Archive for the ‘paddling’ Category

Paddling Away to Hudson Bay

Every once in a while, it’s time to do some housecleaning.  Generally speaking I am NOT a clean freak and am happy to wallow in a wee bit of filth.  However the family finally got around to doing our spring cleaning (yeah I know it’s July) and along with being able to see under the beds again, all this open airy space has allowed my mind to wander to more dreamy places.

Last year I told you that there were only two places on earth that I still dreamed of visiting…the Yukon and Norway.  Well now that I’ve checked the Yukon off of my list (and YES, I swear I will get around to telling you all about it!) there’s room to slot in a new dream destination.

York Factory, 1770's by Samuel Hearne. Engraving coloured, March 1, 1797. © Hudson's Bay Co. Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba / Engraver: Wise / HBCA P-228 (N8317)

York Factory, 1770’s by Samuel Hearne. Engraving coloured, March 1, 1797.
© Hudson’s Bay Co. Archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba / Engraver: Wise / HBCA P-228 (N8317)

When I attended the Wilderness Canoe Symposium in February, I saw a presentation by Katie Tanz about a canoe trip she co-lead through Keewaydin Camp, that started from Windigo Lake and finished in York Factory on the Hudson Bay.  This punishment by paddle culminated in a visit to the original Hudson Bay Company post and a camp-out in the adjoining polar bear-safe enclosure.  This presentation has lived in my subconscious for months and with room for dreams to grow, has made its way to the forefront of my mind, permeating most of my quiet moments with images of grand adventure.  I WANT this!

I consider myself blessed to have been born in such a grand and awesome country (happy belated Canada Day!) and most especially to be a native and current resident of beautiful Ontario.  Of all the corners of this earth, with all the wonders to see and experiences that they offer, I still dream in Canadian.  How could a girl get any luckier than to live in a place that after decades of exploring, still holds so many treasures yet to be discovered…

Mark my words folks, the wheels are turning…I’m putting my strongest brain cells on the task of figuring out how to get the family paddling their way to Hudson Bay.

hudson bay map

Nerves of Steel, Stomach of Jelly

I still can’t wrap my head around it, but the nervous butterflies in my stomach, my quickened heartbeat and the lump in my throat that’s making it hard eat tells me that my body knows… I’m going on an adventure and a bigger one than I have ever attempted before. This time next week I’ll be halfway to Whitehorse with 80lbs of gear in the belly of the plane just waiting to be punished in the wilds of the Yukon.

photo: Jo Ohara Wikimedia

photo: Jo Ohara Wikimedia

I’m not even sure where I’m going exactly. Our destination as NOLS participants will be revealed to us on the day that we get there. I only know that it will be within a 14 hour drive of Whitehorse and that it will be somewhere that few people have ever seen or experienced. I’ll be hiking off trail and at elevation, in unpredictable weather for two weeks and then trading in my backpack for a dry bag as we continue our journey by canoe, running the rapids of a wild northern river for another two weeks.
The hardest part of this trip will be leaving my family behind. I’ve never been away from them for more than a few days and I get choked up just thinking of not seeing their faces for so long. I’ve been squeezing in double hugs and kisses to sustain me through all the days that I will be without them. I will have no phone, no Internet, in fact no electronics of any kind. Completely incommunicado for 30 days.

But enough about my apprehensions, let me tell you about the excitations!  Snow capped peaks, building lifelong friendships, acquiring mad outdoor and leadership skills, all in one of the most beautiful, pristine and isolated places on earth.  You can’t put a value on this experience…it’s priceless.  I’ll be boohoo-ing all the way there, but only because I’m so lucky to have the blessings at home that I do.  And we’re all going to benefit from this, cause mama’s gonna school the kiddos in white water paddling when I get back and it’s only a matter of time before we can all go north and run those rivers together.

So this will be my last post for a good long while.  Keep calm and camp on.  I’m off to do some learnin’.

My kitchen floor today...

My kitchen floor today…

1000 Islands National Park…The Fairy Tale Trip

This is not one of my usual post-trip posts.  If you follow along on our family adventures, you’re used to hearing epic stories of family vs. nature…big bad storms and clouds of biting bugs, wading through ice-cold swollen rivers and marathon portages.  This is NOT one of those stories.  I’m not one to gush, and I always give the straight story, so believe me when I say that our trip to 1000 Islands National Park last week was perhaps the best family trip that we have ever taken.

The fairy tale trip goes something like this…Once upon a time (namely last Saturday morning) in the most charming town of Gananoque  (side note: I loved this town so much, I want to move here.  Anyway, back to the story) began the vacation of all vacations.  We checked into the gorgeous stone home of 1000 Islands Kayaking, the company that was going to be taking us on a tour of this BEAUTIFUL area of Ontario.  All the staff that we had contact with were funny and personable and helpful.  We bought a parking pass at the local marina for a whopping $6 a day, got set up with drybags for the gear we’d be bringing and headed out for a lesson on kayaking 101.  The weather was perfect…sunny and not too hot, not too cold.  It was hard to believe that we were on a trip and it wasn’t raining!  I’d also like to note that all of our trusty steeds (the boats, pfd’s and drybags) looked brand new and were in mint condition.DSC_0134

After shoving off from the dock,  Scott (owner and our guide for the day) had us play a game of ball tag in order to get the hang of controlling our boats.  It was ingenious and hilarious and it broke the ice with all of the participants.  I could go on and on, but let me just hit the highlights instead…we paddled over a sunken ship, into an outdoor chapel in Half Moon Bay that still holds services on Sunday afternoons and heard stories about whatever cottage, island, channel and bird that struck our interest.  Scott and all of the guides have an arsenal of history on the area not to be rivaled.  It was so much fun and so interesting, the time just flew by.  We parked our rides on an island and hiked around exploring while Scott put together a dreamy lunch feast of assorted meats, cheeses, fruit, veggies and juices.  A quick online form submitted before the trip allows the guide to tailor the menu to accommodate any dietary restrictions.  Total class act.  After lunch we hit some bigger water and it was like a roller coaster ride complete with squealing and face-cramping grins.  It was all over far too soon.  We were escorted over to McDonald Island where we were staying for the next couple of nights and waved goodbye to the rest of the crew.  The boats however, stayed with us.  1000 Island Kayaking not only offers tours, courses, certifications and camps, but also just plain up rentals for those lone wolves that like to explore solo.  I’ve got to say though, the tour should not be missed.  To top it all off, when we got home, we got an email with a link to pictures that Scott took throughout the day, which meant that I was actually in one of our trip pictures!

photo courtesy of 1000 Islands Kayaking!

photo courtesy of 1000 Islands Kayaking!

Next?  How about we didn’t have to set up camp!  Our castle awaited us in the form of an oTENTik tent/cabin.  It was getting muggy outside but there are tons of windows that can be used with just screens and the breeze off the water kept us perfectly comfortable.  This is no B&B and is quite a rustic structure, but beds with mattresses and a table and chairs inside are camp luxuries.  A small solar panel also powers up a battery inside that runs a light when necessary.  This park without doubt and without exception, has the cleanest bathrooms of any park we have ever visited.  Not fancy…no running water, no showers, no flush toilets, but clean composting toilets and a hand sanitizer dispensor in each and every one.   There is a lovely covered outdoor eating area, adirondak chairs, fire pit and wood fuel bbq for cooking up tasty meals.  The most impressive feature though, is the setting amongst the trees, no neighbours in sight and the water laid out in front just tempting one more dip and one more paddle.1000 Islands National Park

We didn’t complete the quest to find the castle, but rest assured there is one on one of the thousand islands.  It’s just an excuse to go back and go back we will.  We have found a place that we not only want to visit again, but maybe one that we’d like to make a more permanent situation.  Dreamy? yes.  A fairy tale?  Happily ever after remains to be seen, but it’s looking pretty good to this princess.1000 Islands oTENTik

National Parks In Ontario: Thousand Islands (formerly St. Lawrence Islands)

oTENTik  photo: pc.gc.ca

oTENTik
photo: pc.gc.ca

At least once a year we plan a “vacation” trip rather than an epic adventure.  What is the difference you ask?  Comfort and fun.  This year’s trip is to the Thousand Islands National Park.  This will be our first visit and we are doing it up in style.  We’re going to be staying in the parks newly offered oTENTik accommodations on McDonald Island.  If you’ve never seen an oTENTik, it is half tent, half rustic cabin and all comfort.  No sleeping on the ground, we’ll be in comfy bunk beds and eating at a table!  It’s the perfect base for day paddles amongst the islands.

1000 Islands Kayaking at MEC Paddlefest

1000 Islands Kayaking at MEC Paddlefest

Because this is our first family kayak trip and we have very little experience kayaking, we are looking to the expertise of the crew at 1000 Islands Kayaking to show us the ropes.  We first met the gang from 1000 Islands Kayaking at the Toronto MEC Paddlefest and they are super skilled (and certified) and equally friendly and fun.  They run a number of courses, classes and tours and we’ll be visiting them at their headquarters in Gananoque.  The plan is to get schooled on the ins and outs of kayaking and then hit the beautiful waters of Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve.  We don’t even have to tote our gear around with us as they are going to shuttle it over to our campsite for us.  This allows us to bring any luxury items that we would usually leave at home.  It’s a perfect service for a comfy get-away and especially helpful for family camping.  After a morning of exploring, get this, we land on one of the parks islands to enjoy time on our own while our guide prepares a gourmet lunch with ingredients sourced from within 100 miles of our location!  Paddling really doesn’t get more indulgent than that!

1000 Islands Bridge photo: visit1000islands.com

1000 Islands Bridge
photo: visit1000islands.com

The rest of our trip to the park will be spent further touring the Thousand Islands by kayak.  There is no end to the wonders to be found…sunken ships, castles and wildlife galore.  When we tire of paddling (is that even possible?), there are tons of hiking trails for a different perspective.  Fishing, geocaching, bird watching, scuba diving, swimming, interpretive programs and the Xplorers program for the kiddies, it’s like a natural and cultural wonderland.

Boldt Castle photo: visit1000islands.com

Boldt Castle
photo: visit1000islands.com

We can’t wait to visit this gorgeous part of Ontario and have a relaxing vacation in what is sure to be one of our new favourite parks.  Cross your fingers for us that we get good weather and you know that I’m going to have my camera ready, so stay tuned for post-trip pictures.

 

The Canadian Canoe Museum – The Gem You May Not Have Met

The big excitement over at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough Ontario this past weekend was a celebration of National Canoe Day, small craft rendezvous and a visit and Q&A from Nick Offerman of the television show Parks and Recreation.  It looks like it was a great day.  Nick Offerman seems to be a sweet guy and there is no denying that he is a fine actor and carpenter.  I saw him recently on a talk show and he was incredibly quick and witty and he told some really good stories.  However, you’ve missed out on the best story teller at the museum if you didn’t get a chance to talk with long time employee and museum curator, Jeremy Ward.

Jeremy tellin' tales

Jeremy tellin’ tales

Bill Mason's canoe

Bill Mason’s canoe

My family had the distinct pleasure to spend some one on one time with Jeremy a couple of weeks ago on our visit to the museum.  Warm and friendly and instantly disarming, Jeremy had us riveted with his stories of the boats and their provenance.  We were allowed into the big warehouse located across the parking lot from the museum itself to visit with some of the vessels not currently on display.  It was simply magical to canoe lovers like ourselves to see row upon row of ancient, modern, worldly, pristine, decimated and decorated specimens and Jeremy had a story for each and every one of them.

We later popped into the museum itself and visited with the canoes once belonging to legendary paddlers Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Bill Mason.  With more than 100 canoes and kayaks on display, you need to give yourself time to enjoy this special place.  It is super kid friendly with interactive displays and hands-on exhibits.  I warn you though, it’s hard to leave without having developed a minor obsession with canoes and canoes are not an easy item to collect (believe me, I know).  But don’t worry, the gift shop has smaller items that will keep you inspired.  In the past I’ve brought home t-shirts, jewelery, stickers and a book on how to build my own canoe.  Just as soon as I get Fraser to build me a garage big enough for that project, I’m totally gonna start my own fleet!

I loooove me a good gift shop!

I loooove me a good gift shop!

So help support this unique national heritage centre by visiting, donating or even “adopting” a canoe for a loved one (makes a great gift).  Hang out and chat with the wonderful and dedicated volunteers (who were dressed in voyageur costume on our visit).   And if you see Jeremy while you’re there, ask him for a story…I don’t think he’ll be at a loss for words.

Living the Northern Dream

There are only two places on earth that I’ve always dreamed of visiting, but never thought I would.  One is Norway.  I had a childhood friend whose family was from Norway and she’d tell me amazing stories of home that planted the seeds that dreams are made of.  The other place is Canada’s North.  I want to see the taiga and the tundra.  I want to see caribou run.  I want to fish the icy rivers and climb the white-capped mountains.  I want to fall asleep in the midnight sun.  Last week I found out that I am going to get the chance to do just that.  I’m going to the Yukon.

Canoeing on Kluane Lake - photo courtesy of travelyukon.com

Canoeing on Kluane Lake – photo courtesy of travelyukon.com

This is the first trip since my older son was born almost 12 years ago, that I’m not doing with my family.  I am both exhilarated and terrified.  It is going to be like nothing I’ve seen before with people whom I’ve never met.  I’m going on a 30 day NOLS Outdoor Educator course.  Half of our time will be spent on a looong hike (12 days?) and the rest of the time will be running whitewater in canoes.  Luckily these aren’t new concepts to me, but we will be learning a whole bag of new skills and how to break them down and teach them to others.  What I most hope to gain from this experience is the ability to help others safely navigate the outdoors with confidence.

My ultimate dream is to run the Nahanni river with Fraser and the kids.  This is one big step in that direction.

I want to thank my wonderful employers (Mountain Equipment Co-op) who fund this amazing experience for two staff every year.  This was my lucky year and I’m going to take full advantage of this unbelievable opportunity.

I haven’t even gone yet, but I’ve already learned this…dream big, do what you love and no matter where you are in life, never stop growing.

First Family Canoe Trips : Where to go in Southern Ontario

So you want to take junior on their first canoe trip…good for you!  I often get asked for suggestions on where to take the kiddies for their first outing in Ontario.  For a first canoe trip with younger children, I suggest lakes that have paddle in sites to warm up to the paddling experience, or try one short portage into a second lake.  You can get a sense for how your little one is going to “take” to the boat without the risk of pushing it too far.  You can always take a longer trip next time.

The following lakes don’t see super big water like some larger ones and if needed, can have you back to your car in an hour or less.  May I also suggest sticking to the summer months so the water and air are warm and inviting?  If circumstances require that your first trip happens in the spring or fall, remember that it can be really cold and you MUST dress and gear-up for the elements.  Stay warm out there!

all together in one boat

all together in one boat

Algonquin Provincial Park

From the west side of the park near Kearney, enter at Rain Lake (really pretty) and stay at a paddle in site or do a short portage into Sawyer Lake.

Enter at Magnetawan Lake (also on the west side) and portage into Hambone Lake or push on into Ralph  Bice.

Off of the Hwy 60 corridor, you can check out Cannisbay.  It doesn’t feel very backcountry, but it’ll get the family into a canoe and into a tent.

Use the Achray Campground access on Grand Lake and stay, or pull a very short portage (30m) into Stratton Lake where there are numerous sites and you can visit beautiful High Falls, a swimming area with a naturally formed water slide.

Killarney Provincial Park

This park requires a bit more portaging, but you can still go to Bell Lake.  Use the Bell Lake access point and stay, or paddle through into Three Mile Lake.

Two words…George Lake.

Frontenac Provincial Park

Stay on Big Salmon Lake.  The lake has paddle in sites and no portages.

If you have any suggestions of your own for getting out on a canoe trip for the first time, be sure to let me know!  For all those families who are getting out for the first time this year, good luck and have fun!

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