We were sitting at the end of a 2600m portage from Polly Lake into Canisbay. What had been a steady rain all day suddenly turned into a deluge. The last of our dry clothes were quickly becoming saturated. The water was sneaking its way in, wicking up from the bottoms of our long johns and the cuffs of our sleeves. I gave up trying to hold on to my last dry shirt when a stream of water poured in from off of my hood; a cold gush of water running down my front and pooling at my stomach. Zach started a round of “put up your hand if…”. Put up your hand if you wish you could eat some real food. Put up your hand if you wish you were dry. Put up your hand if you wish you could sleep in your bed. It was an eight year olds plea to be done, and as I looked around at the hands in the air, I knew that we were all ready to go home.
With the decision made, we sat huddled underneath our canoes turned makeshift shelters to wait out the thunder and lightning. We watched as great torrents of water washed the dirt down the portage and out into the lake creating a growing cloud of red earth in the black water. When a break finally came, we hustled our way across the lake. We dug hard, chasing one section of black sky while being chased by another. We fought to keep ourselves under the one small patch of blue sky that we’d seen in days. We’d barely reached the shore when the second system hit with a boom and a great downpour of water quickly created pools and waves up and down the beach. We were done. We were going home.
Let me tell you a little bit about what started as a three week, but ended as a two week canoe trip in Algonquin Park. We experienced some of the most extreme tripping conditions that I’ve ever seen. Tremendously dry weather prior to our arrival saw a fire ban put in place. The lack of rain caused the lowest water levels that I have ever seen in the park and turned the creeks into a mix of thick mud and exposed rock. It was very difficult paddling and in some places required impromptu portaging, dragging, pushing and liftovers of the boats. It made for very slow and arduous travel and required lots of sterning finesse. While at times frustrating, it felt kind of awesome working our way through the puzzles. As friends and family saw us off, we were assured that if we couldn’t have a good old campfire, at least the lack of rain would see little or no mosquitos. That was not the case. At least as the weather turned bad the bites were isolated to my hands and face as the rest of me was covered with a raincoat and pants.
The joke between Fraser and I before we left was that following the recent drought, the first three
weeks of August were bound to set a record for rain and guess what… the two days before we called it quits saw more rain than the entire month of August usually does. This was great for the park, but a soggy mess for us. The rain began on our first day and only a couple of our days were dry. The problem was that with a fire ban still in place it was tricky to dry ourselves out. Mostly we just stayed damp. With days starting early and ending late, there was very little time to hang out our clothes and gear and we often found ourselves setting up our tent under the tarp because it was still raining when we hit our site for the night. Wrinkly toes were the norm. When we heard that the fire ban had been lifted on day 11, we were thrilled! I then proceeded to burn two holes in my pants and melt Fraser’s socks in an attempt to dry out. Oops.
I realize that this is sounding like a hellish trip. It was not. Algonquin is a gorgeous park in all weather. The rain allowed for dramatic skies and even rainbows. The kids loved that we brought along fishing rods and spent hours fishing the banks of our sites. We got so deep into the park that there were nights when we were the only people on the entire lake. We listened to the wolves howling at night and the loons calling across the water. And the frogs! There were thousands of them. They were EVERYWHERE and we all love catching frogs. The highlights of the trip? We did indeed manage to find the abandoned alligator on Burntroot as well as the remains of the Barnet Depot Farm. The water on Burntroot was huge with whitecaps and a headwind, but we all managed the paddle beautifully and it was sunny that day so spirits were high. I also celebrated doing my first 1000m+ portage carrying a canoe without putting it down and then proceeded to smash that by doing a 2200m! High-fives all around. We found a moose skull complete with antlers at the end of a portage. Very cool. The boys did an AMAZING job. Their packs were so heavy that I could barely dead lift them high enough to help put them on. They doubled-back every portage with us and never ever complained. They pulled hard water in freezing rain, ate freeze-dried dinners huddled under a tarp, played cards by headlamp in a tent getting pushed around by wind and pelted by rain, all the while smiling and laughing and joking. They are so hardcore it brings a tear to my eye.
So the trip was not what we had planned. We are disappointed in not having finished our intended route, but we are not disappointed in ourselves. We had a wonderful trip full of unforgettable moments and found an inner strength and determination not yet tested to these limits. Will this experience discourage us in any way from going back? Just try to stop us.