Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 - Happy New Paddling Year!

So here we are, finally arriving once more on the last day of another year. Its been one hectic holiday season and not only am I pooped, I haven't had the time to reflect back on the previous year, yet. I've been working back to back and I barely had time to post this blog as I have to head right back out to our friend's place for New Year's celebration. You know what I need? Darn right, a canoe trip! Considering that we are going to be 10 degrees above normal temperatures in Toronto tomorrow, (11c and raining!) if the lakes were opened, I just might entertain that idea! I'm sure some of the local rivers are open too, but with fast moving water and iced-over sections, its a risky proposition.

Am I happy to close out 2010 and start 2011? Not really, doesn't phase me much - its just another day, another year. (other than coming to grips that I'll be a year older!) However, what I do look forward to at the start of the new year is dreaming and planning about all the possible and upcoming canoe trips. Its kind of like sugar fairies dancing around my head. (I know, I know, Christmas has past, but I'm still in the mood, so deal with it!) The winter solstice has passed, so has Christmas, and now the new year is approaching. We are almost there, but not before I get out for one last party in 2010! It's soon time to make new paddling dreams come true, what do you say to that? Cheers everyone! Can't wait!

Wishing you all a wonderful and happy New Year filled with lots of opportunities to paddle a canoe - whether on day outings, multi-day trips, or expeditions! Be safe, have fun and lets ring in the new year with big expectations!
Happy New Year's, paddlers!


Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Ho, ho, ho! Its that time of year! The mad rush, shopping madness, no parking spots, long lines, work parties, endless treats, cooking marathons, stuffed bellies and sugar highs - all the hallmarks that mark the approach of Christmas. And let's not even talk about Christmas day itself! Why do we do it? Did the spirit of Christmas create this, or the marketing campaigns of retailers? I am in no way innocent to all this madness, as frankly I get caught up in it too! Despite all this, there is positive lining to it all. Its time for family to get together, reaching out to those less fortunate and to celebrate its religious significance. That's what makes Christmas worth having, despite it all.

Well, I don't care much about receiving gifts this time of year. That is the least of my concern, but what's not to like if there is an odd 'canoe-shaped' present under the tree? Or one that is long and narrow? I'm sure any paddler would be,....let's say, ecstatic! Anyhow, I was really impressed with a recent glossy coloured Christmas flyer from The Bay. I couldn't help resist scanning the photo to post here. I think, no, I'm actually positive that this is an amazing scenario for the perfect gift! See the image below.

I couldn't scan the entire image due the size limitation of my scanner, but I got most of it. Tell me you aren't impressed! First off, there is a cedar canvas canoe in the traditional Bay (or formerly known as the The Hudson's Bay Company) colours wrapped in a huge red bow. Of course to match the canoe, there is the same coloured hardwood paddle wrapped in a somewhat similar bow, albeit significantly smaller. Now, the gift giving is extremely mismatched, going just by size. But whose counting, although I've heard the saying, "size matters", whatever that means?! ;) Anyhow, I'd certainly say based on this scenario, this is one lucky guy. Not only is he getting a beautiful canoe, there is the hot female in the equally appealing flannel shirt! Yes of course she is getting a beautiful hardwood paddle with the assumption the guy is a hunk in his flannel jammy. But why the hell does the paddle blade have "Up The Creek" printed on it?!! Talk about ruining a nice gift! (he just might get the paddle 'up the head'!) I know, i know, its just an ad - I'm just getting too much into the scene. (maybe I'm jealous?) Anyhow, hopefully with the paddle, there is an envelope with a plane ticket to the far north - something to give justice to this beautiful canoe and paddle. And of course if he should be so lucky, (considering the setting) maybe sex in the new canoe?!? Tis the season for giving, isn't it? What? What?! Did I say something wrong?!
(Hmm, I wonder if I can squeeze my canoe through the front door? ;))

Well, my wish this season is for all of you, including your family and loved one to have the most wonderful Christmas! One filled with lots of love, happiness and joy!I'm certainly looking forward to it as well, although my sister's first attempt at the turkey this year has me a bit worried. Anyhow, all the best to you this festive season!
Merry Christmas Everyone!

(How about we try the side door??)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Fitting Gift to End the Paddling Season

All it took was a brief reprieve from the strong wind to convince
myself to head out on Canoe Lake. The problem
being it was just that - brief!

Ahh, it feels good to finally put a post on my blog! I actually start to feel bad when lots of time passes and I haven't posted anything. In actual fact, I have been quite busy with writing commitments and deadlines, so I didn't have much time for my blog. But now that's over, the only other pressure is the Christmas holidays heading our way. It shouldn't be a stressful time, but there is always things to do, stuff to buy, places to be, weight to be gained, etc, etc, etc, get the idea.

Well unfortunately this year, I didn't get the opportunity to close out the canoe season with the white stuff. Despite the fact there is lots of it now causing many people, places, and countries lots of grief. Hearing about how some travellers stranded in airports may not get to their homes for Christmas this year is just terrible. Stick me in the bush in the middle of a bizarre any day! Anyhow, my last trip of the year did provide a nice parting gift, (Christmas present if you wish) and no, it was a frozen water! That story is for later.

The way my solo trip started near the end of November had me wondering what the rest of the trip was going to be like. Of course at this time of year, you have to expect both bad weather and tough conditions, but it doesn't hurt to cross your fingers and hope for the best. I was initially relieved when I got my permit from the park office without problems, unlike last year. (Yes, I know, there was snow outside and it was Dec then!) This time the young lady gladly issued me the permit and even remarked about another party that headed out earlier in the same direction. I then made my way to the Canoe lake put-in, only to be duly unimpressed. Waiting for me was waves, whitecaps, and lots of headwind - great!

After unloading the car, I waited out the howling wind. As much as I needed to get going, I would literally be wasting energy trying to make any forward progress in these conditions. Luckily, only after 15-20 mins, the wind seemed to peter out. Well not totally, the gusts were now just intermittent. This was the break I needed, so off I went. (at least that is what I thought) Of course when I shoved off, didn't the wind gods sneeze?!! Yes, I was paddling the canoe in reverse, had all the weight possible in the front, and even moved myself to the middle of the canoe, but it still took me like a twig and twirled me funny! If ever I looked like I didn't know what I was doing in a canoe, it would have been now. What eventually did help was changing my paddle. I was using a short 52" bent shaft that I found just didn't have enough reach or power for these conditions. Thanks to the waves soaking my gloves, did it eventually dawn on me to switch paddles!

Forward progress was still slow and tiring even with the longer whitewater paddle, but at least I was making distance. It was a tough go with frozen hands and wet pants, but somehow, even with the wind biting at my skin, I was starting to appreciate being out there alone. After a couple portages through the chain of Joe Lakes, I began the 435m portage that bypasses Lost Joe Lake and ends at Baby Joe Lake. I decided to carry the heavy barrel, the paddles and the Pelican case with all the camera gear first. The trail was pretty with pine needles and dried leaves scattered generously throughout the forest floor. Throw in the soothing gurgle of the stream nearby, it was the ideal tonic for the urban soul. On my way back, while picking up some birch bark for a fire, random thoughts entered my head. For some reason, (I still don't know why?) I started to wonder what I'd do if I encountered a bear. First off, I figured the chances were slim. With temperatures below zero, even bears wouldn't avail themselves to trouncing around the forest at this time of year, unlike some seemingly-intellectual human. I didn't have bear spray, a stick (as my head turns to look for one), or even a whistle - although I did have a folding knife with a 1.5 inch blade. (stop laughing!)

Cresting a small knoll, as I looked up, did I not see a big mass of black fur that stopped me in my tracks! I think I even stopped breathing. It seemed like eternity as I stood there trying to re-focus my eyes from looking at the ground to now 20 meters in front of me. Breathing a sigh of relief, I made out the figure of a moose in the shadow of the sparse canopy. Surprisingly, the brown spindly legs and its honking schnoz blended with the forest background and all I initially saw was the black mass of fur in the middle of the trail. Relieved it wasn't a bear, my thoughts turned to picture taking, but my camera was at the other end - crap! I knew for certain if I went back for it, the moose would be gone, so I took the opportunity to just enjoy the moment.

I should have known, based on the grand staircase that started
the 435m portage to Baby Joe Lake. It was to portend
an equally grand experience!

We had a stare down for some time, sizing each other up. (Not that my 'hulking' 150lbs impressed this ungulate by any means!) It was kind of neat when it decided I wasn't a threat anymore and turned its head away from me to look towards Lost Joe Lake. Eventually I decided I needed to get going, but the moose seemed a bit reluctant to move. It looked back at me, and off towards the lake again. I was starting to wonder why it was standing its ground, until I started to hear some shuffling coming from my left. It was hard to see what was there, but I slowly made out several other large dark figures through the dense shoreline vegetation. Alarm bells started to go off in my head - wasn't it rutting season for moose?!

I had no clue when the rutting season started and ended, all I knew was that bull moose are particularly dangerous then, much more than a bear. For the next several minutes panic set in again as I wondered if I could climb any trees nearby. Slowly backing away, not one but three vague hulks appeared slightly behind and to my left! I could hear my heart starting to pound as I looked for an escape route. Bears all of a sudden didn't seem scary, nor did the usefulness of my small pocketknife. Keeping my eyes locked beside me, 3 moose slowly emerged from the dense brush. Surprisingly, none had any impressive rack to display and send me packing! Phew! But why was there so many moose together?!!

Feeling more confident after insuring my bladder hadn't inadvertently emptied, I now strutted back down the path towards the lone moose on the trail. It dawned on me that the three moose beside me were the off-springs of the moose that stood in my way. (although they were practically as big as the mom) That was why the mother moose didn't move and kept looking towards the lake. I guess she was somehow letting them know I was around, and until she determined I wasn't a threat, stopped her off-springs from emerging from cover. Relieved yet again, I slowly approached the mother moose, speaking calmly and asking for passage. Thankfully she obliged and made her way towards her young.

The roller coaster of emotions had me pumped full of adrenalin, giving me that extra shot of energy to carry the canoe and remaining barrel. I've never had the privilege of being so close to 4 moose alone. As much as the incident nearly gave me a coronary, it was truly amazing. As I approached the same area, they were unexpectedly all still there! Now I was steaming that I didn't have my camera! I decided the opportunity was too unique to pass off, so I put my canoe down and walked down towards the river where I sat down to watch them.

The mother moose again stared at me from the other side of the river before she gave me the "oh, its you again" look and continued foraging before moving off into the forest. Then the 3 young emerged from my side of the river and slowly crossed single file. It was hard to believe, but when they were all in view, all in the river, they all stopped and turned their heads to look at me! Where was my camera!!! Argh!!!! It was the picture perfect moment! I'm positive these younglings were perplexed by my display of contorted faces at that time. It was an opportunity lost, but another gained - trying to console myself this way. As they walked one by one into the forest, the last moose decided it wasn't done with me. It turned and continued looking at me for quite some time. During which I rationalized that there was no way I knew what the moose was thinking, but in some sense I thought I did. That span of time, space and distance felt like some communication of sorts. An acknowledgement, a curiosity, an acceptance, and ultimately a level of comfort. Whichever the case, it was a rare connection that left us parting ways with a higher level of respect for each other.

A most fitting ornament, not only for this time of year,
but also for my end-of-the-year trip!

Carrying the canoe down the rest of the portage, I was thankful at the chance encounter, even more grateful that it wasn't a bear or a enraged bull moose. It felt like a fitting gift, especially after having to deal with the miserable conditions at the start of the trip. It even was an epiphany of sorts, helping me to further understand and respect animals like the moose and acknowledge that co-existence doesn't have to only be in fleeting (or fleeing) moments. Although I didn't get to end the season paddling under lightly falling snow, this special encounter more than made up for it. An amazing gift to end the paddling season for sure, just unfortunate that I couldn't share that scene with all of you!


PS. Being Christmas and all, the scene of the 3 moose in the river reminded me of the nativity scene of the 3 wise men on their camels. With a Canadian twist to it, it could have easily been the 3 wise moose!

PPS. I'm planning to invest in a P&S camera to carry with me at all times. Live and learn!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Solo Trip in Algonquin

A mid-November solo trip. The fine line
between water and ice!

It has been almost a month since my last trip. I was itching like crazy to go. (if you don't already know, I have been diagnosed with a disease - canoeitis ;)) I wanted to go earlier but too much was going on and I couldn't get away. Well, I finally managed to put a little time together to head out. I also wasn't able to get out on a solo trip this year, so here was a chance. (Lisa couldn't go and I didn't have people knocking on the door to go with me.) It was supposed to be a relatively easy 3 day jaunt in Algonquin, but boy was I wrong! My upper body is sore as hell, my joints are achy, the balls of my feet are really tender, and my upper lip has suffered wind burn and very mild frostbite (I can barely feel it - I can already hear the jokes!). Was it worth it? You be the judge when I write about it. One thing for sure, it has sated my desire to canoe....we'll, at least for now. (I secretly still want to head out again - it really is incurable!!!)


PS. I sincerely apologize, but I won't be blogging on the Bloodvein trip for a while. I've already been asked to give a presentation with possibly others to follow, including the possibility of writing articles so I have to hold off for now. I do have tons of other stuff to write about so I assure you that won't stop. But I have to apologize profusely if you were expecting more posts on the Bloodvein. I think based on how things are going, (like it did with the Romaine River trip) I may have to delay writing about my big trips until the following year. Sorry!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Lower Madawaska - The Hardest River to Access

A car with a red canoe, late in the night,
lost somewhere in the bush.

When I blog about my canoe trips, I quite often tell amusing or interesting stories that occur during the trip. I mean how exciting would it be for me to write about driving to the access point or home? (Granted, thinking about it now, I do have some interesting stories!) Usually the process of getting there and coming home is fairly straight forward and boring. Ho-hum...yawn. However, a recent trip to the Lower Madawaska River was an exception.

For several years, a fellow by the name of Dave Helsdon (the inventor of the Chrysalis Hammock) has been trying to get me to join him on his annual trip to the Lower Madawaska River for a weekend of whitewater fun. Not having paddled there previously, I was more than eager to go. The problem was that every time he would give me the dates for the trip, I already had plans to go paddling elsewhere! The timing thing just wasn't happening.

Dave Helsdon and I working together at the Toronto
Sportsmen Show for Eureka.

This year though, we finally managed to get our act together and agree on a weekend that worked for us both. Well, until days before the trip when Dave realized he had the wrong weekend! (Don't ask, big mix up.) Anyhow, since Lisa, Ben and Dimitry were joining me, we decided to still go ahead with the trip. The only issue was the access point. The usual start and end points are pretty easy to find, except we were doing the trip a bit different so we didn't have to paddle loaded boats. It was a great plan, but being Dave Helsdon's idea, it relied on his thorough knowledge of the area.

The plan was to drive down an access road to Slate Falls on the Madawaska and paddle across the river to set up camp. We would then head back the next morning to the car and drive to the end of the river where we would meet our shuttle driver. He would then shuttle us to the top of the river where we would start the trip and eventually end the day back at Slate Falls. Phew! Did you get it all?! The problem was finding the road to Slate Falls. No one in our group had ever been there, apparently is difficult to find, and it would also be completely dark. Get a sense of where this is going?

Do you think the fact that grass was growing on the 'road' was
good reason to believe this wasn't an access road?!

Of course we had a map of the river, info of the approximate location of the road including a kilometer marker given to us by the shuttle driver. Despite all this, Dave Helsdon warned that it is still hard to find due to the combination of no signs and an endless number of other access roads. Makes you wonder why we still went ahead with this plan. So off we went after work late Friday afternoon, excited about paddling whitewater and certain we would find it.

Both vehicles set the km marker at zero before heading down Hyland Creek Road. We were to find this road at kilometer 13. It was very dark and foggy (coming from the river) as we began down the road at approx 21:30. The drive along the dirt road with the heavy canopy of overhanging trees and the thick mist casting a eerie glow from the high beam seemed the perfect scenario for a horror flick. Some excitement came from the odd animal quickly scurrying away at our approach, but for the most part it was an uneventful drive. Although, we did note many rough roads leading into the forest, presumably to the river.

We really needed the headlamps to see the trail
to the river as it was so dark.

Just before the thirteen kilometer mark, I slowed down and scanned the left side of the road. We came upon a rough looking dirt road that looked quite probable. With a hint of arrogance, I mumbled to myself about how easy it was to find. Signalling to my friends behind that I was turning in, that attitude quickly wavered the further we drove in. The road had now narrowed considerably and got much rougher with branches from bushes and trees squealing along the sides and tops of the car! I was starting to have serious doubts.

Relieved to find a campsite, we unloaded the gear
in the dark to lug it down to the river.

At one point I stopped and got out to discuss the situation with the other driver. There was no way in hell this was the way. (At least that was what we hoped.) We decided to go on a bit further to rule it out, but when we had to move a downed tree and big rocks started to appear all over the 'road', we knew for certain that this wasn't it. We then had to drive in reverse (which wasn't easy either) until we could find a bit of a clearing before heading back out. Any confidence in my route finding ability was long gone at this point.

We had another situation. A can of beer leaked in the barrel!
(No, we didn't drink from the barrel!) "Hey guys,
do bears like beer?!

Back on the main road, we searched further along until we soon came upon another similar dirt road. Just like before, we headed in until it got pretty bad before heading back out. Frustrated, we now only looked for roads that were well worn since there were rough roads everywhere. We did finally manage to identify Buck Bay Road further on, but that was way off from where we were supposed to be. This same scenario played out for quite some time until we ended up trying to get information from a trailer full of inebriated hunters. According to them, we were now on Green Lake Road and it didn't go anywhere close to the river.

Now more confused then ever, we were at a loss of what to do. Looking at the map yet again, we eventually found a well worn dirt road that got us to a locked gate that indicated the park boundary. Progress! After parking the vehicles, we hiked down to the river with our headlamps and found a rough campsite that we could at least stay at. What a relief that was! We didn't care at this point where we were, (as we still didn't really know) just as long as we could set up camp and get to our shuttle driver the next morning. It was well past midnight as we lugged our packs down to the river in the light rain and fog, but despite being frustrated, lost, confused and exhausted, it was all over. We made it. Finally!

Celebrating the end to the ordeal with the remaining beer from
the punctured can. No use letting it go to waste!

Nestled in my down bag as I turned my headlamp off at two thirty in the morning, I wondered how the rest of the trip was going to play out. It isn't often when the drama of a canoe trip actually occurs before it even starts! Just thankful that it was over, I shook my head and closed my weary eyes.

Now who says driving to a canoe trip is boring?!

tPP out!

PS. Hey Dave, how about next year?
(Shhh, I'll just confirm the dates with his wife first! ;))

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bloodvein River - Part 2 No Two Alike

This portage weaved through a stand of jack pines growing
amongst a thick carpet of moss. What a beauty!
If only they could all look like this!

Like the uniqueness and exclusivity of our fingerprint, no two portages are alike. They all have something that makes them stand out one from another. There are longs ones, short ones, rough ones and groomed ones, and how can we forget about wet ones! Well even though we experienced lots of interesting portages on the Bloodvein, there was another one that made quite an impression on us.

The day started as usual with Lisa and I checking the maps and setting a destination for the day. It was to be a full day of paddling, including eight portages that would eventually get us into Knox Lake. I wondered why that lake was named as such, but I was betting the 1500m portage before it had something to do with it. Besides, I vaguely recalled the outfitter who shuttled us mentioning that it was pretty wet, - great!

We moved along at a steady pace, both making distance and enjoying the scenery. The weather was great, but the oppressive heat was hard to bear at times. Despite making myself drink often to stay hydrated, I was slowly being worn down by the heat. So much so that I even had a hard time taking in food to maintain energy. (It made me feel nauseous.) Late in the afternoon as we got closer to our destination, I knew the last portage, the one to Knox Lake was going to take everything I had to finish. Preparing for the inevitable, I washed down a couple bars with water for some energy, as little did I know, I was going to need every bit of it!

Exhausted and filthy, glad to finish the
first part of the portage!
Photo: Lisa Riverin-Thomas

The take-out to the portage was located in a marshy area. The landing was fine and even the start of the trail looked pretty good compared to the many wet ones we'd already trampled. Would we be lucky? I certainly hoped so as we strapped on the packs and optimistically set out. The slightly wet mud trail among the reeds and alders was totally acceptable and seemed promising; that is until we had carried a mere 50 meters. As we both stood gawking at what laid ahead, my spirit sunk.

Leaving dry land, Lisa shot video of me heading
back into the muck for the canoe.
(And that is without a load!)

Stretched out before us was a distinct path of unmistakable, dark and foreboding boot-sucking mud! Clearly it had the undeniable signature of many footsteps gone before. (And possibly many victims!) Like the wet portage earlier in the day, the inevitable began in earnest as the mud pulled us into its depths. Luckily, we didn't go any deeper than our knees, but the biggest issue was the consistency of the mud. It was thick like molasses. We most certainly would have preferred the wetter version as you can walk through it with relative ease, but here each step felt like a foot entrapment. Like a predator not willing to release its prey from its maw, we had to expend an incredible amount of energy just trying to pull our feet out. Considering it was only day two of our trip, our heavily laden packs didn't help in any way.

Resorting to dragging the canoe just diverted my
pain elsewhere. Talk about exertion, listen to
Lisa trying to catch her breath while
shooting footage!

Approximately 300 meters later, exhausted and filthy, we finally saw the end in sight. Hallelujah! It was cause for celebration, but short lived as we decided to go back for the canoe and the other pack before setting off on the rest of the portage. Round two wasn't any better trying to balance the 80 pound canoe through the mud. It was an ordeal to say the least. Almost falling over several times, I put it down and resorted to dragging it. The exertion needed to both drag the canoe and pull my legs out was brutal on my lower back and totally spent me. When it was finally all over, exhausted, I dropped like a sack of potatoes.

The muck was so thick it forced it's way into my pants and
wouldn't come out! Elephant-titis feet!
Photo: Lisa Riverin-Thomas

After a much needed rest, the fact remained that we still had roughly 1100 meters still to go, - twice. Lisa saw my pathetic plight after the first carry and graciously offered to carry the canoe on the second run as I was spent. Normally my stubbornness would get me through, but the heat, lack of food and 'mud hell' had me totally beat. Therefore I humbly and thankfully accepted the kind offer.

Some higher power must have either felt sorry that I had to endure heat exhaustion or was turned off by my filth, because at the end of the trail the skies opened up and literally dumped on me! (us) Refreshing to say the least! Maybe the just reward for surviving the portage to Knox Lake. Whichever the case, I know exactly now why the lake was named as such!!

The reward for making to Knox lake alive!
I really did need it!!
Photo: Lisa Riverin-Thomas

PS. After the first run through the mud hole, we noted a nice dry trail coming from the left. We thought that this may have been a new trail to deal with the one we just endured. Judging from where it was coming from, when we got back to the original take-out, we actually paddled out into the lake hoping to find this new portage. Once we thought we found it, but after carrying the canoe and pack in, we were soon caught in a massive tangle of downed trees! Sigh! (It ended up being a well worn animal trail.) Wasting time and energy as well as being disappointed, we reluctantly headed back into the mud hole for round two. We never did find out where that newly created trail came from as I didn't have the energy or time to walk it to its end, but if anyone knows, I would love to hear from you!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Uh-Oh! Its That Time of Year!

Just got back from a canoe trip on a river just a couple hours north of Toronto. At this time of year, as much as I love to go, I always find that the anticipation for trips is a mixture of two emotions. First and foremost the excitement of heading back out on the water, but also the anxiety of what the weather may throw at me. This time of year you just never know what you may get, so things like packing clothes is always a conundrum. "Should I take it or not?", "Do I really need it?", - I've had temperatures this time of year over 20 degrees Celsius to below zero. Of course I could pay attention to the weather report, but you know how that works, often doesn't. (The first night of this trip, the temperature was to bottom out at -4C. It didn't even go below zero!) Anyhow, like gambling you occasionally luck out, and other times you don't. Although, hopefully you are prepared when it isn't. Anyhow, on our drive up Friday morning as we approached Barrie, this is what I saw. See below.

Driving north on Hwy 400 before Barrie, it was
almost whiteout conditions!

The snow finally stopped, but all of the white stuff on the trees
and the ground made driving with a canoe on my
car look a bit ridiculous.

I was a bit apprehensive seeing all the snow, but I knew there was no way I was going to turn around. In the end, the weather wasn't that bad. Even the down jacket I took in anticipation wasn't even used! However, lots of gear was wet at the end of the trip so everything is strewn around in the basement drying out. The bet was a draw this time. That in my books is a win!

Any bets that I'll still get out paddling?


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bloodvein River - Part 1 No Two Alike

Some hate them with a passion, and others enjoy them as a break from paddling. Some avoid them like the plague, and others purposely seek them to take them further into solitude. Yes, they are portages. It is a key element in the overall experience of canoe tripping, don't you agree? Despite the multiple feelings surrounding them, frankly if you do end up portaging, they can quite often be the most poignantly impressionable part of the trip!

Portages, - either lov'em or hate'em

Our experience with 2 portages on the Bloodvein left Lisa and I just that. Unforgettable memories. Portages on our trip were for the most part straight forward and uneventful. The map marks the location, the distance, and on the topos, elevation gain or loss that can help you prepare for the inevitable. Well except for the one I accidentally read on the map backwards and couldn't figure where the heck it was!! (we were at the brink of a massive class 3-4 rapid holding onto flooded trees as the boiling water tried to pull us in! - oops!)

Wet portages are not new to me. Whether its wet from stuff falling from above (which includes snow) or from the accumulation of water down below. I don't think anyone relishes the thought of getting wet when they don't have to, but if that's the only way through, you're going to get wet whether you like it or not.

Some of the best scenery on canoe trips are found along
portages. Don't miss out on them!

Early on day two of our trip, we came upon an innocuous looking 400 meter portage. It was wet and mucky like most we had already experienced. No cause for concern except when we came down to an area where the forest canopy gave way. Looking down the 'trail' as far as we could see was dark murky water tightly enclosed by thick alders. Dreading what lay ahead we slowly plodded forward hoping it wasn't as bad as it looked. What Lisa and I both feared begin in earnest, - it kept getting deeper.

As the cold dark water rose steadily up our legs, we then had to blindly navigate hidden roots and debris down below. I was both amused and annoyed that this was a portage! I started to even question if the portage was already finished. (I knew it wasn't as we'd hardly gone 100 meters on the trail.) A canoe could have helped right then but it wasn't with us on our first carry. Watching Lisa ahead I could now see the bottom of her barrel pack in the water. Was it going to get any deeper?! At this point, rather than carry my Pelican case (which contains all the camera gear) I just floated it alongside me.

Struggling along with our arms above the water, we mutually decided to go back for the canoe as it was ridiculous to continue any further like this. The only problem was that there was no place to put our gear. Forging ahead as we were now up to our waist, we finally found a mound of rock off to the side which we pushed through the alders to get at. Dropping off the packs we both shook our heads, chuckled at our luck and waded back into the water.

Here's a little snippet of the lovely wet portage!

After getting the canoe, we did end up 'paddling the portage' a short distance to dry land where we then continued portaging the normal way. The short 200 meters through the flooded trail certainly was not long in any respects, but in terms of depth, it was the deepest portage both Lisa and I have ever been on. I'm not certain whether it would have gotten any deeper, but we were happy not to find out as it was still early in the morning and the water was pretty darn cold.

Dragging the barrels on top of the water was easier than
trying to lift the heavy things into the canoe!

So why would a portage go through a deep flooded trail like this? I'm pretty sure at one point it didn't, but based on the topography it was probably just another soggy trail. Although I can't be for certain, I pretty sure the culprit was a beaver. I am always amazed at the ingenious feats these rodents are capable of, but that day I was unimpressed. The only other thing I was upset about was not being able to get more amusing pictures of the fiasco! Hopefully, time? Unforgettable memories were already being created even before getting on the river!
What next!?! More to come!


- We have since heard from others that had gone through this portage. Lucky for us as it came up to their chest for them!!

Nope, that isn't the river, its on the other side! That in fact
is the portage around a big rapid on the Bloodvein!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Back Out In A Canoe!

The wait was painfully long, but glad to head out
on a canoe trip again!

I haven't posted on the blog lately as I was away on several canoe trips. (finally!) Its always hard to readjust to civilization when you come back from a big trip like the Bloodvein, so you look forward with much anticipation to the next one to reclaim your sanity and peace of mind. The prospects looked good with multiple trips planned for September, however it unfolded in the most unexpected way.

Paddling with new people means doing, learning and trying
different things, - like this delicious breakfast!

Initially I was overwhelmed with several request to paddle with different people. I was wondering how I would or could manage to paddle with everyone. With four trips lined up with different groups of people, in the end none of them panned out!!! I'm not joking!! (and no, I'm not upset) From car accidents, to wrongs dates to even a surprise trip to Scotland, they all fell apart. But in the end, it didn't mean I didn't get to go, it just meant some last minute changes to the trip! (Like hell I would stay home!)

The coloration and pattern on this baby
Milk Snake is gorgeous!

Thankfully Becky was okay with holding this fellow so I
could get some nice pics. What a beauty!

In mid September I headed to the Kawarthas with a new paddling friend, Becky. Despite canoeing all her life, she only paddled local rivers close to her home in Kitchener and Canada's canoe mecca, Algonquin Provincial Park. I immediately decided that I had to burst her 'bubble' and introduce her to greener pastures on the other side of the fence. Well when the trip ended, it came as a big relief when she acknowledged that she had a great time and was grateful to paddle in the Kawarthas. Known for its many lakes, marshlands, and its characteristic pink granite outcrops that add such uniqueness and beauty to the landscape, what's not to like? Now more curious than ever, she is now looking forward to paddling other great destinations our province has to offer. Glad I could do that, and yeah, okay, I'll take a bit of credit for popping that Algonquin 'bubble'!

I could say 'adorable' too, but this fellow let me know
it didn't want us around. The Stinkpot Turtle
is a threatened species.

Besides enjoying the weather and scenery on the trip, we got to experience some unique wildlife. Especially when Becky found a baby Milk Snake and I found a Stinkpot Turtle. Both are odd names, but only one has substance to back it up. The milk in the Milk Snake name was totally based on myth. People thought these snakes sucked milk out of a cow's udder since they were often found in barns! The main reason they were there was because of the rodents, not the cows. As to the Stinkpot Turtle, the name is more than justified. When this turtle feels threatened, it releases a foul odour to protect itself. I don't know about me looking or being all that threatening, (must have been Becky!), but trust me, we found out pretty quickly why its named as such! After taking a few pictures, we gladly let it go its merry way!

It's coming whether we like it or not!

Lastly, canoeing in the Kawarthas is free since it is predominantly crown land. Unfortunately, (well depends on how you look at it?) changes have steadily been taking place. I've noticed in the last year that signs have been going up, - like portage signs, camp site signs and even bathrooms signs. Now include picnic tables, fire rings and thunderboxes and you have the makings of a newly formed park. Yes, that's right, the Kawarthas Highland Signature Site Park, - what a mouthful! There was signs all over the place to indicate that by next year May, anyone paddling in the Kawarthas will now have to pay. I have mixed feeling about this happening, but regardless of what I think, I figured I should share this information with my readers. Nevertheless, its still no reason not to paddle this wonderful place! Just ask Becky!


Now who in their right mind would not want to paddle here!
Even if you have to pay, its definitely worth it!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Kindred Spirit - Too Close To Home

Outdoor pursuits such as canoeing has been known to
elevate people to a higher place.

Being a canoehead, I quite often notice and pay attention to canoe related things. Whether books, gear, paddling magazines or even websites. (obviously) Even the topic of canoes or trips gets me all excited as I then quite often get verbal diarrhea! So its a no brainer that it's like a natural reaction of mine or an extension of my personality.

Call it a fatal attraction, canoeing is that to some people.
Without it, its like life lacks energy, purpose
or meaning. It's that important.

One day at work when I headed to our staff room to have lunch, I noticed the usual scattering of magazines and newspapers on the table. Most times I don't even bother because I usually have my own stuff to read. However, what caught my attention was a small picture of a guy in a canoe. As I picked up the magazine, I realized it was a recent edition of MacLean's. I guess someone else had read it and left it open on that page - if not, I would have never even noticed it.

Curious about the article, I read the title, - it was the fellow's full name, including his middle name. And right above, just like the inscription on a tombstone was the year of his birth and death! Oh,...that's not good I thought. So now a bit apprehensive, I read the short intro below the title. "He loved canoeing, and could be seen portaging through suburban streets to get to the river. 'He always wanted to see what was around the bend.'" I knew just from that I already liked him; I continued reading.

My car has often been identified at work with a canoe on the roof.
A fellow from the IT department shot this with his
Blackberry, and sent it to me titled "One
CanoeHead Spotted!!"
Photo: Cameron Gonsalves

I soon forgot about lunch as I became totally absorbed in this short one page article. What became clear was that this fellow by the name of Michael Craig Robinson, fell in love with canoeing, much like myself. Here was a guy that I could see many similarities and feel a kindred spirit. While reading I was mesmerized and understood his passion. He was often spotted at work with his canoe on his roof just like I frequently do. He read many books pertaining to nature, the environment and history like I have. He even missed an important event, like his graduation to go canoeing. I've been guilty on more than one occasion for similar types of offences!

What kind of books did you expect to find in my room?

Sure, I'm probably reading (excuse the pun) too much into this. There are probably dozens of other people that can relate to Mike like I did. However, it doesn't take away from the fact that a promising individual who cared about others and shared his passion for paddling had his life cut short. So you are probably wondering what happened? Well, that's where I end my inadequacies as a writer. The article was well written by Julia Belluz and should be appreciated by actually reading it. I decided to scan it and post it below for all to read. I know its probably questionable posting this article but I have nothing to gain, (monetarily or otherwise) other than a desire to share the life of a brilliant individual who also happens to love canoeing. Here it is below. Click on the picture to enlarge it for easier reading.

All it took was a picture of a
guy in a canoe.

Sure there is no coincidence that his father died of lung cancer like my father did. Nor the fact that we are almost the same age, him being 40 and I 39. Neither is the fact that his plane crashed on July 24, which would have been the first day of his trip, somewhat like July 25, the first day of our big trip. Nevertheless, despite never meeting him, I feel a great sadness and heaviness in my heart towards this kindred spirit, - a passionate paddler. The coincidence of how and why I came to find this one article eludes me, but the similarities and irony hits too close to home. I just hope it all ends here.

My deepest condolences to his wife Tammy and their son Nolan.
Mike, rest in peace.

- from one passionate paddler to another -

Heaven, the ultimate Shangri-La must be
a dream place to paddle.
Enjoy my 'friend'.

PS. If you have a hard time reading the article,
contact me at and I will email it to you.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Bloodvein River - Eight Feet Up

Since when do Aspen grow in water?!! Problem is that
they don't! See the ones angling over?

Ontario this past winter has had record low snowfall. Combine that with record high spring temperatures and little rain meant only one thing for our rivers - very low water levels. This was detrimental to my planned canoe trips this year as 2 major river trips were cancelled due to this. So when the the date for the Bloodvein River trip approached I was cautiously optimistic, especially as there also was an out of control fire burning just 100 kms east of where we were to start! The odds did not look good.

Anxious, a month before the trip I finally decided to check the government website that provides info on current water levels. To my surprise the water levels were actually very high. In fact for the week that water levels were displayed on the graph, it was higher than the maximum values and slowly on its way down! Who would have ever thought!? Relieved, I was now pretty certain that by the time we would be on the river the water levels would still be paddleable. Phew!

In this picture you can clearly see the high water level mark
on the rock face. This was evident everywhere
in varying levels.

Fast forward into the trip and we started to realize something was 'up'? At first we thought waters levels were normal as we clearly saw a distinct high water level mark. (There was clean pink granite rock approx 2-3 feet below a clear line of thick brown lichen.) Even after our second portage, our first being a short carry down to the lake from the parking lot, we immediately got our feet wet on the trail and assumed just that - a wet portage. However, when almost every portage had pools of water, mud holes, and even 'mini creeks' running through them, we knew this area wasn't experiencing any of the dry conditions further south.

The out wash and boils from some of the rapids and falls
were incredible! Lisa contemplating where
we would end up if we dumped!!

The most obviously evidence of high water levels was at the rapids. Nothing that the guidebook or information we had made sense. It seemed all of the rapids went up a notch or two in classification, with some rapids disappearing all together and even new ones being formed! The most anxious moments were when we were trying to land the canoe at the start of the portage. As most were just at the brink of the foaming whitewater, chute or falls, the unmistakable roar combined with the strong pull of the current meant paddling to the take-out was a nerve-racking affair. We thus started to search and even use high water take-outs when they were available. Occasionally even the put-ins were too risky as well, which inevitably meant portaging further, but given the option it was well worth it.

The high water levels even claimed some victims, - I mean
the boat! (I assumed there wasn't anyone in it!)
Photo: Lisa Riverin-Thomas

All of the evidence plus many more was verified one day when we paddled by a cabin with a floatplane. There was a fellow sitting by shore who had just gone swimming so we decided to paddle by and say hello. We not only found out that this is the last remaining leased cabin in Atikaki Provincial Park, but that the water levels were in fact 7-8 feet above normal levels at this time of year! He amusingly pointed out the curved tops of the handles that stuck out beside us, - it was attached to the dock below our canoe!

One of the truly amazing things that the high water levels
created was dynamic hydraulic art forms. We
called this one the Whale Tail.

The high waters levels and conditions related to it made our trip much more interesting than we'd ever expected. Some good, some bad, sometimes frustrating and other times exciting, but regardless, they all make for good stories! I can laugh at it now, but so can you when I get around writing about it!


Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Bloodvein River - The Reason Behind the Name

Under these 40 foot cliffs we witnessed one of the
reasons why this river was protected.

Any word or phrase that contains the word 'blood' tends to invoke vivid imaginations or queasy thoughts. It's usually not the kind of word that brings smiles or sets a happy tone. Even Lisa's father questioned her about the sanity of paddling a river designated to be called Bloodvein, - he assumed there was a dark side to the river.

There has been many theories and suggestions as to what the name actually implies, but there is one notable feature that stands out on this river that seems to clearly define this waterway. Of course there is a morbid one too that tells about a "Blood River" from the deaths of many natives killed in battle, but it seems less likely. During our daily paddle, anywhere the rocky shoreline was exposed we frequently saw conspicuous "veins" of red granite coursing throughout it. This seems to be the most plausible reason for its name when it was first referred to as such in a Hudson's Bay Journal in 1818-19 from a Berens River Post.
Here are some examples below:

Some of the "blood veins" were small and uninspiring....

...while others totally stood out and aptly defined the
descriptive nature of the river's name!

Seeing the similarity of the red veins of granite to our vascular system, it is intriguing to imagine a time in the distant past when this red molten lava coursed through solid rock like blood in our veins. It must have been one 'hell' of a place then! Coincidentally, the veins weren't the only red things we saw on this trip. The Bloodvein River has been designated a Canadian Heritage River by both Ontario and Manitoba for its geographical, natural, and historical significance. As this river was a major trade and settlement route, the river is replete with pictographs. So much so that it is the largest collections of pictographs in Canada!

Lisa admiring some of the many unique displays
of pictographs throughout the trip.

Here is an amazing display of pictographs.

We did our best to visit each pictograph site when noted on our maps, however while some were easy to locate, others we simply couldn't find. In any case, it was amazing to see so many pictographs of various forms and figures. If only we knew what those symbols meant I'm sure it would have made the trip much more interesting. Although, we did let our imagination run loose as we even shared a few laughs about our interpretations! In respect I would never discount the notion of these pictographs being of spiritual importance, but at the same time, I've wondered if these were not the first instances of graffiti by some bored adolescent youth? I don't think anyone yet knows for certain as to the true meaning or significance of pictographs, so its still really any one's guess, - intelligent or not. (yes, mine being the latter!)

We discovered an unusual offering of tobacco at this pictograph
site. Good thing neither of us are smokers!

The trip would have been quite interesting alone with just these two notable features, but the Bloodvein has a lot more to offer that we can definitely attest to, - for better or for worse!
Trust me, lots more to come!