Later in life, a microcosm of my friends developed an interest in the outdoors. It started with four boys heading to Arizona to test our mettle against the almost 50 km challenge of Havasu Falls, including a major day hike to Beaver falls down towards the Colorado river.
For our next adventure, we wanted to include canoes. Immediately, Brian, had a vision of us completing a Deliverance style trip. Unfortunately, at that point, only Brian had actually seen the movie so we vowed to each watch the movie and regroup.
There were a few things that I learned from Deliverance, the most important being that Burt Reynolds is totally badass!
We regrouped to compare notes the next weekend. Everyone agreed, first of all, that Burt Reynolds was totally badass. That established we could move on to more specific details of the trip.
The key elements to consider were that: we needed a route that allowed us to start and end at different places; we needed to find some kind of outfitter that would move our vehicle so that it would be waiting for us when we landed; we needed a route that would provide some adventure; and we needed to either rent, borrow, or buy some gear since we didn't have canoes.
The first night of planning was all talk although, we did settle on the trip being three days and two nights. We were planning for fours guys with two canoes. the next few times that we got together we didn't get much farther.
Brian came to the table a few days later with a recommendation from someone at work that is an accomplished outdoorsman: Kevin Callum:
Earmarked, was a route that this gentleman highly recommended, given our theme of Deliverance. Unfortunately, we were unable to find an appropriate outfitter that could supply us with two canoes and move our vehicles for us. sure, we could have rented canoes somewhere else and then negotiated with some locals to have our vehicle moved but, we didn't have much confidence in any of our vehicles to transport two canoes, and, logistically, taking 2 vehicles was also undesirable.
So we moved on to another idea. Next, we considered what we thought would be our master plan. We would go into Algonquin Park. To ensure that the terrain was unfamiliar to all of us, we would start at Access Point #3, along the Tim River, and exit the park at Access point #4. We would follow the Tim River all the way into Big Trout Lake, then wind our way back along any number of routes until we hit Gate #4.
All we needed was a date. We settled on a weekend in August. This way, we only needed to take one vacation day for the entire adventure.
The local outfitter had just what we needed. They would provide two kevlar canoes and all of the gear that we needed. They would even move the vehicle on our behalf, for a fee of course. We just had to meet them the morning that we were going in and sign the paperwork. The canoes would be waiting for us at Gate #3.
Now we could get excited. We had a date, route, and had logistics down. We could now make the list of things that we needed for this trip. By making a few upgrades to our gear before each trip, we had come to a point where we had a very good idea of what each guy could bring to the table and what we needed to buy or rent. The one piece of gear that we decided to rent to see if it would be beneficial to our gear set was a bear proof food barrel. We had never considered one before but figured that, if we did tip a canoe, it would be less likely to sink because it was air tight and waterproof.
As the day approached, one of our crew dropped out. He had a major software implementation to oversee so we were left with three. Despite our efforts, we couldn't come up with a fourth so, as we drove north, we had to decide between three guys in one canoe or three guys in two canoes. Two canoes would mean that one man paddled alone. We figured we would leave it up to whatever the outfitter thought best.
As we pulled in to the outfitter, we had all but decided to go three men in one canoe. Unfortunately, that size of a canoe was not available. We were able to switch to a more agile canoe for the single. one look at my SUV and the outfitter also confirmed that we could have easily fit two canoes on top. This would be a good lesson for next time. We wouldn't need two vehicles for the route that Brian's work mate had suggested. We handed over one set of keys to the outfitter and headed out.
The last stop we had to make was at the park office to check in. We carefully laid out of plans for the two women who were working in the office. They shot us down immediately. The route that we had chosen was only doable with two canoes with very experienced paddlers. A group of rubes like us would take 5-6 days to accomplish the same. They talked us into a much less aggressive thirty or so kilometres. Having not been on this type of canoe trip in many years, I couldn't make a strong argument.
We drove the last leg towards Gate #3. The road went from paved to dirt, to forest tracks before we reached our final destination. This access point was even more simple than Brent. There was no shop and no beach. Just a parking lot and a dock to put in from. We unloaded our gear and started to get ready. I had one surprise that the boys did not expect; I had gone out and purchased a wetsuit vest, as close as possible to the one worn by Burt Reynolds in Deliverance. I quickly slapped it on as we were loading the canoes. As expected, it reminded everyone of Burt Reynolds and how badass he was on that trip. It was a perfect start to our trip.
The last bag to be packed was the bear proof food barrel. I should mention at this point that Susie and I had been hosts on a television program called Dinner Party Wars the previous night. As such, because of the theme of that particular dinner party, we had been left with a cooler half full of dry ice. Using a trick I had learned years earlier from my grandfather, we had packed a frozen steak for our dinner on the first night. On the way up, we loaded all of our perishables into that cooler and figured that the dry ice would keep it even fresher than regular ice would have. When we loaded the bear proof food barrel, we carefully transferred all of the food, then dumped the dry ice on top. We hoped that this would last all day and looked forward to that steak dinner.
Everything was loaded into canoes and we were off. For the first leg, we decided that Jon and I would be in a canoe together and that Brian would be alone. As two men, we made significantly better time than the one man, despite the more agile canoe. After about 30 minutes, we were at our first portage. We unloaded and prepared for our first hike of the trip. Once Brian's canoe was unloaded we realized that the distance for this portage did not agree with the distance for our planned first portage. It turned out that we had paddled 30 minutes in the wrong direction.
After kicking ourselves for making such a rookie mistake, we decided to head back and start over. Suddenly, "BOOM", an explosion shocked all of us. Immediately, Jon and I blamed Brian, who had insisted on bringing along a couple of handheld airguns "for fun". But Brian stood in shock just as much as the rest of us. We looked at the fallout from the explosion. There were white powder and bagels strewn across the portage and into the woods beyond. It was then that we remembered that dry ice was frozen carbon dioxide and that, since frozen carbon dioxide simply sublimates rather than spending time in a liquid state, our food barrel had been turned I to a ticking time bomb. We laughed at first, then realized that, if that explosion had happened just 10 minutes earlier, Brian could have been killed in the middle of the lake! Again we laughed while picking up the pieces of whatever we could find. The bagels were fine, but the Shore Lunch we had brought along was food for the trees. I was able to find the gasket for the food barrel about 30 yards into the bush. Most of our pasta survived, but all of the sealed packages inside the barrel were ruptured. We had thought that bananas were a good idea but, with ruptured skins, we were forced to have a banana feast on the spot.
After loading the canoes back up we were able to get back on track. At least we knew for sure that we were now heading the right direction.
We paddled back past the few campers that had chosen Tim Lake as their home for the night. We paddled past the Gate #3 access dock. It turned out that we were only 5 minutes from the first portage when we had landed. As we approached the landing site, a canoe with two younger men advised us to keep our eyes open on the left-hand side of the portage as we approached. There, we would see a dead moose. When we were close enough, it was obvious to see the poor animal. It was a young moose, not much more than a yearling. Its head was under the water, but there were no signs of injury as we floated by. This would be the only moose that we would see this trip.
The first portage was easy, only a few hundred yards. We didn't even unload the canoes because we figured that three strapping lads could muscle out a small portage like this without unloading. It's true, we did it, but would never attempt it again! The sheer weight of two canoes full of gear, spread between three men, was as much as we could muster. Each of the following portages would, necessarily, be a full unload.
When we reached the second portage, the map advised that we might be able to make it through via water if water levels were high enough so we went for it. We got lucky and skipped the second portage altogether with some fancy manoeuvring. The third portage was a completely different matter. At first, we tried to pass by via water, but we all got stuck in thick mud. We worked our butts off to make it back to the portage landing. This time, we had a good system. I would take a backpack and a canoe. Brian would take a backpack and a canoe, and Jon would take two backpacks and all of the loose gear, such as paddles, life jackets, and fishing rods. This portage was a doozy. It was fully 700 yards and it was like climbing a small mountain before climbing back down. To reach the end was a huge win for all of us.
The next lake was an upwind paddle so I volunteered to be the lone paddler. It was calm enough that I dared to drop a hook into the water to try my luck at fishing as we progressed. It seemed that the gods of fishing did not look down at me with much favour so, eventually, I gave up and just paddled. When we reached the next portage, we came across two park rangers who had set up camp for a few days. Since we hadn't seen much of anyone for a number of hours, we stopped to chat with these kindred souls. They told us how they were out in the park for two to three weeks at a time to make repairs to portages and to assess water levels for the folks at each of the gates. We told them our story of the exploding bear-proof food barrel and, really made their day.
They recommended pushing through past the portage at hand, then through the next lake to get to Timberwolf Lake, where we would likely have the entire lake to ourselves.
The next challenge was to determine where we wanted to camp for the first night. We took a look at each of the sites that we passed on Misty Lake, but none seemed to be right for us. We conferred over the map once again and decided that there were two choices. We could either paddle a long way and do a short portage, or we could paddle a short way and do a relatively long portage. It wouldn't be our longest of the day, but it was no slouch. We opted for the longer portage. At this point, we were getting tired and needed a good rest, but we negotiated with each other. We would complete the long portage, then find somewhere to rest.
We switched things up this time. I took the two backpacks and loose articles and each of the other each took a canoe and a backpack. I decided to run this one out because the ground was relatively flat. I made it through in no time and doubled back to help the others.
We put in and tried to find a campsite. I pointed out a high area that I thought would be perfect and, gladly, it was an official site. It was elevated so bugs would be kept away by a small wind. It had a great fire pit with fallen logs to use as chairs and a flat spot to use as a kitchen prep area away from the fire.
We chose to place the canoes up above the fire on the hill in such a way that we could also have a flat surface to work from above the fire pit. Brian's latest upgrade was a Sil tarp and a set of nylon guide lines. This would stretch out over the common area behind the fire, all the way back over the canoes so we had a perfect shelter in case it rained. The tarp would also make a perfect marker for identifying our home base from afar.
We set about setting up the rest of our camp. Jon and I would be sharing my Hubba Hubba NX tent and Brian had borrowed a sort of hammock shelter from his work-mate. Our tent was up with sleeping bags and mats in place quite quickly, but Brian struggled with his hammock-tent for a while. Between us, we were able to figure it out eventually, as the sun started to set.
The next step, in my eyes, was to be food so I rooted through the bags for the stuff needed to make the traditional first-day steak dinner. Meanwhile, Jon set about building a fire from the plethora of dead and dry wood nearby. Brian was also very busy, in rooting through his own bag, moments later I would realize why.
Brian had brought along two air handguns. They looked mean and very real but were indeed air handguns. He even had non-lead pellets that were safe to leave in the woods. We took turns target shooting as dinner was prepared and as the sun went down. Jon had even thought to bring music along to set the mood.
The potatoes were already wrapped in aluminium foil so they went right down into the coals of the fire. I laid my small handy grill across the thick grill that was built into the fire pit so that our meat was separated from whatever had touched that thick grill in the past. The built in had a perfect wow into that allowed all four corners of the handy grill to sit on top, creating a small chasm below. When the coals were perfect, I placed the steak on the grill. I should mention that I had procured this particular rib steak from McEwan's, where their butcher had suggested this beautifully marbled specimen as what would both freeze best, and produce the perfect flavour when grilled over an open BBQ pit. I was planning to bring two steaks, but when the boys saw them, we opted to leave one behind. Each was about 30 oz so we could easily be satisfied with one-third steak and a potato. And, of course, we had brought along chocolate pudding cups for dessert.
That night, I slept hard. So hard that I barely remember getting up in the middle of the night to pee. Jon and I were comfortable and snug in our tent, but poor Brian was freezing cold. It turns out that the hammock doesn't hold heat so well and, with the -3 spec sleeping bag alone, he froze his ass off over night.
By the time we got up and ate breakfast, it had really started to warm up. We talked about our plans for the day. Originally, we planned to pack up camp and move along to a new location. our route had taken us to a point that we had two choices: either we could travel out and back towards where we had already set up camp, or we could start towards our way home and make some distance so that it would be easy to get back to the car.
In the end, we decided to leave the camp set up and just bum around Timberwolf Lake. That way we could do whatever we wanted for the second day and then have the time to exit the park the next morning as planned. Since we had gotten a pretty late start to the day we were at lunch time before long and, after a solid meal, we decided to make our afternoon a little more interesting. I wanted to do some fishing so I took the single canoe, my tackle, and a life jacket and headed out. I fished for a few hours and didn't get a single bite. I don't care what anyone says, there are no fish in that lake to be caught. I did, however, manage to fall out of my canoe when I got my lure stuck on a log near shore near the south end of the lake. It was blazing hot, so the dunk felt pretty good, but I lost my sunglasses in the lake. The worst part was that I could see them through the crystal clear water, but it was far deeper than I would ever be able to dive after them.
It was around this time that I noticed something out in the middle of the lake. It was Brian. He had swam out to the very centre and was just treading water casually. Watching him out there for almost an hour is why it eventually became important to me that you be able to swim well. I was never that strong of a swimmer. Eventually, we all made our way back to camp where we had left Jon to his own devices. He had modified the campsite to include a wooden railed walkway from the tents to the ad hoc living area that we had created with the Sil tarp. We laughed and joked around for a while before settling in for a late dinner of space food.
The next morning we got up and packed our campsite so that we could get back on our way towards the car which, by now, would be at Gate 4 waiting for our arrival. The last day of a trip is never as much fun as the other days because it's all work. The big payoff is getting back to the car and having to drive for hours to get home. This day was no exception. Our modified route ended up being 9 portages ranging from just over 100yrd