Thursday, June 9, 2011

New Toys For My Canoe Trips

Today's society is rife with technology. You can either dismiss
it, or take advantage of it. Occasionally I do the latter
- like GoPro's Hero Video Camera.

I love canoeing, that is pretty obvious. But I also love some of the opportunities that come with being "the crazy canoe guy" - as a work colleague aptly puts it. Sometimes I look for opportunities or things that can benefit me on canoe trips, and other times, fortuitous opportunities or things come my way because of what I do. Either way, it is both enjoyable and rewarding to discover new things, and in return share these things or experiences with my readers.

Much like the Eureka Singlis/Dualis air mattress that I'm trying out this year, I will also be using/testing some other products, one of them being a reflector oven. I'm not much of a baker both in the bush or at home, but I have made bannock bread on previous canoe trips and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Which self-respecting canoeist hasn't? Anyhow, one of my paddling partners this year, Anita, was a baker by trade years ago and of course a light bulb went off in my head. Now of course, glowing coals in a fire pit doesn't exactly equate to a commercial convection oven, but I put the challenge to her. I have to admit, there isn't much equal to freshly baked bread on a trip, so I hope to exploit...(Oops, did I say that?!!)..I MEANT 'utilitze' her skills to see what interesting things we can bake and come up with.

Light and compact (when folded), this reflector oven shouldn't be
much of a burden on trips. Especially considering
the great pay offs it is capable of!

I've owned an Outback Oven for many years and have had some good results, but I've heard even better things from using reflector ovens. A couple years back at the MEC Paddlefest, I was introduced to Rob Stevens, who was showcasing several beautifully handcrafted products, including a cedar canvas canoe. But what I recall was a reflector oven he had that was imported from Sweden. After a quick search (Got to love the Internet!) I found the oven and contacted the owner about whether he was interested in showcasing his product. Surprisingly, I was then contacted by Rob, as he is responsible for distributing the ovens in Canada, and soon found the reflector oven waiting for me at home!

Now that I have it, its time to put it to good use. Anita has got a chance to 'play' with the oven, has already purchased a lightweight baking pan and is presently mixing/testing some secret ingredients together for its first official test. (I have been sworn to secrecy from revealing the ingredients as my life may be in danger - just joking!) Well, during the course of this year, follow along and let's see what interesting things we bake up. I will selflessly volunteer my stomach and subject my body to all those extra calories to let you know how the baked goods taste and share with you our experiences. Guaranteed to have lots of pictures and hopefully some videos to share as well.

I know its a teaser, but that's all I can give for now. You'll have
to wait until I'm given the green light before
I spill the beans!

Secondly, I have gotten an unique opportunity to try/test a prototype paddle that is not on the market yet. Even though I already have a partnership with Bending Branches, in a round about way, Russ Schroeder, who is in charge of advertising at Rapid Media recommended me to the Marketing Director of Bending Branches when he was looking for some avid paddlers to test this new paddle out. So after a few emails, I was sent this pre-production model to field test and provide feedback. I can't give much more details, but this is one sweet paddle. When all is said and done, and this paddle makes its grand entrance into the paddling world, I will for certain provide information and pictures. I'm also looking forward to getting one myself!

Lastly, some of you may recall my blog last fall when I went on a solo trip in Algonquin and missed a great opportunity to get photos of moose. As my camera was dropped off at the end of the portage, I was obviously left without anything to capture the ungulate experience. I vowed not to get myself into that situation again. I am not a big fan of point and shoot cameras, but they do offer some advantages I can't get from my dSLR. The main reason being that they are compact and can be kept with me at all times without getting in the way. So, I finally went out and purchased a couple of them. The first one is a Canon Elph 300 HS, a small 12 mega pixel camera that can also record 1080p high definition video. The second one is the Pentax W90, which like the first is 12 mega pixels, records 720p high def video, and most importantly is waterproof.

One of two compact point & shoot cameras that I will have with
me at all times. No more excuses for missed photos!

Many times I have missed opportunities to take photos in conditions that would guarantee the demise of any dSLR, but not any more. Since I have covered all the grounds now, there really shouldn't be any more excuses to miss those "once in a lifetime" photos (and video). Lastly, to round out these expensive purchases, I also got a GoPro Hero Camera to record video. These are compact waterproof hi-def video recorders that can be placed in the most unusual places to record amazing/unique footages. So with all this extra gear, my trip weight will surely increase, (sigh) but hopefully I will have more to share with all of you!

Ok, so enough babbling. Time to get out paddling and put my
money where my mouth is!


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Black Flies Are Out!

Fred and Maral were all smiles despite the long day in tough
conditions. Of course a hot supper helped!

Wow, boy is it hot today!* I would love to be on the water today so that I could jump in to cool off! On the second trip of the year in mid-May to Massassauga Provincial Park, I was hot then (temp was just above 20C then compared to 35C today) and decided to take a plunge into the cold Georgian Bay waters. It was refreshing to say the least and it didn't feel too cold at all, until I jumped in the second time. This time I screamed like a girl and came out numbed. My friend Fred decided to go for a plunge as well since I told him it wasn't too bad after my first jump. Judging by the fact he didn't emit a single sound from his mouth when he hit the water and crawled out as fast as he could, I knew he didn't agree with my assessment. Oops! (No, he was quite ok with foregoing another plunge!) * This blog was supposed to be posted this past Mon during the heat wave, but was obviously postponed!

Massassauga Provincial Park is accessed at either Three-
Legged Lake or at Pete's Place. Wonder why it's
called Pete's Place?

The canoe trip to Massassauga Provincial Park, like the one to the Kwarthas previously was over shadowed by the forecast of rain all weekend. But like before, we headed out expecting the worse and hoping for the best. My only wish was that the rain would hold off for the first night so that we could enjoy steaks from the grill by the fire, instead of from the frying pan under a tarp. My prayers were answered as we all eagerly devoured not on the steaks, but grilled red peppers and corn. Ummmmmmm, yummy! In the end, we lucked out with the weather too, only getting one day of rain out of the three. Not bad I say!

My mouth waters when I see this picture,.....sigh!
Memories of a delicious meal.

The only issue we had with the rain on day two was that it lasted all day. Throw in some strong headwind and waves and we had quite the battle to do. Luckily we didn't have to cover too much distance that day, but it was enough to worry me in regards to my paddling companions. All have only little experience in regards to canoe tripping and I purposely planned an easy trip to teach them the ropes. That day it was a crash course on paddling into driving rain, wind and waves - fun! Fortunately, they all managed ok and were only worse for wear, but it certainly did push them. In the end, I was really proud of them and impressed at their enthusiasm and determination to keep plodding ahead despite the conditions.

Everyone's spirit was still high despite the constant rain.
I couldn't have asked for better companions!
Photo: Maral Kodjayan

Maral, a work colleague of mine and her husband Fred, joined Anita and I on this trip after inquiring the previous year about canoe tripping together. After all the talking and planning, the only reservation she had was getting cold, especially when she slept. Besides all the advice I gave her on wearing layers and such, the single most important thing I recommended to her was getting a down sleeping bag. It was a fairly big purchase, but I promised her that she would not regret it, especially since she owned a synthetic bag with no loft. The first thing I asked her after she crawled out from under the tent in the morning was, "How did you sleep?" She had the biggest smile on her face and couldn't stop raving about how warm she was. She said the purchase was worth every cent! Another time, during our battle with the wind and rain, we stopped by shore to take a break. I was concerned about her bare hands being cold (as mine were) and offered her my dry neoprene paddling gloves in my pocket. With her characteristic big grin, she told me she was fine and that her hands were warm. I thought for sure she was just playing tough, but when I grabbed her hand, they were actually hot! I couldn't believe it! (She said she actually dipped them in the lake to cool them off while paddling!! ????) I'll take my gloves back thank you! I think it is safe to say she managed fine with the cold on the trip. Phew!

Maral's smile was infectious. You might not be able to
see her eyes, but her smile still shined through!

Like Maral, my paddling partner Anita also managed to surprise me. Although, maybe because there was ulterior motive to avoid portaging, but it showed inquisitiveness, initiative and a bit of adventure from this paddling neophyte. You see, we portaged roughly a kilometer to get to the present campsite at Little Blackstone Lake, but had to head out the same way the next day. While looking at the map, Anita questioned why we couldn't paddle the ribbon of blue that ended at the lake where we were headed. Not noticing this previously, I took her suggestion seriously and agreed that it could be possible, but only if we scouted it first. I wanted to check for rapids and also determine the terrain we would be passing through since the contour lines were compressed along portions of the route. So after pulling the canoes on shore at the head of this waterway, off we went along the river's edge to our intended lake, scouting as we went. Since we didn't know what to expect, we decided to carry some of our gear and drop it off at the end in case we still had to portage.

The rough trail along the river was quite a surprise, helping
us both scout as well as enjoy the scenery.

Unexpectedly, we found a rough trail along the shoreline that was cleared and marked with flagging tape, which made the scouting easier. We surmised that the park was in the process of making a hiking trail, which we agreed was a scenic route. The highlight of this trail was saved for last when we came to a set of cascading falls that tumbles into Blackstone Harbour, which was our intended destination. After a brief break viewing the falls, we headed back knowing we only had to tackle a few shallow C1's at the top, limbo under a felled tree and deal with a couple lift-overs. After a crash course in basic whitewater maneuvers, I ran both canoes through the rapids with Anita and Fred intact. We all got to squeeze and duck under the trunk of the large pine, and luckily, we were both able to force the canoes to slide down two beaver dams. The biggest challenge came when we had to navigate the canoe down a narrow 90 degree channel, but a bit of skill and lots of luck got us through that upright. All that was left was to pull the canoes out before the falls, which we did without incident, and portage to the rocky shoreline.

Running a few shallow C1's rounded out our
adventure to Blackstone Harbour
Photo: Maral Kodjayan

We all agreed that this unplanned excursion was much more enjoyable than portaging back on the same trail. Especially with the falls at the end where we took time to sit back and enjoy the scene. Although, we were not the only ones eager to hang out by the falls. The black flies were now out in numbers and made our time there a bit annoying to say the least. Unfortunately for me,...well, depends on who you ask, the black flies swarmed around my head, and unlike my companions, decided to only bite me! Now how fair is that?! I'd like to espouse the high quality of my blood as being the reason why the black flies targeted me, but I don't think its a quality I was going to tout at the moment. Despite the black flies, I was just happy that my companions gave me the thumbs up in regards to this trip as we all headed home looking forward to the next one!

The "fruits of our labour" was a pretty set of cascading
falls we got to enjoy before heading home!

Hope you've all got out paddling! More trips to come!