Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Roof Rack Dilemma

There are many milestones in a canoeist life - such as paddling for the first time, purchasing your own canoe, surviving your first rapid or making love in a canoe (still working on that one). But sometimes it extends beyond the usual stuff, such as buying a new vehicle. You're probably saying, "What!?" Well, if your life centers around canoeing (ahem,...I meant after my significant other), you have to ensure that everything around you has to align itself to further your goal of paddling. Hence when I was looking to replace my "adequate" Ford Escort, I had to think and choose carefully about the next canoe vehicle.

My Ford Escort did an admirable job of carrying my
canoe, but it was time to replace her. Never
mind the snow, - don't ask!

So I am thrilled to recently become the owner of a new vehicle, a 2009 Toyota Matrix. She's a beauty, but lots of consideration went into picking the right vehicle for my needs. Marylou already has a Honda CRV as most of you know, so it doesn't make sense to purchase another truck-like vehicle. As much as I drool over the Toyota Tacoma and would love to own one, the reality is that its not practical for many reasons. First off, we both don't need canoe-carrying 4x4 vehicles. Secondly, the huge increase in fuel cost had us thinking about its implications - considering the dozen or more trips we go on per year. So really, we needed a more compact fuel efficient tripping vehicle for the majority of paddleable areas with road friendly access. Some other considerations included things like ample space for gear and road clearance, but the most important was its ability to transport a canoe. That's where the problem comes in.

Wondering what to do? - a brand new 2009 Toyota Matrix
with no prospects of a roof rack!

Considering Canada is regarded as the "canoe-capital" of the world, you'd think canoe related gear/accessories would be available left, right, and center. Well unfortunately, its not. Don't get me wrong, we have stuff, but its not like we have a dozen or so to chose from. So when it came to my car purchase, I naturally considered a roof rack and thought I'd have lots to choose from. Wrong! There are tons of roof related-stuff for bikes, kayaks, and carriers, but they haven't put much thought towards the humble canoe, let alone a simple sturdy elevated roof rack! Am I asking for too much?!

I really wanted stock roof racks, but car companies barely offer any that are suitable for a canoe. Let me rephrase that, they are available, but you'd have to dish out a lot more money for those vehicles, or particular models just for a suitable roof rack. (not in my budget!) So I'm stuck with ones that are either too flimsy, not the right size, or barely able to hold much weight. I believe roof racks today are more cosmetic features to spruce a car's appearance rather being the utilitarian devices that they are supposed to be. Even Subaru with their notable 4x4 drive trains - particularly the Impreza model, which is somewhat similar to the Matrix in shape, doesn't come stock with roof racks anymore! (what market are these cars made for?!!)

No fuzzy dice in this vehicle - appropriate
paraphernalia for a canoeist vehicle!

I didn't purchase the stock roof racks from Toyota as it was very short lengthwise (?!!!), low clearance from the roof, and not very wide. (37-38" across - barely wide enough for my Nova Craft Prospector!) So I decided to check out Yakima and Thule, the foremost names in roof racks and related contraptions. Well as it stands, both provide only clip-on towers for the cross members which basically latch onto the top of the window sill. The problem with these is that over time and use, they gradually scratch the paint off the roof. I've seen cars with rust all around the clips/pads, as well, my sister-in-law's vehicle has the tell-tale scrape marks on her Protege5. They only trip a couple times per year, so imagine - I would have the equivalent amount of markings in one year that they would have in six! Foam blocks won't work as the rear spoiler makes contact with the canoe (haven't tried the Pal yet), but the straps also rub the sides of the roof and will abraid through the paint. (realized from previous experience) Dilemma, dilemma.

Recently, I spoke to a company well known for specializing in roof racks. They told me if I don't get the usual ones that clip on to the side of the roof, the only other option is to get a custom job. This entails laying down 2 tracks along either sides of the roof and then have towers installed which will hold the actual rack. All said and done, the job including the parts would put me out roughly $500-600. Not cheap. The one other thing that is a major issue concerns the warranty of the vehicle. Since I would be altering the exterior of the roof, I would most likely void the manufacturer warranty on the vehicle. Great, so I'm back to square one! It seems to be a case of one step forward, two steps back. Who would have guessed?! I never knew I would have so much issues!

Is it a little obvious that I own a Nova Craft canoe?

As it stands, I've decided to hold off and do nothing. For now we've decided to use the truck exclusively on canoe trips and my vehicle for everything else. Its obviously frustrating, but I don't like the options I have so far. Maybe I'll change my mind later on, but for now I will give it some time and more thought before doing anything. So much for this paddler's "milestone"! If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, please email me! I'm all ears! Thanks for hearing me out!


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Shirtless In November!

Talk about hot! (no not me!!) Hey, at least
I kept my pants on!

Well, the weather certainly did deliver! It was hot! My clothes were too warm! (at least for the first half of the trip) I don't normally paddle with my shirt off, but I had no choice. I didn't have a t-shirt or anything light, so it was either sweat profusely, or just take it off. I have to say, it was a first, - for November. And of course, the weather also promised rain, which it certainly delivered - lots of it! (memories of the summer) The trip itself was filled with surprises and many interesting twists - many which could have gone the wrong way. I'm just glad to be home safe and sound. Here's a hint: Just imagine what you can get yourself into when you miss a portage that bypasses a long canyon filled with falls, chutes, and rapids. Trust me!, I know!
Time to get writing!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Opportunity Not to be Wasted!

With this wave of unseasonal warm temperatures it was hard not to think about canoeing. Its smells and feels of spring as the temperature gets up in the high teens during the day! Its really evident outside as people are not wearing jackets. (I even saw skin!,...t-shirts and short skirts!) So in the interest of utilizing the weather to its best potential, I decided to do the only thing that was right. Yes, it was a hard decision, but I will put my best "paddle" forward and head out! This time, I'm headed to the Magnetwan river to do a short loop starting from Harris lake. Even though I've been to the Magnetawan river before, this is a section that I haven't paddled through. And no, the four days that I'm out will not be all sun and warm temperatures. As it's forecasted for now, after the first day the temperature is steadily going to drop, as well as rain continually. (so why am I going?!) Because I love canoeing and the long portages on the last 2 days, will guarantee that I stay warm!
Be in touch soon!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Back Home

Its nice to come back to a warm house, hot food, and a comfortable bed. Not that I didn't enjoy the trip or expected the conditions 'out there' to be totally hospitable, but it was certainly more than I expected, - at least the snowing part! I heard that we had some snow yesterday in Toronto - (looking back and forth)....um,...really, I believe you! What would you do if you woke up one morning and looked out the tent and saw this?

I just had to laugh. (then moan!) Despite this, I had a 'fun' solo outing in Haliburton, paddling the Herb and Gun lake areas. Lots happened, - like partially falling in the lake and almost losing the canoe, nailing myself with a tree, and the wolf sighting! More to come later. Oh, by the way, the day before I left for my canoe trip, Marylou went on a 4 day safari. I told her to take a lot of pictures and to remember that the big cats there don't behave like her own back home. Since I also told her the temperature was going to be much colder on my outing, her reply back to me was to take pictures of the penquins! The conditions were perfect as you can see, but those penquins had me stumped! :) Its back to work tomorrow! (sigh!) D

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Heading Out

Its been awhile since my last canoe trip in the middle September so I'm really itching to go again. It was also the last outing with Marylou before she left for Africa, so its weird heading out and knowing she won't be here when I get back. (sniff, sniff,.....uh,..yeah, allergies!) So I'm heading out to the Haliburton/Leslie Frost area for a 5 day solo to get some R&R. Its been hectic since Marylou left so it will be nice to unwind a bit. (unwinding in possible snowy conditions?!....maybe not exactly but,...oh well) Last minute I found that some friends are headed up in the same area for an overnighter, so I'll have some company for 2 days before they head back. Otherwise, its me, the canoe and nature. Thanks everyone for the emails and your support. I'll be in touch when I get back! Cheers!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The New Baby

Nova Craft Pal - she's a beauty!

Most of you have now seen the inconspicuous yellow Nova Craft canoe in a few pictures and are probably wondering, "What's he paddling?" Isn't she pretty? Yes, its the canoe I helped build over the winter at Nova Craft's facility in London. (some of the perks of being an Ambassador which I'm truly grateful for!) I took stock of it a little late in the season because they were in the mist of redesigning their thunderbird logo, but it was worth the wait. The timing couldn't have been better as we picked it up at the beginning of July when our trip near Lake Superior didn't work out and our back-up trip didn't require the Royalex Prospector anymore. (that story is still coming) Anyhow, she is a 16 foot Kevlar/Spectra Nova Craft Pal with ash trim and a custom yellow gel coat. (Note: The Pal, originally built by the Chestnut Canoe Company was also one of Bill Mason's favourite canoe and used frequently in his filming.)

Against the green foliage, the canoe really stands out!

In comparison to our 16 ft Nova Craft Prospector, the Pal has very little rocker, is 2" narrower and has 2" less depth. The bottoms on both have shallow arches but the Pal is considerably lighter than our Royalex Prospector - 49lbs compared to 74lbs due to the difference in material. So now to the question everyone is asking, "How does she paddle?" Well, so far she paddles great! That being said, I've commented below on how she paddles under some circumstances.

Spending quality time with the Pal

Paddling tandem on flatwater she moves quick and tracks pretty straight. Marylou and I can easily paddle 6-7 km's per hour, even with moderate wind and waves. The speed comes handy on big lake crossings. (or beating another canoe to a campsite! - not that I would do that!) We haven't paddled tandem on rapids other than some swifts and C1's, mainly because its not a whitewater canoe, nor is the material really appropriate for big rapids. On the other hand, when we paddled a very twisty section of the Amable du Fond river this year, the lack of rocker meant it didn't turn as quick as the Prospector. That would obviously apply to rapids as well when you need to turn on a dime. Paddling solo on flatwater Canadian style was a pleasure as it is very responsive and easy to move. I think the Prospector spins a little easier due to the wider center beam and more rocker (less water contact) but it wasn't too noticeable. I'll have more to say on this when I go solo tripping later on. For the most part, we've been really happy with how she moves through the water.

The portage may be long and steep, but she's even a
pleasure to carry!

The one thing that was very noticeable to us was how much less space/volume we had in the canoe. When we put Marylou's big Wabakimi pack in the canoe, it barely fit in! (for a 10 day trip) Due to less depth, our packs rode higher above the gunwale, which included our knees when we were sitting on the seats. (and we are both short!). It took a little while getting use to, but really, it hasn't been detrimental in any way. Well, except maybe when we paddled in really choppy water and the waves came over the gunwales more frequently, but other than that, she is a real joy to paddle. The more I paddle her, the more its becoming a 'pal' of mine. (I know, corny!)

Tracking up a shallow creek to protect her gelcoat

Lastly, hands down the Pal is asthetically much nicer to look at with its ash trim, shiny gelcoat and its beautiful lines. It certainly makes me want to keep it looking new, but we've already got 'character scars' due to some of our routes, paddling conditions and portages. The only canoes I know that are flawless are the ones on a rack not being paddled, but I can guarantee that this will not be one of them! Oh, one last thing. The difference in weight compared to the Royalex Prospector was like night and day, especially for portaging. This came in real handy on a trip in Algonquin when I carried over 48 portages spanning 30kms this summer. Now that was a major improvement!

Posing with my Pal

All in all, I am quite pleased with this canoe and really enjoy paddling it. I would definitely recommend this canoe as a great flatwater tripper on moderate length trips for tandem and solo paddlers. If you get a chance, I would definitely recommend paddling one, and if you are in the market for a flatwater canoe, keep this one in mind! They didn't call it a 'Pal' for nothing!
Cheers! D

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I'm Back!!

Paddling a Nova Craft Pal down a rapid on the Ottawa
river,...and surviving!

It's been quite the summer this year with so many things going on. I can't really complain as I've gotten in some decent canoe trips, but it wasn't the spectacular season I had originally planned. There was lots going on besides canoe trips that spanned the gamut of emotions for me, but despite all the highs and lows, things have worked out. There's lots to share and write about as I'm home more now since the canoeing season has slowed down. So stay tunned for some new posts! (finally!!) Hope everyone had a great summer and got lots of paddling in!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Well Wishes to Jim and Ted Baird!

Brothers Ted and Jim Baird - second and third from the left respectively.
This picture is from a spring run on the Credit river.

Just a small note to our friends Jim and Ted Baird.

They are well under way on their canoe expedition to Victoria Island to paddle the remote Kuujjua river for the next 3 weeks. Victoria Island is north of mainland Nunavut and is also part of the Northwest Territories. This trip is extreme in almost every manner possible such as the weather (it is located above the Artic circle), wildlife (polar bears), remoteness, and cost!

We would like to wish them all the best in their journey- especially their well-being and safety.

Looking forward to hearing their story and the accompanying pictures/videos when they get back! Here's a link to their website where you'll find more info on their trip as well as a radio interview: http://www.canoebeyond.com/

Here's is another link to their expedition on Kokotat's website: http://www.kokatat.com/expeditions.asp - Kokotat is a premiere manufacturer of watersport products which Jim was able to secure as a sponsor. Congrats guys!

Godspeed my friends!

Ben & Imroze's Honeymoon Trip Update!

One of the best investment in backcountry gear: the Eureka VCS shelter!
Just ask Ben and Imroze!

After my previous post regarding the wedding gift to Ben and Imroze for their honeymoon trip, you know I couldn't just leave it hanging like that. I had to do a follow-up! (I'm starting to feel like a journalist!) They called me just before they got home from their trip to report that everything went well, (well almost) and that they had a great time together. (of course they did! - it was a honeymoon!!) Lastly, they stated that the bug shelter was a godsend and that they were completely thrilled with it! Our conversation was brief, so I invited them over the following week to hear their story.

When the bugs are bad outside, being inside the shelter
is sure to bring a smile!

Several nights ago, Ben and Imroze came over to my place to share stories and pictures of their honeymoon in Temagami. We had a great time together. After chowing down on some good 'ol chili Marylou had cooked up, they gave details of their adventure in the bush over a few beers. They shared moments of hardship, how they overcame challenges, times they worked together as a team, when they laughed uncontrollably, and made unforgettable memories. All hallmarks of a great canoe trip, but more importantly, the building stones of a successful marriage. I know I'm going off on a tangent, but as I see it, if they can get through a challenging canoe trip like this together, (especially being their first) they have a great future ahead of them.

The honeymoon had a few hiccups - Ben splitting his hand
when the axe kicked back. His hand is ok, but he left
a few pictographs at the campsite!

So the big question was, "Did the bug shelter save your honeymoon?" They both agreed that the bug tent was pivotal in making their honeymoon great. In Imroze's own words, it wasn't the tough portages, the long paddles, or battling wind and waves, (or even Ben! lol!) but being unprepared for the bugs that could have made the honeymoon a disaster. I can't say they weren't prepared, but I can definitely say they were much better off with the bug shelter. Especially on the first day when they flew into Katherine lake, they said the black flies were insane! The bugs were so bad that poor Igloo's eyes (Ben and Imroze's West Highland Terrier) were swelling shut due to the innumerable bites around her eyes!

Igloo finding respite from the bugs - even she appreciated
the bug shelter!

Ultimately, Ben and Imroze's honeymoon trip was a success for many other reasons, irregardless of the bug shelter. They got to experience a floatplane for the first time, see some of the most beautiful scenery in Temagami, dined on some amazing food including fish they caught, climbed to the second highest point in Ontario, and even had a friendly boater offer them beer in the middle of their trip! But most importantly, they got to spend quality time together in the wild open spaces that they love. Not everyone can relate and see the logic in spending a honeymoon in the bush, as some (okay, most) would prefer being at a resort sipping Pina Colata's, but I totally understand. Yeah, the hum of the mosquitoes outside the bug tent may be slightly annoying, but the peace, solitude, and beauty of the wilderness is a honeymoon paradise unmatched by many. That, I can vouch for!,....well, minus the honeymoon.

Ben and Imroze having a moment at Centre Falls. A picture of the same
place was the catalyst that first convinced Imroze to come here.

PS. Thrilled that Imroze thoroughly enjoyed her first canoe trip, Marylou and I are excited about taking a trip together with them! The summer is short, but we'll try and squeeze something in. Fingers crossed!

Igloo: "I hate bugs!"

All photos in this post are courtesy of Ben and Imroze Albert.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Gift to Save a Honeymoon in Temagami

Congratulations to Ben and Imroze! We look forward
to our first trip together with them!

That's exactly what I was thinking about while Marylou and I were on our trip on the Obabika river in Temagami. Our good friends Ben and Imroze were going to be married 3 days after we got back and we still had to purchase their wedding gift. Its not that we left it for last minute, as Marylou and I had already planned on purchasing them nice matching PFD's. The problem arose when Ben unintentionally emailed me for advice on selecting a nice life jacket for Imroze and then actually went out and bought it! Okay, plan B! (ah, Marylou what was plan B??!!)

You see, Ben and Imroze planned to take their honeymoon in Temagami on a canoe trip. (my kind of thing!) I may have had a little to do with it when I shared pictures of our multi-week trip with them from last year and Imroze was mesmerized by the picture of Centre Falls on the Lady Evelyn river. Its funny how things can change. The honeymoon was always going to be a canoe trip, but Imroze stipulated at least a roof, aka a cabin. However, sometimes its just those small things (like my picture!) that can bring a sudden change. Hence, a canoe trip to one of the most beautiful and rugged places in Ontario was set in motion.

Ben is an experienced canoe tripper and is as passionate about paddling as I am. Imroze's experience on the other hand is more limited. She has experienced outdoor day trips hiking and canoeing, but has never gone on an overnight trip. Therefore this honeymoon was not only about consummating their marriage, but experiencing and igniting a true passion for the wilderness while paddling together in the wilds of Temagami. So what's the problem?

Well, the wilderness does not play favourites and is non-negotiable in its raw state. Therefore, as beautiful and wonderful as things can seem, it can change at a moments notice. Our most recent trip totally demonstrated that. Fluctuating temperatures going from an oppressive humid heat to a hypothermic chill, extreme weather fronts that brought wind, waves, and torrential rains in minutes, and not least, extremely annoying bugs - black flies, mosquitoes, deer flies, etc. It was the last one we were most concerned about. Its not like the bug situation was out of control, as we have seen worse, but they were relatively bad. (see previous post) For experienced trippers like ourselves, its no problem, but put a newbie in the same situation and it could be disastrous.

As always, being prepared can mean the difference between enjoyment and misery. And make no mistake, Ben was prepared. He bought a bug shirt for Imroze and lots of bug spray. However, with the cost of the wedding and the recent purchase of some expensive but excellent and comfortable canoe gear (do I hear Ostrom?) they were well expensed out. So when Maryou and I were comfortably relaxing inside our Eureka VCS bug shelter, I had an "eureka!" moment and suggested purchasing one of these for Ben and Imroze. With a resounding "yes!", I knew it was going to be the best gift! (okay, maybe second to the 42" LCD tv) I couldn't have thought of any better canoe related gift then this one, especially considering the circumstances. Sitting around the camp fire covered in a bug shirt or reeking of DEET just doesn't seem as romantic as being comfortably clothed (or unclothed!) bugfree in the shelter! (okay, okay, minus the campfire, but you can have candles!)

So as planned, we were able to purchase the shelter in time for the wedding. Unfortunately, the day before the wedding I had spoil the surprise and reveal to Ben what his gift was. I had to tell him to make sure there was going to be space for it in his pack as they were leaving early the next morning. Needless to say, he was estatic! (yes!) The rest was history! So did our gift save their honeymoon?, only time will tell. But I'm sure it will make it much more memorable!

After Thought: I forgot, Marylou and I also gave them a care package of essential outdoor items as well. One being natural bug spray (it actually works!) to look after the "sensitive" areas when nature calls. As you all know, bugs are ruthless and they spare no spots un-protected! Trust me, I know!, I couldn't even swat the darn thing!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Trip that Didn't Happen

To some that know me, it's hard to fathom how I could miss a canoe trip! To others, its just grief to know that my priorities center around canoeing. So how did dates that were set for a canoe trip end up being another work week?!!!

Jun 8-12 was set aside for a 6 day canoe trip. At least I thought! It had been about a month since my last trip, (I know what you're thinking! - big deal!) which is almost an eternity for a paddler during prime canoeing season! So as you see, I was way overdue for another trip. Lots happened during the month I was away from water which was totally warranted, but it was time to get back to business!

Black flies swarming inside the fly - Chapleau-
Nemegosenda River trip

Well as the date approached, we slowly started getting ready. 'We' meaning Marylou and I. I was checking out routes, preparing equipment, looking over our stash of food, while Marylou was listening to "bug propaganda" from the media and friends. While I will totally agreed that this time of year is certainly prime time for bugs, I was, pardon the pun,..bugged.

Marylou had heard reports that the bugs were "the worst its been in years", "record number of larvae hatchings", "bumper crop of bugs due to the long winter and wet spring", etc, etc, etc. There was no shortage of hype surrounding bugs. I even heard it myself as well! What did I think?, - "Oh well, I guess I'll be getting a few more bites this year!". Normally, it is cause for some justifiable concern, but we were prepared. We have bug shirts that that been well tested (mesh slightly torn), a bug shelter (best invention ever!), bug dope (natural & Deet), and a good sense of humor! (or is it tolerance?!) That's why I couldn't understand her anxiety, as she has dealt with very bad conditions before. Did she think it was worse?

If there are bugs, don't leave home without it! - a bug shelter
such as the Eureka VCS can make life so much
more enjoyable in the bush

My problem with all this information is validating it. Bugs numbers are dependant on many environmental conditions and circumstances that even in the same approximate location, the number of bugs can differ greatly. A good example is comparing the bugs on a portage trail opposed to being out on the water 30 feet from shore. Maybe one lake has a bumper crop of dragonflies or a multitude of insect eating birds which quickly decimates the local bug population. And then look as the people reporting the 'conditions'. Media from the city reporting in cottage country - they would be terrorized by low bug conditions let alone normal bug conditions! Or even the weekend cottager who decides to open the place up, only to find they inadvertently went at the peek bug hatching week and experiences more that the usual number. Not to say that all information provided is questionable, because it's not, but it all has to be taken with a grain of salt. Even from one person to the next, it can greatly differ how people cope with bugs, so 'information' is all relative.

Now I will admit, I don't like biting bugs very much either. (who really does?!) If there was no reasonable way to cope with them, maybe I would have some hesitations about heading out in the bush in prime bug season as well. But we do, so nothing is going to stop me from paddling and experiencing things that are exclusive to this time of year. Would you want to miss high water levels for whitewater paddling, beautiful blossoming spring flowers, sightings of juvenile wildlife, and exclusivity in popular parks? Nope, not me!

Even I will admit getting bitten by bugs isn't fun!

Anyhow, we didn't go due to Marylou's real concern. Of course I was disappointed and questioned the logic, but I didn't want to push either. Especially since if the reports were true and we did end up going, she would be miserable. And that means I would probably be just as miserable too! Remember, humor is one of the things needed to deal with bugs, so trust me, if Marylou wasn't sharing my 'humor', I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be the bugs that would have been my demise. I also contemplated going solo, but since the decision was so last minute, I just gave in as well and decided to go back to work. Besides, I will have to say, it is much easier to deal with bugs with someone else, probably because you have someone else to share in your misery, but it could also be because they have someone else to bite other that you!

In the end, as much as I would have loved to go, I'm just happy I was able to go back to work and save the vacation time for later. Marylou ended up staying home and catching up on some rest and looking after all the odds and ends that needed to be looked after.

What's Next? Well really, this wasn't a trip, so it somewhat doesn't apply. However there is a next! Since we didn't go to Temagami, we are going there for 5 days to paddle the Obabika river in a couple weeks. Trust me, Marylou is not going to squeak out of this one!

Post Note: Well, we just got back from the Obabika river trip just recently. On our way up, we stopped at the Swift/Tracs Outfitter to pick up the gloves that I left there from the South River trip. (thanks Bernice!) During our brief chat, I had to ask how the bugs were. The owner reported that mosquitoes were more numerous in the morning and evenings (normal), but that the black flies weren't too bad this year. Her statement was all that was needed to quell Marylou's doubts, questions and fears. And you know, I couldn't resist saying, "I told you so!" Needless to say, it was a lesson well learned, with hardly a squeak from me. (okay, a little) I have now brought Marylou back to the "dark side" and have shown her the way! Bugs or no bugs, here we come! Just be prepared!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

French-Pickerel River Loop May 8-11 08

Finger Islands: Holding their pose for a photo, both are pretty
well matched, but my money is on Marylou to budge first!

Thank goodness for the warm sunny day when we got back from our last trip. We quickly took advantage of the weather and got most of the gear dried that same night. The rest,...well, it had more than double the time (4 days instead of 2) to dry out before the next trip! Still not much time to dry, clean, and repack, but we'll take it! (if you haven't figured it out by now, "wet gear" means way too much work!)

On this trip, we decided to head to one of my favourite places to paddle, the French river. I wanted Marylou to see and experience some areas that I had paddled through last year along the Main Channel, but I also wanted to paddle the Pickerel river, an area that seems to be underused by canoeists. The plan was to start at Hartley Bay and head south on the French river to Georgian Bay and then paddle back upstream along the Pickerel river. Normally, the Pickerel river gets very shallow and challenging to navigate during the summer, so we took advantage of the high water levels to guarantee our passage through there.

I don't paint, but if I can capture the scene at the right
moment, Mother Nature's rendition is perfect!

Unfortunately, we left Toronto very late due to a last minute chiropractic appointment for Marylou. It was frustrating as the earliest time was almost at noon! (the chiropractor came in early - imagine that!) Marylou needed an 'adjustment' like I needed a canoe trip! I guess we all need some form of therapy, except 'mine' was going to be late! ; ) After picking up lunch we headed north and soon arrived at the familiar docks at 1545.

Knowing that we were leaving late and not going to have too much time to paddle, I scanned the map and decided to head to Sturgeon Chutes to camp for the first night. It was somewhat out of the way, but it sounded interesting and I wanted to see what was there. We paddled west along Hartley Bay, but instead of turning south on Wanapitei Bay, we continued west through a narrow channel to Wanapitei river and then turned north to Sturgeon Chutes. At first, paddling along the narrow stretch was a cause for some concern - flooded grassy banks without any real shoreline as the bare trees were underwater. The sight was dreary and uninviting. At times there was the odd outcropping of granite and pines that resembled the usual look of the French river, but that was it. Heading north on the Wanapitei river produced more of the same bleak landscape. Was our campsite going to be underwater?! As we approached the chutes, we not only felt the strong resistence of the current, but heard the low rumbling of water far ahead. It was heartening, as I wondered whether we would just find a small pathetic chute draining water into a flooded plain!

Sigh! - Sturgeon Chutes campsite. It was simply an awesome place!

Needless to say, Sturgeon Chutes was beautiful! As we rounded the last bend we could see the upheavel of granite in the distance, which consequently brought forth the roaring chutes and cascading rapids beyond. It was like shangri-la!, considering everything else we had just seen.

We quickly set up our tent on a flat patch of grass overlooking the river and chute, then spent the remaining time on the smooth pink granite indulging in the scenery. Later that night, as a good omen, we both saw a shooting star while sitting around the campfire sipping hot cider. It was then I turned to Marylou and thanked her for the late chiropractic appointment. Sometimes, things just happen for a reason!

Sturgeon Chutes

Arising early the next morning, I wasn't going to allow one of the best times of the day to pass without taking a few pictures. (okay, lots!) It was a chilly one as the tent and surrounding area was all covered in frost, but it didn't deter me. Sometimes you are so caught up in the moment, you don't even know where to shoot first! (that's after I emptied my bladder!) The main thing is to pay attention to the light, focus and see how you can utilize it in the best way possible. Sometimes I wish I didn't have a camera as you are seeking/searching for an angle rather than taking the whole thing in. I think that's why most photographers stay at one place for more than one day!

Later in the morning, I had to convince myself to leave as it was such a nice relaxing place to stay, but we had to move on. We had some distance to cover as we wanted to be out on Georgian Bay today, but it didn't help that we left at 1130! (dragging my feet - purposely!) We paddled south on the Wanapitei river down to Thompson Bay and then headed east to the Main Outlet of the French river. We then proceeded south past the Elbow down to Bass Lake. It was interesting to note the high water mark at the campsite I stayed at with a bunch of guys last fall. The large beach area where we had all sat around looking up at the moon and stars last year was totally under water!

Darken on purpose - look carefully at the clouds - there are streaks
of coloured clouds! Greenish-blue below, and orangy-red
above! I honestly thought I
was seeing things!

Just prior to Bass Lake, I decided to proceed down a narrow channel to explore a different area I hadn't paddled. We stopped at one point to climb a smooth granite knoll to look around at the surrounding area, but just before we left, an urge came over me to go visit the bush. It wasn't the greatest place for digging as the area behind us was a marsh, however, once I managed to scramble over some boulders along the water, I found an ideal spot by some trees. During this time Marylou was waiting for me quietly by the river. Marylou occassionally heard rustling in the bush behind her, but she thought it was me looking for the perfect spot, but it wasn't. When the sound approached closer, it didn't make sense, so she called out, hoping to get a response from me, - but didn't. (thinking I couldn't hear) When the rustling approached even closer, she knew it wasn't me and started to get nervous. Then not even 20ft behind her through an opening in the bush, she came eye to eye with a large white wolf! She was stunned to say the least! Fear came over her as she reached to get the bear spray(?!) and a paddle as she yelled out to me. I on the other hand was calmly squatting over a hole when I vaguely heard "wolf!" coming from her direction. Of course, I yelled back and told her to take a picture or video it! - oops! At this point Marylou didn't know what to do, so she smacked the paddle against the canoe and the wolf turned tail and bounded away. She was shaken, but at the same time totally blown away! Of course once I finished and scrambled down to where she was, I asked if she got footage, only to get some biting sarcasm! She then relayed the story to me as we both stood in amazement. We both figured that as I ventured back into the bush, it spooked the wolf from where it was staying and then came around to avoid me, only to find out Marylou was there! Wow! That kind of thing doesn't happen often, so its too bad we don't have anything to show for it. However, Marylou said she will never ever forget those piercing eyes! Cool!

Once out on Bass Lake, we turned south towards our first portage along the Bass Creek Tramway. It is basically a wooden boardwalk that was built atop the original railway set up to help transport things from one end to the other. There was also the cluster of cabins at the take- out which was called Rainbow Camp, one of the first fishing lodges in that area. It was a short 240m along a level surface - what more can you ask?

Portaging along the Bass Creek Tramway

We quickly paddled out to Georgian Bay, happy to find it fairly calm. We then headed east toward Finger Islands where we soon found a decent campsite on a small island. We originally wanted to head further north to Fox Bay, but it was getting late and we were tired from the long day. No matter, as I'm sure we'll be back to explore this beautiful area again. After setting up, we had a quick supper and turned in early so that we could start first thing tomorrow. As we were going to paddle further out into Georgian Bay the next day, we wanted make sure to get an early start to possibly avoid wind and waves in the afternoon.

The next best thing to paddling a canoe is sleeping in one!

Sleeping comfortably was elusive due to a large root under my Thermarest. (hmmm, it must have been Marylou's strategic placement - she said she slept fine!) With a kink in my back, I arose to a nice calm morning. After taking a few pictures, I quickly got some hot drinks going with breakfast. Unfortunately, the calm didn't last very long as the wind started to pick up immediately. Chilled by the morning air and wind, we downed the food hastily and then began packing. We were soon on the water, but found ourselves disoriented due to the large cluster of small islands, many of which are not even on the map! At one point we did end up going the wrong way, but found out quick enough when things didn't match up. We finally headed southeast through Dores Run and then straight out to the vast expanse of Georgian Bay.

The headwind wasn't too bad, but enough to create rolling waves. However, by the time we were right out on the Bay without the protection of the surrounding islands, whitecaps were visible and there was 1 - 1.5 ft cresting waves with the frequent gusts of wind. We had to head out past the last of the remaining narrow strips of rock attached to the mainland and turn east through Dead Island Channel, (Marylou didn't like the sound of that) at which point we would be broadside to the waves. We stopped prior to heading out for a brief break on a smooth bare island before tackling the open water. It was here that I found "Smiley", a yellow ball with a smiley face on it in the crack of a rock! Liken to Tom Hanks "Wilson", in the movie Castaway, we found a similar companion and saved him from certain loneliness!

Yes, its Smiley - he was really happy we found him! Can't you tell?!!

The paddle through the narrows went fine, despite Marylou's uneasiness. It was tricky as times with the broadside waves, but we managed okay. It also made Marylou feel better when we passed kaykers going the opposite way. Once across, we made our way north along Genessee Bay towards the Pickerel river with the wind at our back. The drama was short-lived and we were back on calm protected waters.

The Pickerel river is gorgeous with its spines of granite that paralleled the river on our paddle northward. It feels more wild and untamed here as it is more isolated and much more intimate than the French river. I couldn't help fall in love. At one point, we stopped for a break, and as usual I climbed atop a high ridge and got a stunning view of the surrounding area. It was a perfect sunny day, warm with no bugs, an unending vista of cloud filled skies and rocky pine-swept shorelines intertwined with ribbons of royal blue water. If time could have stood still, there would have been no better moment!

The Pickerel river was just beautiful!

Further northward, we came to a narrowing in the ridge walls that created several small chutes and rapids. Difficult to paddle up, we had to line several sections. Despite the lining, the higher water levels were a good thing as there were several times our paddles barely went in the water all the way. We were planning to camp on the river halfway up, but there was no indications of the campsite marked on the map. Not surprising as the place is untravelled, - its a shame. In the same area, there was several rapids that had to be bypassed, but we couldn't determine if there was a portage or not. After some searching, we finally found a vague trail that got us to the other end. We continued northward looking out for any possible spots to camp, but didn't have any luck. We eventually came out to the east-west branch of the Pickerel river and headed west to Pickerel Bay.

Attempting to line the canoe up a small chute on the Pickerel river

Being out in the main channel and open to boat traffic, I figured the campsites here would be well used and in good shape, but unfortunately they were rough and overgrown! We don't mind rough, but we couldn't even find an area to pitch a tent! (although it did have a clean thunderbox!) Third time is a charm, so when we checked out campsite number three south of Bear Island we found an amazing campsite. It was a great way to spend our last night; well, until the fishermen came around in their motorboats!

As we had a short distance to go the next morning, we slept in and took it easy. The clouds were steel grey and it looked like rain was headed our way! (nooooooo!) We finally packed up and headed into Pickerel Bay. We stopped to checked out "The Elephant", a huge mound of granite which when viewed from the side looks a bit like one of those big pachyderms, - neat. We didn't stick around too long as we hoped to avoid getting rained on. We continued west across Ox Bay and snuck through some narrow channels back up to Wanapitei Bay. From there we continued north and then turned east along Hartley Bay to the familiar waiting docks.

Marylou 'calmly' siting on the head (& edge!) of "The Elephant"

Imagine that!, we made it to the docks bone dry!!! (I know Mother Nature felt pity for us!)Although the welcoming party was little cause for celebrations as the black flies started swarming us. No problem, we've mastered the art of the 'quick get away' as Marylou and I can independently and jointly (ironic?) pack stuff away quickly with little or no communication. I guess after all those years of tripping together, there has to be some benefit! No sooner than you could shake-a-leg, we were driving back home.

Marylou and I thoroughly enjoyed this trip and look forward to going back. I hope some of you enjoyed this trip report as well and will take advantage of paddling through this area too!


Not an angle you get to see often - "Say cheese!"

What's Next?: Our next trip is not scheduled till the first week in June so we'll have some time to decide. I gather that we will probably head to Temagami to visit some other area we haven't been to. Its been a rapid succession of trips so far and it will be nice to unwind a bit. Although, a month is too much! (family functions - sigh!) Let's see how I cope! :)

Monday, May 5, 2008

South River - Algonquin PP May 1-4 08

Looking out over the ice free Kawawaymog Lake

It is always exciting to prep for a trip while counting down the days, but sometimes it can be stressful. Especially when there is little time between the last one and the one coming up - exactly 2 days! We knew what was coming but we dreaded it, especially since most of our gear was soaking wet from the previous trip. On top of that, Marylou and I didn't work the same shifts, so it was challenging trying to co-ordinate and get things done separately. In the end, as hectic and crazy as it was, we managed to get our act together. (barely!)

Paddling along an intimate unnamed creek towards Craig lake

Since we didn't take our inaugural trip to Algonquin this year, we decided to head there to paddle the South river. Actually, the river itself is outside the park boundary, but to get there, we started the trip inside the park. It was an opportunity to paddle an unfamiliar route, take advantage of the high water levels, and immerse ourselves in the historical significance of the river. The South river is full of history from the logging era to its POW camps, but it was also the primary exit point for many park trips before there was road access. People back then would paddle down the river to the town of the same name and board the train back to where they started. Now its the second most popular access point after the Hwy 60 corridor.

Marylou huffing along the 1470m portage to Cayuga Lake

Prior to the trip, we ran into one dilemma; trying to locate someone to provide shuttle service. Being early in the season, the one outfitter we attempted to contact was not opening until the first day of our trip! As it was, I had an alternate loop route in mind if things didn't work out. Even on our way up, we tried to call the outfitter, but they still weren't answering the phone. I was already relegating ourselves to the loop trip, but when we got to the outfitter later in the day, they were open! With renewed hope, we entered the Swift/Tracs Outfitter's building and enquired about a shuttle service.

The total Algonquin package - big blue sky, fresh water lakes,
majestic white pines, and of course, experienced
only in a canoe

Initially, we were told that they didn't provide shuttle service, but further discussion regarding our route brought a willingness from the owner to help us in our situation. Bernice Thornborrow, owner and a canoeist herself, (her and her husband have done the same route) decided to briefly close her shop and shuttle us to the put-in at Kawawaymog lake! Now talk about customer service, - for a service they didn't even provide! More than that, I believe her actions speak highly of her kindness. I was quite impressed and really thankful! If you ever need an outfitter, you won't go wrong here!

Unable to locate a trail, we scrambled up a scree slope to Craig
lake dam, only to find a steeper drop on the other
side to the creek below.

Here's a picture from atop the dam looking towards Craig creek

After buying our permits at the park office, we set out east on Kawawaymog lake to the Amable du Fond river. The river winds lazily towards North Tea lake, but eventually comes to a couple unrunnable rapids that we portaged. Before heading out on the lake, we took a moment to admire a cairn at the put-in commemorating past park rangers. The paddle along the south shore of North Tea gave us small glimpse of the beautiful lake and we made a mental note to come back and visit here in the future. We soon reached the take-out to began the slog of long portages Algonquin is well known for. After completing a couple 1km plus portages, we ended the day at Jeepi lake on an underused campsite at the east end.

A fine tribute to an Algonquin Park Ranger - Tom Wattie

Tom Wattie himself holding a huge loaf of "sand bread"
Photo credit: Ken Cooper

We slept in the next day and took our time getting ready, but we were soon huffing along four more portages before ending at Craig Lake. Despite ice gone on the rivers and lakes, there was still lots of snow in the forest which radiated a refreshing cool chill along the portage trail. Later on, we got to witness our first moose of the year and then battle some strong headwind and whitecaps on Pishnecka Lake. There always has to be a contrast of sorts! There was no sun today as we had this grey pall throughout the day threatening rain, but thankfully it saved itself for later. We checked the weather forecast before the start of the trip and knew the outlook wasn't good, but that's how the dice falls and we certainly weren't going to stay home because of it. We finished the day early and camped on an eroding sand island on Craig lake.

Blocked by a big logjam with no portage, we drag the canoe
under a tangle of adlers looking for promising channel
leading to the main river

It rained through the night, but we were happily ensconced in our tent and warm sleeping bags. As if on cue, the rain stopped in the morning before we got up to start another day. Today we were finally going to begin the river leg of the journey. We paddled to the dam on the north end of the lake and lugged our gear over the steep retaining hill as there was no trail down to the river. To get to the South river, you can either head west on Craig lake through a few portages, or head north and paddle a distance down Craig creek. We obviously chose the later, but soon found out that even with the dam open, we still encountered low water levels. It almost was more work than it was worth as we grounded many times and came across multiple log jams. One time the log jam was too big for a reasonable lift over so we had to drag the canoe through dense brush to find a promising side channel in the river!

Bridges visually distract from the wilderness experience,
but one thing they do is tell you exactly where
on the river you are!

By the time we reached the South river, the volume of the water increased substantially and significantly reduced the times we scraped the canoe. The water levels were high and the water moved swiftly which gave us (okay, me) pleasure running endless swifts and multiple class 1's. The only downside was the heavy rains and drop in temperature that followed, including the numerous log jams that kept coming. Lift overs are using straight forward, but try it on slick, wet, barkless logs that are not totally secured, sawing branches to provide an opening, and trying to keep the canoe from pinning under the logs or going broadside due to the strong current! There is one particular area on the river where a giant white pine has fallen across the river. It is practically impossible to lift over due to the steep pitch the canoe would have to be in. Most paddlers manage to squeak underneath as the trunk is fairly high up, but the accumulated logs at the upstream end and the high water levels squashed that idea. Rather, it meant we had to drag the canoe up and over the steep bank and dense growth on river right! Talk about strenous, maybe we should have done the mega-liftover!

One of the many liftovers on the South river - a little
more challenging with a fast flowing river,
rain, and slippery logs

The scenery along this river route is beautiful and we enjoyed it immensely. It would definitely be better to savour with better conditions rather than retreating our noggins under the rain hood, but it was still worth it. We saw lots of wildlife, but the funniest was catching a deer in the squat position relieving itself. It really had the expression of "deer in the headlight" look! As it got late in the day, our only other concern was locating a campsite. There wasn't really much in terms of possibilities, but thankfully, we spotted a mangled lawn chair on a sandy point and decided to check it out. There was evidence of an old overgrown campsite which we made claim to immediately. So under heavy rain, we rigged up a couple tarps and set up the tent. We decided to forgo supper after munching on a few granola bars and headed into the tent to warm up. It wasn't long before we were nestled in our warm bags and dozing off to the steady patter of rain.

Making the best of a rough bush camp along the South river

The first thought on my mind when I awoke early the next morning was hoping the rain would stop. No luck. It kept coming down as strong as ever. On top of that, it was really cold. It was miserable putting on damp clothes, cold boots and wet rain gear, but such is the fact of being in the wilderness. Its not all smiles and sunshine. After a hot breakfast, we packed up our gear with a load of sand. Did I ever tell you that I hate sandy sites? Throw in 'wet and sandy' and I'll guarantee you'll hate it too! We noted as we put-in that the water level rose almost a foot! That almost eliminated grounding out!

Looking out over the vast expanse of North Tea Lake

We finished the river portion later in the morning with a long series of class one's that ended at Forest Lake. The fun part was over now as we paddled just over an hour through a flooded lake lined with cottages. The sun broke through the clouds just ever so briefly as we approached the outfitter as a tease. Of course by the time we finally loaded up and left, the skies opened up and it turned out to be a beautiful day! Before we left, we spoke again to Bernice, her husband Keith and grand-daughter Meagan. We found out more about the fascinating history of the area, learned to appreciate the trip even more, and made new friends. This was the type of trip that even with the weather conditions, I felt I got more from it than I expected! Can't beat that!

Doesn't matter how many sunsets you see,
they will never ever be the same

What's Next?: Okay, so conditions have improved. I now have 4 days to get ready for our next trip! :) We are headed to French River PP to paddle the Pickerel river. Gawd I hope it doesn't rain on the last day on our next trip, as it's a pain in the ass to take home sopping wet gear! We are already 2 for 2 with this last trip including sand thrown in as a bonus! D&M