Monday, 5 October 2015

Camping Adventures

I have never ever in my life been on a canoe trip. I've also never been to Algonquin. I've paddled a few canoes around a few lakes, but I've never packed all my stuff into a backpack, and headed off for a back-country camping adventure.

The idea may have come up after a few drinks. "Let's take a camping trip this October!" My co-conspirator at that time (Jess) jumped on the camping bandwagon, and a camping trip was born. We recruited a few others - my dear friend Kelly, and Marine, our helper from France who is staying with us right now.

We hit the road all chipper and excited on Friday morning. We had a great drive up to the park, beautiful colours starting to show in the trees. There was loud music, and singing. (At least in our car there was.) We arrived at Canoe Lake in Algonquin mid afternoon, and pushed off into the water shortly after.

Truth be told, I had been feeling a little bit anxious all day. A little bit of nervousness, combined with a bit of a nagging anxiety in the pit of my stomach. But the canoe trip must go on, right? So away we went.
Smiling and ready to roll!
Doesn't look so windy from here, but trust me...
It was a sunny but windy afternoon, and we were paddling in some pretty decent winds. After maybe 30-40 minutes of paddling (time had no meaning) we decided to "pull over" at a dock (at Cook Island, near as I can figure?) to catch our breath and gather our strength. (The hardcore paddlers are laughing right now, that we had to pull over that soon!) The paddle ahead crossing the second half of canoe lake was looking to be a doozy, with some pretty high winds and waves up ahead.

We had a good rest and headed back out. Luckily, we were only about 200 meters away from the dock, headed back across Canoe Lake, when we got into trouble. Our boat got turned into the wind and we were having trouble controlling it. One second we were thinking "holy shit, this is bad" and the next instant we were in the water, along with our upside down boat and all our gear.

The first thing I did when we hit the water was to flip the boat back over. Fortunately I managed to get it over, and scoop up all our gear with it, because only a minimal amount of it was actually attached to the boat. We managed to only lose a pair of sunglasses off my head, and a pair of paddling gloves, and some *ahem* other paraphernalia.  Miraculously, that was all we lost!  With a righted boat, we started to kick our way back to shore, dragging a very full boat of water along with us.  At the best of times this would be difficult. It's extra doubly dumb when you're wearing rubber boots!! 

We're "kicking" back, when out of nowhere appeared some dude, who we dubbed "Survivor Man."  He threw us a rope and somehow paddled himself and his boat AND our boat and us back to the shore, where he helped us get it and all of our drenched gear out of the water. He flipped the boat to empty all of the water out of it, and then disappeared into the lake again, after making sure we were all ok. Like some sorta loch-nessy Superhero.

By this time, Jess and Marine had turned around to come back to us.  We all gathered on the dock. As you may guess, the lake is a little less than temperate this time of year. I wasn't cold until I got OUT of the water and stood around in wet clothes. And then I was cold. Like mothertrucking cold. And wet.

Yup, Kelly and I were wet...about as wet as someone could be. EVERYTHING was soaked. None of our stuff was in wetbags (a mistake I'll never make again!) save for my sleeping bag, and everything was saturated to the core. We managed to change out of some of our wet things into extra stuff that Jess had, and we agreed that our canoe trip was over, at least for the night. We'd head back towards Huntsville, find a place to sleep and dry out for the night, and try again in the morning.
See you tomorrow, Canoe Lake
Back on dry land, wearing all of Jessica's (slightly too small clothes)
A few hours later, after stopping at about a dozen hotels, and calling another dozen, we were starting to feel pretty down. Not a room in sight anywhere (tourist season is still in full swing in the area, thanks to the fall colours) and we were cold, still wet, and hungry. Hangry. We decided to pull over into an empty parking lot and dig into our food barrel. Roadside quiche and pepperettes - dinner of champions! On a whim, I widened the search feature on my phone and I made one more phone call to a little resort about 20 minutes south of Huntsville, and all of a sudden, we had a place to sleep for the night. They had two cabins available - one with a hot tub, one without.  In my damp cranky state, no longer caring about the cost ($300 for a room for the night!) I chose hot tub. Best decision I made all day! 

Our Safe Haven for the night.
So Beauview Resort, on Portage Road, 20 minutes south of Huntsville - I can't recommend them highly enough! Our hosts (Gord and Nancy) went above and beyond for us - staying up late to run all of our sopping wet clothes through a spin cycle and then through the dryer, and delivering baskets of warm dry clothes to us. Like a little angel from heaven! ;) The cabin was warm and cozy with a roaring (propane) fire, three beds, and a living room. We unpacked EVERY. THING. All wet. From the clothes to the library books, to my new journal (sniff!) and everything in between. The only thing of mine that stayed dry was my phone (in a wetbag) and my rabbit fur that I brought to sit on.  Ha, our ancestors were onto something! And then we went about getting warm.

We spent a good two hours (or more?) in the hot tub, warming back up, and quickly working our way through all the booze we brought! But all in all it was a pretty amazing end to the day.

In the morning, after the perfect breakfast of greasy sausages and potatoes, we decided to head back towards Algonquin (after a trip into town for more booze and new sunglasses) and see if we could find a place to camp for the night, no canoeing involved!

About 5 kilometers before the park gate, traffic slowed to a crawl. We spent about 40 minutes in ridiculously slow traffic, only to find that it was just a backup of folks trying to get into the main park office to get day permits. What a zoo!!  When we finally got past the park gate we were thrilled, since we thought maybe this backup lasted for a while. Back up to speed and only a few kilometers from Canoe lake again, where we were going to stop to return some towels that some other kindly strangers had lent us, and see about a site for the night.

That's when the second tragedy struck. I still can't believe it happened, and I'm still flabbergasted that no one got hurt. It all happened in an instant - there was a few cracking noises, large "whoosh" sound, and all of a sudden our canoe was on the highway behind us, instead of on top of the car where it was supposed to be. The cross brace that the straps were attached to, that was anchoring the canoe to the car, had given way and come right off the canoe.  The wind grabbed the canoe from the front, flipped it end over end, it landed on the highway, rolled once, and landed on the shoulder of the road. A flipping miracle that no one was close behind us.

We all agreed right then and there that our camping trip was done. Over. The universe was trying to tell us that it was time to go home. Except we had one problem...the anchor point to attach the canoe to the front of the car was lying on the side of the highway, with two broken straps attached to it.

Bloody hell.

Thank god, again, for good samaritans. This time, an older couple, Art and his wife, pulled over to help us re-attach the canoe to the car. We were down a few straps, but we had a ton of yellow rope that we tied around the belly of the canoe. Marine managed to gather all the missing pieces of the canoe - the busted gunnels from both sides, the cross brace, the foam blocks, everything. We got the canoe safely attached to the car and turned around to head (slowly) home.

Art, our roadside guardian angel

Back at home with Simon's poor canoe...we found out afterwards that this happened to the other end of the canoe as well - screws from the gunnels pulled right though the Kevlar.
Sunroof open, hanging onto the canoe for dear life, and still smiling!
We found out when we got home yesterday that there was a fatal accident just past where we lost the canoe, shortly after we went through (we saw the ambulances zoom by when we stopped for a little lunch on our way home)  I'd like to think that maybe our canoe tragedy saved us from something more serious. Let's go with that.

I spent the day yesterday recovering. A little bit worse for wear, but I slowly came back to life as the day wore on. A walk in the Mingay helped recover some of my spirits.

I think we'll wait until next year to try this again (but try again I will.)

Lessons learned:
-Wetbags are worth the investment. Not just for your phone...for your everything!
-The water in Algonquin is not as cold as I thought it might be at this time of year....but I still wouldn't recommend it.
-Rubber boots suck for swimming in.
-$300 is MORE THAN worth it for a dry warm room with a hot tub.
-Kindness from strangers is some of the best sort of kindness.
-A strap around the belly of a canoe is ALWAYS a good idea, no matter what anyone says.
-Kawartha Dairy Mocha Madness Ice Cream has GLUTEN in it (is nothing sacred??)
-A mickey of Maple Whiskey is NOT enough for a canoe trip, next time bring the whole bottle.
-The trip is less about the destination and more about the journey, and adventure comes in all kinds of forms.
-My friends are awesome (but I already knew that!)

Thanks for the adventures, friends, and Algonquin Park. I'll be back...I'll conquer you yet!!

Please feel free (if you dare) to sign up for next year's trip below!  ;) 

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