Friday, December 30, 2011

The Coming of the New Year

As I come to the cusp of another year, I can't help think about a few things that have hit close to home. And surprisingly, it's not about paddling. Maybe because it's at the age I am now, or maybe it's something I now pay attention to, but I specifically noticed two things that seem to run contrary to each other. Lot of my friends, colleagues and even family are now having children. It's a pleasure to see these children that are vibrant and full of life. But on the flip side, people I know are not only ageing, (of course), but most poignantly, getting sick, with some succumbing to their illness. I was especially reminded of this when I visited my father's grave site this year and realized how close we are in age. It's 'life' at its finest some would say, whether evolutionary, or for others, the creator's master plan. Whether each action is to balance the other (and help us cope), maybe, but it's still a hard swallow at times. Despite it all, this is life as we all know it.

Reflection: Looking back at the previous year

New Year's is a happy time and I don't want to rain on anyone's parade with sombre thoughts. It's just that I wish for all my friends, family and readers all the best in health and spirit. Because it is only with health we can paddle, and of course when we get to paddle, happiness soon follows. And yes, I'm being facetious, as there are many other things that can bring about happiness, but as I suspect most of my readers are paddlers, I think you know exactly where I am coming from!

Projection: Looking ahead at the new year

Happy New Year's Everyone!
 Wishing you all health and happiness in 2012!
See you on the water!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Paddling On Christmas Day?

Stark, still, and serene in Algonquin at the end of November. 
Captivating for sure, but not the kind of scenery to
get you into that festive mood.

As I drove to work this morning, I couldn't help myself from thinking about another canoe trip. Here I was in the middle of December, with no trace of snow anywhere and my car displaying 4C outside. Last week one day, we even hit a high of 14C! This is December, isn't it? I even did an oil change on my car this past weekend, something I've never done at this time of year. The forecast for the rest of the week shows highs above zero with no sign of any snow. It looks like it's definitely not going to be a white Christmas this year. 

Oh yeah, Christmas is coming too. Maybe it's the lack of snow, or the fact that I have so many other things on my mind. In any case, I can't say I'm in the Christmas mood,...yet. Sure, the Christmas tunes are playing and the Christmas decorations are out, but I feel like being somewhere else. Like lost somewhere deep in the wilderness, paddling along shore with big fat snowflakes falling all around me. Yeah, now that sounds about right. Even on my last trip at the end of November, I was hoping to take a canoe-Christmas themed picture to share on the blog. Of course I needed some of that white stuff to provide the proper backdrop, but no luck there as well. If it was a tad bit colder, I would have gotten my wish, but since it decided to stay just one degree above zero, I ended the trip soaking wet instead - sigh.

Even the removal of my roof  racks is a glum occasion. It's about coming
to facts that canoeing is finished for the season.
Photo: Lisa Riverin-Thomas

I've never been a big fan of Christmas, at least in the commercialization of it. The mad rush of shoppers, crowds, trying to find parking, and searching for gifts as elusive as spotting a Canadian lynx. Why we subject ourselves to all this madness, I will never know. We say its all about giving, but sometime I'm more inclined to think its all about getting. In this day and age, most of us have what we truly need - a roof over our heads, food at the table, a job and family/friends. What more could anyone want? Sometimes I think we lose sight of the most important things we should be thankful for at this time of year. If there should be any giving at Christmas, in my opinion, it should be to those that don't have these basic things, which including myself, quite often take for granted.

Despite my little rant, Christmas is still a great time of year. It often brings out the best in people, their generosity and kindness. What I do love most about Christmas is families spending time together. As much as we think everyone does a lot of this throughout the year, I'm pretty certain not enough time is actually spent doing this. We all have 365 days in a year to do all kinds of things for ourselves, but how many of those days do we all make a concerted effort to be together. Christmas is one of those times, and that part alone is worth waiting another 364 days for. The long term forecast shows Christmas day to have above zero temperatures and most likely no snow. I know I would rather be out paddling somewhere, but it's Christmas, and time to be well spent with family. I'm sure I can forget thinking about paddling for one day!

I was grateful to have witnessed and captured this scene on a trip a few
years ago. However, this is how I would imagine what
 paddling on Christmas day should be like!

 Wishing you all, paddlers or not, the happiest of holidays!
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Event - Part 5

Anita's reaction after realizing she just committed the
rest of her life to me. (And the problem is?!)

There are moments when we are awed, captivated and even find ourselves breathless by the scenery before us. It often illicit deep profound thoughts. Well, when Anita and I were sitting there atop Ontario with the splendor of the endless scenery before us, I began asking those atypical questions. About her dreams and wishes, what she wanted in life, and ultimately about happiness. Prepping Anita to finally pose the question, my mouth suddenly parched, my heartbeat doubled, and my hand inside my pocket that held the wooden ring started to sweat. I'm sure my vision went fuzzy and my blood pressure dropped  precipitously low, so before I fainted and totally ruin the moment, I quickly asked if she would make me the happiness person in the world -as I slid the wooden ring on her finger. 

From that point on, I had no recollection of the following minute(s). Every blood vessel in my body had probably constricted so much, the lack of oxygen to my head must have halted my ability to record the proceeding events - quite frankly being one of the most important times in my life. I seriously had no clue if she even said yes! When I finally started to come back from 'outer space', I heard Anita go on about being shocked and surprised I proposed so soon. I surmised she might have said yes, but in all honesty, I had no clue! No word of a lie, I actually asked her afterwards if she actually said yes. Understandably, both surprised and perplexed by my question, she adamantly and reassuringly acknowledged she did - phew! Talk about being a space cadet!

So here it is, the wooden engagement ring. Made of cedar
from the shores of Scarecrow Lk and carved
with a Leatherman!

Relieved by both the affirmative answer and the weight that was now lifted off my shoulder, I was finally able to relax and join in on the conversation. Anita remarked that she was amazed and impressed that I was able to carve a ring that coincidentally also fit! (Yes, I was beaming!) Although, I did tell her luck played a big part in it. I then promised her a more substantial engagement ring with an actual stone after the trip, but for now, she would have to accept this symbolic one. Comically, this response gave me another neat idea, as I offered to find a 'stone' to affix to the wooden ring. This would then complete the look of a typical engagement ring - a la Au Naturel style! As we were sitting atop a mound of quartzite, I quickly searched around and found a few that seemed to work. With her approval of the final stone, we created an even more symbolic ring - one that was also from the very place we got engaged!

The wooden ring with the very impressive 
'2 carat quartzite' - lol

We were both on a 'high', (Excuse the puns!), on the highest point of land, and which certainly was the highlight of the day for both of us. We were giddy, ecstatic and overwhelmed by the moment. It's one of those few times in life when you feel the emotions warm and extend to the furthest reaches of your body. All you want to do is just take it all in, and never forget it. As much as we would have loved to stay there and let time stand still, I eventually had to break the reverie. It was getting late and we still had to cover some distance that day. (A rest day was originally scheduled for this day, but was lost due to unexpectedly being wind bound on Smoothwater Lake.) We took one last look around, embraced, then turned to leave that unique location, which incidentally became even more special to us.

The highest point in Ontario now has more
significance to the both of us!

The rest of the trip didn't pan out exactly as planned. We ran into more of the same problems we had at the beginning of the trip - go figure. Low water (more like no water) on the Lady Evelyn river meant we couldn't make it to Florence Lake. Then ironically, we ended up back at Smoothwater Lake where we dealt with wind again. We even decided to finish the trip a day early as we ran out of options. Despite all this, I was completely thankful that I was able to accomplish what I had set out to do. Call it good timing, luck, or divine intervention, whatever it was, I was grateful for the perfect conditions that allowed me to affirm one of the biggest changes to my life. There is now a new passion in my life besides paddling - Anita. Life as I've known it won't ever be the same.

Its a life changing decision, but one I
happily look forward to.

Canoes were originally made with two people in mind. I am just thrilled, that someone has now permanently taken that other seat. Looking forward to a life full of paddling adventures with Anita!


Postscript: So the big question, why the pause? There actually was a valid reason for it. In Anita's defense, the proposal not only caught her off guard, (Which is how it's supposed to happen, right?) but at the same time, she thought the wooden ring was a joke. A few weeks prior, Anita's mom unexpectedly spoke to both of us about rings and marriage. When Anita and I talked about that discussion later on, she sarcastically asked for a ring. I jokingly pulled off a key ring and slipped it on her finger, stating that was all she would get. That incident was obviously still fresh in her mind when the actual moment came, and guess what? She didn't initially reply because she honestly thought it was another joke! Talk about back-firing! In any case, as you know from my state of disconnect, I didn't even hear it, let alone was cognizant of anything she said afterwards - but at least I now know why. I guess in the end, the joke was really on me! (shaking my head)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Last Trip of the Year?

Heading out for the last time with my faithful
red Nova Craft Prospector!
Photo: Anita DeVries

Well, it's been crazy of late, especially at work and at home, so it will definitely be refreshing to get away on a canoe trip one last time this year. I've also been working hard at getting the series of posts of "The Event" up. I have one last one to do and hope to get it done next week, of course, after I return from my canoe trip. Yesterday, everyone has been shopping like mad on Black Friday; (It's not officially an event in Canada) even I took advantage of it and ordered a couple things online, but I am more than happy to get away from the continued shopping madness this weekend. In fact, as everyone is shopping for deals, I will take advantage of this 'mild weather deal', and get away on a solo 4 day trip in Algonquin. (I'm pretty sure I won't have to deal with crowds!) Well, have fun shopping this weekend if you are out looking for deals. I hope to get a good deal on this canoe trip! Be in touch soon!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Event - Part 4

Our small island campsite on Scarecrow Lake
surrounded by a thick fog

Did you know carving a wooden ring is not easy, especially with just a Leatherman? I spent almost one and a half hours carving, poking, trimming, and whittling away at that lump of cedar. Started with a piece too big, almost ruined it a couple times, and even came close to slicing my fingers! Throw in my generous use of colourful words, what started out looking like man's first invention of the wheel, it eventually took on the likeness of a ring. I wasn't going to win any awards, but I was happy with the results. (Did prehistoric man propose in the same way?) Hey, I even got the size right! A ring she once put on her finger, I found fit on my pinkie as reference. Yes I know, sneaky!

I wished I took pictures of how the piece of the wood transformed into a ring, but I was so concerned Anita may eventually wake up, I didn't stop for a second. And good thing, because just as I finished, she came out of the tent to relieve herself and ask what I was up too. I had just enough time to throw the wood chips/shavings into the fire and tuck the ring in my Pelican case before she came over. I told her I was contemplating (cough) life, and freezing my butt off. (No lie here!) That night, I was glowing with warmth, despite sliding my chilled body into my down bag. Beating the odds by the skin of my teeth, sleep came to me better than it ever had in the last few days.

One of 3 small beautiful' alpine' lakes we got
to see on our way up to the summit

The next morning dawned with our small island totally encased by thick fog. When the mist finally burned off, we were treated to a gorgeous day, the kind of day you wish for when you're about to propose outdoors. I was the happiest person in the world, considering everything that happened to get to this point. After a hearty breakfast of pancakes, we reluctantly began to pack up. We took our time that morning, luxuriating in the warmth from the rising sun and breathing in the cool crisp autumn air. Both feeling fortunate and at ease by the beautiful weather and scenery unfolding around our island, Scarecrow Lake was finally living up the hype I accredited to her prior to the trip. Of course, unknown to Anita, I wasn't totally relaxed as she was, considering what was coming. I just had to reassure myself that everything would work out fine - all in good time.

The hour and half it took to climb to the top was a great distraction. The combination of the physical exertion and the scenic trail helped to redirect my attention. Although, it was hard not to think about what was ahead, as every step brought us closer to the summit. Inevitably, we made it to the top. We took a moment to embrace, claim that we officially made it to the highest point in Ontario, (2275ft/693m), and then admire the unending vista in front of us. Thankfully, we were also the only ones up there, especially considering what I was going to do. (We passed two groups heading back down on our way up.) I couldn't have asked for better conditions, as we were sitting comfortably atop a mound of quartzite on an absolutely gorgeous fall day. More than ever, now was the perfect time. Gulp!

Enjoying the scene atop the highest point in Ontario
Ishpatina Ridge - 2275ft/693m

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Event - Part 3

Smoothwater Lake was acting up - overcast,
rain, cold, and very windy!

Burdened with enough to think about prior to the trip, once it got under way, I then had to deal with problems getting to Scarecrow Lake. (Where the trail to Ishpatina is located.) First off, we had miserable weather; rain, cold temperatures, and lots of wind. So much so that we actually got wind bound on Smoothwater Lake for a day. (Anita still asks why it's named as such?) Once we finally left Smoothwater, we took a detour on our way to Scarecrow Lake via Scarecrow Creek. I went this way years back and it wasn't a problem then. Not this time - we ran out of water and were thigh deep in bone chilling muck. We literally had to hold onto the canoe while 'walking' and dragging the canoe, otherwise we would have sank further in. Anita wasn't impressed and started to doubt my glorification of Scarecrow Lake. We finally got there cold, wet, and muddy late in the day, but thankful that it was now passed us. I just hoped and prayed the next day, summit day would turn out much better.

After much thought about not having a ring, I decided the next best thing was to make one myself - I would carve one. I still planned to get one, but I hoped the symbolism of this wooden one would suffice, as well as garner a yes, until I could get a real one. I am neither a woodworker or carver, so this idea that was great in theory, was a daunting prospect, considering I still had to find the time and opportunity to do it! With only a Leatherman, I wondered if it was even possible? It was ballsy to say the least, but I was running out of time and options, so this was going to be it.

Creeks are great places to paddle, except when you
run out of water! (Scarecrow Creek)

I was hoping to camp at the trail head when we got to Scarecrow Lake. Disappointingly, there were people already there and we had to resort to the only other campsite, which was on an island. Normally, this wouldn't be problem, but the slim picking of trees and the difficulty of sneaking away made things more challenging. Luckily, we had to paddle to the mainland to collect firewood. I took the opportunity to purposely walk further away and saw off a green cedar branch. (Why not have it smell nice too!) Surprisingly, she didn't notice the bulge in my pocket, nor that I smelled wonderfully like cedar. Once we got to camp, I furtively hid the small limb between some rocks.

With less than 24 hours to go, my opportunities to carve the ring was slowly slipping away. I was starting to get nervous. Fortuitously, after the sun had set and it started to get cold, despite sitting around the fire together, Anita decided to turn in. She was both tired from the tough slog and chilled by the cold wind, so was eager to get to bed early. Luck was on my side! She didn't even question why I wanted to stay out, especially when I mumbled something about wanting to see the stars. This was the opportunity I had been waiting for! Now was the time to make it happen. With only the chill to deal with, I quickly retrieved the cedar limb, my Leatherman, and sat close to the warm fire. It all now came down to this moment - could I make it?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Event - Part 2

Anita taking the time to marvel at the scenery

I found out long ago you can't judge a book by its cover. Despite the fact we are all familiar with this saying, we often are still quick to jump to conclusions, like I did with Anita. Quite frankly, I never expected we could or would be compatible in any way, let alone roughing it in the bush on a canoe trip. So of course when she agreed to head out on a canoe trip with me, I had my doubts and was skeptical. Although, I was sincerely appreciative that she was willing to go at all, so I made attempts to make her introduction as reasonably comfortable as possible. As mentioned in my last blog, the first trip did have some hardships, but Anita thankfully wasn't totally turned off.

Luckily for me (and my friends), as the year progressed, Anita agreed to head out on more trips. Despite her inexperience in less than glamorous conditions, she handled it well. Her skills slowly improved with each trip and more importantly, she actually enjoyed being out there. In the few times we got to trip together, we surprisingly also found each other. Did you know that canoe trips can be a great environment for finding someone? You are forced to get to know each other, deal with a myriad of conditions, both good and bad, and lastly figure out whether you are compatible or not, both as canoe partners or as friends. Unexpectedly, I found both. It was then we decided to date.

Many times in our lives, we are confronted with situations that elicit a higher form of mental processing than just thought processes alone. It's called gut-feeling. It's hard to fathom how or why we feel a particular way, but something intangible is at play. Well, only after 3 months of dating Anita, I felt and knew things were very 'right'. I couldn't believe it myself, but I honestly was ready to move to the next stage! (Yes, I know some of you will be quite shocked reading this!) I had no hesitations, questions, or even doubts, other than just the anxiety of popping the actual question. Maybe it was a combination of turning 40, FINALLY knowing what I wanted, being ready, etc. Most importantly, I think it was the mere fact that I met the right person.

Anita became not only a paddler,
but a good friend as well

In mid-September, Anita and I were finally going to get the chance to head out on a canoe trip together - alone. Wanting to seize this opportunity, it was literally days before the trip that I decided I was going to propose. With very little time to figure how I was going to do it, let alone get a ring, I was beside myself. I finally picked a route in Temagami and decided I was going to propose atop the highest point in Ontario, Ishpatina Ridge. (Ironic as September is my favourite month to paddle and Temagami is my favourite paddling destination.) The only problem, no ring. What would I propose to her with?! Consumed by this thought, I had a few restless nights prior to the trip. What was I going to do?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Event - Part 1

Anita and I just hanging out

We all wish for many things in our lives, such as a life-long partner. Today, more than ever, people are either waiting longer to commit to someone, or not at all. And of course there are those that would love to, but can't seem to find that perfect match. I did a combination of them all. First off, I obviously didn't make any such commitment early in life, and as you all know my age from my previous post, I passed the point most average people get married. Also, at times, I thought about going solo and considered it seriously. Although, despite liking time alone, I do prefer company. Something about having someone there with you in body, mind, and spirit. Last of all, I did seek perfection. The problem was, that usually tended to turn me back to the solo option. I wasn't getting anywhere.

Anita and I work together at a hospital in Richmond Hill. Even though we knew each other for several years, I only knew her enough to say hello and have the odd exchanges related to work. This year, I had a bunch of trips planned with some friends, but needed a partner to commit to some, if not all of them. I solicited my usual paddling friends, but for one reason or other, no one could commit. It was then time to go for broke or else many of the pre-planned trips could be in jeopardy. So, I started sticking my neck out to see if anyone else would bite.

The response from my work colleagues are always amusing since they know about my canoeing exploits and think I'm off my rocker. So of course when I asked a bunch of them during lunch one day, I got the usual smirks, smart remarks, and attitude. Many had conditions attached to them which I obviously couldn't accommodate, like no bugs or animals, every night had to be in a cabin, or every site had to have a hot shower and a toilet. ("You're kidding, right?!") I was told a vacation meant getting pampered with fresh food, drinks, and a soft bed. The idea of roughing it for a vacation went totally against their principle. Sigh, why bother?

Anita did not stand out from the group, as she claimed she was a "glamper". (Combine glamorous and camper, and you get someone who enjoys high maintenance camping.) Well unexpectedly, her resolve started to soften when she read my blog and regularly heard me rave about canoe trips. She actually took the bait, and soon after, the first trip with her was booked. On our first outing in April this year, she fared okay, despite a massive face plant on the portage. (Can you imagine, she apparently was day-dreaming about soaking in a hot tub!) Yes, the weather was cold, it also rained quite a bit, and there was the kilometre long portage she endured with more weight on her back than she ever experienced in her life, but she did it and somehow found reason to go again.

Since that inaugural outing, Anita has gone on 5 trips hence with me. She has endured shivering in the cold rain, trying to extricate herself out of a bog, face planted yet again on the portage trail, and even got bitten by bugs she never knew existed. Nor will she forget her gastro-intestinal bout, almost dislocating her thumb, and some wild weather conditions, one she descriptively coined as "gale-force winds and sub-zero temperatures". Sometimes it was too much for her, like when her legs gave out halfway up a very steep portage. I did my best to make her experience as tolerable as possible, but sometimes, it was out of my control. Sure, there was some tough times, but through it all, we shouldered through it - together. She was quickly becoming a great paddling partner. Was there a chance there could be more?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Coming Of Age

Dawn of a new age

Our lives are often filled with events, whether it is personal in nature, or on a global scale. Sometimes it impacts us in a big way, while other times, it doesn't make any difference at all. And let's not forget, timing also plays significantly to events as well. When I was first introduced to canoeing at the only summer camp I had the chance to go, it didn't affect my life very much. Jump forward many years, when I harmlessly picked up a copy of 'Up The Creek', a canoe route's book by Kevin Callan, my life took a dramatic turn. It hasn't been the same ever since, and I think it's pretty obviously to all what happened.

Some events are fairly predictable, like the changing of the seasons or when you have to file your taxes. You know its coming, sometimes you may not like it, but its going to happen whether you like it or not. Because it is predictable, you can prepare for it if need be, but other times, you can't do anything - it just comes and goes, like your birthday. This year, I turned 40. For many, it's a big to-do. Some will cry, while others will party, but for me, it went by without much fanfare. Only thing I did, which actually was planned by fluke with friends months before, was head out on a canoe trip. Even my friends on the trip didn't know I was turning 40. To me, it didn't really matter, I was just happy doing what I loved the most - being out on a canoe trip.

Celebrating my birthday on a canoe trip with friends
- couldn't ask for more!

Inversely, there are events that are unpredictable. Most people tend not to like these, as it can throw their lives into chaos, such as a car accident or an unplanned pregnancy. However, not all unpredictable events are bad. How about winning a lottery, getting a promotion at work, or an unplanned pregnancy? Generally, people don't like surprises, which is understandable, but then life as it is, would become very mundane and boring. Like a canoe trip in Algonquin, where you know exactly where the portages are, what they are like, their lengths, and even how many campsites there are on the lake. It can be a stress free experience, but how exciting is that? When I turned 40, that was totally predictable, but what wasn't, was getting a new canoe as a gift from my family. I'd say in my case, the unpredictable event made the predictable one a much better experience!

Getting a new canoe definitely put a smile on my face!

Then of course, there are some events that can significantly impact your life, whether they are predictable or not - like canoeing was to me. As expected, while growing up, I enjoyed most outdoor activities like canoeing; yet, it was totally unexpected how later on in life it consumed me. I don't for a moment regret any of it, nor all the crazy experiences that came along with it, as it has completely enriched my life. Turning 40 or getting a new canoe are big deals too, but honestly, other than having a few more aches and pains and sporting a new canoe, everything's status quo.

It came and it went - another birthday

I admit, my life in much of the past decade has revolved around canoeing and there hasn't been much that has changed this. Maybe there is some truth to it when family and friends think my life-long partner will be a canoe. The chances of that happening are pretty much in their favour, predictably; but unpredictably for me and for everyone that knows me, there is an event that may change this. There are times in our lives that an event may be life altering, a game changer, or maybe it's a coming of age. Whatever you want to call it, things will never be the same. And don't worry, I'm not going to hang up my paddles yet! It's a big change alright, but I believe its a good one. Stayed tuned!


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thankful For Luck!

Mesmerized by the colours

Occasionally, when you head out on a late season canoe trip, you may just luck out. Like I did, when a group of us headed out during Thanksgiving weekend for a 5 day canoe trip. Usually at this time of year, everyone talks about lucking out with the colours, but I'm specifically referring to the weather. Tripping in northern Ontario in mid-October is usually a chilly occasion. Much like what I recently experienced on some trips since mid-September where I've had some really cold wet weather. So when I began checking the weather forecast prior to our trip, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. There was a row of sun icons, all indicating sunny days; but even more surprising was the temperatures listed directly below. They were steadily increasing way above norms this time of year - I'm talking 20+ Celsius highs!

Shorts, hats, and sunscreen. What else would you
expect on a mid-October trip?!

This kind of weather forecast at this time of year really creates quite the dilemma for me. What do I bring?! T-shirts, shorts, sandals, or how about a bathing suit? It's one thing if I was out for only a couple days, but being out 5 days, I was quite certain that those highs weren't going to be around the whole time. I knew the combination of constantly changing weather patterns and no
ironclad weather forecast, I really should be ready for anything. So, in the end, my clothing bag was bigger than ever, as I even packed in a towel! Well surprise surprise, for once, the weather and the weatherman's forecast was dead-on correct. It was the longest hot spell I've ever experienced on an October canoe trip! (And yes, I did go in for a dip, so bringing the towel was

Beauty in the juxtaposition of both life and death

Maskinonge Lake did not fail to impress

With the weather forecast being so nice, as well as being Thanksgiving weekend, it was imperative to make sure we celebrated with a special meal. Since we were all going to miss out on turkey, I suggested the idea of cooking a chicken on the trip. Well, the proposal didn't take much convincing as my friends took it upon themselves to do it. The only concern was the abnormally warm temperatures, so we adjusted by having Thanksgiving dinner a day early. Consequently, including Thanksgiving dinner, we had some incredible meals because the route we chose was not too difficult and we had the liberty to take whatever we wanted. Yup, the barrels were filled with heavy fresh food, but so were our stomachs at the end of each meal! I have to say, not only did we luxuriate in the warm weather, but we ate like kings!

Prepping the potatoes and brined chicken for
our Thanksgiving meal

We made a unique double-sided fire pit to simultaneously
cook multiple things at once

And lastly, in regards to our comfortable route, we ventured into an area none of us had tripped before. I've frequently considered tripping through some lakes NE of Sudbury (east of the Chiniguichi area), but had never got there until now. Well, let me tell you, this route turned out to be spectacular! Sure, the weather helped immensely, including the eye-popping colours, but also because of its clear aqua-green waters, stunning cliffs, intimate falls, sand beaches and pretty islands. Honestly, it was much more than we all expected! It was really a treat for the senses, as we were amazed at the beauty of this place. With the combination of everything that just went right, we truly felt lucky beyond compare. Now how lucky is that?!

Sunsets like this, including a full moon made
our trip even more memorable

This trip really reinforced how lucky and thankful I am to live in Canada, and continue to look forward to being amazed as I paddle around the next bend. Hope you've all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoyed the great weather too!


Now that's a meal fit for Thanksgiving -
especially on a canoe trip!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Risk of Occupying the Wrong Campsite

The beautiful scene we got to see for a brief moment
when the rain stopped in the morning
from our group site

Have you ever occupied a campsite that you weren't supposed to? I know I have. Once in Algonquin, my partner and I couldn't locate a site along a particular stretch of river where we had reserved a campsite. We ended up at the lake instead to look for a place to camp. As most of the campsites were already occupied, we were relieved to find one, but we also felt uneasy about whether we were taking someone's site. It was late in the afternoon, so there was still time for other canoeists to look for campsites. So despite setting up camp, we were quite anxious, especially when other canoes passed close by. We agreed earlier that if anyone with a permit for this lake was out of a campsite, we would voluntarily pick up and move. Well thank goodness we didn't have to.

Now, have you ever been on the flip side? Well, this past weekend, it happened to me and my paddling partner Andrea when we headed to the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails (HHWT) region to paddle the Black Lake Loop. We left right after work on Thursday and planned to paddle only a short distance from the access point to a site close by since it was going to be late. This particular spot was a group site, so I had to take extra measures to reserve it. My partner and I obviously do not qualify as a group by sheer definition, nor did we belong to any group organization on the HHWT list, which is also a requirement. So the only way I was able to secure that site was to call the staff at the HHWT office the day we were leaving. Once it was verified that no group had reserved it, we were able to pay and reserve that site. All was going as planned until we paddled around the bend and began seeing multiple canoes, tents, people and a huge tarp over the campfire. I looked back at the map, confirmed this was the site and was dumbfounded that it was taken by a group!

Jared displaying his fly-fishing skill. Unfortunately
the jumping fish didn't bite!

Understandably, anyone would be upset, especially under the circumstances we were in and the extra measures needed to reserve this spot. So we purposefully paddled towards the site and inquired. An older gentlemen approached the shore and immediately apologized once he found out we had a permit for the site. He quickly conveyed to the group that they would have to pack up and move. Before he did this, we inquired about what happened. As it was, this group from a local college was actually supposed to be at another site that evening. But since it was the last night, due to the combination of a short travelling day and miserable weather, Gilles, the instructor/guide decided to continue on and take advantage of this rarely used group site near the end of the route. He surmised that the lack of other paddlers seen during their trip and the weather conditions, he would likely find this site empty - and of course his assumption was right. But little did he know that TWO crazy paddlers would show up that evening to lay claim to that group site!

It was totally understandable why this group ended at our site. Even my partner's ruffled feathers settled as we tried to figure out another solution. Neither of us were comfortable about sending this group off as they were all settled in, but nor did we want to paddle in the waning light to look further abroad for a campsite. So I suggested to Andrea about sharing the site with this group. Surprisingly she agreed without hesitation. We proposed this to Gilles and he was more than happy with this arrangement. It was a win-win situation where we could still camp at our designated site and feel good about allowing this group to stay there as well.

Members of the Outdoor Adventure Skills course from l to r
Lezly-Ann, Jared, Amberlea, David, Renaldo
Juli, Jacob, Gilles and my paddling
partner Andrea

Gilles was more than accommodating that evening in getting us settled and helping us feel welcomed. Lezly-Ann, the assistant guide immediately offered to give us her tenting spot, which was not only flat, but sheltered. (Thank you Lezly-Ann, especially since it rained the next morning!) After setting up our tent, we headed to the campfire and were introduced to the other 6 members of the group. They were students from Sir Sanford Fleming College, taking part in the Outdoors Adventure Skills course. Out on a 4 day canoe trip, they were being taught how to paddle and portage from Gilles and Lezly-Ann, as well as probably learning how to put up with the inclement weather.

They didn't have it easy as it rained all four days, but everyone seemed pretty content to be out there despite the conditions. Well,....except for Amberlea, who was eager to have it end. Of course I inquired why and soon found out she was an English Literature major! (The rest of the students were all enrolled in some sort of outdoors-oriented program at the college.) I also found out she had gone to Teacher's College and was doing this course to expand her teachable skill-set to make her more marketable. Good for her I thought, although I could tell, the 'outdoors thing' just wasn't as much to her liking as it was to the others. I left her to continue dreaming about being home warm and dry.

The natural world teaches us many lessons. This pic taken on
Carcass Lake seemed to indicate bad weather. But look
closely and you will see a rainbow. Things
may not always be as bad as it
may seem.

Andrea and I both had a good time that night as we all sat around the campfire sharing stories and making Smores. I found out Jared wanted to be a conservation officer, Renaldo wanted to guide trips one day, and Lezly-Ann even taught me about how to pick mushrooms. Of course I couldn't help babble on about canoe trips, especially with Gilles, who is not only a paddling instructor, but a die-hard canoe tripper like me. We barely shared several hours together in total with this group, but it was great to feel so at ease with other like-minded people. The next morning, we parted ways under a steady rain and grey skies, but I left in high spirits as I had a great time with this group. Even Andrea mentioned later in our trip that our time with this group was an unexpected highlight. Of course, no one expected things to turn out so well considering, however, I'm now convinced that the concept of occupying the wrong campsite may not always be a bad thing!


PS. Wishing you all (Canadians) a Happy Thanksgiving!
No turkey for me as I will be away on a canoe trip.
The weather looks great and I sure as heck
want to take advantage of it!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Quetico Experience

The Quetico experience even included a beach
campsite. Didn't expect that!

The first hot shower, a comfy bed or even the first fresh meal is always a treat when you finish a long trip. However, if I could take it all back to continue tripping in Quetico, I would do it all in a heartbeat. I may be a bit biased since I obviously love canoe trips, but hey, this just summarizes my feelings about the 2 weeks I spent in Quetico. The experience was amazing and I can't wait to go back.

I've never seen so many large red and white pines together.
I was in total awe and often found myself tripping
on portages while looking up.

Temagami is one of my most favourite places to paddle in Ontario due to its rugged landscape, old growth and challenging routes. So of course when I heard that Quetico is much like Temagami, I was ecstatic. Part of me was a little reserved to think there was another locale with features that rivaled Temagami, but the other side of me was screaming to go there to find out for myself. The opportunity finally came and I can whole-heartedly say, I love the place. I really did find Temagami's twin!

These weren't new shoes, but the portages in Quetico
definitely finished them off. I actually had
holes in them!

When I think of an operating provincial park, I normally think of a place that is somewhat tamed and groomed. I find most parks have that feeling its been a bit pampered. However, canoe tripping in Quetico was much like what I would experience on a crown land route. Trying to locate portages, rough portages, (including take-outs and put-ins), rugged landscapes that include fire ravaged areas, wild storms, old growth, and oh, even trying to locate campsites! To me, these challenges and circumstances align more closely with what I'd expect to experience in the wilderness untouched my man. Sometimes there is a price to pay for these qualities, but the rewards are simply unmatched. Yes, we all sported bruises, scrapes, and had aches. Yes, we all got stuck in muck, had spills, blurted colourful words. Yes, we were at times exhausted, frustrated, and even miserable. But as one member of my group said after the trip, we all came away with wonderful memories - that was indeed the Quetico experience.

The combination of some great campsites and rest days
meant baking was going full tilt! Scrumptious!

Two weeks in Quetico is enough time to fully immerse yourself in this great park with lots of history. Personally, I would have preferred something more like 4 weeks, but sometimes, experiencing a bit and wanting more is much more gratifying. The route I picked tried to take in some of the highlights of the park, while at the same time trying not to overly task my fellow paddlers. (They may have slightly different opinions on this one.) We covered roughly 240kms in 12 days (with 2 rest days), which I thought was a fair mix of travel and leisure. In any case, I feel I only barely scratched the surface and would love to go back for more. My only issue with Quetico? Its sooooo far! Its a tough swallow to lose 2 days at either end of your vacation to travel there, but honestly, it is definitely worth the drive. Am I going back, definitely! Should you go, absolutely! Bottom line, you just need to go there and experience Quetico yourself. You won't regret it!

Andrea and Jennifer helped me at the Heritage Pavilion
to set me off on my way with the beautiful
Centenary Nova Craft Cronje.
Photo: Anita DeVries

It was a real privilege and honour to paddle the Centenary Nova Craft Cronje in Quetico and take part in the Artist-In-Residence program. The Cronje was a delight to paddle and light on the shoulders while portaging. I tried so hard to keep the pristine canoe from scratches, but within days it started in earnest. Oops! We left Quetico with many scrapes as memories and the canoe was no exception. As my fellow paddlers stated, at least the canoe now has character and has even 'experienced' the park itself! We can't have a 'Quetico canoe', if it hasn't even been on a canoe trip in the park, can we? Many thanks to the great staff at Quetico that helped me on my way when I got there and when I left, particularly Susan Bourne, the park naturist, Jennifer Lukacic, assistant park superintendent, Andrea Allison the park librarian and Robin Reilly, the park superintendent that got the whole ball rolling! It was a pleasure meeting them all and hope to see them again soon.

Not much a fisherman, I was ecstatic to not only catch my
first walleye, but also the biggest one!
Photo: Fred Kodjayan

Later in the year, I will blog on our groups experiences and share some more photos. It was hard to come back to the real world, but there is no time to sulk. In just over a week, I'll be headed back out again. Yup, its my favourite month to paddle and I plan to take full advantage of it!

Hope you've all been out paddling!
Its been a great year for it so far!


We had lots of time to relax,....oh!, that's the picture below.
Oops, this is Cristof after a portage!

Ok, that's more like it! Taking in the Quetico experience!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Artist-In-Residence at Quetico

I'm posting from a motel near Thunder Bay, as I'm about to embark on a 2 week canoe trip in Quetico Provincial Park tomorrow. I've heard and read many good things about this paddling mecca, which is unique in some ways from other paddling parks in Ontario. For one, unlike Algonquin PP which still allows logging, Quetico has banned logging practice altogether, so within its boundary, what you see is what you get; no facade of unending wilderness. Another practice that is different in Quetico which I think is great, is the omission of signs for campsites and portages that heightens the wilderness experience for paddlers. You can tent anywhere, as long as you practice low impact camping. Not forgetting also that you don't have to book sites at any particular lake, your route is now determined totally by your ability, experience or purpose - no need to follow a pre-determined route. A park with qualities like this, how couldn't I get excited?

Early this year, when I started to plot out my canoe season, I finally decided to take a trip out to Quetico Provincial Park. (As I've never been.) When I attended Canoecopia this year to present, I took the opportunity to visit the Ontario Parks booth to meet the superintendent of Quetico PP, Robin Reilly. We had a nice long chat about the park and its history, which only captivated my curiosity to paddle there even more. As a bonus, in the course of our discussion due to my association with Nova Craft Canoes, Robin even invited me to use their special commemorative centennial edition Cronje they got from Nova Craft, which was in display at their park office. Wow, what an honour and offer! Not only that, he suggested I take part in their Artist-In-Residence program, in which an artist gets to paddle in the park for free, in return by showcasing their artwork and helping to promote the park. Come on, how could I refuse!?

In any case, sometime early tomorrow, I will be portaging the brand new, never-before-paddled commemorative Cronje down to the shores of French Lake, and start a 14 day trip through Quetico Provincial Park. I am really looking forward to this trip, and hope that the route selected allows me to experience the essence of Quetico and capture some of it through my lens. I hope to share my experience in the following year through presentations, my blog and a return visit to Quetico. Be in touch in a couple weeks! Hope you have all got out paddling!


Monday, July 25, 2011

Premature-'Circumnavigation' of Franklin Island

Franklin Island is not only a treat for paddlers, but
photographers as well, as there are
endless possibilities.

As you all know, I don't do trip reports. No day by day play of when I got up, what I ate, where I buried my 'nuggets', how far I paddled, and where I camped. Could you imagine how much I would have to write, besides the repetitive nature of each day? What I do like to write about is the unique things that happen on trips that may entertain or amuse my readers. Many times it has centered on me, but other times I like to focus the attention on someone else, like Lynne.

There are 2 places to access Franklin Island, either from Snug
Harbour or Dillon. We opted to set off from
the public docks at Dillon.

Lynne is an experienced paddler which I met online. I needed a whitewater partner for a river trip this year and found she had done some decent trips on rivers such as the Esagami in northern Ontario, the Wind in the Yukon, and the Dumoine in Quebec. Ideally, I would have preferred to paddle some whitewater in the spring with her, but was too busy and couldn't get out. So, with the Coulonge River trip coming up, (which she committed to) I wanted to at least get out for a short trip together to size each other up. Ideally, it should have been a river trip, but since it was only us, we decided last minute to just circumnavigate Franklin Island on the recommendation of another paddling friend. I figured with her experience, we would gel pretty quickly.

Lynne made an amazing chicken satay dinner the first night.
And no, the chicken wasn't rehydrated, it was
the real stuff! Yum!

The irony with Lynne is that she is a writer and photographer, like me. Normally she writes about the quirks and whims of other people she has paddled with, including snapping photos of them. Well, the roles reversed on this trip as she was being photographed and scrutinized by moi for interesting subject matter. It was amusing as we both threatened to write about each other, but unfortunately she had a hard time finding anything of interest to write about me. Unlike me, it was like I hit jackpot. I couldn't keep up with the barrage of stuff to write about her! Yes, she moaned a lot when she realized the roles had changed on this trip and for once, she would be the subject.

I'm sure someone was just bored, but I have to say, this thing
really looks odd. Almost Stonehenge-like. (Them aliens!)

Now I have paddled with many people, from the greenest of the green, to those more experienced than I. Everyone including myself have things about them that are odd, peculiar, or just different. Really, what is normal? Also, when you've tripped for many years, you adopt certain habits and routines or do things a certain way to suit your needs, such as Lynne having breakfast the first moment she gets up. For that reason alone, we decided to bring our own breakfast, no problem. (I usually like to have a hot drink first, and then have breakfast later on.) Also, she is like clockwork when it comes to brushing her teeth after every meal, which for the most part is no problem. Except when she pulled out her toothbrush inside the tent after breakfast one morning! Yes, it was pouring outside, but couldn't she just wait, or skip it altogether for once?! She claims she doesn't usually do that,...right! The clincher was when she popped her tooth brush back in its case unrinsed and didn't bother rinsing her mouth out! Yeah, my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets - but that's Lynne.

Franklin Island has lots of sand beaches. It really is a slice
of paradise. Luckily we didn't have to contend
with many weekend campers.

I like to look over a route before heading out on a trip, but since the decision to paddle around Franklin Island was last minute, I didn't have much information on it or a map for that matter. Since Lynne lives close by Toronto's MEC, she graciously offered to get a map for the trip. I decided due to her experience and the fact she said she was "good at navigating", I would for once leave it to someone else. So off we went on that lovely day from the dock at Dillon with Lynne in the stern. We stopped a couple times for short breaks, to take photos, and to explore the numerous beautiful coves and beaches. I asked her unassumingly where we were a couple times when we stopped, just to get a gauge of our location, (This is normal, is it not?) especially since there were islands everywhere and it could get confusing real fast. She would reply vaguely that we were "somewhere on the map". A little bird was twittering loudly in my head, but I decided to just let it go.

As small as Franklin Island is, it was logged too! The loggers
really left no stone unturned. Evidence found both
in the water and on land.

From Dillon, we were to head west across the north end of Franklin Island, then paddle south along its western edge. Somewhere along its western side, we were supposed to set camp for the first night. Then we were supposed to continue to the SW end of the island before turning east along the south end towards Snug Harbour. Lastly, we would then turn back north along the eastern edge of the island and spend our last night close to Dillon. Simple enough, but that wasn't how the trip turned out.

More than a decade of hard use and I never once blackened
my stove,...until now. Lynne apparently has a
track record with white gas stoves!

We spent the first day leisurely exploring the west end of the island as we paddled along at an easy pace. However, when the landscape opened up to the south of us and we started turning east while following the shoreline, I questioned whether we had already paddled the west side of the island. She quickly rebuffed my suggestion and stated we couldn't have finished so soon. She surmised it was probably just a big bay we were seeing in front of us. We were obviously now heading east, (which I confirmed with the compass on my watch) and I again questioned her since I could now easily see the mainland. Her second response was much more muted this time, as she looked intensely at the map trying to locate ourselves. As we drifted, she finally conceded that I could be right. I asked for the map and quickly determined our location and figured we had paddled 2/3's of the island in just over 3 hours! We were both very surprised, but I think I was even more surprised by Lynne's navigational skills. She did state she was good at navigating. (?!?)

We took every opportunity to explore the mesmerizing
shoreline. Lines were leading everywhere!

In the end, there was no harm done, but the incident certainly had me questioning my assumption. We ended up staying 2 nights at the same campsite, which worked out great as a big storm hit us the next morning. The wind and rain, combined with the big rollers coming in was not ideal paddling conditions in an open canoe. As we hunkered down in the shelter of both the tent and bug shelter, we learned a lot more about Franklin Island from the back of the Chrismar map. We quickly found out it was a total of 17 kms to circumnavigate the island - which we could have easily done once each day! we also found out that the scale of the map was much bigger than what Lynne was use to, therefore confusing her. In any case, no big deal as we had fun once the storm broke and we spent the rest of the day exploring the beautiful area. We did manage to find ourselves back at Dillon the next day to finish the trip, as I politely insisted on navigating the rest of the way back!


This seagull hung around us when we were eating, hoping
to get a morsel. When we didn't oblige, it expressed
its displeasure by 'mooning' us!