Posts Tagged ‘canoeing’


The final campsite looked over the water of the lake to the west.  When we found it initially I was just glad we had found something.  A place to set up our tent.  I had no idea of the beauty we were going to eventually see.  I’m sure Angie did.  Not me though – my focus was on the upper back pain that nine hours’ worth of paddling brought to the experience.

Instead of the horrendous climb we had to take at the initial – and non-legal – campsite, this one involved a gentle grade.  It was in a word, easy.  Easy to get to, easy to secure our canoe, easy to go back and forth to the water.

Angie had thoughtfully decided we needed to bring one of those folding beer chairs on the trip – she wanted to make sure I was comfortable.  Being the ultimate city-boy, I had no problem with that idea whatsoever.  A chair in the wilderness.  How cool was that?  Now if only we could have a microwave.  And maybe some electricity to go with it (*that would be nice!*) it might approach something more close to “normal”.

I had thought ahead too, and having investigated exactly what camping entailed at this wilderness park, knew that, although there would be plenty of trees upon which the men-folk (i.e. me) could do our business, there was also a kind of toilet-type contraption set up at each site, far away from the camping area for the girls, and for “other business”.  It wasn’t an outhouse, exactly.  It was a wooden stool, out in the open. You had to lift up the lid to use it, and your “business” dropped into a large hole.  The perfect composting spot. Knowing this, I decided that the only thing missing was some wet handy-wipes, which we could use to wash our hands afterward.

This was my first canoeing camping trip.  That’s my excuse.  It was not Angie’s.  She was the ultimate safety guide.  Her preparation for the trip included things like little bells we each would wear, in order to let animals (i.e. BEARS) know that we were around.  Think of the term “belling the cat” – the wearing of which allows mice to get away.  My thought was: “well, if we wear these bells, the bears will know where lunch is”.   Angie knew better though, and assured me.   “Dad” she said.  “They don’t want to be around us if they can help it.  Trust me.”

I did.

Oh, and she also brought along some pepper spray, in case….well you know – in case they were outlaw bars and decided that yes, we actually did look quite delicious to them.  And she brought some “bear bangers” as well.  Contrary to the name, these weren’t sticks which one would use to bang on the snout of any miscreant bears.  The “bang” instead referred to a loud noise they could make, should we be so unfortunate enough to come face to face with a bear.

Angie was prepared.

I mean *fully* prepared, right down to her idea of making sure we packed fleece jackets to wear at night (I wore mine both nights, because man was it ever cold!).   And she knew about food too, and had purchased some rope so that we could hang the smelly food high up in the air, away from hungry raccoons and even hungrier bears.   She knew enough to hang this stuff well away from where we were sleeping too.

So when I proudly produced the handy-wipes for our toilet business, she looked at me sort of sideways.  She may have even laughed, I’m not sure.

“Dad” she said.  “We have to put that up with the food.”

“But why?” I asked.   “We need this.  It’s for germs and—”

“Dad.  It smells.  It’s perfumed.  Animals will try to get to this.  You can’t have it lying around.”

I looked at the place where we were going to hang everything.  And then I looked further on down the path, where the wooden stool-toilet thing sat, complacently, as it gazed off into the trees, unconcerned about my toilet-focused dignity.  I honestly couldn’t figure out why bears would want these handy-wipes.  I thought they had sheep for that.   But I caved, helpless in the face of her expertise.

“Ok” I grumbled.  “Here you go.”  And with that, I handed it to her, resigned to a germ-enhanced camping experience.

In fact, I unconsciously shook hands with wilderness dirt and grime and decided they would become my new bosom buddies for the remainder of this exercise.

After we gathered some wood, Angie started up a fire at the stone fire pit while I went off to gather even more wood.  Because you can never have enough, really.   When it gets dark, it’s damned hard to go hunting for firewood.  You would end up just tripping over everything.  Maybe even a slumbering bear.  Slumbering bears don’t like to be disturbed.  Not that I asked any of them.  I just thought it seemed good sense to try and anticipate their annoyance.

As the sun creeped toward the horizon, we heard loons calling to one another.  Probably the loneliest sound in the world, I think.  Plaintive and resonant, that sound pierces your concentration.

I came back to the campsite with the last load of wood, and saw that Angie no where near the fire was beginning to die down.  I noticed that she had put a big pot of water on it, to boil so I put some wood on it, and looked around and found my book.

Finally, after all of the hustling and setting up, there was peace.  Angie was practising yoga I think, while I sat on the wooden bench reading the book and occasionally feeding wood into the crackling flames.   The hornet that had bothered us earlier was nowhere to be found.

Eventually, the light got too dim, and I had to put the book away.  Angie smiled at me.  “Should I fix us some supper dad?”  I nodded, smiling.  “Sounds good sweetheart.  What are we having?”

She said “let’s try the potatoes and beans”.  The potatoes were the instant kind, that come in a pouch.   Anyway it sounded good, and I said so.  I said “that sounds good sweetie”.

While she prepared that, I looked out over the now calm lake and saw the sun waving its last good-bye for the night, near the tree tops of the abutment of shorelines opposite our campsite.  I slumped down, with my back to a large tree and marvelled at it.

“Sweetie, come here for a minute will you?” I said.

“What is it dad? Are you ok?”  (always the little mother, that one)

“I’m ok sweetheart.  Just come sit here and look at this”

She plunked down beside me and for a while, we just sat and watched.   Another loon called, over to the right of us, querying the coming night sky.

She smiled and rested her head against my shoulder.


That night, after eating and cleaning up and putting our stuff away, we headed to the tent.  It had gotten relatively cold, and I found myself shivering.  So I bundled up in my fleece jacket and many layers and clothing, and even left my shoes on before crawling into the sleeping bag.  Even at that, I found myself shivering at times.  It took a while to fall into slumber……

Only to awaken at 3:00 in the morning because of a couple of things.

For one, the dinner beans had worked their amazing and somewhat startling magic.

For another, I felt like I was going to die from back pain.

I tried to get up without disturbing her, but it was not to be.

After taking a flashlight and doing my business, I decided to stand for a while to see if the pain would go away.   It was persistent and excruciating.  There was no place to get comfortable, sitting or standing.  And there was no way I could lay back down.

I saw the look of sympathy on her face.   “We can’t do another night like this” she said.  “Do you want to go back, dad?”

I nodded painfully, still shivering.

“OK, then that’s what we’ll do.”

I knew it was disappointing for her – she had hoped to stay at least another night.  And, much as I love my little girl to death – this was one time I absolutely had to disappoint her.  I accepted it but didn’t like it, and didn’t see an alternative.  The pain was really that bad.  Hard even to put into words here – and I’m usually quite good at that.

Decision made, Angie at least wanted to see the sunrise.  So she took the canoe out into the lake and paddled away for a bit, until she could situate herself around the bend beyond the campsite, where she knew the sun would come up.  And she took the camera with her to capture some shots (including the one at the top of this blog).

After using the bulk of the morning having breakfast, and then packing up and putting the campsite back into the pristine shape that it was when we arrived (complete with the almost-forgotten hornet, who did a repeat command performance, once more taking over the wooden bench), we shoved off in our canoe, back to our point of origin.

Oddly, about seven hours after paddling and portaging back, we had another occasion similar to when we first set out.

“Do you see that point of land over there Dad?”

“Yup.  That’s where we turn left to paddle down the huge lake you showed me on the map, right?”   I figured we had at least another two hours of paddling left to go.  And of course once again my back was one big gigantic knot.   Back pain: the gift that keeps on kicking you in the teeth.

“No, that’s the take-off point.”


“That’s where we’re landing, dad”

I didn’t believe her.  “You mean, that’s our final destination?”



She started giggling, and then laughing out loud.   “Yeah dad.  That’s it.”

“I thought we had a whole lake to go yet. ” I said.  “Oh man this is AWESOME.”

I didn’t think she’d ever stop laughing.   It was great.  Even now, writing this, it’s all coming back.  The utter utter joy.

We got around the point and suddenly there it was.  The beach.  It was so close to us.  I put on a burst of speed and tried to paddle like crazy.

But then we heard the motor of a boat coming in.  So we had to stop paddling long enough to get turned into the boat’s wake.  We were close, but it wouldn’t do to let the canoe tip over.  There was too much to lose.

After the waves died down, we once again turned back to paddle to shore, but then yet another boat came in.  And so we had to stop and turn into its wake too.

This went on a few times.  It kind of made sense really, because it was getting toward dusk, and probably most if not all of the boats were coming in to land.

We were so close.  And yet we kept getting interrupted.

Finally, we turned and put in a big burst of speed and paddled right up onto the beach.

We were back.


And there was a restaurant nearby, and showers.  But we were too sore and tired to bother trying to hunt through our belongs to get towels and soap out, so we walked into the restaurant as dirty and scrubby as could be.  And we sat down to the best meal of hamburger and fries ever.

And oh man – sitting there at twilight, utterly exhausted, and drinking bottled water and biting into hot food, we laughed ourselves silly.  We talked about so much of what we’d done.  Especially the part about the handy-wipes.

“I’m all done with my business.  Where are the handy-wipes?”
“Oh, about fifteen feet in the air.  How high can you jump?”

It was good to be back.

But, even with the pain, and the bugs, and the hours and hours and hours of paddling… was good to have gone, too.

Very good.

I surprised myself too, by talking about what I would do, and what I would take – the next time I go canoeing.

(Gotta do something about the back pain though.  I wonder how much Demerol  would do the trick?)

(This is a continuation of the story of our summer canoe trip.  If you missed the first one, go here)

As long as I could remember, I had a fear of bugs.   Not the kind of stand-on-the-chair-hold-your-skirts-and-scream-like-a-little-girl fear.  No, it was a dread that went bone-deep.   A loathing that made my mouth go dry.

It was a selective fear.   There was no perceived danger from a few flies buzzing around.   A wayward drunken moth, stumbling into my face, full of apology, a tipping of the hat and a “‘scuse me sir, lovely evening i’int?” served to merely annoy.

There was a hot summer twilight evening when my triumphant proud moment was abruptly truncated.  I was in the midst of revelling in the victory of a successful navigation to the end of a long street, all downhill – with no hands – on my ten-speed bike, when I became the beneficiary of yet another valuable life lesson: I rudely  learned the rule about keeping one’s damned mouth shut, especially when travelling at that rate of speed.   My innocently wide-open mouth became a convenient target for a depressed mosquito who, full of mourning for a life unfulfilled, ended it all by dive-bombing into my unsuspecting maw.   The resulting choking fit was a cause more for disgust than horror.

No, none of those incidents served as catalysts for my life-long fear.  Near as I can recall, it came about as the result of a time when, as a very young boy, I dreamt I was in my bed, and after pulling my blankets back to get out, I discovered an entire army of bugs at the foot of the bed.   Creeping, crawling, flying bugs too numerous to mention, all making a bee-line (no pun intended) for my unprotected legs.   I remember screaming, though I can’t be sure if that part was in my dream, or in real life.

Anyway, it made an impression.

(I try and include at least one picture in every blog.  Since the focus is so clearly something I loathe with a passion, I couldn’t very well post a picture of it, could I?  And oh dear Lord there are a lot of ugly pictures of bugs.  So instead I chose one guaranteed to soothe the psyche.  You’re welcome.)

One evening, during my married life, we decided to have a barbeque.  Only…..after our previous outdoor cookout, one of us (likely me) decided to leave the grate propped up against the wall.  One of us should have taken it in and cleaned it.  That was probably the intent.  The horror of what happened next likely chased out all memory of the exact sequence of events from that previous evening.   This befuddled detective can provide a probable narrative though:  the grate was too hot to bring in, so I left it standing against the outside wall, fully intending to bring it in anon.  Anon, however, had other ideas.  Anon was an innocent participant frankly, as he had no idea he was afflicted with ADD.   So, after leaving the grate to cool (among other things), anon – which is to say, me – found another shiny ball to occupy his attention.   And after the oohing and aahing was done, anon shuffled off to bed, leaving the now-cooling – and very yummy – grate out in the open for all of nature to observe with hungry joy.

And so we come back to that grody second evening (what?  It’s a word.  Google it if you don’t believe me).    The family was all hungry and ready to devour a rich serving of barbecued t-bone steak and potatoes.

Wife:  “um, where’s the grate?”

Me (after looking around):  “oh here it is.”

Wife: “well we can’t use it like that.  You’ll have to clean it.”

Me (full of innocence, and without benefit of ominous organ music):  “ok”

I remember it was dark outside at this point.  I know this because if it had been light out, I would have realized my impending error.  I would have avoided yet another indelible imprint of life-long revulsion on my tender psyche.   Perhaps the terrifying incident could have been avoided if we’d had a bare wooden floor in our living room.   But no.  We had a multi-coloured carpet – and all of the colours were dark.  I’m talking about black.  And dark brown.  And more black.

My daughter was in the living room with me, when I blithely brought the grate in.   As I started walking toward the sink with it, she said “Dad, what’s that?”

I looked down at the grate and noticed that it seemed to be shimmering.  I think my daughter might have screamed at that point.  Or maybe it was me, maybe.  I don’t know.

Anyway, what I thought was a living breathing grate was actually a trick of the eyes.   Probably my eyes were in denial as to what was truly going on.

Bugs.  It seemed like there were thousands of them.  Apparently, their grasp of the grate wasn’t all that strong.  So since their little fingers were unable to handle the motion of the swinging grate, they had to let go.  And so they did.   They dropped to the ground.  But not too far.  Certainly not far enough to warrant a quick death.  No, they weren’t even stunned.  As soon as they dropped, they all made a mad scramble for different parts of the room.  We could tell, because now the fucking carpet was shimmering.   We did a collective little dance of horror, as we tried in vain to stomp the little bastards to death.  But we couldn’t see them.  Remember the dark carpet?  It was the perfect camouflage.

Filthy filthy bugs.  My hated nemesis.  For the rest of the ruined night I was distracted.  Ever now and then I’d jump up from the chair and pounce on a part of the carpet.  Maybe there was a bug there to kill, or maybe there wasn’t.  I wasn’t taking any chances.

So, on the second day of our canoe trip (remember that?  That’s where I was going with all of this preamble), I saw a bug.  And I resented it.   I thought of all of the above, and of my life-long fear of them.   I was in the pup-tent, and it was in there with me.   I thought “this sucks.  This space belongs to me.”

And then I thought about it some more.   Bugs weren’t welcome in my home.  But this wasn’t my home.  This home belonged to the bugs.  In this place, I was the intruder, not it.   So I made my grudging peace with it.   As long as it did its thing and didn’t bother me too much I wouldn’t waste any energy trying to murder it.  I waggled my finger at it in warning.  It ignored me.

And so I quietly summed things up:  aching muscles, panic at not getting to a camping spot the night before, setting things up despite the pain, and now, now, NOW….bugs.   It was tempting to say “well it can’t get any worse” but I didn’t.   I’m not stupid.

I didn’t talk to my daughter about the bugs.   This was my angst to deal with.

We had some breakfast with our hosts, and joked with them, as they got themselves ready to canoe home.  They offered us some of their coffee, which we gratefully drank.   And they showed us a pretty cool device for purifying water.  It involved an infrared light, which lit up brightly and then dimmed once the water was done.    Angie and I looked at each, envying them.  Our method involved boiling water from the lake only.

They took off in both of their canoes, and then, all too soon it was our turn to pack everything up and find a new spot to camp.  We had no idea what would happen if the rangers came along and found us camping in a no-camping zone.   At the very least, we’d get a tongue-lashing.  Maybe even a frown or two.  So, it was time to go.

With groaning muscles, I did my level best to keep up with her, and after making multiple trips to the water to fill up a pan with which to smother any burning campfire embers, we piled our stuff into the canoe and pushed off.

Thankfully, it didn’t take us very long at all to find a decent site.  It was a thing of beauty.   There was a large fire pit, made entirely of raised stones.  And there was a cool hand-crafted wooden bench near it as well.

As we set up camp, and got the water boiling, we made a discovery.   That cool wooden bench was home to an alpha hornet. (Yet another bug)  It was just the one.  We suspected he had some family members, but maybe they were sleeping.  Or hung over.  Or maybe they were out visiting friends.  At any rate, we took note of the proprietary nature of his hovering.  He buzzed the bench from end to end, occasionally pausing to sit down and stare up at us. It was like he was making a statement.   Mostly:  ‘MINE MINE MINE MINE. YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT SITTING HERE?   WELL THINK AGAIN, SUNSHINE.”

Angie looked at him for a bit, lost in thought.   Then she got the bug repellent out and sprayed the entire bench.

Well.   It worked.   Sort of.   Except, now the alpha hornet was irritated.   He got frantic, as it was now impossible for him to land anywhere.  I swear I could hear him swearing.   “You sons of bitches!  You’re going to pay, m**therfu***ers!”

Being patient (and in my case, so very fearful) humans, we waited him out, by finding other things to do while he worked out his rage issues.  We briefly discussed the notion of taking off our shoes and taking out a contract on him.

“Dad, that might not work.  I think when they die they might give off a smell which causes the whole nest to come out”

My worst nightmare, come to life.  Revenge of the hornets.   Grown man and his daughter found dead from multiple hornet wounds in Algonquin Park. I calmly suggested we avoid that course of action.  “Hey sweetheart.  I think we can live in peace with him together.”

We looked at him, buzzing angrily around the bench.   “Ok” she said.

(This post is now officially too long.   Part 3 will peek its head around here shortly)