Monday, October 24, 2011

A Meanest Link Trip Report: The Sidell's Journey

Editor's note: It is interesting to observe that the two Meanest Links trips this season were undertaken by paddlers that are NOT Algonquin Outfitters staff. More reports will be coming from the "Six on Six" trip described in the last post but meanwhile, here is an account of an August trip undertaken by some long-time customers. Gary Sidell and his twin sons Jonathan and David have been canoeing together in Algonquin Park  for many years. Sometimes one son or the other can't make the annual trip but whether it is two or three Sidells in the canoe, their route always covers a lot of territory. Gary became intrigued with the Meanest Link last fall as the route seemed to fit in with their distance-oriented style of canoe tripping. After much discussion, the Brent-Opeongo-Oxtongue Lake sections were chosen for the 2011 trip. Gary's trip report should be read in conjunction with a map - you will be impressed at the distances they covered:

2011 Meanest Link trip: Brent to Opeongo to Oxtongue Lake, August 11-15

Participants:    Jonathan M. Sidell and Gary M. Sidell

DAY 1:            Cedar to Francis            (17 miles; 5 hours 30)
            Thursday morning at 7:00, the ground was dry; no rain!  So far, a great start compared to 3 prior rainy years!  Right on schedule for pre-8:00 am arrival at, and 8:00 am departure from, Algonquin Outfitters (“A/O”).  But one mile short of A/O, the rental car dash displays seriously low tire pressure.  Stop at gas station for check and, lo and behold, found a screw in left rear tire.  No tire repair capability at the gas station, but back 5 miles in opposite direction someone may be of help.  7:55 am: arrival at High Tec car repair.  No one home yet.  8:00 am, worker appears.  8:05 am, tire fixed, we try again to get to A/O.  Great start.  Later still departure from A/O due to more self-packing and Sunday drivers, all in front of us on route 11 north.  Gord the wheel man can’t drive the A/O truck like a formula one car past these folks.  Finally, arrival at Brent, after a stop at the newly built crater observation deck and still no rain (but no sun either).  We hit the water with a cross-wind while Gord returns to main camp in the warmth of the truck.

On the Brent Road - where's David?

There is always time for shopping: Jon Sidell, Gord, Kate (Brent Staff) and Utah the wonder dog.

Ready to go. Utah thinks there is room for him!

Into the wild grey yonder of Cedar Lake.
            They moved the first portage out of Cedar into the Petawawa!  Our yellow sign said, “Acanthus.”  And I could have sworn we were right on the money!!  Really great start!!  But, due to wilderness camping ingenuity, we found an old train bed and started off on our 2 mile walk, swatting mosquitoes everywhere as we went - and in August no less!!  Half the Petawawa later, including our second scheduled portage and over a VERY high train bridge with some moving ties, we were back on the route, if not schedule.  At Radiant, we ran into a 13 day Tamakwa trip, clearly lost and on the wrong lake.  One last campsite there for which we had reservations but Tamakwa makes a bee-line for it in their metal battleships.  They were the last people we saw for 2 days.  We push on to Francis and had the entire lake to ourselves.  Having checked out all four campsites, we stop at the southern-most one, The Ritz.  Sandy beach, wide open with flat tent locations everywhere and, best of all, walking distance to the train bed right behind us in case we realize what craziness we have begun and want to walk out!  12 hours, one semi-flat tire, one seriously missed portage and 17 miles later, we finally stop for the day.

Morning mist at The Ritz on Francis.
Crow River to...what? Crow River?
 DAY 2:            Francis to Dickson            (15 miles; 8 hours)
            Picture perfect mist off the lake in the morning and still no rain!  Here comes the Genny!  And it’s not even cold, but boy was it good on Lavielle.  But first, it was the portage marathon down (oops), I mean, UP the Crow.  A little paddle, another portage, a little paddle, another portage, and another, etc.  Opening onto Lavielle, another headwind for a change.  We make it to Swifty’s favorite campsite but were unaware that we needed to practice our mountain climbing prowess to get there!  We manage to scale the cliffs to Campsite Swifty and recognize that this is a pretty nice one too.  All you have to do is find the elevator to get your packs up to the top if you spend the night.  The Genny was great, particularly for a not ice cold beer, but after our portage marathon, it really hit the spot.  Too bad that we only brought one with us!  A few more would have made the paddle to Dickson more enjoyable even if our headwind became something of a tailwind on the ride south, but they’re heavy.  Last campsite on the west shore in view of Dickson-Bonfield was even better than the one on Francis.  We had not only the water access and great tent spaces, but a table, clothes line and 3 folding canvas chairs left by prior occupants!  All we were missing was the TV.  And we were able to stop 3 hours earlier than on Day 1.  No other people seen on day 2.  Another good night’s sleep.

The toast on Lavielle, with David in the centre. Of course, that beverage container was re-used.
 DAY 3:            Dickson to Pog Lake Campground            (22 miles; 7 hours 30)
            The sun is actually out and shining this morning!  Tripping is much more fun without windshield wipers!!  On the other hand, waking up and starting the day with a 3 mile walk in the woods is not one of our top 10 favorite activities.  Over the portage and thru the woods, the Meanest Link trippers did go.  Somewhat of a not quite tail wind in the East Arm while following a motor boat to the opening.  Better than GPS.  Dead calm in the top part of the South Arm until we face a direct headwind further south!  This was followed by some tourist driving a big power boat who thought it appropriate to see how close to our canoe he could drive as he approached us, all the while maintaining his excessive speed.  Clearly, he flunked the boating course and has no business being on the water in a boat.  Many, many canoes from different camps coming toward us (with the wind at their back!) throughout the South Arm all the way to A/O-Opeongo.  Round the last bend, the store was a great sight.  On arrival, finally able to extricate ourselves from the canoe after our 2 hour 20 minute paddle across Ope.  Saw Jerry, got sodas (ice cold, but no Genny), ice cream and sandwiches.  Great looking staff.  After our break, we set out for our next walk in the woods, a mere two miles.  Stayed at A/O-Ope too long since it started to rain just as we got back into the good ship lollypop.  Rain ends as we finish the Sproule Lake portage.  We’re back in business!  Adequate water in all the piddling little lakes to get to Pog Lake without leaving the canoe.  We took the Kearney lake portage on the beach and crossed Hwy 60.  It seemed like rush hour traffic waiting to cross with the cars whizzing along.  We even got to be publicity stars:  a car, with Ontario license plates of all places, stopped and took our picture several times!  I guess we looked strange carrying a pack and canoe in the woods or else they had never seen such a sight.  Anyway, we tried to accommodate them, smiled and waived.  Just like home near Washington, DC! (Ed. note: camping at the Pog Lake campground is a good trick when paddling the Opeongo section, where campsites are few and far between. Plus, you get to have a hot shower!)

A brief visit with Jerry at the Opeongo Store
Dropped everything at the Pog Lake permit office while getting our site permit but, best of all, the Warden was there and Jonathan persuaded him that there was no way possible we could walk to our lake side site, could he possibly give us a lift?  “Yes,” was his answer so we took the limo to the site, then hot water showers!!!!!  Of course, the rain was back before we finished cooking dinner necessitating a speedy hoisting of the tarp over our picnic table and contents.  Adjacent campsite residents were so impressed with our tale of the Meanest Link that they thought they might get rid of their car next year and try interior campsites for the first time.  But not the Meanest Link.

A bit of an obstacle on the Madawaska River

DAY 4:            Pog Lake to Source            (12 miles; 5 hours 48)
            Nice warm sunshine!  Tripping is getting better, even if it is the Madawaska River.  And a bit of a tailwind too.  Uneventful until we got to the Madawaska fork where our GPS said, “Go this way.”  We did.  There did not appear to be adequate water.  We turned around, checked GPS again.  It said, “go this way.”  We did, again.  This time, after poking around, we were back on our way.  They need to put up a sign at the fork!  (editor’s note: the Sidells have previous experience with this particular fork in the river. It is one of the main reasons they carry a GPS).  Slight tail wind on Cache, and the islands were back in the right places this year.  Power boat leaving Tanamakoon as we passed island campsite graciously provides directions to Source Lake: “Over there in the weeds.”  Very serious, ridiculously vertical portage getting into Source, for our first time ever on the lake.  Kind of like climbing a ladder while wearing a canoe on your head hoping not to have to start over at the bottom without dropping you or canoe.  After another successful walk in the woods and arriving at Source, big pontoon boat says, “around the corner, you can’t miss it.”  And was it ever a nice sight to see the Jack Hurley Canoe Dock at Camp Pathfinder.  We get to stop paddling for the day.
            On arrival, I asked for Mike Sladden, having spoken with him a few weeks earlier.  Out of camp, but expected back soon and “we have been expecting you.”  Inadequate words to describe the Pathfinder hospitality.  Offered to stay at camp in brand new tent cabin, dinner and next day’s breakfast.  Saw Swifty’s and Wendy’s Adirondack Owners' chair next to dining hall.  It looked kind of small.   Really hard to leave with flat sleeping surface, great food brought to your table, no dishes to wash, great company from owners to campers from my home town of Buffalo, and particularly since Nurse Gracie did such a great job supporting Johnson and Johnson by taping all my toes back to my feet so that I could walk again!!!  The stop at Pathfinder was well worth the vertical portage getting into Source.

Jon and Gary with Mike Sladden, Camp Pathfinder director and Meanest Link supporter

Recently graduated Dr. Jonathan Sidell practices surgery on a banana.

DAY 5:            Source to Dwight            (20 miles; 9 hours 13)
            Another sunny day!  Success!  After breakfast, we leave Pathfinder and its hospitality behind on a calm Source Lake.  Uneventful traveling until arriving in Smoke where we were chatted up by an older gentleman in a power boat just after getting onto the water.  “Where are you coming from?  Where are you going?”  After learning of our traveling insanity, he told us that was “great!” and wished us well.  I’ll bet he was thinking, “better them than me.”  His boat sure looked like it could have towed us across Smoke with very little trouble though.  Quiet day on Smoke with virtually no wind.  Paddling down the Smoke Channel, we come upon the first, and last, person on the water that we see that day.  Who is it but none other than Mike Budman, Roots impresario and former fellow Voyageur canoeist from 50 years earlier at that other summer camp on S. Tea Lake which shall remain nameless here, especially when compared to Pathfinder’s enthusiastic hospitality.  Budman was driving a Swift kayak and, otherwise, outfitted in all things ROOTS.  Probably even his underwear too.  After leaving Budman in our wake, other than a couple of hikers at Whiskey Rapids, the next person we saw that day, several hours later, was the internationally known guide and outfitter Gord Baker swinging the remaining Gennys on the A/O dock.  Kind of like offering a treat to his dog.  That was just the incentive we needed in order to pick up our pace and, maybe, even look a bit impressive to the on-shore crowd, some of whom were jumping off the Hwy 60 bridge into the water next to us.  Along the Oxtongue River, we were unable to do likewise.  In fact, some of the swifts on the Oxtongue River could have used a few inches more of water so that we could have avoided that chilling sound of Carbon Kevlar making the acquaintance of small rocks, but at least that was something to break up the dizzying back and forth route on the early part of the river.

Whiskey Rapids is more like Whiskey Trickle. Apparently the Cairn Builders have been there.

The pace picks up when there is cold beer in sight.

A stylish turn to end a challenging trip.
            Our arrival back at A/O a day ahead of our schedule, while we were able to semi-walk under our own power, was a true sense of accomplishment.  Even though this has been our 17th annual family trip in the wilds of Algonquin, and we are quite familiar with tripping, this piece of the Meanest Link was a most challenging trip.  It certainly provided new, and greater, appreciation for the original four young ladies who did the entire loop in one fell swoop over 16 days and our utter amazement at the guy and gal who did the whole thing last spring in only 7 ½ days.  I think that guy with the power boat on Smoke must have had something to do with them!

Post-trip visit with Jack Hurley, canoe builder, Pathfinder/AO alumnus emeritus and long-time friend of Swifty.

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