Posts Tagged ‘canoe’

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

A Fire Reignited

I’m not sure what happened after I returned from the Yukon.  It was the experience of a lifetime (and I promise that I will get around to telling you all about it), but when I got back home my drive to explore was gone.  Maybe it was because I’d squeezed a couple of years worth of tripping into 30 crazy days.  Maybe it was because I’d travelled to my dream destination…what else was left?  Whatever the reason, I surrounded myself with all of my favourite comforts and hunkered down for the winter, only emerging to hunt for food and yarn.  I built myself a nest insulated with cowls and mittens and casseroles.  Last weekend, I peeked my head out and for the first time in months, I saw the light.NOLS Yukon

The fates aligned when I was asked to attend the Wilderness Canoe Symposium here in Toronto for Rapid Media and do a little write-up for their website.  I loaded a daypack with my thermos,  iPad and camera and off I went, not knowing exactly what to expect.  I arrived to what can only be described as a party atmosphere.  Attendees traded stories in the lobby like old friends, and they probably were.  It can sometimes feel like we trippers are a dying breed and when we find others of our species, we hold on tight.

wilderness canoe symposium

I took my seat and the presentations began.  As speaker after speaker recounted their unforgettable trips and spoke passionately about their causes, I admit that I became emotional.  Clearly my experience in the Yukon had affected me more than I had realized.  All I wanted to do was flee my chair, grab my gear and my family and run away into the forest.  I felt the desire to be on trip more strongly than I ever had before.  I texted as much to Fraser and I’m sure that I could hear his sigh of relief all the way across the city.  He’d been patiently waiting for me to find that spark.  I hadn’t just found a spark though, I’d found a fire.

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…

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.

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!

Called on Account of Rain

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.

low water levels expose rock obstacles

my foot day two

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

rainbow

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.

big water on Burntroot

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.

alligator

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.

Last Minute Late Nights

It happens every trip.  We think that we’re prepared but we find ourselves up into the wee hours putting together the last-minute details.  Yes we’re still adding to our packs and we are supposed to hit the road in seven hours.  Just par for the course.  Sleepy starts…

As long as I’m up, I thought I’d share what our packs weighed in at for our Algonquin Park 20 day canoe trip launch:

Food barrel #1 – 59lbs

Food barrel #2 – 32lbs

Dry bag #1 – 35lbs

Dry bag #2 (Zach’s pack) – 21lbs

Luke’s pack – 31lbs

Day pack – 15lbs

Canoe #1 – 51lbs

Canoe #2 – 61lbs

We will be carrying (at least to start) 305lbs of gear, food and boats…plus pfd’s, 5 paddles and the fresh food that hasn’t found its way from the fridge into a barrel yet.  No small feat.  It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be wonderful.  If you’d like to follow our progress, check out our SPOT page to watch our progress real-time and follow my tweets on our Facebook page too.  See you in a few weeks!

 

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