Monday, October 03, 2005

The Meanest Link - part two of four

For a brief background on the development of the Meanest Link, see “The Meanest Link - part one”

To follow up on “part one,” I was fortunate enough to secure permission to reprint a story from Muskoka Magazine. This article was written by Huntsville writer Don McCormick. It first appeared in a slightly different form in the August 2005 issue of Muskoka Magazine. I have added a few details about the link story, which appear in italics.

The Meanest Link
by Don McCormick

Four college women conquer adventure route with honors

There's a look about people who have taken on something very challenging and succeeded at it. It's a mellow, satisfied, self-confident glow.

It's the look you see on the faces of Janet Thomas, Jaime Capell, Sarah Strickland and Leah Sanders - four young tough-minded women who took on and completed the “Meanest Link” canoe route in Algonquin Park - a 330 kilometre journey with 55 portages.

Their story starts at the Algonquin Outfitters (AO) store at Oxtongue Lake this past June. All four women had worked there over the past several summers and had become close friends. With some of them graduating from university and moving on to careers, this may be their last summer working together at AO. The occasion called for something special - something like the “Meanest Link” canoe trip to mark this period of their lives.

The “Meanest Link” canoe route is the brainchild of Gord Baker and Alex Hurley. Baker is the assistant general manager of Algonquin Outfitters. Baker wanted his AO staff to take more canoe trips to recommit themselves to AO's core activity of canoe tripping. The “Meanest Link” challenge is the core ticket.

Completing the route itself would also serve to honor the memory of AO founder Bill Swift Sr., better known as “Swifty”, who passed away in 1999. Swifty had "...a gruff exterior and a heart of gold,” according to Baker. One of his nicknames - one Swifty particularly favored - was “Meanest.”

The trip links the four AO Stores - Oxtongue Lake, Huntsville, Brent and Opeongo - hence the name “Meanest Link.” There are four tough legs to the trip - Oxtongue Lake to Huntsville, Huntsville to Brent, Brent to Opeongo and Opeongo back to Oxtongue Lake.

Other staff members had completed individual sections of the link over the previous summer and fall. Two male staff members, Will Lougheed and Randy Pielsticker, had tried to complete the whole loop in early November 2004 but had to cut their trip short due to bad weather, low water and the fact that they were running out of food. Given the marginal weather, short days, unknown terrain on the Big East River and generally challenging conditions, their accomplishment is significant.

The route does not take the conventional or easiest path. The Huntsville to Brent section goes up the Big East River to McCraney Lake, through a series of small lakes and portages (the “Western Boundary” route, well known to trippers from Camp Pathfinder) and then down the Nipissing River to Brent. This leg is, by far, the most difficult portion of the “Meanest Link.” The mean factor includes relentless swarms of mosquitos and blackflies, low water, snags, deadfalls, huge portages, heat and humidity and the unknown.

The route also includes side trips to Source Lake, the site of Camp Pathfinder, and to Lake Lavieille. Swifty had been a camper, counselor and even one time owner of Camp Pathfinder. Lake Lavieille was Swifty's favorite place in Algonquin Provincial Park and the route includes the famous Dickson-Bonfield, five km portage for which Swifty claimed to hold the record portaging time. Enduring was more on the minds of the four women when they set off than setting records.

© 2005 Muskoka Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

Click the links for parts three and four.

Click here for a map of the Meanest Link.

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