Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Meanest Link, Part One

Last summer, Alex Hurley and I dreamed up a canoe route to honour the memory of Bill Swift Sr., one of the founders of Algonquin Outfitters. Swifty, as he was most often called, had other nicknames, such as Mean Dude, or Meanest, which were a tribute to his gruff exterior persona. How he got those names is another story.

The Meanest Link consists of four challenging canoe routes connecting all four Algonquin Outfitters stores: Brent, Opeongo, Oxtongue Lake and Huntsville. Paddlers must follow a prescribed route between each store and follow a few traditions along the way. Each leg of the trip must be done as a single canoe trip, with the exception of the Huntsville/Brent route, which due to the difficulty and time required, may be split into two sections. Last summer, several groups of staff spent their days off paddling the Brent/Opeongo, Opeongo/Oxtongue Lake and Oxtongue/Huntsville routes. If you would like more details more details on the "Link" routes, drop by the Oxtongue Lake store and talk to Alex or Gord.

While the "Link" is not intended to be a speed trial, several amazing feats of marathon paddling were recorded. Chris Bosworth and Rob Finkbeiner, for example, left the Brent store at 4 am (in fog and darkness) and landed at our Opeongo store 17 hours later. The average canoe tripper would probably take at least four days to do the route down the Petawawa River, up the Crow River to Lake Lavielle, over the famous Dickson-Bonfield portage to Lake Opeongo.

Until the fall of 2004, no one was able to take the time to attempt the Huntsville/Brent leg, let alone the entire route. The Huntsville/Brent leg goes up the Big East River to Algonquin Park's western boundary, up the boundary via McCraney, Rain, Ralph Bice and Big Bob to the Nipissing River, then down the "Nip" to Cedar Lake and the Brent Store. This is a TOUGH route. Except as a spring whitewater run, the Big East is rarely travelled above Arrowhead Park.

In the next installment, I will tell you about the first attempt to paddle the entire Meanest Link in one continuous canoe trip.

For the rest of the Meanest Link story, see parts two, three, four and the map of the route, posted in this web log.

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