I've been canoeing in Algonquin Park ever since I met my husband. You might even say we had our first date in a canoe...but that would be exaggerating. After all, our first date was in December.
But it was only a few months later that he managed to convince me to go canoe camping with him. I had never even been in a canoe before. So he gave me a few paddling lessons, told me what to pack, and what NOT to pack (i.e. my blow dryer!) and off we went.... for the May 24 long weekend, 1985.
I won't say that it was an entirely enjoyable experience that first time. One long, seemingly interminable, paddle, one long portage (carrying all our gear and the canoe), another short paddle, a second portage and a final shortish paddle. Whew... it seemed to me that we would never reach the lake where we were camping. I was nervous the whole weekend... about bears in particular. And then on Saturday while we were out fishing...it snowed...albeit briefly...but still...SNOW?!
I've learned to travel light. Very light. That's all I packed, below... including my pillow, my towel and my cosmetic bag... filled mostly with bug repellent, after bite cream, sunscreen and muscle relaxants for my back.
Below is a shot of the access point...where we unload the truck, put everything into the canoe and head out. I don't have a picture of what it looked like on the day we set off this year. That's because it was raining. Hard. And I didn't want to get the camera wet. And I wasn't in a mood for picture taking; I was too busy struggling into my rain gear.
We'd barely begun paddling, not even out of sight of the parking lot, when my hip and lower back began to throb. I shifted my position, knelt on the bottom of the canoe, and the pain eased. "I'll loosen up," I said to Hubby when he suggested we abort the trip. The rain eased up when we reached the portage an hour later. It takes another hour to carry our packs and canoe through the portage and I felt better to be up and walking, even if it was with a pack on my back.
Then just as we had loaded up the canoe and pushed off ... the rain began again. And my back began to throb... and my ten year old Gortex rain jacket decided to give up the ghost. In minutes I was soaked through. Another hour later we had reached our campsite, but it was raining too hard to set up. By now, tired, in pain and sooo wet, I began to shiver. Misery... thy name is Sue.
I leaned against the trunk of a big pine tree to keep out of the rain and Hubby rummaged through the packs. He found a rain poncho and pulled it over my head. Then from the fish bag among the lures he pulled out the fishing gloves...big rubber things with a liner that would help keep my hands warm. I could barely get them on, my hands were so wet. And then...under the big tree, out of the wind, the mosquitoes started to buzz around the only part of me showing, my face. I stood there leaning against that tree, shivering, back throbbing, trying to swat mosquitoes away... whimpering and murmuring to myself, over and over...."I am NEVER doing this again!"
We came very close to turning around then. Hubby suggested that if we left we could be back at the truck by 6:00 and home by 9:00. I only had to make the call. I knew he would feel guilty if we stayed and I was hurting and miserable. But I would feel guilty if we turned around, went home after all the work to get ready and get up here...and my back made a miraculous recovery. And besides it was Hubby's birthday today. I sniffed and gritted my teeth and we stayed.
And of course things got better. Our friends arrived a while later and helped set up a large tarp for shelter from the rain. Then the rain backed off. We put up the tent, scavenged for wood for a fire, and before it set the sun came out briefly.
Amazingly we even went for a swim. Then... in dry clothes having washed the bug repellent off my face and hands.... I stood in front of the fire and sipped a glass (i.e. plastic cup) of wine... ahhhhh. That was better. And later, the pain in my back eased; we ate supper, shared laughs with friends around the fire.... things were okay. Good, even.
For the next three days we fished, swam, ate, told stories. Watched Chris, the son of Hubby's long time fishing buddy, try to learn, somewhat unsuccessfully, to flip a huge pancake like his dad does. Apparently it's all about the knee action. Don't ask; it's complicated.
We tried each night to get a halfway decent shot of the huge red sun just as it slipped below the horizon.
|Sunset over Booth Lake|
We howled at the wolves and waited for an answer. One night Hubby swore he heard them reply.... "That's some guy from Toronto who's camped on the big island," we teased.
Our last night we sat quietly in the darkness and listened to the loons call. I love that sound. Makes me feel lonesome and right at home all at the same time. Then the bugs came out in force and we beat a hasty retreat to our tents.
The day we left, I paddled out feeling okay. The wind was at our backs which was a bonus. Paddling into the wind is really strenuous and though you eventually get where you're going... it can feel utterly futile at times.
The sun shone and I even got a couple of good pictures.
Seriously though, you might ask... What was I thinking? The bugs, the pain, the rain, the dirt ..... the bears (well, there's always the chance of bears.) Really, why do I continue to go on this trip? And you know, I'm not sure. There are moments when I am utterly convinced that I will NEVER come back. Like that moment under the tree. In fact re-reading my trip journal, I notice that there has been one of those moments pretty much every trip... since 1985. Bugs, or leaking tents, or ....well, something. And I was pretty sure for a while last Sunday that this would be my very last trip to Algonquin Park.
But I've grown to love being out there... in the wilderness....most of the time. And when we get back home I can't describe my feeling of accomplishment. I DID this! Me.... a naturally sedentary, hair obsessed, high heel wearing... wuss... not to put too fine a point on it. And doing it has changed me... I believe. For the better.
|My turn in the stern on our 2010 trip.|
And besides, isn't paddling a canoe somehow an iconic Canadian thing? I'm thinking of Pierre Trudeau in a buckskin jacket paddling a birch bark canoe... or Margaret Atwood... or Tom Thompson. All quintessentially Canadian, all canoeists. And now ... me.
Okay, now I really do have to wrap up this post. And go make a couple of phone calls ... for appointments... let's see... physio... pedicure....