Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Paddling in Algonquin (part one of three)

Tomas H., originally from the Czech Republic, and living in Ontario for a period of time, decided to go on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park. He had quite an adventure and sent us the story below. With his permission, I am posting it. The story will continue over three days, due to the length, and it it definitely worth reading. As you might imagine, English is not Tomas' first language but I haven't edited it at all, and the tale has all the flavour of his own words.

Stories like this capture the flavour and adventure of canoe tripping like no advertising agency script ever could. Experienced canoe-trippers may see Tomas' trip as a bit of a misadventure but the beauty is that he rises above his inexperience by being resourceful and open-minded to solutions. We've all been there at one time or another and I bet we'll see Tomas back for more trips in Algonquin Park.

I would like to thank you for an unforgettable experience from the last weekend. A recapped it from my friends - you may enjoy reading it too.


Tomas H.
Czech Republic

Paddling in Algonquin (part one of three)

Since my brother with his wife came over for a 14 day visit two years ago and after 2 days in the first week spent the whole second week totally excited paddling on lakes in North Ontario I wanted to try it. My chance came last weekend after my family went over to Europe. After close to 10 hours browsing on internet I finally decided for a trip I wanted to make - Opeongo Lake, Proulx Lake, Little Crow Lake, Big Crow Lake, Crow Lake, Lake Lavieille, Dickson Lake, Bonfield Lake, Wright Lake and Opeongo Lake. Most of the sides I looked at described this trip as 4-5 day long. As I like to challenge myself I took Friday off with a clear goal to make the trip in three days.

I left Toronto on Thursday late evening and arrived in Algonquin at 2 o'clock in the morning. As the West Gate office was closed I parked the car and within few minutes fell asleep. I must have slept pretty well as I woke up later than I intended which meant I started my canoe trip by two hours later than I planned.

Upon arrival to Algonquin Outfitters on Lake Opeongo I checked in the Park office and went to Outfitter for a canoe. I booked a solo canoe hoping the canoe would be smaller and lighter. When I saw it the only difference I noticed was just one seat in the middle - I always thought when I saw drawing of native Canadians from the 19th century with men sitting in the middle that it was a mistake but apparently it wasn't. When I was choosing the paddle a guy behind the counter advised me to go for a chin long one - there was just one which was so long. A shaft of the paddle was slightly bent but the guy assured me it would be okay. “Will you portage?”, he asked. Yees, I answered with uncertain voice without having a clue what portage means. Fortunately the good man answered himself “oh ye, you go to the lakes north off Opeongo” and went back to the store. In a second he came back with a piece of wood looking like a medieval torture instrument. When he saw my puzzled look he showed me what it was for and how to mount it on the canoe. Near future showed my first impression was not too far from the truth. The only difference between the torture instrument and this piece was that with the former someone helped you to put it on while with the latter I had to do everything by myself. Otherwise I believe the pain was comparable. “Will you need a water taxi?”. “No”, I replied this time with a confidence in my voice as I read somewhere on internet that hard core paddlers never take the water taxi. I was not sure if I was the hard core paddler but from the tone of the article I read I figured out that only total losers take the taxi.

Just few minutes after I set off and left the wind protected bay it turned out very clear that I was the only loser as I crashed into headwind with waves 30 centimeters high while non-hard core paddlers passed by smiling in water taxis. One group even cheered my up. “Is this boat sea-worthy” as I was trying to reach the shore of North Arm. The itinerary I followed said this trip usually takes three hours. After 4.5 hours when I finally reached the shore I realized another advantage of the water taxi. It disembarks you directly at the entrance to portage. My letter sized print out of the map was not the most detailed map I ever used - somewhere there in front of me was the entrance to the portage but it was all I was able to read from the map. After 1.5 hours of paddling back and forth along the shore I finally found the portage to Proulx Lake. The weather was beautiful and despite the delay everything seems great. I landed and began preparation to portage the boat. As soon as my feet touched the ground herds of mosquitoes appeared as if they were waiting just for me. As a hard core paddler I packed all my stuff into a water proof sack and to be really sure nothing gets wet I put everything inside the sack into plastic bags. But into which one I put the bug spray I obviously did not remember. I was desperately going through the sack with mosquitoes in my mouse, nose, ears and under sunglasses. I was eaten alive. Finally at the very bottom of the sack I found it - Off with a new Summer Meadow scent. It worked. Mosquitoes still flew around but did not bite. At least for some time. As I portaged - which means I carried the heavy sack with all my stuff for three days including tent and food on my back, 17 kilos “light” canoe on my shoulders and a paddle in my hand, my sweat washed away some of the bugs spray and some mosquitoes were not repelled by Summer Meadow scent any more. One bite, two bites, three bites. There is not much you can with the heavy load on your back. How many bites can I bear? After more than ten I gave up, dropped everything and sprayed myself from head to toes again. Finally I got to the end of the portage. Out of this mosquitoes land, and fast went through my mind I was loading the boat. First stroke, second stroke, third stroke and whoops the paddle broke exactly in the place where in was bent. Instead of a chin long paddle I had a waist long - a right size for my three year old son. “What should I do? Should I return?” My desire to deliver on the goal I set myself prevailed. I paddled to the nearest camp site with a clear plan to somehow fix the paddle and carry on in the trip early morning following day.

Stay tuned for part two, wherein Tomas fixes his paddle, in true "McGyver" style, and presses on to Lake Lavielle.

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