Friday, July 14, 2017

Using a Thermos for Food Preparation

One of the greatest things I discovered in 2015 was using a Thermos as part of my kit for food preparation. I got the idea from Chef Glenn. 

Here's my original post when I bought the Thermos.

When I'm rehydrating a variety of things for a meal, the Thermos is even better than a pot with a pot cozy. I've started using it for rehydrating the fruit that goes into our desserts after dinner. Because the Thermos holds heat for so long, I can put the fruit and boiling water into it while I'm prepping the rest of the meal. The results are delicious and the clean-up is even better.
My original purchase from Canadian Tire (2015)
L.T. picked this up at Loblaws (2016)
 The 2017 version:
My new companion, love the spoon option (2017)

The manly, larger version - same spoon
The best feature is that while making tea at breakfast, I can toss in a single serving of dehydrated lunch, say chicken, veggies and rice, pour in some boiling water, and keep it in my big pack's side pocket. When I want to have some hot food on the trail, I just pop it out and chow down. Hot lunch, ready to go. The amount of time the food spends in the Thermos just makes it more rehydrated. No prep, no clean-up required on the trail. No need to even open up the big backpack!

Here are some Thermos lunchtime ideas:
  • chicken, rice and veggies with salsa
  • tortilla soup with chicken and veggies
  • Kraft dinner with pepperoni
  • ham and eggs
  • beef, noodles and veggies with soy sauce
What would you like to eat on the trail for lunch?

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Trip log - Cedar to Radiant: Canada Day - Day 3

Today dawned totally gorgeous. It's always nice out when you're going home. We would spend the day travelling, so I was fine with having good weather. We had discussed our strategy the night before and set 8 a.m. as the wake-up call. I didn't have to convince L.T. to get up, he was up before me. I waited until the last minute before 8 to get up as well.
Someone's cottage or camper in the distance

Mouth of the Petawawa River where we were heading (mid photo)
Breakfast was blueberry pancakes with bacon and maple syrup. I think I've finally figured out a system to mix the batter, blueberries and warm water. I use one of my Food Saver bags and vacuum seal it, leaving a large space to fold the bag over multiple times at the top, clamp it with my windshield bulldog clamps. We squeeze the ready pancake mixture out of a small opening in the pointed end I've created with the vacuum sealer. Now that I have that long silicone spoon, no more messy hands!

We had skipped lunch yesterday, so we decided to make it this morning and put it in our Thermoses to eat on the route. I had also brought bacon and pepperoni to go into the Kraft Dinner. We were able to get most of the pot into the two Thermoses, but had to throw a bit out.

It takes a while to set up camp and a while to tear it down. The hammocks need to come down. The bug shelter is last. I had decided that my fanny pack was NOT going to be used today, I was going to stuff every last item I could into my backpack including the empty fanny pack. The only things that would be attached to my backpack on portaging was my life jacket and camera bag. I stuffed my snack bag and my one liter bottle into the side pockets of my backpack. I only filled one of my bottles, the other one would be empty. One kilogram less of weight!

Just when I thought my backpack was stuffed to the max, I realized I had to still fold up my chair and put that in my bag. Dang! My backpack has a really cool feature. It has a front zipper in a U-shape. If I lie it on its back, I can open up the front like a suitcase and jam more stuff in that way. I got the chair in. I was carrying the garbage (which I normally don't do), but I balked at the little backpack it was in. L.T. had some black plastic construction-weight garbage bags in there and they were heavy!

It was 11:35 by the time we launched. Radiant Lake wasn't horribly choppy, but it wasn't flat either. And the wind was blowing directly in our faces. It took about 35 minutes to get to the mouth of the Petawawa River. We were going upstream today and it was moving faster than it looked. The first part of the river is a long paddle and with each twist of the river, the wind would blow at us again. I was anxious about today. I had had such a rough time on Saturday. And today we were going uphill and against the current of the Petawawa. We knocked off the first portage and my confidence built a little bit. We did single carries all day. Some of the wet spots had dried, but not all!

The next portage with the big mud swampy section in the middle, well, I had decided at our first portage that my feet were getting wet, so I had stood in the river holding the canoe at the bottom of the train bridge. They were already wet, so I could walk in the muddy section. I used my trekking poles to ensure there was some rock below the mud and water before stepping and that worked fine. I would not attempt to find a route around this again!

On that second portage we came across a blue canoe bag three-quarters of the way up the trail. I could hear someone in the woods to my left, between me and the river. There had been no indication that someone else was on this portage, no canoe or kayak when we started our walk. When we got to the end, there was no boat either. I guess this person was either trying to do some of these Category IV rapids or was lining their boat, not an easy feat. Actually he probably had started doing the rapids and changed his mind. He would have to haul his craft through a bushwhack up the steep sides of the gorge. Yikes!

We got that portage done, then we came to the final one of the day and the longest. But it's not really the toughest. Although to start you need to walk along the edge of the bank which is high with loose gravel rocks. It would be nothing to slip and you'd fall the whole distance into the rapids. Hardly a tree to impede your plunge into the rapids. Not a pleasant outcome. I was extra careful on all portages today. Slipping could mean hurting myself badly and I have no idea how L.T. would get me out of there. The bugs would be happy though to keep me company.

The trail gets a bit nicer as you get to the end near Cedar Lake. We walked by the first campsite, then came around the corner to the campsite right on the lake. There was a small creature there, he kind of looked like a fuzzy beaver or ground hog with a fuzzy tail. He didn't look like an adult, maybe a young adult? He was dark brown with a bit of black. I surprised him and he started to go around me until L.T. came into view. Then he just froze. We didn't try to approach him, we just stopped and let him run away. 

We dropped our gear and took a break to eat lunch. I walked into the lake and got completely wet. It was mostly to cool down. The wind blowing off Cedar Lake would dry me out before I got back to the access point. The KD in the Thermoses was good. After eating that and drinking, we headed out to conquer the big lake that is Cedar. L.T. plotted a route that would bring us behind one of the big islands to give us a break from the wind and waves. But for the most part we had to battle them. They were enough to pick up the front of the canoe and slam it down into troughs that were probably 1.5 to 2 feet below the crest of the waves. At times I had only air to paddle.

It was a long, tiring trip to paddle across Cedar. No matter how far you thought you'd progressed, when you checked the shoreline, it looked like nothing. But progress we did. Then Cedar had her ultimate revenge on us. We paddled into the small bay at the access point. It was suddenly calm. Yeah, because we're in a bay. NO, the whole damned lake was like glass all of a sudden!

Oh well, we had made it safe and sound. There was a group of people picnicking on the beach. I had full intention of getting out of the canoe and just lying on my back on the beach when we arrived. But I didn't want to embarrass L.T. My lower back was killing me from the paddle across Cedar. Instead I just got the gear ready to pack into the car.

By the time we loaded up the car, got the canoe on, and L.T. changed into clean clothes, it was 6:30. 7 hours from when we had launched from our campsite.

On the way home we needed to get gas and the requisite fries from the chip truck. We had to drive into downtown Deep River as we were too late for Freddies on the highway. I had a small poutine, that I ended up sharing and L.T. had a bacon cheeseburger. We got to his place at 9:45 p.m. By the time I was home 45 minutes later, I just climbed the 3 flights of stairs leaving that huge bag in the car.

Lessons learned this trip:

1. If I don't want something to get wet, it needs to be in a dry bag or at least a Ziploc bag.

2. I need to wear better shoes on the portages and I need to suck it up and spend the day with wet feet. Part of the reason I wear the Keen sandals is that they are light and I can use them in the campsite, ergo no extra pair of flip flops or camp shoes to carry.

3. We need to pad the times given on Jeff's maps to compensate for my slowness on the portages. 

4. I brought my new Esbit stove (see here for my testing of it). It was easy to pull out and heat the pre-cooked bacon on while either the eggs or pancakes were being made. I used my stove diffuser on it at first, but it didn't really blacken much without the diffuser. 

5. I should probably carry a maximum of between 35-40 pounds on my back.

6. I hate fanny packs. I can't get my backpack hip belt to work properly while also wearing a fanny pack.

7. I can't wear my new rain poncho under my backpack (I might be able to wear it over, which would be better as it'd keep my bag dry.

8. L.T. will never play cribbage with me. Although the board worked great as a place to put the mosquito coils (yes, plural).

9. I can climb up much better when fully loaded using my trekking poles than I can going down.

10. July 1st is too buggy.

11. After July 1st it's warm enough to go in the lake (or river).

12. Deer flies can bite through thick wool socks. On my trip back on Monday I put Watkins cream on my bare feet, put on my socks, then sprayed them with Watkins bug spray. That helped a bit.

13. I need to get back to exercising on a more regular basis, including weights.

14. I would only do this route again if I was carrying 25 pounds and had guaranteed nice, sunny weather! (Ain't gonna happen!)

Timetable                                   Day 1                                      Day 2

Friday, July 07, 2017

Trip log - Cedar to Radiant: Canada Day - Day 2

Good morning, sunshine!

What a difference a day makes!
I stayed in the hammock as long as my bladder would allow me (isn't that a thought-provoking opening statement?) I got up around 8 a.m. I hadn't slept great, normally the first night is like that. I was comfortable in my hammock, warm even. I took my purple sleeping bag liner out around 3 a.m. when I got up to answer nature's call the first time. I could see the shoreline and the lake from my bag. It was relaxing and today I didn't have to go anywhere.
He's still asleep and hasn't got much clearance from the ground
I went and got the food bags down from the bear hanging spot. I made myself a couple of cups of tea by the time L.T. got up at 10. He'd had even less sleep than me the night before we left. I also attempted to wash my filthy clothes from the day before. I emptied out the small dry bag I use for my camera, filled it with lake water, some camp soap and put my shirt, pants and wool socks in it. I sat in the bug shelter and agitated the bag, jiggling it around. I dumped the water out away from the shore, rinsed my clothes and hung them on my new clothesline (I love this clothesline, I would recommend getting one). The mud stains in my shirt didn't come out. It still looked like I'd gone face first into the mud.
L.T.'s new chair
Breakfast was fresh eggs with bacon and hash browns. We did the dishes, lazed around a bit, enjoyed the breeze coming off the lake. The day was nice so far. We talked about going out for a paddle. Two-thirds of Radiant Lake is fairly shallow. At points you can stand up on sandbars in the middle. We were at the shallow end. However, in the wind, a shallow lake will get very choppy. We waited so long that the water wasn't very friendly looking anymore. Oh well. It was time to gather wood to make our steak dinner.

It did rain a little bit. But it blew through pretty quick. Fortunately L.T. had already put up a tarp over our hammocks. He put another one up to store gear under near our bug shelter. Eventually he tied it into a position to block some of the wind whipping up from the lake.

Any activity outside of the bug shelter meant lots of bugs. As much as I don't mind doing the work, I hate the bugs. I dragged one six-inch diameter deadfall tree into the campsite, used the new saw a little bit (until I nicked between my left thumb and forefinger), then retreated back into the shelter.

I started using the mosquito coils when we landed on the beach the day before. I had them in my fanny pack, mostly so they wouldn't get squished and broken. I jam a lot into my large backpack and it gets dropped a lot into the canoe and onto the shore coming in and out of the canoe.

I burned them in the mosquito shelter the whole time we were awake. I started burning one under my hammock about an hour before going to bed. As for the Thermocell? I used that inside the bug shelter. And it came with me to the thunderbox, even if that was just psychological and made me feel better. 

L.T. suggested we go to the beach and haul up a couple of dozen of the round rocks to build up the back of the fire pit. It certainly helped with the wind break. Once the fire had burned down and the coals were ready, L.T. put two foil packets of steak and two foil packets of veggies onto the grill that was at the site. Most sites have grills, although they all look like they need a good scrubbing with steel wool. 

He left everything on for slightly over an hour and it was all cooked perfectly. The steaks were so tender you could peel them apart with a tiny camp fork. The veggies were cut up white potatoes, sweet potato, baby carrots and asparagus tops. With lots of butter, of course. 

Dessert was rehydrated banana-mango fruit leather with banana pudding and dehydrated angel food cake. I don't rehydrate the cake, we just put it on top of the other mixture and mush it in. Yummy!

The last trip, and this trip, I had brought a deck of cards and the only cribbage board I have, a long, heavy wooden one. I thought we might play cribbage in the evening, but we didn't on either trip and I'm never bringing it again! Instead we sat and talked. I threatened to go to bed around 9:40, but was convinced to stay up another 45 minutes. I was so tired. Even though we didn't do much today, I was still exhausted.
My hammock
Sunset on Radiant Lake

Timetable                                   Day 1                                      Day 3

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Trip log - Cedar to Radiant: Canada Day - Day 1

We were prepared for the bugs. Did you know you can get a camping weather report that also gives you a bug report? Here's what it looks like:
For our weekend it was showing red for black flies and mosquitoes and green for deer flies. Preparation included carrying multiple bottles of Watkins bug repellent. We both carry a pump spray bottle and the cream (which I think is more effective). L.T. had a new spray he was trying out that was less toxic. I brought a new box of mosquito coils. And I carried the Thermocell with 2 butane cartridges and 4 of the strips. We both had bug hats, I wore mine pretty much the whole weekend, except inside the bug shelter and my hammock.

Conclusion? We're still both covered in bites. And the deer flies were out. I would have rated them just at the bottom of high activity. They will follow you out of a portage and join you in the canoe, sticking with you for the full paddle. I was wearing thick wool socks with my Keen sandals and they can very easily bite through wool, my ankles are the witness.

We've taken the mid-June trip off our schedule this year because of the intensity of the bugs. The Canada Day trip might go the same way.

As mentioned in the timetable post, we set off on our drive, got our permit, got to the access point, loaded the canoe and set off at 10:30 a.m. We had a long paddle down Cedar Lake. 
Today's route in purple (Jeff's maps)

Access point at Brent

Not a sunny day, but calm
We made good time going across the lake to the first portage point at the southeast part of the lake. We landed around noon. The lake was kind to us and wasn't very choppy. There wasn't really much of a breeze. The weather was ominous though. The forecast had said rain would start around 10 and by 2 we'd be having thunderstorms. 
First portage, beginning
It's also a campsite

Easy landing

Deceptively nice beginning
The first portage goes around the Petawawa River rapids called Cedar Lake Rapids. It's a nice landing; there are two campsites at this portage end and they're not bad if you don't mind some through traffic. The second one is particularly nice and looks out over the waterfalls (although I didn't take the time to have a close look). The first portage isn't too bad. It starts off quite nicely, there's one boardwalk over a creek, then it does get hilly and rocky. The Petawawa River is mostly in a gorge. The sides are steep and rocky, which makes for portages that involve going up and down with lots of rocks and some pretty steep put-ins and take-outs.

The portage is 960 meters and puts in below the last of the rapids. The sides of the river are high here and a couple of streams gush into the river. It's hard to see them though, the mouths seem to be protected by trees. The current is pretty strong if you chose not to paddle too heartily, you'd eventually get pushed to the next portage take-out. We did paddle though. The water was really dark today, the dark skies contributed to that. 
Petawawa River
Looking ahead

Looking back
After paddling about 1.5 km we were at the start of the next portage, 685 meters going around Surprise Rapids. Taking a rest on the portage with the bugs so furious isn't much fun. I was finding my bag a bit heavy so L.T. suggested we double-carry this portage. For the first trip I carried my fanny pack and the lunch backpack. It was an up-and-down portage, rocky, and shortly after the starting point, there was a muddy, swampy section about 5 paces across. For our first trip through, I bushwhacked around it, still getting my feet wet. Ick. We got to the end, it's a campsite. A really bad campsite. But I'm sure it's there to help people that aren't making good time and really need to stop and just stay somewhere for the night. It's a big rock with maybe only one flat grassy spot about the size of a pup tent. 

We dropped what we were carrying and retraced our steps. Again I did a loop through the undergrowth to go around the water on the trail. I picked up my backpack, fit my hands into my trekking poles, and started the final trip on this path. My poles have a harness on them where my hands fit and they are velcroed in. When we got to the wet section, I tried my circuitous route and as I ducked under a fallen tree, my backpack got stuck. I tried to wiggle lower and lower then fell onto the log below on my stomach, both of my trekking poles collapsed into half their size in front of me while getting wedged into the muck below. One forearm also ended up in the mud. L.T. had to come over and help me out. With both hands locked into the poles I had no ability to extricate myself.

It had started raining too. This was a miserable portage. As we got to the end, thunder and lightning could be heard. We decided to wait it out a bit then the skies opened and it just poured for 15 minutes. We were both drenched completely through right to underwear. Finally L.T. wedged the canoe into a Y in a tree and we stood underneath that. We were getting a bit concerned about the time, so we set off while some thunder was still rumbling in the distance. At least the rain had stopped. We had eaten some of our lunch during this wait. One bonus of torrential rain, the bugs weren't able to fly around.

There's not a very far paddle to the next portage, probably half a kilometer. A train bridge comes into view and a stoney path up the side of the hill leading to the train bridge is visible. The real portage is about 50 meters further. We took the train bridge route. It's a serious straight-up scramble. This portage goes around Devil's Chute Rapids. And there's a section at the end called "Five Man Grave". I was very glad we were going around this section of the river!
Looking across the bridge

The path coming up to the track

Bridge close-up
NOTE: Algonquin Park does not recommend using the rail bed for portaging. 
Waiting for L.T. to join me
L.T. cut me a break and I just climbed up to the rail bed with my life jacket, the lunch and my poles. He brought me my pack. He made a second trip to get the rest of the gear and the canoe. I put my backpack on over my brand new rain poncho that has some sort of silicone coating. That was a bit of a disaster. Between the fanny pack flipped around to the front, the big backpack with my life jacket, the lunch bag and my camera bag attached to the back, would not sit properly on my hips. This is important to distribute the weight evenly. My shoulders were taking all the weight instead of my hips and the pack was slipping around a lot. 

The majority of this informal 860 meter portage can be done on the tracks which is much easier than the down and up of the portage. Where that portage crosses the tracks, we had to turn onto it, off the track. But not for very far. 
Put-in at end of last portage

Marker for last portage

Smiling because I don't have to portage anymore today
Once the last portage was done for the day, the rest of it was just paddling. We had about 6-7 more kilometers to paddle and the current was going in our favour. The water in the river was so calm that as we turned a corner into a long, straight section, we had trouble figuring out what we were looking at. For example, a large rock outcropping looked almost like you could paddle under the rock reflection. A large tree root was sticking out of the river as well. From the distance it looked like jawbones of some huge shark.
At least it's not raining
We got out onto Radiant Lake, there are a few cottages at the mouth of the river, lucky folks that have those. There are 5 campsites along the top of the lake, we were hoping for the 3rd site. It was occupied. We decided to go to the 4th site. L.T. had been on the 2nd site on a previous solo trip and he said it was nice. But the 4th site might have a sandy beach, so we pressed on. The 3rd site is probably the best with a real sandy beach. The 4th has a sandy bottom with a pebble-filled beach. Still not bad. We landed around 5:30 p.m.

The site has a lot of straight red pines on it. They don't have a lot of lower branches. The sun was starting to peek out onto the site, there was a good spot to put the bug shelter and lots of trees to hang hammocks. We were home for the next 2 nights! The first thing we did was hang that bug shelter. 
Campsite pines (taken on Sunday)
When I opened my bag I was in for a rude awakening. Everything that was not in a dry bag was wet from the torrential downpour, including my air mattress. Oops! Lesson learned there.

Later on when L.T. was hanging the ropes and pulley for the bear hang, he could hear a fairly consistent peeping noise that he was struggling to identify. He followed the sound until he came to a hole in a tree. Ah, a nest of baby birds of some sort. He backed away and the local woodpecker came in to protect her babies.

Meals today:

Breakfast - L.T. made scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese and grape tomato wraps to eat in the car.

Lunch - L.T. prepared various deli meats, cut up some delicious old white cheddar, and had cut apples with plums and grapes. He also packed some crackers in his Thermos with some brie. But with the rain downpour we skipped that portion.

Dinner - L.T. had brought a fresh steak and veggie meal for tonight, but we were both too tired to go look for wood to burn. Besides with the rain, most of the dead fall would be wet. Instead we had Sunday's dinner which was deep dish pizza with rehydrated veggies, basil and garlic pasta sauce (also rehydrated), bacon, pepperoni and cheese. Dessert was raspberry fruit crisp (rehydrated raspberries, a bit of sugar and granola topping).

After dinner as we were sitting in the bug shelter, a whippoorwill sounded its call as it flew by. The park is recording sightings (or hearings) of that bird to try to get an idea of the population and where they are hanging out. We didn't hear many loons though. 

Today was Canada Day and for our homage to being Canadian: we were out in the Canadian wild and as for wearing the Canadian colours, we were both white-skinned with red bug bites. For fireworks we had fireflies flickering around the campsite. And there were no line-ups anywhere, even for the port-a-potty at the back of our campsite, unless bugs count.


When the going gets rough, the camera stays in its bag. I did take lots of pictures of the campsite on Sunday. Here are a few pictures:

Looking down the Petawawa River

The last 3 photos were taken on Sunday

Timetable                                   Day 2                                      Day 3

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Trip log - Cedar to Radiant: Canada Day - Travel Timetable

Every time we take a trip we build on the knowledge from previous trips. But mistakes still get made and judgement might still be off a bit. Or we try something new and it may or may not work for us.

This trip I decided to make a schedule to see how we compare to the recommended times on Jeff's maps. Also L.T. wanted to be on the road by 4:30 a.m. so we could be at the permit office for Brent shortly after 7 a.m. It's a long drive. In order to convince myself this was a great idea getting out of bed at 3 a.m. to start my day, I created the following table:

MinutesMinutes3:00 a.m.Alarm
TaskTime to doDone byFinished byTime
Get up/get ready45453.753:45
Drive to L.T.'s156044:00
Pack car30904.54:30
Drive to Access Point1652557.257:15
Get permit152707.57:30
Drive to launch point453158.258:15
Load canoe303458.758:45
Section 1 complete9043510.2510:15
Section 2 complete9052511.7511:45
Section 3 complete906151.251:15
Paddle to site306451.751:45

In theory we should be on our campsite by 1:45 p.m. without any stops, or rest time, or any other issues. Okay, I'll get out of bed at 3 a.m. if I can be sitting on my butt at a campsite around 2 p.m.

The first slippage happened when packing the car. That took 45 minutes instead of 30. Half an hour down the road L.T. realized we didn't have the paddles or life jackets. I was driving and had to wait until the next exit on the highway to get off and turn around. That added an hour to the trip. 

We lost another half an hour between getting our permit and launching the canoe. We launched at 10:30 instead of 8:45. We made good time crossing Cedar Lake, it was a calm morning on the lake.

We lost more time on the second portage as we decided to double-carry it. As we got to the end of this portage there was thunder and lightning. We waited that out for about 30 minutes. The double-carry probably added another hour.

The third portage was a tricky one. You can get out of the water a bit earlier and scramble up a very steep section to climb onto the rail bed and follow that instead of the portage. I was flagging at this point and L.T. double-carried my pack up to that point for me. Also he double-carried the canoe from the track to the end of this portage. It wasn't a full double-carry, but a partial one.

Here's the final calculation of the slippage in the schedule:

Packing car15
Retrieving paddles60
Loading canoe/permit office30
2nd portage double-carry60
Waiting out storm30
3rd portage partial double-carry30
Total minutes added225
Converted to hours3:45

We landed at our campsite at 5:30 p.m. instead of the 1:45 p.m. I had calculated. But as I mentioned, that time did not account for any rest stops at all. And we certainly weren't going to argue with lightning!

Today's route (Jeff's maps)

Day 1                                    Day 2                                      Day 3

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Riding the Big Waves

It's that time of year, it's L.T.'s birthday. We usually go camping, however this year he finally admitted the bugs are furious and the water is still pretty cold around his birthday. We do usually have the park to ourselves though. Last year we took advantage of that and altered our plan mid-trip. (2016 Birthday Trip)

This year he's asked to go whitewater rafting on the Ottawa River. I've always been very hesitant to try this. Fast running water with big rocks frightens me beyond words. I had a bad experience (see here for that story). As much as my logical brain can tell me I will be safe, the reptile part of my brain is going to scream the whole way down any rapids. Actually it will probably whine loudly just being in a river current. When I'm on a flat lake, if I can hear water rushing in the distance, I'm thinking that I'm going over Niagara Falls. L.T. tried to talk me into going up a little creek where the water was flowing against us and I still thought I was going to go down rapids. See? No logical thought was happening there.

The reservation was made. I'm betting he thinks that I will try this, overcome my greatest fear, and from then on become a whitewater enthusiast. We'll see about that. I'm not bringing my new camera. Maybe my old one that's already been in the lake. Part of the trip is the hard sell at the end to buy the video of your escapade. I'm sure sheer terror is not going to be my most flattering angle. Maybe L.T. will wear his GoPro.

The tour company is Wilderness Tours. There has been whitewater rafting running on this part of the Ottawa River for over 30 years. I watched Youtube videos the other night of some of their tours and then had a vivid dream I broke my leg and was in a hip to toe straight cast. 

The day before we were supposed to go he was contacted about our reservation. He'd purchased the express tour, which leaves later in the afternoon. No one else had reserved that trip so they recommended we book the whole day. He asked me my opinion and I said this was something he wanted to do, whatever he decided was fine with me. 

He decided on the full day package. They said to be at their location by 9:30 a.m. Google said it would take an hour and a half, so I picked him up at 7:45 and we were on our way. It was a nice day. Blue skies, white puffy clouds, rain forecast for the late afternoon. It was warm enough, especially in the sunshine. All's well, right? 

We got there, parked the car, signed the waivers, checked in, got our wristbands. The orientation would be at 10:30. We rented a helmet with a GoPro mount ($15). L.T. forgot to fully charge the batteries, so we were working with a two-bar charge. Which turned out to be enough. They did not push the rental of wet suits. The lady checking us in said that the guides had only this week just said the water "wasn't that cold". Lots of people rented them anyways.

They have a lovely location with a nice big deck to relax on. The tour leader, Keegan, gave the orientation. At 11 we lined up for the big yellow school bus that would take us to the put-in. We arrived at a place near the put-in where we selected our helmets, lifejackets and paddles. We walked down a short dirt road where we saw our rafts on the shore. 

We had been grouped into three large 12-person rafts and two smaller 6-person rafts. We were told what raft we'd be in during orientation. We were in raft 3, of the larger rafts. Everyone got into their rafts (I mistakenly thought the boats were facing out and selected what I thought was the 2nd row, but turned out to be the 4th row back. Oops.

Keegan gave us a safety orientation and explained to us how things would work. Each guide shouts instructions to the left and/or right side of the boat whether to paddle forward/backward/or not at all. Also they wanted us to paddle in three gears. Easily, hard and super hard. I honestly thought I would hardly be paddling at all. Nope, I can attest to the fact that there's a lot of paddling as my shoulders were sore the next day.

It was decided that I'd be wearing the helmet with the GoPro on it. I was not able to bring my reading glasses with me, so I would not be able to help L.T. turn the camera on or start the recording. This worked out pretty good. He's better at operating the camera than I am. When we got close to a rapid, I'd just lean over and he'd adjust the camera accordingly.

We started out on flat water. There are a series of rapids that are run spaced nicely apart. They are giving us a full-day tour, so they space them out nicely as well. The current is fairly consistent, so often we were floating along only having to paddle enough to keep us going in the right direction.

Each guide explains to us what is coming up. We learn the name of the rapid and how we're going to approach it. They explain how we'll go through and which direction to swim if we fall out of the raft. By the way, we are expected to hold onto our paddles if we capsize. As if! The paddles have a very hook-like end to them to allow for someone to grab it if it is handed to them, helping to pull people toward the raft. 

I'm not going to remember all the names of the rapids, although there is one in particular whose name I shall never forget. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We were approaching the first rapid and the guide gleefully asked us if we could hear it. Yes, a roar was getting louder and louder. When approaching a large rapid you honestly can't really see it. You just see a line where the water drops down. It all looks very safe, although it sounds scary.

I was scared to death going through the first set of rapids. I was hoping this feeling would dissipate as the day went on, but I think it got worse. That was mostly because of the next set of rapids. More foreshadowing here. Our directions when going through rapids was to sit part way on the rubber edge of the raft and part way on the seat. We should have one foot braced ahead of us, one tucked in closer. If things got really dicey they'd yell for us to "get down". In the middle of each row there was a ring with a short rope attached to it. For the first set of rapids I grabbed that rope, stopped paddling and ducked as low in the raft as I could. The rapids were in sets. Generally you go through a few at a time. 

After all rafts successfully made it through the first set of rapids, we all disembarked onto a small rocky island. It was right next to a category III+ rapid. First there was a photo shoot. Each group had their picture taken in front of the rapids. Guides studied the rapids and decided the path to take. The first two smaller rafts went first. Keegan was the first guide through. They flipped the boat. There's a Zodiac boat right there with a jet engine ready to help fish people out of the water. Yikes! I'm not going to like this.

Our guide, Katy was standing with us. I looked at her and she said to me "We shouldn't flip when we go through. We call those smaller rafts the flip trippers."

The second small raft went through. No problem.  The first large raft went through. No problem. The second large raft went through. No problem. Then it was our turn. Each raft had one guide on it. But for this set of rapids, the guides from the other rafts would run theirs through then come back and double up on the larger rafts. Our guide was Katy. Tommy joined us to help guide us through (cue the dramatic music) the rapid that is called Bus Eater. 

There are two rapids here, Bus Eater is the lower one. We made it through the first rapid and bobbed along towards the line in the river where it dropped and buses supposedly disappeared. Tommy was wedged in the front of the raft, his legs spread and jammed under the front row as he leaned out over the front to steer with his paddle. We went into the hole that is Bus Eater and the raft flipped up and over to the right. I was sitting on the right, L.T. on the left.

From what we can figure out, he was probably tossed high and to the left right into the worst of the water. He was surprised at how he felt his lifejacket wasn't very buoyant. He bobbed up quickly but was instantly washed over by a wave. He came up again, washed back down. And again a third time, finally staying out of the water and able to catch his breath.

I went under and felt like there was someone or something on top of me. I didn't feel like I could surface. My eyes were open, I could see it getting lighter and finally I bobbed up. I had swallowed a lot of water and started choking immediately. I made enough of a noise that the Zodiac came and got me first. Considering how loud these rapids are, I must have been making a lot of noise. Our instructions for getting back into the boat were to pull ourselves up and kick at the same time while the person hauled you in by your lifejacket shoulder straps. Yeah, I did none of that, I just let him haul me in like a rag doll as I choked on my hands and knees on the floor of the Zodiac once I landed.

L.T. also got hauled in. The guy pulling him into the boat just hoisted him in without him helping much either. What is your guess on whether I still had my paddle? If you guessed no, you'd be right. After they'd hauled a few other people onto the boat we went to shore. When I stepped onto the 45 degree angled large rocks, my legs were shaky. It took a while for me to settle down. L.T. was right behind me, both of us dripping. Honestly I don't even remember feeling if the water was cold, I was too busy trying to breathe. 

This was the lunch stop area. They've got a nice place set up with benches, an open building where they grill up hamburgers and sausages, and picnic tables. There's a large "washroom" with a couple of outhouse style toilets and a place to wash your hands.

There was a fire in the pit on the lower level, I sat near it on a bench while L.T. got me a hot chocolate. It was probably the worst one I've had in a long time but it felt good to have some hot liquid on my throat. We ate lunch and rested for a while before going out on the boats again. 

One of the guys on our boat lost his shoe in the big dump. Someone found it. All the paddles were rounded up as well. I was surprised. Before we had left we were instructed that no one could wear flip flops or shoes that had no backs (like Crocs). No sunglasses without ties. Nothing loose. They also recommended no jewelry. 

Keegan came around to each picnic table to ask how we were doing during lunch. I was surprised to find out that his main guiding gig is in New Zealand. He's originally from Canada, but spends more time guiding down under. The clientele is predominantly German and their rivers are mostly gorges. I can't imagine having stone cliffs along the edge of the water. I like the Ottawa River's sandy shores. 

After lunch we got back into the rafts and headed out for some more rapids. I would have been fine walking back to the headquarters instead. There were three more sets of rapids. On the second-last one, another Category III+ we "surfed" at the bottom for a while. We would make a foray in from the bottom into the lowest rapid, the front of the raft would fill with water, then it would spin and go over some smaller waves. We did this about 5 or 6 times. Honestly it's probably a time filler as well. I know from previously working in the tourism industry if people pay for a full day trip, they don't want to be brought home early. At the end of the last rapid Katy told us we could jump into the water and hold onto the "chicken line", a rope running along the side of the raft. A couple jumped in right away, a few others followed. I had already had my fill of water, I was happy to sit and watch them float. L.T. didn't jump in either. But he was nice enough to help some of the others get back into the raft when they were done.

A couple of the guides have started their own nearby microbrewery so once we finally got out of the rafts, there's a spot with a fire pit, some benches and everyone can have a small plastic cup of beer that they have on tap. There's also water and "juice". We walked up the hill to a spot where the bus showed up to pick us up and drive us back to the headquarters.

They already have a finished, edited version of our adventure ready to show us in the amphitheatre. They have some regular content they put on the front, then each of our rafts are shown going through, you guessed it, Bus Eater. So we got to see how our raft went into the hole and was flung up and over to the right. It was fascinating and humiliating all at the same time. We didn't buy the video. We didn't even ask how much it was.

We changed into dry clothes and made our way home. L.T. immediately downloaded the videos from the GoPro and we watched them on his computer. It was funny, on the Bus Eater section, he just grabbed it and it was stopped on a frame that was just water and bubbles. I think I'll make it my new Facebook profile picture. 

Here's an edited version of the trip through Bus Eater.

My review? Well as this is my only experience with a rafting company, and it's not an activity that I would choose to go on my own, it gets a pretty good rating. Their headquarters area is nice, they have everything you need, it seems like most things are recent builds, it's clean and has a nice spot along the river. The staff are great, especially that guy that drives the Zodiac and pulled me out of the river, he's SUPER. I never did get his name. The equipment was good, nothing was broken, which I'm sure happens a lot in this industry. L.T. didn't think his lifejacket was buoyant enough but it was up against Bus Eater (seriously, google it, I'm not making up that name).

The food and drink supplied were okay, very basic. The drinks could have been better. There were just large round cooler jugs with water and some sort of powdered juice mix. Man, I could have used a Coke after that dump in the water! There was nothing to buy at the lunch stop, nor should there really be. I could get one at the end if I really needed it. The fixings for the hamburgers and sausages were fresh and cleanly presented. I understand that having fancy lunches is a big expense and foodies shouldn't expect to get a 5-star lunch on a rafting tour. I almost felt like I was going to toss mine at times as it was.

Katy came around to everyone at the lunch stop and offer us a cookie from a tray. They were not homemade, but I ate two anyways.

Would I go again? Probably not, but I'm very glad I did take this opportunity to face one of my fears. And I never once mentioned it to anyone that I'd previously had a canoeing mishap that was causing my nervousness today. I would recommend this tour to anyone interested in trying rafting. I think it would be a great team building exercise. As long as everyone was onboard with it (har har).

Here is the whole video including the Bus Eater section:


Wildlife seen today: a big snapping turtle was hanging out just before we set off in the morning. Someone pointed out a bird flying saying it was an eagle, but it was an osprey (Katy corrected them). Shortly after that we did see an eagle. I saw a few herons flying overhead, but I didn't bother pointing them out to anyone, everyone was focused on the river.

The following video is one I found on Google that shows Bus Eater starting from the angle we had when we watched other people going through it from the island.