excursion company.  They bused us, with a dozen other people, and a trailerload of canoes to a launching point in the State Park.  Everyone set off at their own speed and I was pleased to find that we were able to spend several hours on the river without seeing any of our cohorts.  Just us and the gators!
The Hillsborough River, not far from Tampa, is a winding river with an overhanging canopy of drooping trees, Spanish moss hanging down and a lot of other life besides the gators. Predominantly we saw birds, so many birds. Then we noticed the turtles out sunning themselves on the logs.  The river isn't wide and in some areas, it's not very deep either. 

The only drawback is that a lot of the time we could hear road traffic.  But the experience of being in the same area as wild alligators (is there any such thing as a tame alligator?) is one where you'd want to be close to the safety of civilization.  I would not camp in Algonquin Park if an alligator could possibly wander into my campsite!

The nice thing about our trip was that we meandered for several hours downriver and were picked up at the end, instead of having to retrace our route.

One of the rare birds that people come from all over the world to see here is the roseatte spoonbill.  We definitely saw some spoonbilled birds, but I don't remember them being pink.  Mostly we saw great egrets, ibis, herons, and storks.  

It was a very pleasant afternoon.  Being under the canopy meant that we weren't overly warm, the lazy flow of the river was very soothing and we just got used to seeing all the gators.  They didn't bother with us, I don't think they viewed us as a floating buffet going by.  They were just trying to regulate their body temperature lying in the sun like college girls on spring break.  

Most of the turtles were pretty chill with our presence, but the odd one would dive back into the river when we came upon him.

I'll leave the rest of this post to some of the pictures I took.  I can't remember which excursion company we used, but the Google or TripAdvisor might have some recommendations for you if you ever go.  Here is one link:

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Trip Log - Day 4: Wendigo to Cedar Lake, Canada Day 2014

go to Prologue     go to Day 1     go to Day 2    go to Day 3   Day 4

We woke in the morning on Canada Day, I opened the door on my side (our tent has two doors, which is a really nice feature – Camper II from MEC).  Then I opened the fly and the breeze that came in was refreshing.  I closed the door again, we were hating bugs at this point and I didn’t want to take a chance that a single one would make its way into the tent.  We had gotten into a routine at night once we were both settled in the tent.  We would turn on the hanging lamp for a bit to attract the mosquitoes to the top of the tent.  Then we would kill as many as we could.  Often they had already been successful in filing up on our blood.  I joked that it looked like a maniac had murdered someone inside the tent with the blood streaked all over.  LT had to wash the tent when he got home later and didn’t get all the blood out.

I still had anxiety.  I was afraid of this lake.  The waves could be big and we could be wind bound here at this site.  I made breakfast, oatmeal.  I didn’t like it and would improve the recipe for the next time.  I baked cinnamon buns, even rolling and cutting them.  They were a treat.  The wind died down, the rain died down and we made a mad dash to pack up and leave.
Cinnamon buns - they taste better than they look!
We got into the canoe and started our trip into the wind.  Our campsite had been facing an island, named, of all names, Acanthus Island.  A name that was haunting us, LOL.  We had a bit of protection from it as we moved into the protection of another couple of islands.  So far we were doing okay, hitting the waves at about a 45 degree angle.  We were watching other boaters on the lake, mostly motorboats, a couple of canoes.  LT had the map out and was trying to get our bearings.  It was a bit different to see the real buildings, a lot of them didn’t seem to be on the map.  We decided where we thought the store might be and had to do a U-turn to get closer to shore and not tip over.  There were whitecaps.

We could see a parking lot of sorts, we thought.  Car windshields were shining in the sun.  As we got closer, the cars were moving into a line, getting ready to leave.  This parking lot was further than the store from where we were coming.

As we got closer, it was obvious we’d picked the right spot, you could see the canoes stacked up on the lawn.  We put ashore and I approached a young man that was tending to the canoes.  I think he was washing them down.  I explained that we’d had a plan, but had gotten off course and we were going to need some advice as to how to get back to our car.  He said he’d get Jake and I could ask him.

I had heard of Jake and had seen him in a couple of Youtube videos, specifically when Kevin Callan was doing the Meanest Link trip.  Jake has very long roots in the park, is a knowledgeable source of information and he runs the Algonquin Outfitters Brent Store.  The young guy walked me up to the back door of Jake’s home.  What I didn’t realize was that the store was on the other side, facing the road.  If I had known that, I would have walked around and talked to whoever was in the store.  Again, hindsight is 20-20.

Brent Store - the bench says so
To lighten up the previous day, I kept saying “I can’t wait to get a Coke when I get to the Brent Store tomorrow!”  Well I was now here on Jake’s back door talking to him.  I explained how we’d gotten slowed down by the black portages on the route we had and did not make it to Radiant Lake where we’d planned to be the previous day.  I asked for a suggestion as to what we could do and Jake held up his hand as though he were hitchhiking.  Okay.  I asked him where the road was.  He pointed with his thumb over his shoulder.  Okay.  He did relent and he offered to drive us.  For $150.  Okay.  Then he softened and said the ranger would be going out later in the day, but he had no idea when.  Finally I asked if he had anything to drink.  “Lake water” was his answer.  Okay.

I went back to LT with a sick stomach.  We pulled our bags up higher on the soggy lawn and started to walk toward the direction Jake had pointed in.  It wasn’t a road but the abandoned train track.  We headed in the direction we thought we should be going to find a large road sign saying “Road Closed”.  This was confusing.  LT took out the map.  We decided to go past the sign.  Shortly after we could see two vehicles leaving the parking lot we had seen, crossing the "Road Closed" path.  I waved at the people in the first car.  They waved back, but didn’t look like they were going to stop and I broke out into a run to stop them.  They stopped.  They were our saving grace.  We explained what we needed and they took LT to the car.  Not just to the turn off to Wendigo Lake, but right to the car. 

Meanwhile, I walked back to my bag, dragged it up to a bench that had “B R E N T * S T O R E” on it.  I took everything out of it, had a snack, drank some water, repacked my bag.  I walked to the dock, took pictures.   I took off my shoes and soaked my feet in the lake water.  I lay on the bench, tried to nap.  In less than an hour LT was back.  We put our backpacks on and carried the canoe up the sloping lawn.  As a last insult on the property of the Brent Store I slammed my head into one of the protruding canoes as we were cutting the corner around them.  I often have my head down when my pack is on my back.  Ouch.  As LT was fastening the canoe onto the car a couple walked by with frosty pop cans that they were drinking.  By now I would wait until we hit the highway before getting a cold Coke.

We stopped at the first gas station/store we came upon and got some cold drinks.  In Deep River we stopped at a chip stand.  I got a pogo and a small fries.  I ate the hot dog, but could barely eat the fries.  LT had poutine.
We got home to LT’s place and locked the canoe in his backyard.  I had to take the morning off the next day as we couldn’t return the canoe to Trailhead until 10 a.m.  


I went over to his place on Wednesday morning and he loaded the canoe on my car for me before he went off to work.  I drove to Britannia Park with a couple of newspapers and sat there until it was close to 10.  We had scratched and dinged the canoe in a few places.  It definitely looked used now.  My anxiety hadn’t completely disappeared.  I was worried it wouldn’t pass inspection at Trailhead.

I wasn’t the only person waiting in the parking lot with rental equipment to return that day.  The guy next to me had a stand-up paddleboard.  I asked him for help, I couldn’t undo the straps on the canoe.  I was telling him about some of the trip.  The swimming chipmunks, the moose and the Swamp with No Bridge.  I had him laughing, which was good, because when most of it was happening, it wasn’t funny.  The girl from Trailhead inspected the canoe and it passed.  Phew!  I drove to my office, picked up my laptop and went to work from home that afternoon.

We learned some very valuable lessons on this trip.  We've got a deep respect for being out in nature.  It might be a while before we tackle any more of those black portages again!  We bought some of the water purification tablets and they come along on all trips even though we never use them.  We both continue to carry a map, just in case.  And in 2015 we would start doing single carries over the portages.  Oh, and we would make sure to drink even when we're not thirsty!

Our next trip was a lazy weekend on Grand Lake.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Trip Log - Day 3: Wendigo to Cedar Lake, Canada Day 2014

go to Prologue     go to Day 1     go to Day 2    Day 3   go to Day 4
Breakfast on the CN railbed

When the morning arrived, we both got up and made breakfast sitting in the middle of the train track. Boiling more water to give it a chance to cool before packing up and setting off on the day’s efforts.  We would have to change our plans.  We took out the map and made a new plan.  LT would go and get the canoe.  I would walk down the track just over 2 km and try to bushwhack my way to a campsite located nearby.  We packed up the tent, LT loaded my pack on my back and we both set off on our tasks.

He was successful.  I was not.  I walked down the track and came to a point where a stream had washed the track out quite badly.  I left my pack there.  The map showed the campsite as being exactly between two streams.  I had found the first one.  I walked to the second stream and counted my steps.  340.  I walked back 170 steps and dropped my trekking poles to mark the spot.  I walked back to my pack and counted 170 coming to the same spot.
I entered the forest.  It was dense, there was no path, the ground was spongy with moss-covered logs that looked to be 100 years old.  It was not an easy walk.  I made it to the shore and there was no campsite.  I walked to my right, towards the second stream, for about 50 feet.  Nothing.  I walked back along the shore all the way to the first stream and did not find the site.  I was defeated.  A snake crossed my path and I was horrified.  I was going to scream, but no one would hear me anyways so I didn’t.  I bushwhacked back to the track. 

I didn’t know what to do, we hadn’t discussed this option.  I thought I’d walk back to the starting point and lie down and wait for LT to show up.  I was exhausted, retracing my steps down the track, seeing lots of different scat, yes and bear scat too.  I kept an eye out to my right when I could see the lake and I would call LT’s name, just in case.  

I got to the starting point and what I saw was wonderful and horrible at the same time.  His bag was gone.  It was wonderful because it meant that he’d made it back with the canoe and was in the water on his way to the campsite.  It was horrible because here I was so far away and what if he didn’t come and look for me?  (Irrational 5-year old child logic kicking in because I was tired.)

I was starting to get upset.  I was very tired, hot and slightly frightened.  I started to walk back along the track to my bag.  About halfway back, I thought I could see something (or someone – hopefully) moving along the track towards me.  I shouted LT’s name.  No response.  It was either him or a bear.  I really, really, really wanted it to be him.

Campsite with a sandy beach
And it was.  He had been yelling my name but neither of us could hear the other.  The first words out of his mouth were, “it’s a sandy beach! You almost never get that in Canada, a campsite on a sandy beach!”  He guided me back to where there was a little path in the forest, much, much closer to the second stream.  When we came out onto the most beautiful sandy beach, the site was indeed butted against the second stream, ergo why I did not find it. 

Just a short note here about LT’s trip by himself in the canoe along the shore for those 2 km.  The waves were high, the wind was high, he had to take a zigzagged pattern to progress to the campsite on his own in the canoe.
At the campsite the wind was blowing the bugs away from us, the water had some pretty high waves splashing up on the shore, I stripped to my underwear and went into the water.  It felt so good!  LT joined me shortly after.  I broke one of the big rules and used biodegradable soap in the lake as I washed my hair.  I was so miserable and the lake is so large, one hair washing wasn’t going to tip it ecologically.

We set up camp.  We weren’t scheduled to be on this lake tonight, but we had no ability to go any further.  Our new plan was to stay overnight, then canoe to the outfitter, Brent Store, the next day and find out from them how to get to our car.  The dirt road to the Brent Store from the highway was the same one we had originally come in on several days earlier.  It was just further along the same road, 35+ km in instead of 18.  There had to be a way to get out.  LT could walk from the road at 18 km in to the car.  It would be a couple of kilometers, but doable.

We decided to enjoy this gorgeous site.  We put the tent right next to the stream, which became a babbling brook late at night when the lake quieted down to silence.  We put up the mosquito shelter.  We did not have a campfire.  We didn’t have one the night before either.  Dinner was pasta with sauce, ground sirloin and veggies.  It was the perfect meal.  Dessert was fruit crisp.  I think. 

Next to the babbling brook
We spent a bit of time nursing our extensive bug bites that afternoon while in the bug shelter.  They had really done a number on us, LT was sitting in just a pair of shorts and his back had some major bites.  They got me on the back of my shoulders.  Yesterday when I would put my backpack on, it would stretch the bug shirt tight in that area and they could bite through the fabric.  Also I didn’t notice them biting while walking through the overgrown portages, there were other more pressing issues at the time.  LT was quite bruised on his shins.  Probably from picking up and putting down the canoe.

It rained a bit, we went to bed very early, we were both quite tired after the previous day.   The lake sounds came and went. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Trip Log - Day 2: Wendigo to Cedar Lake, Canada Day 2014

go to Prologue       go to Day 1      Day 2    go to Day 3    go to Day 4

We had intended on being up and out as early as possible, but rushing the morning on a camping trip is so hard.  The day was dawning with sun, a bit of cloud and the portage across the bay beckoned.  Fresh eggs with bacon was breakfast, we didn’t make the bannock.  We packed up camp and launched the canoe.  As we got closer to the other side of the bay, we saw something swimming in the lake.  It was too short for a water snake, too bumpy for a water snake and light brown.  As we got closer and it saw us, it pulled a U-turn going back towards the shore.  It was a chipmunk!  It was one of two swimming chipmunks we would see today.

A note about the portages on this trip:  when we were planning this trip, discussing the route, talking about using these unmaintained portages, I made it clear to LT that I would probably only be able to walk them once, I would not be double-carrying any of them.  I would never have been able to manage that.  So while I was resting on one end of the portage, LT was walking back and returning with either the canoe or his bag.  He was doing three times the work I was and not getting rest, water or food as he should have been.   (I did carry my own bag the whole way that probably weighed in at 50 pounds.)

Portage #1:  We could hear the water of a stream dropping into the lake as we landed at the portage.  So far, so good.  It wasn’t a bad spot to get out of the canoe.  The following table shows our portages for the day:

Portage #
Length of Portage
Starting Height
Apex of Trail
Ending Height
1 to Merganser Lake
2 to No Name Pond
3 to Kabibonoka Lake
4 to Mishimokwa Lake
5 to Cedar Lake

Difficult put-in
The put-in on the other side wasn’t as good.  The lake was jammed at this end with floating logs.  The ground wasn’t stable getting to the water either, with weedy mounds, hard to get your balance when loading a canoe.  LT does all the loading and unloading – all the heavy lifting.  I do appreciate this and try to tell him often.  We had to unwedge the logs to get the canoe moving forward on the lake.  Merganser is a pretty lake and before long we were at portage 2.  The put-in was okay.

Portage #2:  This was going to be our longest portage we’d done to-date.  The 5th portage scheduled for today would end up being the new record.  Today I did not want to overheat, I had worn my bathing suit, long pants, my lovely bug hat and a bug shirt I had also made myself.  Being able to sew has its advantages.

We had been examining the map and discovered that this trail would partially follow an old road!  Piece of cake, right?  Nope.  The “road” was hip deep in full regrowth.  There wasn’t a path at all.  There was an advantage in that the ground was flat and solid under the growth.  We stopped a couple of times to take a break but the bugs were bad.  We were in the perfect storm of bugs.  The triumvirate of blackflies, mosquitoes and deerflies.  We forged on until LT suspected that we’d gone too far.  We put our bags down and retraced our steps a bit.  Aha!  There was a path in the woods to our right that we needed to follow.  The portage sign was down, just a teeny bit of yellow sign was stuck on the tree.  LT has a sharp eye.

As I originally recorded this more than a month after the trip, I didn't remember the exact times we were arriving at these various portages.  The put-in on No Name Pond was also log-jammed.  The previous one had just been a job of moving a couple of floating logs.  This one was tougher we had to lift a log to free a log that was blocking our entry to the lake.  It took a bit of jimmying, but we finally succeeded.  We were trying to ensure we were drinking enough water and taking enough breaks.  I certainly was managing to do that, as LT was doing all the extra walking when he was doubling back to get the canoe.

Portage #3:  this one was a bit shorter,  but it had the highest apex point. 
Kabibonoka Lake wasn’t that big.  I made the paddle 3 times as long as I had forgotten my hiking poles at the put-in.  LT was kind enough to circle us back to get the poles. 

Place where we saw the second swimming chipmunk
Portage #4:  this one was also bit shorter, when we first got to the end, I took out the stove to make Kraft Dinner for lunch at the campsite on Mishimokwa Lake.  LT was starting to flag a bit.  He wasn’t drinking enough water.  Hindsight is 20-20.  We certainly know now the mistakes we made this day.  And there were a few.  He came down the hill with the canoe to a hot plate of KD.  He couldn’t eat it.  I misunderstood when he asked about filtering water.  I said we should just get the water when we loaded up to go to the other side of the lake.  We prefer to get water from the middle of the lake instead of the shoreline.  He wanted to stop and boil the water.  I didn’t understand what he meant until we got to the other side and he took the stove out to boil our largest pot full of filtered water.

Coming up to this shore we saw our second swimming chipmunk.  We were starting to get a bit nervous, we were slower moving today than expected.  It was at this spot where LT had flipped over the canoe on the ground and he pointed out a dozen leeches on the white underside of the canoe.  Ewwwwwwww! 

LT took on the boiling of the water.  Camping pots are flimsy to handle and as he was pouring the water using the clamp-on handle he dropped a lot of the water on the ground.  I told him I was okay to drink the filtered only water.  I had some antibiotics with me, I felt I was immune. 

Beginning the longest portage
Portage #5:  We looked up the hill to this 2660m portage.  It was not a clear path, there was growth to greet us.  We would climb 35 meters up and we would come down almost 100 meters on the other side.  We started on this trail. 

This portage promised something that had been giving me anxiety for weeks.  The notation reads “Swamp (No Bridge)”.  I have seen Youtube videos of people wading through hip-high mud.  I could not see myself doing this.  I had woken up at night lying in bed wondering what this fresh hell would be like.

But before we got to that point, we had a lot of ground to cover.  I started singing to myself - I needed to motivate myself to forget about this tough slog.  Before we knew it, we were almost at the halfway point.  We had arrived at Acanthus Lake – but we did not know that.  LT was in charge of the map and determining where we were going.  He misread the map at this point.  We left our bags up on the trail going down to the lake.  We came to the bottom of the lake and it wasn’t clear that we were supposed to either cross the lake in the canoe or carry it around.  LT went back on foot to see if we’d missed a turn-off.  He was expecting a swamp, not a lake.  With waist-high growth, the path could have veered off and we might have missed it.

When he was gone, I found a portage sign close to our side of the end of the lake facing the other side.  He got back, said we were on the right track, but he was still disoriented.  I showed him the portage sign.  He tried walking along the bottom edge of the lake, it was rocky, not a path, we could not see a portage sign on the other side of the lake.  He went about halfway and came back saying that it didn’t look like the path.  He decided to go back and get the canoe.  He left the map with me.

I examined the map and realized that we were on Acanthus Lake.  I decided to take my trekking poles and walk the full end of the lake to the other side.  Then I found it!  I found the other portage sign and it was facing down the lake, it was not visible from our side (which is a silly place to have it as no one would ever be coming to this portage from the other end of the lake!).  If it had, we would not have felt so lost.  I went and got the bags and brought them to the bottom beside the lake.  I had a snack and something to drink.

When LT came back he did not have the canoe.  He wasn’t doing well.  He was becoming dehydrated.  He said he’d left the canoe about a third of the way back.  I explained how we were okay, I knew where we were and told him I’d go get the canoe.  He followed behind me eventually and helped me load the canoe.  He walked behind as I carried it through the woods to the top of the hill going down to the lake where we both carried it. We saw our third moose here, a cow.  She was further down the lake feeding.

It was relief, but it was frightening for me.  LT never falters, he’s my rock.  We loaded the canoe, crossed the short distance, unloaded, left the canoe behind and set off to walk the rest of the path.  This is where my memory fades somewhat.  It was getting darker in the woods.  It was probably close to 6 p.m. now.  We both soldiered on, LT was still feeling weak, but he’s a trooper.

Then we found it.  The Swamp with No Bridge.  It was a black muddy spot in the trail that had some very slippery logs laid on it that were not affixed to anything.  I started using my poles to find mud that wasn’t deep.  At times it would sink 3 feet down.  I was doing pretty good, following LT’s guidance ahead of me.  But having a 45+ pound pack on my back, when I started to lose my balance, I could not stop from falling.  I fell on my left side and I started to howl.  LT rushed back and helped me up.  A few steps later I fell on my right side.  The only way I could get back up was if LT picked me and my pack up, while trying to stand on slippery logs.  He fell.  I think we both laughed at that point.  

Like I said, I’ve been trying to erase most of this memory from my mind and I’m being successful.  Also I stepped into a soft spot where my leg went 2 feet into the muck.  I’ve seen those quicksand shows on TV.  Quicksand isn’t what we think we know from our childhood cartoons (cartoons were nastier in the 60’s), quicksand is often in swamps.  I pulled and pulled trying to keep my Keen sandal on my foot.  I was successful, my foot came out with my sandal on. 

The path was starting to go downwards.  I could see sky through the trees.  I kept saying, “we’re getting close, we’re coming to the lake!”  But we weren’t.  We were going down through the hardwood forest, down the side of the mountain.  We finally did come out at the train track at Cedar Lake.  I dropped by bag on the track and walked to the water to take off my shoes and wet my feet.  I had worn a blister on a toe that was bleeding.  But we were out of the woods!  Literally, but not figuratively.  LT wasn’t doing very well. His dehydration was starting to really affect him.

He was not going up that path to get the canoe tonight.  We would not be able to make it to a campsite along the lake’s edge.  There was a flat piece of ground at the end of the portage by the tracks and that is where he started to put up the tent.  But even that small task ended up being too much for him.  He’d pushed through when he really had to and he didn’t have anymore energy left.  I opened his chair, told him to sit down, and I finished putting up the tent.  He didn’t want me to put on the fly, but there were clouds (and it did rain later on) so I did.  I should have waited until he’d cooled off somewhat. 

The bugs were ferocious.  I had gathered water at the edge of the lake.  It was covered in light green floating stuff, probably pollen of some sort.  I filtered 4 litres and started boiling it for him.  I made him a cup of sweet tea, but it was hot and he could not drink it.  I filled his bottle with hot water and set it outside the tent on his side so he could bring it in when he was feeling like he could drink it.  Being dehydrated and having only very hot water to drink is not a good combination.  I gave him some ibuprophen and a magnesium tablet.  I did not hang our food bag.  It was getting dark and I wasn’t good at that particular task, it was something LT always did.

Impromptu campsite
We did not have dinner, but I brought a few snacks into the tent in case he felt like eating later on.  By now he was suffering muscle cramps that were a 9 out of 10 on a pain scale.  They were double –teaming him, his leg would cramp in the calf then immediately cramp in the quad muscle as well, for both legs.  He even had muscle cramps in his abdomen.  I felt like there was nothing I could do to help him.  I had my bug hat in the tent and I was trying to fan him to help with the heat inside the tent.  When we looked up at the peak of the tent, there were thousands of mosquitoes gathered outside of us, smelling us, it was like being in a horror movie.

Eventually we both fell asleep after his water had cooled enough for him to drink some of it.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Trip Log - Day 1: Wendigo to Cedar Lake, Canada Day 2014

go to Prologue        Day 1      go to Day 2     go to Day 3    go to Day 4

Another early, beautiful Saturday morning!  We were doing well with the routine, getting up, making tea, making the fresh lunch for later that day.  We opted to have Tim Horton’s drive-through for our breakfast sandwiches – that maple biscuit sandwich sounded delicious!  (Yeah, not so much so.)  We headed out, hit the Tim Horton’s in Bells Corners then made our way to the 417. 

But the noise!  The horrible, awful noise that was coming from the canoe on top of the car!  The straps were vibrating so loudly we had to yell at each other to be heard.  It was truly unbearable.  We struggled through this until we stopped in Cobden and LT decided to put a twist in each strap.  Aha!  We’d been given valuable information in disguise and did not recognize it until now.  We got back in the car, headed out on the highway and the noise was gone!  Phew!

The drive to Deux-Rivieres is much further than getting to the Sand Lake Gate.  I had a 2006 version of a popular atlas to help give us an idea about how far we’d gone and how much further there was.  It took several hours until we were off the highway and at the office getting our permit.  I used the bathroom, last toilet I would get to use for a few days, I thought.  Back on the gravel road, we went 18 km in to the left turn off to Wendigo Lake.  Wendigo is not in Algonquin Park.

We met our first obstacle on that road.  Water from the swamp on either side covered the low point of the road, not once, but three times.  LT got out to test how deep the water was before driving the car through.  We parked our car and realized that there were already a lot of people out on the water.  The parking lot was more full than I expected.  I pulled out my camera as LT did his preparation.  I grabbed my backpack and carried it down to the lake.  There was a cement ramp here for people to put motorboats in (I assume).  Then I heard an “Oh no!”

Concrete boat ramp
Oh no turned out to be a forgotten bag.  In that bag were LT’s clothes for the day (he drives in comfy shorts and a polo shirt – changes into the long sleeves and long pants for the wild when he gets to the wild).  He had a second set of clothes.  Okay, but less for him to change into later on for the trip.  Oops.  And the map.  I had the second map, which was a relief.  His compass.  I had one of his old compasses as a back-up.  His Steri-pen.  We use both a water filtration system and the Steri-pen to be on the safe side.  This was going to be an issue for us.  We could still filter and boil.  We would buy back-up tablets to carry in case this ever happened again for the next trip.  I had not noticed the bag as it was the black backpack he carries his stuff to the gym in and it had never been on a trip with us before.  Yes, I am absolving myself of blame right up front, but I am no way placing any blame.  This qualified as obstacle #2.

I get very excited about these trips and I was trying to contain that excitement as we loaded up the canoe.  I was taking pictures of daisies and the lake, happy-happy!  We finally got into the canoe and out on the lake.  Despite the number of cars we’d seen in the parking lot, we didn’t see anyone on the lake.  We made our way down the lake to the end, did the 180m portage into Allen Lake quite easily.  Happy-happy!

We didn’t even have half the lake length to go before our first black portage ever!  Yeah, this is not something to get excited about.  They are tough and we were going to learn that.  We thought we’d learn it today, but it was a lesson we’d learn even harder tomorrow.  This one looked like it went straight up the side of a tough hill.  We did all our carries as double carries today.  This portage was 665m and we could hear the North River cascading to our left.  It was a bumpy portage, going from 310m to 340m just before the end.  We set in to the river.

This would be my first trip on this type of river, marshy, winding left and right and left and right again, where you wonder if you’ve taken a wrong turn.  As we approached the next portage LT suggested we go into the river just a bit, tie up and eat lunch there.  At first I balked (I claim reflexes made me do it).  Once I realized we were going upstream and wouldn’t be tossed down some impassible rocky rapid, I was okay with the idea and very glad we did it. 

North River - mucky put-in
The start of the portage was barely discernible from the shore.  We could see the sign, but long weeds required some orientation to get onto land.  This would be our longest portage we’d ever done (tomorrow would exceed this one).  1305m, it went from 338m to 352m in height.  It was more overgrown than what we’d ever seen before.  Baby trees growing up to waist high filled the trail and we struggled with the heat, the bugs and the slow progress.  I had my homemade bug hat on.  I was wearing a long sleeved white Columbia shirt, and I was getting warm.

So close but yet so far
Out of the middle of nowhere, we crossed a dirt road, with a practically brand new bridge over the river, still at our left.  We dropped our bags and had a bit of a rest.  LT decided to go back for the canoe and I did some exploring.  I walked over the bridge, took pictures of the river, up and down.  I decided to follow the rest of the portage to see how far it was.  It wasn’t!  I went back and struggled to get my backpack on.  I can carry it, but picking it up from the ground and putting it on by myself, is something I can’t do easily.

I had decided to bring my hiking poles along for this trip (thank GOD!).  I found a small bump in the ground, lifted my bag onto it, sat on the lower ground with my back to the bag and slipped my arms into the shoulder straps.  Then I used my hiking poles to stand up.  Did it!  I walked the rest of the distance to the portage end and tucked my bag out of the way under a tree, one of the few dry spots.  Another feature of black portages is the put-ins.  This one was a muddy one.  I walked back to LT’s backpack.  His is much heavier than mine.  I needed a different strategy to get his on my back.

I sat flat on the ground and put my arms through his backpack straps.  I couldn’t lift it up on the same mound I used for my own bag.  Fortunately I was alone for the contortions I would go through to stand up with it.  First I rolled over onto my hands and knees with my hands being on higher ground than my knees.  I straightened my legs and slowly pushed away from the higher ground to stand up.  Holy cow his bag was heavy!  I carried it to the portage end and gladly dropped it next to mine.

More than anything I wanted to get some body parts into the rushing water to try to cool down.  I went back to the bridge to see if I could crawl down one side to the water’s edge.  No luck.  I went back to the portage end thinking I could walk over the muck to some rocks, by then LT was coming back with the canoe.  We had a bit of a snack then loaded the canoe and continued on.

The river was the same as we’d experienced before the portage, winding, the weeds and grass bending with the flow we were paddling against.  It didn’t seem very strong, but it was pretty constant.  We had some distance to paddle, impossible to tell how far on the map with the winding back and forth.  
Underwater grass indicating the river flow
Around one of the earlier corners we saw him – a great, big male moose!  He was on the right bank of the river, eating his fill of plants.  He immediately started to cross to the left side of the river.  Just before the bank, he stopped and looked at us, almost to say “do I really need to move for these guys?”  He did move, he climbed up on the bank and disappeared in the woods. 
I had managed to get my camera out and got some good shots.  I had my small camera, not my bigger DSLR.  It’s pretty heavy and I didn’t want to take a chance on this long of a trip with it.

My first moose-in-the-wild sighting - he's a beaut!
We continued on the river, pretty thrilled we’d seen that majestic, strong moose.  He would be one of three we’d see on this trip.  After what seemed like hours, I could hear rushing water around the corner.  I got excited - the next portage was a short one and would lead us into North River Lake. Yahoo!  Almost there!

Nope.  It was a beaver dam that was across the full river.  There was no way except to climb over it.  We went from left to right back to left to decide where to get out of the canoe and lift it over.  This is something we’d never had to do before.  It was tough, but something we could tick off the backcountry canoe camping list!

Another corner, more rushing water, more false hope, another beaver dam.  But by now we were pros.  We saw a moose at this point in the river as well.  By the time we got over the dam he was gone.

Finally we came upon the portage.  75m in length, it had a campsite on it which was as poor as the map advertised.  We put into the lake and paddled looking at the beautiful landscape.  We decided on a campsite close to the portage site into Merganser Lake, the first portage we would do tomorrow.  The site had a lot of logs set up as benches, and several tables at various heights.  It looked like there had been a blow down of a bunch of trees within the last few years and the park rangers had made the most of the downed trees by making them furniture.  We went back out in the canoe to get water to filter.

We looked at the site, trying to decide where the tents would go.  Because of all the downed logs, we decided to not put up the mosquito shelter.  LT would make a campfire to keep the bugs away.  They weren’t that bad so far.  A bit of a breeze from the lake was keeping a lot of them away.  But they were there.  LT had brought his saw and a newly purchased hatchet.  We figured that the campsites we’d be at wouldn’t have high traffic so there’d be more deadfall for us to use for campfires.

I started the water filtration system going, I was going to have to boil the water before putting it in the Nalgene bottles we carried.  I was very lucky.  When I first started putting boiling water in my bottle, I foolishly picked it up by the open lid and the bottle slipped out of the warmed noose of the lid and splashed the newly boiled (and not cooled) water onto my face as it hit the table.  I was fortunate the water cooled slightly when it flew through the air and I was only very slightly burned.  I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

We had pizza for dinner.  I had purchased an “oven” at MEC to use with my stove.  It came with a metal diffuser that sits on top of the flame and a fabric tea cosy-like cover with a hole in the top.  It is designed to go over a certain pot, which I didn’t have, that has a top on it where you place the loonie-sized button style thermometer.  I couldn’t get it set up properly and we could smell the metallic fabric burning slightly.  We played around with it and managed to cook the pizza without burning it too badly on the bottom.  It was delicious anyways.  Dessert was the favourite banana nut bread pudding.  We lingered around the fire and went to bed around 10.  It was going to be a really long day tomorrow.
Pizza oven in action