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!

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