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!