Thursday, July 06, 2006

Paddling in Algonquin (part three of three)

The final installment of Tomas' adventure!
If you missed part two, click here.

A strange noise woke up in the morning. My inner tent which is normally yellow was black. I opened both eyes and stared with disbelief at my tent. The noise and black layers were mosquitoes. I jumped out of the tent to spray myself before I did anything else.

I knew I had a long day in front of me. I was still 2 hours behind my plan and the plan assumed to return the canoe at 7 p.m. In addition I had four portages including the 5.3 km one - the longest portage in Algonquin - connecting Dickson Lake with Bonfield Lake. After paddling whole morning I landed at the entrance of this portage at 1:30 p.m., which turned out to lunch time for mosquitoes. The previous portages were mosquitoes promised land. This one was hell for any human being. Swamps and wet land with numerous small ponds make this portage an ideal place for mosquitoes and other bugs. The instructions on the bug sprays advised to use the spray maximum twice for no more than six hours. I must have sprayed myself dozen times. Thinking back I now understand the tag line “SC Johnson - Family Company” - it means the whole mosquito family, even distant relatives, is invited for lunch. And it seemed that Summer Meadow was like gravy for them. The more I sprayed myself I more mosquitoes came. As if they talked to each other “have you tasted this new flavour. Little bit too sweet for me but in combination with fresh blood it is delicious.” I will not go into details but as in the previous portages I had to go through this hell three times. Last time I carried the canoe on my shoulders for seventy minutes with a half minute break. I could not rest longer because otherwise I would have inhaled mosquitoes flying around my head. After16 km, 2/3 with the heavy stuff on my back I was tired and on in autopilot mode “You must get to Outfitter by 9 p.m.” that was the thing that kept me going.

After I finally got to East Arm of Opeongo Lake I met a human being. I did not see and talked to anyone for 49 hours. The man greeted me and his second sentence was how tired I looked. But a typical conversation you have with a complete stranger but I probably looked horrible with blood streaks from killed mosquitoes all over my face and arms. When he saw my paddle he could not believe I paddled from the place I started that day in the morning. He and his buddy did essentially just the portages that day. He offered me to stay with them and to be picked by a water taxi on Monday morning. For a second I thought about this option but I quickly turned it down. I told a couple of friends about my intention to do this trip in three days all by myself and I wanted to stick to the plan. I thanked them and asked if by any chance they did not have a spare paddle. Without hesitation they borrowed me theirs. I thanked them, promised to return it to Outfitters under their name and at 5:30 p.m. I set off for the last part of my trip. I knew if everything goes well I had about 3 hours of paddling in front of me. The normal size paddle made a big difference. My back muscles were still sore and tired but at least I felt the boat moved with every stroke.

When I was somewhere in the middle of Eat Arm of Opeongo Lake it got darker and started to rain. A short 5 minute rain. Unfortunately I did not hide the map print out and after it got wet all colors mixed up and created an interesting piece of abstract art. Unfortunately as a map it was completely useless. I kept paddling east hoping not to get lost among many small and bigger inlands. I felt I was on track to make it. I almost whistled from happiness. But the trip was not over yet. And it happened what I was afraid of - when I felt Outfitters must be just round the corner I entered the bay with no exit - just a tree line on a shore. I felt I was so close and for some time I was just paddling back and forth as if I did not believe my eyes trying to find a hidden connection to Outfitters. But there was none. It got darker and I was quickly running out of the time. I said if I do not find the way in the next quarter an hour I will have to find a camp site and stay there over the night. Miraculously, a fishermen boat appeared. I asked a guy on board for the way and after 45 minutes of intense paddling I reached Outfitters at 8:45 p.m. I felt tired and my body was shaking from exhaustion. But my felt good- despite all obstacles I made 4 day itinerary in 3 days all by myself.

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